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2013 U.S. News and World Report History Rankings


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I always thought to myself "self, the fact that there are so many good historians in lower ranked schools is more evidence that in order to GET a job one needs to go to a good school!"

That said, I don't want to bring people down, but I fully expect (nay, demand) that next year when I'm applying to PhD programs someone to tell me "RNG. You're a RNG. But you really need to think about whether or not it's worth it to you to go to _____________." 

 

Of course I could be wrong about everything. What do I know? I'm a student just like you.

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I'm not going to rarify the US New rankings.  I'm also not going to argue that someplace with a narrow specialty and a 100% placement rate in tha specialty isn't a place you should go.  However I am g

While you are not wrong in terms of big picture, you are speaking in generalizations that do not always hold up.  Tulane for the five years of funding only requires "service" for years 2 and 3, which

The only thing I argued in my post was that the rank of a program matters, not because 2 is greater than 65, but because of what those ranks tend to represent in terms of the relative social position

I hope the value of rankings isn't completely dismissed because of some professor who said anything beyond the top ten is garbage, which is complete hyperbole (whether the prof intended that way or not). The difference between #10 and #11 is clearly notional, but as far as I can tell the difference between #10 and #50 is very real, in terms of reputation, faculty, fellow students and funding. The way I understood what NE Nat was saying is far more useful -- that folks shouldn't look beyond #40-50 to mean that if you look at #60 you had better have a damn good reason, and need to be aware of the liability involved in picking it over #20 if you have the choice. So far as I can tell, rankings, like polls, are inherently imprecise, but they're also, like polls, one of many useful guideposts for framing choices.

 

Yes. Again, I don't think rankings are useless, but if we were to compile a useful ranking rather than one meant to sell magazines by shuffling the decks and giving every individual university a slot, we'd be doing this by tiers. I think there are maybe 2-4 of these tiers within the top 40 that are useful in distinguishing departments for reasons other than employment (although there will clearly be slight advantages for higher tiers in this area as well), and then lower tiers that may be more problematic jobswise for reasons NENat lays out.

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As someone from school number 64, I think rankings matter.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of some of the name cache a lot of other programs have.  It also depends on adviser and subfield.  Old South/Atlantic at Tulane is pretty good, and it is reflected in our placement record.  Latin Americanists do very well from Tulane, but other fields at Tulane don't fare as well.  I think if you are that Second (?) tier of schools (say 35-70), your best chances are at a liberal arts/state branch for your first job, and then you try to work your way up from there, if you are good.  Another example is being a southernist at South Carolina, they do a pretty good job at placing people in relation to their ranking, but I would be skeptical of trying to get a job as a europeanist from S.C.

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As I mentioned before, I think it all depends on where you want to be eventually. If you want to teach at an R1 school, you need to attend a program probably in the top twenty. If you want to focus mostly on teaching, ranking is important, but not as much. At the CSU I attend, their new higher in the History Department is from USC, which ranks in the mid-40s. Two years ago, they hired someone from a school that was not even listed, but had an outstanding problem in his field. The faculty also includes professors from the usual round of suspects - Columbia, Harvard, UNC Michigan, etc. Also, there is a school in the top ten that I know very well. I used to work there back in my archivist days. I would not recommend it to anyone studying modern U.S. Their job placement rate is horrible and the faculty is not all that supportive.

 

Take the rankings with a grain of salt. I used it when I first started doing my research into programs, but mostly as a good list of schools that offer PhDs.

