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Best Jobs For History Majors

August 10, 2021 | Staff Writers

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From 3300-1300 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization stretched across Southeast Asia. Its cities had water supply systems, brick houses, and sophisticated urban planning. The civilization was larger than Egypt or Mesopotamia. In some ways, however, little is known about the Indus Valley people because, as of yet, its language and script are still undeciphered.

History is fascinating. Unfortunately, there is a commonly held belief that a degree in history will not serve you well. But this assumption is not true. There are many career paths open to people who choose to pursue a history major. These jobs span a huge range of fields and include working in government, the private sector, or academia. While some of them are more financially lucrative than others, they are all interesting and fulfilling to someone who considers themselves a history buff.

With a history degree, you can do everything from archival work to museum curation. It also allows you to build a strong base to pursue further education in many areas, from archaeology to anthropology. If you are fascinated by things like the Indus Valley and have an urge to delve deeply into the depths of an ancient civilization and culture to uncover the secrets of its script, history might be the path for you. 

To help make the next steps easier, we’ve put together a complete guide to employment for someone with a history degree. 

First, we look at the basics: what, exactly, can you do with a history degree? Next, we get into some of the career options open to a history major. Then, we tackle some of the ways that a history degree can help you out when it comes to other degrees. Finally, we look at the practical side of things: what kind of history degree is the most useful to you? 

Overall, we hope to leave you with a better understanding of the employment options available to history majors. 

If you are considering pursuing a degree in history but need a little more information, here’s a look at some of the paths open to you if you have a passion for history. 

What Can You Do with a Degree in History

Let’s say that you’ve just told your family that you want to study history. Maybe your family supports your passion and stands entirely behind you. Or, maybe you’ve started to hear the same old mantras: arts degrees will need you nowhere, or you need to study a STEM field to get a job. 

Well, we are here to tell you that this is not the case. History is a highly employable major. History professors can make over $130,000 per year. Even then, only 18% of history majors work in education. The other 82% work in a range of fields from law to archaeology or even management positions. 

What kind of jobs can you get with an undergraduate history degree?

Many people who study history want to become historians. To become a historian, you will likely need to be employed by a university or museum. With an undergraduate degree, you will not become a university professor. However, there are a huge number of jobs open to people with BAs in history. 

Some of the major areas that people with history degrees can find work include:

  • Heritage 
  • Research
  • Government
  • Museums
  • Education
  • Media and Journalism

These fields encompass a wide array of history jobs themselves. These roles can include research assistant, research coordinators, lead researchers, heritage officers, heritage advisors, museum curators, exhibition coordinators, teachers, professors, journalists, editorial writers, and heritage protection officials. 

In addition to the more obvious jobs, people with history degrees are well qualified for many different kinds of work that may seem unrelated at first glance. These include just about any degree that requires a BA, and these positions include writing jobs, communications work, civil servant positions, advertisers, private-sector researchers, analysts, and advisors. 

Many journalists and media personnel also began with history degrees. This is because the overlap in skills, and even knowledge base, is pretty substantial. Reading, researching, writing, critical thinking, analysis, and argumentation are skills that are highly valued across a range of disciplines, including media. 

What career possibilities open up with a graduate degree in history?

Obtaining a graduate degree in history opens up a large number of career options. For instance, with a graduate degree, you can begin to work towards becoming a history professor at a university. Working as a history professor is one of the most respected, rewarding, and lucrative professions in the field of history.

With an MA in history, you are also much more likely to find work in a prestigious museum, archive or archival center, research center, or with the government. Even if the position in question does not explicitly require applicants to have an MA, an MA will give you an edge over the competition and boost your chances of securing the position. 

If you plan to teach at the high school level, a graduate degree in history can be a huge advantage. However, you can also benefit from a major in history paired with a bachelor’s of education. To teach history in the public school system, you are required to have an education degree. The history degree itself tends to come second, in this case, but while it is not a requirement, it does make you more marketable. 

Master’s degrees in history tend to correlate to pay increases in archival, government, or research work. Also, an MA or Ph.D. will give you a much deeper and more sophisticated understanding of the topics that you are studying. It will mean that your expertise in history extends beyond the broad survey provided by an undergrad.

One of the unfortunate facts that you must consider is that history degrees and programs tend to have lower grant and scholarship funding levels than degrees in STEM fields. The primary reason for this is because degrees in STEM fields are more easily connected to profit, economic growth, and corporate structures. Many of the people and organizations that provide scholarships and grants for STEM students do so because they believe it will benefit them in the long run. In history, this is not the case. 

That said, there are still many financial aid and scholarship options available to MA students in history. Most graduate students receive at least some funding for their studies. Many of them do not pay out of pocket at all during their degree. If you are looking at a degree at the graduate level in history, make sure to look into the financial aid options available to you. Often, history funding is provided by state or public institutions. 

