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.
Choose among 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.
Find online degrees in history
History courses traditionally involve significant amounts of reading and writing, and online degrees in history are no exception. However, a growing number of online resources are making online history programs more interactive. Online projects to collect oral histories, a growing number of libraries and archives that are scanning and putting primary source documents online, and virtual tours of everything from government buildings to museums are just a few of the online resources that help make history come alive in the virtual environment, according to education technology website EdTechTeacher.org.
Common careers for history graduates
Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the 3,320 historians working in the U.S. earned mean annual wages of $57,840 in 2010, the career potential goes far beyond this narrow category. 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 2010 wages reported by the BLS:
- Writers and authors: $65,960
- History teachers, post-secondary: $70,860
- Lawyers: $129,440
- Librarians: $56,360
- Paralegals and legal assistants: $49,640
While some of the careers above require additional training, a history degree serves as a solid foundation for students hoping to get started.
In 2009, The American Scholar reported that 10.7 percent of undergrads were pursuing a history degree in the 2003-2004 academic year, making it nearly twice as popular as the other core humanities disciplines of English (3.9 percent), foreign language and literature (1.3 percent) and philosophy and religious studies (0.7 percent) combined.
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: History majors had a median income of $50,00
- Graduate school: 46 percent of students with a bachelor's degree in history go on to graduate school
- Employment: 91 percent of history grads were employed
- Common occupations: Management (20 percent), office work (18 percent), sales (14 percent), education (8 percent), legal (6 percent)
(Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: What's it Worth?