How to Use a History Degree

By Genevieve Carlton

Published on June 24, 2021

How to Use a History Degree

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History majors strengthen their analytical, research, and critical thinking abilities while studying the past. History blends the humanities and social sciences, offering a strong liberal arts foundation for careers in diverse fields.

During a history degree, students learn about topics like the impact of the Black Death on European society, 20th-century international relations, and America's Civil War. Many history programs offer specializations in areas like ancient history, U.S. history, and public history.

With a history degree, professionals can pursue careers in areas like education, management, sales, administration, and law. According to the American Historical Association, most history majors work in one of these areas. A history degree also leads to opportunities in public relations, library sciences, museums, and the nonprofit sector.

This article introduces the variety of history degree jobs available to people with an undergraduate or graduate degree in history.

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FAQ

What can you do with a history degree?

Graduates with a history degree can pursue careers in education, library science, museums, the nonprofit sector, business, and the public sector. The degree also leads to opportunities in the legal field and communications.

Is history a useless major?

A history degree emphasizes analytical, research, critical thinking, and writing skills. History majors also strengthen their persuasive reasoning and creative thinking abilities. These skills can transfer to diverse careers.

What are the highest-paying jobs for history degree graduates?

Many history majors pursue careers as lawyers, managers, and administrators, according to the American Historical Association. These roles may offer six-figure salaries.

Do history majors make good money?

Professionals with a bachelor's degree in history earn an average salary of over $67,000 per year, according to PayScale data from April 2021. Many history majors also attend graduate school, which leads to higher-paying careers.

By closely reading primary sources, evaluating secondary sources, and interpreting historical materials, history majors gain valuable skills for a variety of career paths. For example, history learners strengthen their persuasive writing, communication, and logical reasoning skills.

Graduates with a history degree can pursue careers in the nonprofit sector, at libraries, in government agencies, and in education. They can also find opportunities in law and management.

History Specializations



History specializations offer focused coursework in a particular area. A specialization can lead to a certain career path after graduation, such as U.S. history teacher or public historian.

Many history departments offer specializations based on a geographic area, time period, or theme. For example, students can specialize in U.S. history, European history, African history, or East Asian history. They can also focus on ancient history, medieval history, early modern history, or modern history. Thematic specializations include public history, women's history, military history, environmental history, and the history of science.

U.S. History

A U.S. history specialization focuses on American history from the colonial era to present. Many U.S. history majors further specialize in areas such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, 20th-century diplomacy, or U.S. social history. Undergraduate history majors often complete courses on the Civil Rights movement, U.S. economic history, and American environmentalism. At the graduate level, history students often conduct original research in their focus area.

The specialization prepares graduates for jobs like U.S. history teacher, museum curator, civics educator, and historian.

Medieval History

A medieval history concentration typically focuses on European history from the fall of Rome through the 16th century. Undergraduate medieval history majors study topics like feudalism, the relationship between European monarchies and the Catholic Church, and the Black Death. At the graduate level, learners may study Latin and read primary source documents.

The specialization leads to roles like European history teacher, medieval historian, writer, and museum worker.

Public History

A public history specialization emphasizes historical education and outreach to the public. During a public history program, majors take courses on topics like museum studies, digital history, and oral history. Students may also complete projects, like designing a museum exhibit or creating a historical website.

With a public history degree, graduates can pursue careers at museums, historical societies, libraries, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. They can also work in the digital humanities and historic preservation.

What Are the Education Requirements for History?



Colleges and universities offer history degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each degree leads to different career paths and opportunities. This section introduces common education requirements and career paths for various history degrees.

Associate

An associate degree in history introduces learners to different historical periods and societies. Students take survey courses in U.S. history, world history, and European history. The degree also incorporates general education requirements in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

An associate degree prepares graduates for support and administrative roles, including administrative assistant, paralegal, and salesperson. Many schools allow students to transfer their associate degree toward a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's

A bachelor's degree in history strengthens critical thinking and research skills. During a bachelor's degree program, history majors study ancient history, U.S. history, and world history. Some history programs incorporate a capstone project, senior seminar, or research paper as a culminating requirement. Many schools also offer an online history degree option.

After completing a bachelor's in history degree, graduates can pursue jobs in education, business, public relations, museum science, and sales. The degree also prepares students for graduate studies in law, library science, and history.

Master's

A master's degree in history introduces learners to graduate-level historical theories and methodologies. In a master's program, students often focus their coursework by choosing a specialization. They take graduate seminars in their specialization to prepare for a master's exam or thesis.

Graduates with a master's degree in history can work as history and social studies teachers, historians, museum curators, and archivists. They can also pursue a doctorate in history.

