US News and World Report has released their 2009 list of the top history graduate departments in the country. I don’t put too much stock in these lists. For example, my alma mater, SUNY-Stony Brook, is tied for #71 in the country. This means that those who attended Princeton Theological Seminary (#52) and Jewish Theological Seminary (tied for #71) received better or at least the same graduate training in HISTORY as I did. Perhaps this is true, but how could a seminary that offers Ph.Ds in historical theology or church history be ranked higher than a Research One institution with a faculty that has won four Guggenheim Fellowships.
OK–perhaps this all sour grapes on my part. I was trained well at Stony Brook and I am thus a bit defensive.
But I often tell students interested in graduate school to try to find a particular mentor to study with, no matter what the graduate program happens to “ranked” by US News. Of course the top programs have some very strong mentors and strong supporting casts, but sometimes a graduate student might be better off with a well-known or well-connected mentor at a second tier school who has similar scholarly interests and can devote more time to them. This was certainly my experience at Stony Brook.
My advice is to take these rankings with a grain of salt.