The most obvious career path is as a historian. However, a historian is more of a general term than a specific job. Historians might work in universities, research institutes, government departments, archives, museums, or as contractors or advisors. Often, historians can make a significant amount of money writing popular history books or by serving as experts in the media. 

Some common history careers open to people with degrees in history include: 

  • Gallery exhibition officer
  • Museum curator
  • Archivist
  • Archival assistant
  • Historical advisor
  • Researchers
  • Museum education officers
  • Teachers

There are also a lot of private-sector careers open to history majors as well. History degrees are regularly sought after by private-sector employers because history degrees provide students with a lot of easily transferable skills, a solid knowledge base, and a proven track record of research, analysis, and communication. Other skills that are sought after include project management, innovation, and critical thinking. Some private sectors that regularly hire history majors include marketing firms, advertising agencies, and public relations bodies. 

One of the often-overlooked career options open to history majors is a career in conservation or preservation. There are countless organizations, nonprofits, government bodies, and other institutions around the world dedicated to preserving and conserving historical sites, objects of historical importance, or heritage areas. Many of these organizations hire professionals to serve as consultants, coordinators, experts, and organizers. 

Career Options For History Majors

There is no shortage of career options for history majors. If you’re looking for a job in the field of history, where you can actively spend your days studying history, you will need to set your sights on one of a few paths. If you are interested in pursuing history educationally but hope to work in an unrelated career, the options are almost endless. 

Here’s a look at some of the career options that are available to graduates from history programs. 

What is a history major, and what does a career in history look like?

A history major is just what it sounds like it is. This undergraduate degree focuses on studying history and involves gathering information about the past, analyzing historical records, reading primary and secondary sources, synthesizing and critiquing evidence, and producing theories. 

Often, a history degree includes a variety of courses, like general historiography, research methods, historical analysis, and numerous electives. To complete a history degree, a student will also likely have to complete normal requirements for an arts degree, such as core English and science courses. 

A career in history is a different thing than a career for a history major. A career in history is a career that actively engages with and studies history or historical situations. These careers might include librarians at certain institutions, museum staff, curators, historians, researchers, professors and educators, archaeologists, or anthropologists. 

A career in history will look different depending upon the specific path you choose. 

How much do history majors make?

It is difficult to state, definitively, what history majors make. If you look online, you will likely find a different answer on every website you look at. These averages can be ridiculously low at times, primarily because, unlike a degree like engineering, you are not being trained for a specific job or skill set when you pursue a history degree. Instead, you acquire a range of skills and a base of knowledge.

According to the BLS, a historian will make an average of $63,380 per year. The BLS also suggests that archaeologists and anthropologists stand to make about the same amount on average. An archivist or curator stands to make about $50,000 per year. 

That said, many people who decide to pursue history degrees do not end up working in careers that are directly related to history in the traditional sense. For that reason, it is difficult to gauge the overall earning potential of a history major. 

The highest paying history profession tends to be history professors at universities. At many schools, university professors can make well over a hundred thousand dollars. According to the Bureau of Labor Studies, the average history professor in the United States can expect to make about $75,000 per year. The average salary for a professor at a university in the United States is $93,900. The highest university professor salaries can range into the millions of dollars, though these rates are usually reserved for medical and financial professors. 

What industries are hiring graduates with history degrees?

Industries across the board frequently seek out people with history majors. Historians often find work in government, in private sectors, in academia, and the civil service. Increasingly, we hear about people with history degrees working in the private sector. These positions might include entertainment, arts, design work, finances, communication technology, and marketing. 

One of the most popular jobs for history majors is as a history teacher. A history teacher is different from a history professor. History professors teach history at universities. Usually, they also undertake original historical research of their own. In contrast, history teachers are devoted almost entirely to the teaching of history. Rather than teaching at a university, they will teach at a high school or middle school. History is also taught at colleges. At colleges, lecturers may or may not undertake their historical research, depending upon the college in question as well as the lecturer. 

In addition to educational institutions and the private sector, museums, archives, heritage boards, governments, and research facilities hire historians regularly. These sectors often receive public funding and taxpayer money, which they use to hire professionals and experts that are not typically valued in the capitalist marketplace. Unfortunately, history is not a particularly important field in the eyes of many business or corporate entities, beyond the extent to which it can provide entertainment. 

How a History Degree Can Help with Other Majors

For some people, a history major helps them achieve their primary goal, which might lie in another field. A history degree is a great way to complement another degree. It can also serve as a great stepping stone to graduate study in another field, such as anthropology or archaeology.

What graduate programs accept students with undergraduate history degrees?

Many arts and social science programs accept students who have undergraduate degrees in history. A BA in history is a well respected and well-rounded degree in the eyes of most academics. History majors commonly go on to study history, archaeology, archival work, historiography, political science, cultural studies, or law at graduate school. Other history majors might go into areas like library studies, heritage, conservation, or public works. 

Many other degrees are closely related to history and involve historical research, and they are more than willing to accept history grads. Such programs might include theology, cultural studies, political studies, and specialized regional studies courses.