Doctorate

A Ph.D. in history prepares graduates for academic and research positions. For example, tenure-track history professor jobs require a doctorate. The degree emphasizes strong research, writing, and analytical abilities. Graduate students complete advanced coursework in their focus area and pass comprehensive examinations.

In addition to coursework, most programs include several years of dissertation research and writing before doctoral candidates can defend their dissertation and earn their degree. Doctoral students often spend at least five years in their Ph.D. program.

How Much Does a History Degree Cost?



The total cost of a history degree varies by factors like school, location, and delivery format. In California, for example, students earning an associate degree in history through a community college pay around $2,500 for their degree, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In contrast, a bachelor's degree from a private university costs over $127,000 in tuition and fees. Meanwhile, in-state tuition at four-year public universities costs around $37,000, on average.

Choosing an online history degree can save students money. Many online colleges offer tuition discounts to distance learners. For example, some public universities offer in-state tuition rates to all online learners regardless of residency. Online learners also save on some of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs.

How Much Do History Majors Make?


The five most common professional fields for graduates with a history degree include education, management, law, sales, and administration. Salaries vary considerably by factors like role, experience, and education.

For example, history majors can work as high school teachers, making a median salary of around $63,000 per year. Writers and authors, another common career path for history degree graduates, make median annual salaries of $67,000. The communication skills gained during a history degree also lead to public relations specialist roles, which pay a median annual salary of $62,000.

History majors with an advanced degree can work as lawyers, librarians, historians, and professors. Historians earn a median annual salary of $63,000, while professors make around $80,000 per year, depending on their field and experience.

Career and Salary Outlook for a History Degree



Professionals with a history degree can work as historians, educators, museum curators, and librarians. In these roles, history majors use their critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills. They also rely on communication and creative thinking skills to educate and inform people.

Many of these career paths offer above-average salaries. However, some history degree jobs require a graduate degree. For example, historians typically hold a master's degree, as do librarians. The following list outlines several common careers for graduates with a history degree.

History Professor

History professors teach undergraduate and graduate students in their specialty area, such as modern U.S. history, medieval Europe, or environmental history. They write lectures and assess student learning through papers and exams. History professors often conduct research in their field and publish their work in scholarly journals or with academic presses.

Historian

Historians examine historical sources to analyze and interpret the past. They use written sources, artifacts, and visual materials to gain historical information. After conducting research, historians present their findings in reports, academic papers, and presentations. Historians also conduct educational programs and work with museums or historic sites to preserve materials.

Librarian

Librarians manage digital and print collections. They catalogue library material and assist patrons looking for books, newspapers, videos, and other materials. They also design programs for the public and educate users about information resources. They can work in a variety of settings, including public libraries, academic libraries, and corporate libraries.

Museum Curator

Museum curators perform administrative and research tasks for museums. They acquire and store items in the museum's collection and put together exhibitions to showcase the collection for the public. Museum curators also research and authenticate items and manage educational programs to teach the public about the museum's field.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
History Professor $80,790 9%
Historian $63,100 3%
Librarian $60,820 5%
Museum Curator $52,140 11%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Certifications and Licensure for History



Many history degree jobs do not require a license or certification. However, in some roles, history graduates benefit from an additional professional credential. For example, educators often need a teaching license. The following list outlines several common licenses and certifications for history graduates.

Teaching License


K-12 history and social studies teachers at public schools need a teaching license to practice. Requirements vary by state, but most states require a bachelor's degree and completion of an educator training program and student-teaching experience. Candidates must also pass content area exams.

Board Certified Social Studies-History Teacher


The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards awards board certification to experienced social studies-history teachers. Candidates need a bachelor's degree and three years of teaching experience. They must also submit three portfolios and pass a content knowledge exam.

Certified Archivist


The Academy of Certified Archivists offers a professional certification for trained archivists. Candidates need a related master's degree and professional experience. They must also pass an exam. Current graduate students can sit for the exam and meet the experience requirement after passing.

Resources for History Majors

A professional association for historians, the AHA offers a career center and teaching resources. The association also hosts conferences and publishes historical research. AAM promotes museums by developing standards of excellence and advocating for museum professionals. The alliance offers career advancement tools, a job center, and professional development resources. Established in 1876, the ALA represents library professionals. The association offers professional development opportunities, awards scholarships, and hosts conferences and events. An association of U.S. historians, the OAH publishes research, hosts a lecture series, and provides career support for historians and other educators. The organization's research and teaching tools include podcasts, archives, and teaching units.

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

See articles by Genevieve

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