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I respect the rankings in that perception becomes reality. However, when discussing with faculty in my current school the doctoral programs to which I should apply, opinions of "rank" were all over the place. I got the impression that people generally have the same top 10 or top 20 and then schools seem to fall into tiers after that, but even those tiers get fuzzy and the ranking within the tiers gets even more imprecise. Grad students may be stunned to read this, but I am not sure a lot of history professors have the U.S. News and World Report memorized like we do. What I have been told by history professors from top 10 schools and bottom 100 schools is that the job applicants must distinguish themselves from the rest of the pile of CVs before a hiring committee. Committees want a reason to throw out applicants. A top school may help keep an applicant in the pile while a lower tier school may cause an applicant's CV to be tossed. After that, it's still a pile of CVs. The applicant must distinguish himself or herself on an individual basis and rise above the school label, whether that label is Ivy League or lower tier. No doubt, that process of distinguishing oneself is made more difficult without the Ivy League branding, and opportunities may come easier at first with that branding. But I have witnessed too many horrible job talks by the so-called Ivy League to lose hope in the compelling work being done by grad students at places like South Carolina, Temple, and Tulane. If you do great stuff, you do great stuff. We need to worry about that and not rankings that we have no control over.

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I'm not going to rarify the US New rankings.  I'm also not going to argue that someplace with a narrow specialty and a 100% placement rate in tha specialty isn't a place you should go.  However I am going to say something very unpopular here.  Academia is my family buisness.  I have a half dozen college professors in my family at a range of institutions and have attended everything from a community college to a second rate state university to a public ivy to an ivy. 

 

There are people on here who are going to have a rude awakening when they go on the job market.  "But it's well respected in this field" or "well I know someone from X place that just got hired..."  Exceptions and anecdote do not change the brutal facts.  Hiring committees aren't made up of people in your sub field.  They're made up of people from across a department who may have no idea what a good department is in your subfield.  And don't expect that they do research on where the best department is before they start a search.  They have enough work sorting through the hundreds of applications for each job. 

 

Name matters.  It's ugly, none of us like it, and those of us that benefit from it feel dirty about it.  I am in no way saying there aren't great scholars out there at places not listed or low on the list.  They are.  But the fact of the matter is that getting a PhD to be stuck in adjuncting hell because you wanted to believe you were the exception to a rule is a road to disappointment. 

 

And this is not just about research universities.  Go to the CHE forums or the academic job wikis.  You'll run into a lot of rants about how some small liberal arts college or teaching oriented place has hired someone from a research powerhouse instead of someone who has more teaching experiance. 

 

Oh, and while I'm being ugly on here, I wont name names, but at least one of the places that has been mentioned specifically on this subject as "being good for such and such" just cut off funding to a large percentage of their PhD students and told them to adjunct to pay their bills while they finish. 

 

Because fundamentally this industry is a pyramid scheme.  In part because the entire educational structure needs more TAs to function than they will have assistant professorships to give.  Would I quibble about if number 3 on this list is better than number 15?  No.  I'd say those are probably a matter of fit and preference.  But there is a difference between number 16 and number 70.  And pretending there isn't or that it doesn't matter or that your particular subfield is the exception should be between you and your future.  It's almost criminal to pitch that narrative to people thinking about where to apply.

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Rankings are important. But there are too many variables in getting a job that this seems only a part of a larger puzzle. Like previously stated, the school helps you get into a smaller CV pile. Your research gets you into an even smaller pile. Then you interview. Your references are checked. Etc., etc.. Anything giving you a competitive edge in this field cannot/should not be minimized. Life is hard and getting a job is even harder.

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I'm not going to rarify the US New rankings.  I'm also not going to argue that someplace with a narrow specialty and a 100% placement rate in tha specialty isn't a place you should go.  However I am going to say something very unpopular here.  Academia is my family buisness.  I have a half dozen college professors in my family at a range of institutions and have attended everything from a community college to a second rate state university to a public ivy to an ivy. 

 

There are people on here who are going to have a rude awakening when they go on the job market.  "But it's well respected in this field" or "well I know someone from X place that just got hired..."  Exceptions and anecdote do not change the brutal facts.  Hiring committees aren't made up of people in your sub field.  They're made up of people from across a department who may have no idea what a good department is in your subfield.  And don't expect that they do research on where the best department is before they start a search.  They have enough work sorting through the hundreds of applications for each job. 

