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The Best Ways to Use a History Degree Tools, Tips and Resources for College Students Pursuing a History Major

History majors tend to get a bad rap, as their choice of study is typically deemed a “useless” degree. But the reality is that a bachelor’s degree in history can open the doors to a variety of fields, many of which have high employment rates and salaries. Many seemingly unlikely professionals started with a degree in history, from federal judges to famous Hollywood actors, and nearly half of all students that study history for undergrad have gone on to complete a master’s degree in a related field. Find out what career opportunities are available for history majors and the steps you can take to get there.

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History: It’s Not a Useless Major

Those that have a degree in history will be the first to say that their degree is not a waste and has helped them immensely. The benefits of studying history go far beyond what you read about in history books, and the skills you learn can serve you in a variety of different fields. Here are some of facts about history degrees:

  • According to the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s 2017 Labor Market study, history majors earn a mid-career median salary of $62,000 a year, which is roughly $25,000 higher than the national median salary reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The National Center for Education Statistics reports the median annual salary of history majors with a bachelor’s degree age 25 to 29 is $40,860, which is in the same range as graphic designers and physical science majors, and higher than psychology majors and elementary educators.

  • Famous figures who studied history in college include Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, home design guru Martha Stewart, author H.G. Wells, journalists Wolf Blitzer and Bill O’Reilly, as well as seven different U.S. Presidents and world leaders like W.E.B DuBois and Winston Churchill.

What Can I Do with a History Major?

While many history majors go into teaching, there are plenty of other possible career paths that naturally follow a bachelor’s degree in history. Many jobs require extra education, but to get a better understanding of just how useful a history degree can be, check out some of these traditional and non-traditional careers that complement the skills a history major may possess:

Traditional Careers For History Majors, Salary And Job Growth

  • Job Outlook: 2 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Master’s

Good Fit For: Historians can work for all types of businesses, ranging from government to private sector. The position would be good for someone with strong research and analytical skills, who is willing to spend long hours studying and maybe even traveling to help interpret or educate others on history.

  • Job Outlook: 13 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Doctoral

Good Fit For: The stereotypical job for a history major, growth for this job is steady since many colleges and universities require history classes as part of their core education. Those who enjoy educating, as well as conducting their own research or publishing scholarly works would be a good fit for this career.

  • Job Outlook: 2 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Master’s

Good Fit For: Many librarians have a passion for history, and history majors often enjoy spending time in libraries. This is an ideal fit for those who enjoy books, but also have excellent communication and customer service skills. Helping others learn and explore information is a big part of a librarian’s job.

  • Job Outlook: 7 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Master’s

Good Fit For: Museum curators often have a background in history, using their post-secondary education to specialize in a field while focusing the rest of their education on curation. Those with an artistic or creative mind who can pay close attention to detail may make strong curators.

Non-Traditional Careers For History Majors, Salary And Job Growth

  • Job Outlook: -5 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor’s

Good Fit For: History majors spend a lot of time researching and developing, which are also skills strong editors possess. While print media is shrinking, online publications are growing and in need of people who are good at multi-tasking, organizing and making smart decision under strict deadlines.

  • Job Outlook: 5 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor’s

Good Fit For: Human Resources professionals come from many different backgrounds, but the research and analytical skills history majors develop are a great fit for this field. Those who excel at organizing, recruiting, interacting with and training co-workers and meeting new people may enjoy HR work.

  • Job Outlook: 29 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor’s

Good Fit For: History majors who enjoy foreign cultures may see success transferring their ability to decipher information into spoken, written or sign languages as a translator or interpreter. Those with excellent interpersonal skills and who want to work a more variable schedule may enjoy this field.

  • Job Outlook: 6 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Doctoral

Good Fit For: Lawyers are required to spend a lot of time researching and memorizing the nuances of law. Similarly, history majors are required to research events and memorize events, dates and people, bolstering their research and memorization skills.