Of course, graduate schools focused on history are the best option for someone attempting to take their undergraduate history education to the graduate level. Some of the best graduate schools for history include:

As the University of Oxford’s Department of History notes, a degree in history is not only valuable in academia but translates easily into a huge range of other disciplines and occupations. 

How can a history degree help law students?

History is a great undergraduate degree to take if you plan to enter law school. History is commonly understood to be one of the best undergrad degrees you can get if you plan to go on to law school. 

Many of the skills required to be a successful lawyer can be attained and developed through a history undergrad. For one thing, much of the law is based on historical cases related to similar situations, which is what is known as precedent. Therefore, understanding how to analyze, research, and communicate the significance of historical events is crucial to putting together legal arguments.

If you plan to study law, it can help to pair your history courses with criminology, sociology, or pre-law courses. This will allow you to develop a wide range of relevant skills and knowledge bases. It will also mean that you can learn how history and criminology or sociology interact before your entrance to law school. 

What skills does a history degree give you that help with other majors?

Many skills developed throughout a history degree are beneficial elsewhere. As a history degree is a bachelor’s of arts, it comes with many of the same skill sets as other BAs. If you study history alongside other subjects, you are likely to find significant overlap in the kind of tasks you are assigned, and the skills and tools that are required to complete these tasks. 

History degrees tend to develop critical thinking skills, and skills in reading and writing, argumentation, analyzing, theorizing, and presenting. These skills can easily transfer to a large number of other majors in both the arts and sciences. 

Many historians combine their arts degree with scientific research. This is particularly the case if they intend to be involved in archaeological or excavation work. 

Most Useful Degree To Get For History

History is a very broad field. As a result, it is possible for two people to study history and to specialize in two very different areas. 

The best and most useful degree depends on the type of work you would like to complete. For instance, if you hope to eventually work in a public archive, you are better off taking a history degree with a specialization in archival studies than a degree in art history (unless, of course, you are planning to work in an art archive). 

To figure out which degree is best suited to you, you should figure out what you would like to do with the degree once you have completed it.

What is the most useful history degree for acceptance into graduate school?

If you are planning to attend graduate school to study history, any available history degree will do the trick. 

If you want to study a specific topic, an undergrad degree that focuses on that topic is probably the most useful. For instance, if you want to pursue a master’s degree in American history, you should take courses relating to American history at the undergrad level rather than taking courses related to another era.

For many schools, it is an unwritten requirement that students wishing to get into graduate programs must have honors degrees. This requirement falls away if the number of applicants does not allow the school to maintain this policy.

Which colleges offer the best history degrees?

Most of the biggest and best-respected schools in the world offer history degrees. It is generally one of the foundational programs at any university. Some of the best schools to study history include:

According to the QS World University Rankings, the best schools to study history are currently: 

Which history degree has the most career prospects?

Much like a political science degree, history degrees are not restrictive. They are also not entirely specific. History and political science are not like journalism or engineering. You do not study history and then find a job at a historian firm. Instead, your history degree will apply to a wide range of professions in many different fields. 

For example, a television series focusing on the early nineteenth century in New York will have historians on hand, including costume designers, to ensure that the show and its depiction of events are historically accurate. 

A history degree is also unlike an engineering degree, to continue the example because you cannot specialize in an area such as civil engineering or mechanical engineering. Instead, you specialize in a specific historical topic. There are no positions carved out for people who specialize in Aztec history at major corporations. However, someone with expertise in Aztec history is invaluable when the need for knowledge arises. 

It is possible to specialize in certain areas of history. For example, someone who studies art history might find a job at a gallery, on an art committee, in government, or as an artistic advisor. Someone who specializes in military history might find themselves employed by the government, by museums, by the military, or by a university. Someone who specializes in American history might be hired as an advisor, a commentator, a consultant, or a teacher. 

The skills that you learn as a history major are also very translatable. Some of the skills commonly associated with history degrees include: 

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Reading and writing

Conclusion

Like we said earlier, history is fascinating. Through studying history, we determine how it relates to the present and future. Professional historians research everything from sports to literature and war to activism. The broad scope of history provides insights into how things once were and the impact it has on the modern world. Without historians, the world would be a far less educated place. 

History is not just interesting. It is also a highly employable field. Some of the most common jobs for people with history degrees include archivists, historians, professors, curators, lawyers, guides, and legal assistants. History majors make an average of about $55,000 per year and can make upwards of $130,000 per year. 

If you are thinking about pursuing a career in history, the first step is to find a suitable school. To work as a historian, you will need a BA. Many people also go on to pursue MAs in history. To teach history, you will also likely be required to complete a Ph.D. In addition to finding a school, you need to find an area of interest or specialization. Often, this comes after your studies have already started. 

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the field of history and of the places that a history degree can take you. As you can see, there are many benefits to studying history and a lot of interesting and fulfilling jobs it can lead you to.

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