 

Name matters.  It's ugly, none of us like it, and those of us that benefit from it feel dirty about it.  I am in no way saying there aren't great scholars out there at places not listed or low on the list.  They are.  But the fact of the matter is that getting a PhD to be stuck in adjuncting hell because you wanted to believe you were the exception to a rule is a road to disappointment. 

 

And this is not just about research universities.  Go to the CHE forums or the academic job wikis.  You'll run into a lot of rants about how some small liberal arts college or teaching oriented place has hired someone from a research powerhouse instead of someone who has more teaching experiance. 

 

Oh, and while I'm being ugly on here, I wont name names, but at least one of the places that has been mentioned specifically on this subject as "being good for such and such" just cut off funding to a large percentage of their PhD students and told them to adjunct to pay their bills while they finish. 

 

Because fundamentally this industry is a pyramid scheme.  In part because the entire educational structure needs more TAs to function than they will have assistant professorships to give.  Would I quibble about if number 3 on this list is better than number 15?  No.  I'd say those are probably a matter of fit and preference.  But there is a difference between number 16 and number 70.  And pretending there isn't or that it doesn't matter or that your particular subfield is the exception should be between you and your future.  It's almost criminal to pitch that narrative to people thinking about where to apply.

 

I think some people are putting a bit more of a rosy tint on things than you, but I don't think anybody really disagrees either.  I think your right generally, but at the end of the day people from my school who finish (which is the only one I really speak for) are generally getting jobs, not prestigious ones usually but tenure track jobs.  I met a couple of them at the AHA.  Don't get me wrong, few of them are dream jobs, but they are tenure track at four-year institutions.  Also Nat, do you really think we don't know the realities of the job market?  I have been hearing it from my professors since day one.  People do make it though from second/third tier institutions and it's not one in a million.  You're not being unpopular, you are just stating the obvious. 

 

I know a chicago PhD with a book contract from a really good press, who is languishing compared to people from lesser schools.  It really isn't as cut and dry as you depict it (which doesn't mean your wrong in general though).  I hope this doesn't come off as a rant or anger at you Nat, I generally appreciate your input, but if you think you are blowing minds here, I would say for the most part, you are wasting your time.  We all know the numbers, and we are not idiots.

Edited by Riotbeard
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I don't think i'm blowing minds.  I think there is some self delusion going on in some corners here.  And not generally from the people who are current grad students.  And I'll totally cop to people who aren't impressive coming out of prestigious institutions.  I'm in class with them ;) , and I certainly don't think i'm that impressive.

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You're absolutely correct, Nat. Nevertheless, I didn't have a chance in Hell of getting into a top 40 school due to my GRE score. While my profile was competitive, the GRE really did me in ( and yes, I took it multiple times). Thus, I decided to change my outlook on the process. It was either waste the 8 years that I had already put into the field, or apply to schools where I had a good chance of getting accepted. I guess we will see what the future holds.

 

Hey, I have an idea! Does anyone want to start a pool? Will Dawg 2005 land a full-time position as a professor of history (doesn't have to be tenured) or will she end up as a manager at Mickey D's?

 

I guess marrying a bright, young CPA wasn't a bad idea after all ! :D

It makes me sad to read this because I was in a similar position in regards to the GRE. I did really poorly on both the verbal and quantitative sections but I decided to apply to schools that best fit what I wanted to research (which happened to be top 10 schools). I was accepted to my first choice school which also happens to be a #1 ranked school on the U.S News and World Report rankings (which doesn't really say much but I thought I should mention it since we're discussing this specific list). 

So, I really, really hope that your GRE score was not the only reason why you did not apply to top 40 schools.  :(

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Another factor I think is what does the school actually do to make sure you get a job when you leave with your degree. The top ten school that I discussed earlier doesn't do anything to prepare their students for the job market. I think they have the false idea that if you get a degree from that institution that is all you need. Compared that to UCI and UCSD where I know they go out of their way to make sure their students are placed. For the most part, I agree with Nat, but a top ten school doesn't guarantee a job. Those days are long gone.  

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I always thought to myself "self, the fact that there are so many good historians in lower ranked schools is more evidence that in order to GET a job one needs to go to a good school!"

That said, I don't want to bring people down, but I fully expect (nay, demand) that next year when I'm applying to PhD programs someone to tell me "RNG. You're a RNG. But you really need to think about whether or not it's worth it to you to go to _____________." 

 

Of course I could be wrong about everything. What do I know? I'm a student just like you.

 

This totally cracked me up. Just sayin'.

 

I don't really want to get into whether or not rankings are valid or the splitting hairs of it all, as I would only be regurgitating what you fine folks have already said. But, as food for thought, I met with a professor last week (chair of one of those top 10 schools) who told me that the biggest problem grads of the lesser known programs have is that they have not obtained the training to continue to do research specifically in academia. He said the candidates that he has seen have all been highly intelligent, respectable students who he couldn't do anything with because the skillset was not there.

 

Not saying I agree, definitely not saying it's my opinion, not even saying I have the first clue whether it's true or not. But there it is anyhow.

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One real boon of having a PhD from a well-ranked program that hasn't been mentioned is the ability to find a job abroad. If you are considering looking for a job in the country of your area of study, I think the name of your university will carry much more weight than it does here. Most American academics can't name 20 Japanese universities and I don't expect Japanese professors to know 20 American schools either. Which schools are famous in which countries varies somewhat. But, if your prospective employer knows nothing about your school and it's reputation, that can't be a plus. The vast majority of us are probably mainly looking at US employment, but if you are considering otherwise it's something think about.

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As I mentioned before, I think it all depends on where you want to be eventually. If you want to teach at an R1 school, you need to attend a program probably in the top twenty. If you want to focus mostly on teaching, ranking is important, but not as much. At the CSU I attend, their new higher in the History Department is from USC, which ranks in the mid-40s. Two years ago, they hired someone from a school that was not even listed, but had an outstanding problem in his field. The faculty also includes professors from the usual round of suspects - Columbia, Harvard, UNC Michigan, etc. Also, there is a school in the top ten that I know very well. I used to work there back in my archivist days. I would not recommend it to anyone studying modern U.S. Their job placement rate is horrible and the faculty is not all that supportive.

 

Take the rankings with a grain of salt. I used it when I first started doing my research into programs, but mostly as a good list of schools that offer PhDs.

I wanted to say this earlier when you mentioned wanting to teach at a CSU, but here's another chance -- I would love to teach at a CSU (& I want to continue doing research, and hopefully guide students to do the same). I'm sure others at top programs would feel similarly -- some might slight the R2s, but I doubt it. Jobs are jobs in this competitive field, and I think there are many in the top programs who are committed to teaching and can do it well. A professor of mine at the public institution I attended (which is similar to a CSU) told me to go to the best program I could get into. I don't think one should accept less because they don't want to teach at a R1 school. Your students wherever you end up deserve your effort to be the best scholar/teacher you can be.

Also I don't know what school you're referring to that apparently doesn't care about job placements, but I hardly think that a top ten or twenty program would be able to retain that status with a dismal job placement record. Maaaybe I'm being too optimistic, but I'm going to guess that a good program is going to WANT their students to end up employed and successful, and do what they can within reason to ensure that. Maybe there are slightly less helpful departments / advisors, but I doubt that nothing is offered.

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I don't think i'm blowing minds.  I think there is some self delusion going on in some corners here.  And not generally from the people who are current grad students.  And I'll totally cop to people who aren't impressive coming out of prestigious institutions.  I'm in class with them ;) , and I certainly don't think i'm that impressive.

 

You are impressive, haha!  I just get tired of hearing this type of stuff three years deep into my PhD program.  Number tell a story, but each career can be "unique".  I do think everybody in grad school (especially from lower ranked schools) should be mentally prepared to have to consider career plan b (public history) and career plan c (teaching high school).  No offense to people for which those are your first choice careers they just aren't mine.

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While I understand the desire not to discuss the graduate admissions process and the current state of the academic job market in ways that marginalize those in lower-ranked programs, I think any serious discussion has to be framed in terms of aggregate numbers and broad trends rather than in terms of exceptional experiences and anecdotes. If we were discussing the current state of race in the United States, for instance, wouldn't it be ridiculous to frame the discussion in terms of the success of Barack Obama, rather than in terms of the broad ranging and persistent inequalities and exclusions that are structurally part of American society? Any discussion framed in terms of exceptional experiences only serves to cast what should be a serious discussion in unrealistic terms.

 

In terms of this question of program rank, it sounds like many people are focusing on the number and not what the number represents. Academia is a giant social network in which relationships built on personal friendship and scholarly respect are the main currency. A job applicant isn't more competitive merely because they went to Program #2 instead of Program #65. They are more competitive, among other reasons, because the opinions of the faculty members who wrote letters for them are well regarded and trusted by the adcom at the institution they are applying to.

Even more important that the position of faculty members in the social network of academia is the institutional support Program #2 can give to graduate students that Program #65 can't. Basically I'm talking about time and money. It takes time, a lot of time, to learn a sub-field well, to craft a well-positioned project, to do the research, to write up, and to learn all the networking and performance skills required in order to do well in the social network of academia. The difference between the graduate student from Program #2 and the one from Program #65 isn't that the former is smarter than the latter. It's that the former only had to teach one or two years during the six or seven year degree while the latter had to teach all of those years. The former got to spend two years researching in the field, whereas the latter was lucky to string together two summers of research. The former got department money to attend conferences and the latter didn't. The former went to a program that could afford to host a plethora of workshops, speakers, and reading groups, and the latter was lucky is once a year someone interesting came and give a talk. To the extent institutional rank maps onto institutional resources and support, then it absolutely makes a difference to the type of scholar the program produces and the quality of their dissertation. Maybe not in every case, but in most cases. And it doesn't make any sense to have this discussion with current or prospective graduate students in ways that attend to those exceptional experiences. 

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While I understand the desire not to discuss the graduate admissions process and the current state of the academic job market in ways that marginalize those in lower-ranked programs, I think any serious discussion has to be framed in terms of aggregate numbers and broad trends rather than in terms of exceptional experiences and anecdotes. If we were discussing the current state of race in the United States, for instance, wouldn't it be ridiculous to frame the discussion in terms of the success of Barack Obama, rather than in terms of the broad ranging and persistent inequalities and exclusions that are structurally part of American society? Any discussion framed in terms of exceptional experiences only serves to cast what should be a serious discussion in unrealistic terms.

 

In terms of this question of program rank, it sounds like many people are focusing on the number and not what the number represents. Academia is a giant social network in which relationships built on personal friendship and scholarly respect are the main currency. A job applicant isn't more competitive merely because they went to Program #2 instead of Program #65. They are more competitive, among other reasons, because the opinions of the faculty members who wrote letters for them are well regarded and trusted by the adcom at the institution they are applying to.

Even more important that the position of faculty members in the social network of academia is the institutional support Program #2 can give to graduate students that Program #65 can't. Basically I'm talking about time and money. It takes time, a lot of time, to learn a sub-field well, to craft a well-positioned project, to do the research, to write up, and to learn all the networking and performance skills required in order to do well in the social network of academia. The difference between the graduate student from Program #2 and the one from Program #65 isn't that the former is smarter than the latter. It's that the former only had to teach one or two years during the six or seven year degree while the latter had to teach all of those years. The former got to spend two years researching in the field, whereas the latter was lucky to string together two summers of research. The former got department money to attend conferences and the latter didn't. The former went to a program that could afford to host a plethora of workshops, speakers, and reading groups, and the latter was lucky is once a year someone interesting came and give a talk. To the extent institutional rank maps onto institutional resources and support, then it absolutely makes a difference to the type of scholar the program produces and the quality of their dissertation. Maybe not in every case, but in most cases. And it doesn't make any sense to have this discussion with current or prospective graduate students in ways that attend to those exceptional experiences. 

