What Can I Do with a History Degree? Defining Different Career Tracks
A recent article in Perspectives on History, the magazine of the American Historical Association, lists three myths about people who graduate with degrees in history:
- They are underemployed,
- They are not prepared to move directly into employment,
- They are underpaid.
The article cites data that not only dispels these myths but encourages students to study history and the humanities.
With concentrations in American History, World History, and Public History, Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History (MAH) degree program offers direction for people wondering, What can I do with a history degree? The answer is that a graduate with a MAH possesses the skills and knowledge necessary for a career in a variety of fields.
A Wide Range of Career Opportunities
Another myth exists that the majority of history majors eventually become historians or enter similar occupations. Industry data tells a different story. Of the 2.21% of American adults with a Bachelor’s degree in history, only 0.5% followed the field to become, for example, a museum professional.
With the small percentage of people becoming a historian or pursuing a related role, where can a history degree take graduates? The following breakdown presented in the Perspectives on History article shows where the majority of students find employment after graduation.
- 18% entered education, training, and library positions
- 15% pursued management positions: business, science, and arts
- 11% advanced into legal occupations
- 10% hold sales jobs
- 10% went into office and admin support
Using a history degree as a starting point, almost half of graduates pursue advanced studies in areas such as law, education, and management. Having a diverse background before pursuing graduate studies is encouraged by some institutions. For example, the American Bar Association recommends students pursue a field of interest before entering law school. Students with a history degree are well-positioned to enter the field of law with their background in American history, global studies, critical thinking, and research.
How a History Degree Refines Key Skills
The data confirms that history graduates are prepared to move into a wide range of careers. What a history degree can do for students is to strengthen the skills necessary for employment across industries.
- Research skills
Understanding historical events requires fact-finding and interpretation. Students with a history degree continuously use research skills to answer questions about history using relevant and credible data before presenting a conclusion. Research skills are important across professions from legal to health to business.
- Analytical acumen
History students know how to break complex historical events into basic elements. Students look for the cause and effect of these elements, such as how a new political leader in a country affected its trade policy. These analytical skills easily translate to professions outside of history. For example, in a company, successful employees identify the key profit-making actions of the business and how it relates to their job.
- Critical thinking
Critical thinking skills build on analytical acumen, not only drawing theories on the data presented but incorporating outside information and testing the theories to verify a conclusion. This well-reasoned approach to testing an idea or answering a question is relevant in all career paths.
- Presentation skills
Once the research, interpretation, and conclusions are complete, history students must present ideas to their audiences. Articulating findings to an audience requires oral, written and presentation skills applicable in any work scenario such as in a classroom or business meeting.
Programs such as Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program refine these skills. The Norwich program focuses on three tracks: American History, Public History, and World History.
The American History track explores historical periods from early America through the 20th century. This concentration provides graduate students with the information necessary to understand current issues in American society. The knowledge and skills in this track can prepare students who want to work in areas such as immigration, foreign affairs, or civil rights.
The Public History concentration explores how graduates can make history available to the public with courses such as Archival Studies and Museum Studies. Students focus on preserving and presenting history, such as exhibiting tangible artifacts or maintaining complete records. With the “service to society” intent, students in this concentration can easily translate their knowledge to fields such as grant writing or records management.
Another MAH concentration at Norwich is World History. Students traverse the history of humans around the globe from the hunter-gatherer era to the late 20th century. This broad historical foundation challenges students to think about early societal influences, their interactions and impacts on the world today. Graduates can leverage knowledge by becoming a teacher or working in an international organization.
Each concentration presents many options for students wondering where a history degree may take them, with reasonable earning potential.
What Careers Are Obtainable with a History Degree?
The Perspectives on History article describes how history graduates can work in any industry; however, some directly applicable careers include the following.
Teachers create, plan, and present lessons for students. Most often, teachers specialize in one area. History graduates typically specialize in history or a social science.
A high school teaching position may only require a bachelor’s degree while a postsecondary teaching job usually requires a master’s degree or higher. Both high school and postsecondary teachers need additional licensing per state requirements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), community colleges may require a master’s degree to become a teacher; however, it depends on the institution.
High school teachers earn a median annual wage of $60,320 with some difference between public and private schools, according to the BLS. Teachers in a public school earn a median annual wage of $61,040 while teachers in a private school earn $54,150.
For all postsecondary teachers, the median annual wage in May 2018 was $78,470, as recorded by the BLS. History postsecondary teachers earned slightly less, with a median wage of $74,590. Similar to high school teachers, the median wage differs depending on the type of institution. Local junior college teachers earned $83,530 while state junior college teachers earned $56,930.
Curator or Archivist
A history degree can take students to conventional careers as curators or archivists. Curators collect and preserve historical items, typically putting displaying them for the public. They often work in museums or art institutions where their collections are viewed.
Archivists work behind the scenes of public displays, authenticating artifacts and documents, storing them in an organized system and helping researchers, curators, and the public access the pieces.
The median annual wage for curators was $53,780 in May 2018, while archivists earned slightly less at $52,240, according to the BLS.
Grant writers usually work for nonprofit organizations, finding and applying for funding or grants for a project. Grant writers often collect the information needed before funding applications applying. Once receiving funding, they ensure it is used appropriately and, in some cases, report to the grant provider on the project’s progress. Grant writers must have excellent written and oral skills to present the grant request to funders.
While a master’s degree isn’t usually required to become a grant writer, experience in the specific field of study is, according to PayScale. Also, according to PayScale, the average annual salary for grant writers is $48,046. However, this can change with relevant years of experience. Entry-level grant writers earn an average salary of $40,048 per year, while those with five to nine years of experience earn an average salary of $50,625 per year, according to PayScale.
Prospective graduate students may not think of a history degree taking them into records management. However, with the skills necessary to organize information logically, it’s a natural fit.
Records managers are responsible for organizing, storing, and accessing an organization’s records. Most records deal with sensitive information, such as patient history, salary, or criminal convictions, so records managers must adhere to strict requirements. Medical records and health information technicians, for example, must code patient files correctly and follow strict regulatory requirements for working with patient records.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a records manager is $59,824. Entry-level records managers earn an average salary of $40,805. Those with between 10 to 19 years of experience earn an average salary of $68,680 for skills such as legal compliance, people management, and project management. Salary differs by industry. According to the BLS, medical records and health information technicians earn a median wage of $44,010.
Explore a History Degree at Norwich
The myths of underemployed, underprepared or underpaid history majors belong in the past. Employers realize that individuals with postgraduate degrees in history can bring high-level skills and knowledge to their organizations. With abilities to thoroughly research problems, analyze and make critical decisions, and present these decisions clearly, history graduates are prepared to put their degree to use in any industry.
Norwich University is an important part of American History. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and the first private military college in the United States.
With Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History, individuals can enhance their awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing the skills needed to refine research, writing, analysis, and presentation skills. The program offers three tracks—American History, World History, and Public History—allowing students to tailor studies to personal interests and goals.
History Is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data, Perspectives on History
Master of Arts in History, Norwich University
Pre-Law, Preparing for Law School, American Bar Association
What Skills Should You Have When You Leave a History Class? American Historical Association
5 Benefits of a History Degree, Norwich University
High School Teachers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Postsecondary Teachers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average Grant Writer Salary, PayScale
Average Records Manager Salary, PayScale
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics