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Everything You Need to Know About History Majors

by | Feb 22, 2021 | Student Life

History repeats itself but you cannot repeat a history major. Get the most out of your history degree and prepare yourself for the job search following graduating.

If you have a passion for writing, research, critical thinking, and analyzing the past, consider being a history major. The major allows for a variety of career paths in law, journalism, government, education, research, and business. 

Basics of the Field

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Something to keep in mind is that the history field is very competitive and small. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is still an average job growth rate. The mean annual wage for someone who is a history graduate is $63,680 as of May 2019.

Top paying career opportunities are:

  • Federal executive branch
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
  • Scientific research and development services
  • Architectural, engineering, and other services
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools

There is a particularly high amount of employment opportunities found within local, state, and federal government (excluding schools and hospitals). Although it does depend on location and experience, the best areas to live in as a historian are the District of Colombia, Alaska, California, and Maryland.

Why Choose a History Major in College

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A history major might be for you if you enjoy art, business, and government. History is a combination of them all. Once you get into higher-level courses, you choose a specific area to focus on. Typically the areas are focused on past events or eras of history. 

What Skills to Have

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The most vital skill to have is analytical thinking. When majoring in history, you will constantly be evaluating primary sources, secondary sources, and building arguments that are supported by pieces of evidence that you find within those sources. 

Researching is the primary thing that you will do as a student and in your future career. It is relevant to analyze others’ research but also complete research of your own. To do this, you must know reputable sources and find documents. 

Another crucial skill is communication. You will be using high-level written and verbal communication, but also you need to understand other peoples’ communication from the past and present. 

Within your communication skills, you need to be able to answer high-level questions. This will come into play within graduate school when thesis’ and dissertations are required. Although, it’s always good to practice those skills in undergrad too!

If it was not obvious already, someone majoring in history has to have strong reading and writing skills. 

Finally, and one of the most essential things to keep in mind, is you will need to know one or more foreign languages to be accepted into a graduate program and to be high up in the field. 

If you are interested in graduate school, read on to see where it can take you. But, also figure this out early in your undergraduate program in order to meet the requirements for further education. 

How to Build Your Resume

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Throughout your college experience as a student, you should build up your resume by being involved in professional organizations. There are good national and college-level organizations to join. 

Something that is unique to history majors are fellowships, this is where students are given funding in the form of a stipend to do research on a topic. Typically, a student is partnered with a professor. This is why networking is meaningful because it can bring you fellowship opportunities. Along with fellowships, internships are always important to gain experience in any field. 

History students have higher importance of studying abroad. If your interests are global, then it would be beneficial to travel to those countries to do research and gain a greater understanding of the countries. 

Lastly, when looking for on-campus jobs, look for positions in libraries, museums, and archives either on campus or in the community. This will prepare you for an advanced degree or an entry-level position following graduation. While these do not seem related, they utilize many of the same skills that you use when studying.

What Types of History Degrees Are There and Jobs for History Majors

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Associates Degree

An associate’s degree gives history majors solid introduction skills such as reading and writing. Most times, students transfer into 4-year institutions following an associate’s degree. 

Career options for an associate’s degree in history include:

  • Teaching assistant
  • Administrative assistant
  • Tour guides

Bachelor’s Degree

Within a bachelor’s degree, a student gains a general education but then takes specific courses in history. This time allows for choosing a niche in history that is most interesting to the student. 

Career options for a bachelor’s degree in history include:

  • Reporter or journalist
  • Business consultant – give advice to museums, institutions, or historical sites. These positions tend to be on a per-project basis and rarely full-time positions. 
  • Writer or editor
  • Work within National Parks
  • Museum educator or technician 
  • Teacher
  • Archival assistant

Master’s Degree

Most history students need a master’s degree to open up job opportunities. A master’s degree in history takes an additional 2 years after undergraduate education. This is when a student solidifies their niche history subject and writes a master’s thesis on it. This thesis will have to be defended by a group of faculty. 

Career options for a master’s degree in history include:

  • Historian
  • Museum curator
  • Librarian
  • Archivist

Juris Doctorate (JD) Degree

Some history majors decide to go to law school following their undergraduate education. While there are no major requirements for law school, majoring in history prepares law students with the necessary skills to in law school and be a lawyer. Other majors for lawyers include political science, and most times, within liberal arts.

Law school is a 3-year program, and students graduate with a Juris Doctorate degree. 

Ph.D.

A Ph.D. requires at least an extra 5 years of education following a master’s degree. During this, a history student completes coursework in that field, while taking comprehensive examinations, and researching, and writing a dissertation. Within those 5 years, most students will be Teaching Assistants for history courses to undergraduate students. 

Career options for a Ph.D.’s in history include:

  • Professor
  • Department chair
  • Dean

Further Resources for History Majors

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  • American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is an organization that hosts research labs, events, professional development, publications, and resources for history professionals and students. 
  • American Historical Association is an essential resource for history students. They are the largest professional organization for historians. Membership does come with dues but they go towards supporting middle school and high school students with resources, along with the preservation of records and archives. 
    • Why Study History is an article published on AHA’s website. Many historians highly recommend it as a great essay for all history students beginning their journey.
  • Careers for Students of History is a section within the AHA website that is full of expert information on getting an entry-level job within history. 
  • National Council for History Education (NCHE) is an organization that creates a community with the goals to teach, learn, and appreciates diverse histories. 

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