I think you have hit the nail on the head! There absolutely is a real world difference between the #2 school and the number #64 school. In my case is all too apparent. The majority of the grad students at my MA university, which is ranked in the 60s, tend to write dissertations on local and regional topics precisely because we get zero money for research or at best $1000 for a whole summer. We also, in order to maintain funding, have to TA every semester, keeping us close to home. Consequently, the majority of the grads from here wind up at community colleges or small liberal arts colleges in the middle of no where, because frankly their research, their academic experience, etc., can't stack up with those coming from program #2. I may be an exception for my school, as I did extensive research in Mexico, Cuba, Washington D.C., and New Orleans for my MA thesis. However, the kicker here is I burnt through $6000 of my savings on order to do so.Time will tell though, as I have only received a funded admissions offer from my current institution for the PhD so far. Maybe attending here might still hold me back?  

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I wanted to say this earlier when you mentioned wanting to teach at a CSU, but here's another chance -- I would love to teach at a CSU (& I want to continue doing research, and hopefully guide students to do the same). I'm sure others at top programs would feel similarly -- some might slight the R2s, but I doubt it. Jobs are jobs in this competitive field, and I think there are many in the top programs who are committed to teaching and can do it well. A professor of mine at the public institution I attended (which is similar to a CSU) told me to go to the best program I could get into. I don't think one should accept less because they don't want to teach at a R1 school. Your students wherever you end up deserve your effort to be the best scholar/teacher you can be.

Also I don't know what school you're referring to that apparently doesn't care about job placements, but I hardly think that a top ten or twenty program would be able to retain that status with a dismal job placement record. Maaaybe I'm being too optimistic, but I'm going to guess that a good program is going to WANT their students to end up employed and successful, and do what they can within reason to ensure that. Maybe there are slightly less helpful departments / advisors, but I doubt that nothing is offered.

 

I absolutely agree with you regarding the CSUs. There are a lot of top programs that are committed to teaching. It has just been my observation at the CSU that I attend they care a lot more about coming from a program that has a strong commitment to teaching. Research is very important, but not as important as teaching. One of my advisors has been at my school for ten years. He hardly published a single thing until this past year, because he is so dedicated to teaching and everyone loves him for it (and, yes, he is tenured). He always seems to be doing interviews and he told me point blank that he cares more about teaching than research.

 

As for the top ten program, I actually know for sure their job placement record sucks. It is one of the largest programs in the United States and only a handful of students have been placed and that is coming from the school itself. It is basically a PhD factory. Another advisor told me not to go there, because of their job placement rate. He said that applicants coming from that school aren't prepared for the job market. I have no idea why it is in the top ten. I think it is better in fields outside of U.S. 

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ChibaCity is spot on. The advantages of being at a top tier program have a lot to do with resources (personal, professional, material, etc...). And while what NewEnglandNat is saying might be unpopular, it can only be ignored at one's own peril. To say that it's okay to go to a 2nd tier school because you want to "focus on teaching" at a public university is hardcore rationalization. I started at a community college as a first-generation college student and graduated from a small public university and have been lucky enough to end up at a PhD program near the top of the list. As someone above said, coming from a top 10 program no longer guarantees you a job. Ivy League graduates are applying for those teaching jobs at public universities. And as those universities rely more and more on adjuncts and become more and more desperate for funding, they care less about good teaching. I know most people I am friends with in my program are worried about the job market and most of them have or expect to have plan B's beyond public university jobs. Also at the risk of angering some people, Nat is right about most of the things he wrote and some board members would do well to heed what he's saying. That's not to say if you are in a program ranked #65 you should quit or not go if you're accepted into a program of that ranking. That is a personal decision. But it is to say that you should not go into something like that without being fully aware of your employment prospects and the reality of the situation in academia as it stands. 

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