  • Job Outlook: 19 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor’s

Good Fit For: Companies who want to know more about their consumers hire market researchers, who study and analyze trends, demographics and economic conditions to help sell a product or service. For history majors who enjoy surveying, finding patterns and building reports, this may be a good fit.

  • Job Outlook: 2 percent
  • Degree Level Required: Bachelor’s

Good Fit For: Writing could mean anything from authoring books to journalism to web content development. History majors who enjoy reading, researching and have excellent written communication skills may consider writing professionally. This field is a good option for those who want to be self-employed or work a more varied or part-time schedule.

Networking Resources for History Majors

To better understand the opportunities earning a history degree could bring, prospective students should consider learning more about the field from those who have gone before them. Networking, mentorships and academic advising are great ways to connect with the people who have hands-on experience, in both history-related industries and with the soft-skills needed to be successful in non-traditional careers with a history major. Here are some quick networking tips to get started:

Helpful Networking Resources For History Majors

American Alliance of Museums

The AAM provides extensive information on museums and their locations, but also provides networking and job opportunities and educational materials on curation, assessments, advocacy and more.

American Historical Association

An organization for all historians, the American Historical Association offers everything from networking to job opportunities, advocacy programs and history education.

American Library Association

The American Library Association provides networking and a job component on their website, along with eLearning programs and scholarship opportunities for aspiring librarians.

Association of Writers & Writing Programs

This resource can connect history majors with careers, contests and a writing community to jumpstart a potential career as a writer.

Go Abroad History Internships

History is an important field across the world, so there are opportunities available in many different countries. This site has a comprehensive list of history internships outside of the United States.

Independent Curators International

Meant for current and aspiring curators, this resource connects curators with job opportunities, training and other curators around the world.

National Council on Public History

This resource connects students with career and internship opportunities in the field of public history, and includes information on how and where historians work.

National Emerging Museum Professionals Network

This networking resource is meant to help connect young professionals interested in museum work with the right people. Find a local chapter here.

Organization of American Historians

This resource boasts a large network of historians and scholars, all of whom are involved specifically in American history.

SchoolSpring

A free resource for education-related job searching, that helps both educators and librarians find available positions near them.

The World History Association

A network of historians who focuses on studying history on a global scale. This site includes publications, conferences and events and competitions for K-12 and college students and teachers.

WritersDigest

For students interested in writing, this site is an excellent place to network with other writers and learn more about what opportunities are available. Their writing competitions are a great place for aspiring authors to start.

Success Story: How to Use a History Major

Michella Chiu (B.A., M.A., A.B.D.) is a history major who went on to pursue successful careers in Marketing, PR, Business Management and Higher Education. She holds graduate degrees from Columbia University and Princeton University, and is a member of Columbia University’s Career Coaches Network. She also holds a certificate in Strategic Leadership Skills as Supervisors from University of Washington. She currently works as the Director of Brand Marketing at GREAT WINE, Inc.

1. Why did you decide to pursue a career in history?

At the very beginning, it was because I loved it. I decided to pursue history degrees when I was in junior high school. At the time, I already had a study group where every member wanted to become a historian or a literature professor. We became best friends on our academic path. Later, I left for another career but I am still grateful that I received training in history.

2. What do you think is an underrated benefit of studying history?

Many people think history is about memorizing facts and dates. In reality, history is perfect training for critical thinking. Historians are trained not to believe what they are told, to instead find facts to support an argument. It is always interesting to see how I myself, in my current role in marketing, still adopt “history thinking” to learn how people consume an idea in the commercial world. I always tell fellow marketers on my team that “every idea is constructed”, which is Strategic Communications 101. History is also the perfect training for writing with supreme organization. Besides training other marketers on my team, I teach college students writing.

3. What advice would you give to students who want to study history and go down the history career path?

Think about whether or not you would like to eventually get a Ph.D., or whether or not you would like to teach. A Ph.D. in History is largely training for academics and professors-to-be. If you are not sure if that’s the way you want to go, complete a lower degree first and get a job. Go for the ceiling degree only when you are sure about your career goals. Having said so, history training will benefit you for a long time.