The history major’s skill in working with many documents to get an idea of past events and their significance translates into a number of careers, including archivist, curator, historian and private practice lawyer. The American Historical Association (AHA) lists even more jobs common to history degree holders, such as editor, information manager and educator. Leading off its “Careers for History Majors” Web page, the AHA sums up the advantage of getting a liberal arts education: “As a liberal arts major, of course, the world is your oyster and you can consider a multitude of careers.”
If you have an inquisitive mind and a hunger for knowledge and frequently find yourself searching for deeper meaning and connections between seemingly unrelated topics, liberal arts degrees may be a springboard to a rewarding future.
A 2010 survey of employers by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that the top skills employers across industries wanted in new employees included oral and written communication, critical thinking and reasoning, problem solving and innovation, and teamwork, among others.
That’s good news for students wondering how to reconcile a love of history with a job market low on openings for historians. Online liberal-arts degrees in history offer a range of valuable skills that can prepare students for careers from government to education to business.
An overview of history degree levels
History degrees are available at all levels, but most related careers require at least a bachelor’s degree in history. Earning a two-year associate degree in history can be a good stepping stone toward the four-year degree but is rarely sufficient on its own for most jobs.
- At the bachelor’s degree level, students generally take both introductory survey courses in history and more focused seminars that delve deep into a particular region, historical period or problem in history. Most bachelor’s degree programs in history require students to gain a wide understanding in history, including both world history and U.S. history and covering a range of historical periods.
- At the master’s degree level, students in history are able to focus on a specific area of interest and many master’s degree programs require students to write a thesis, which contains original research and analysis on a topic of their choice. According to the University of Northern Colorado, a master’s in history may serve as a point of entry into a PhD program, an advanced credential for teachers or a degree in its own right.
- At the doctoral degree level, students select a niche area of history to specialize in and produce an original dissertation exploring that topic. The doctoral degree focuses on research and teaching and gives students a chance to add to existing historical theory and thought.
Common careers for history graduates
The career potential for history majors goes far beyond the field of history. According to the American Historical Association, history majors are well positioned to pursue careers in education, research, communications and business. Take a look at other popular jobs for history graduates, with 2020 wages reported by the BLS:
- Writers and authors: $67,120
- History teachers, post-secondary: $85,630
- Lawyers: $126,930
- Librarians: $60,820
- Paralegals and legal assistants: $52,920
While some of the careers above require additional training, a history degree serves as a solid foundation for students hoping to get started.
Examples of classes required to get a history degree, according to the College Board include “Modern England” and “Civil War and Reconstruction.”–Generally, history classes focus on a specific time period or they cover research methods that require students to work with original documents or generate bibliographies. The College Board stresses that organization and good reading and writing skills are traits of successful history students, as is the ability to “take details and use them to draw a ‘big picture’ of the past.”
History at a glance
- Salary: Historians earned a median annual wage of $63,100 (BLS, 2020)
- Job Outlook, 2019-29:: 3 percent
- Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: What’s it Worth?
- History, University of Northern Colorado, https://www.unco.edu/programs/history/history-ma/, accessed November 2018
- Career Diversity for Historians, American Historical Association, https://www.historians.org/jobs-and-professional-development/career-diversity-for-historians, accessed November 2018
- Major: History, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/history-history, accessed November 2018
- Historians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm, accessed November 2018
- Writers and Authors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm#tab-5, accessed November 2018
- History Teachers, Postsecondary, Occupational Employment Statistics, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor,https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes251125.htm, accessed November 2018
- Lawyers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-5, accessed November 2018
- Librarians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-5, accessed November 2018
- Paralegals and Legal Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-5, accessed November 2018