You might be passionate about history and all things found in your grandmother’s attic covered in dust, but are there actually jobs for history majors?
Considered one of the humanities, you have probably been warned that majoring in history offers a well-rounded education, but unlike a nurse or computer science geek, lacks specific sought after career options, correct?
Consider this—history major skill sets often include:
Hands-on internships in museums, public agencies, and other such organizations abound within all fifty states, and can open doors to many history major career options.
Common jobs for history majors include: teachers, public officials, paralegals and lawyers, tour guides, researchers, writers, librarians, curators, journalists.
The truth is that if you are passionate about history, and work to combine knowledge with gained experience and learned skills, then a history degree is not only practical, it’s extremely marketable.
The short answer? A lot! The diverse skill set that a history degree education provides allows for many career paths in many sectors.
The most obvious skill that you get from a history degree is a thorough understanding of historic events and facts. You’ll know, or at least have a general idea for, the significant names, dates, and events that shaped our collective history, both here in the United States and globally. You’ll understand how countries were formed, how people lived, and how society moved from ancient civilization to the present. But this historical knowledge won’t just be reciting facts and figures, it will involve the significance and the underlying importance of major events. You’ll not only know the names and dates behind history’s most important events, but why they were important, both leading up to the historical event and the aftermath.
But there has to be more to it than mere historical knowledge, right? Yes!
First of all, you will learn about the historical method, which is essentially a systematic approach to answering questions related to the past. The process starts with framing a question, such as “Why did this happen?” or “What were the results of the event?” Now the historical researcher knows precisely what they are looking for. If the question is not framed properly, the research can stray into vague or disconnected topics. After the question is framed, history majors will then use their available resources to answer these questions and generate information that helps us reach conclusions.
To generate information and conclusions, a history major will learn to not only find, but evaluate sources. Historians will select relevant information from primary and secondary sources and gauge its reliability, accuracy, and point of view. One key point that researchers will look for is a connection between sources. If two sources make the same claim, there is a reasonable expectation that the information is accurate and reliable.
In the end, a history major will develop a wide range of useful skills. This includes effective writing and the ability to communicate in a clear and engaging manner. It will give a student critical analysis, which is vital for the decision-making process allowing the graduate to succeed in many careers with a history degree.
While the opportunities are broad for someone with a history degree, here are the highest paying history degree jobs you can get right out of school. The good news: these history graduate jobs are not isolated in popular historical destinations. Instead, these in-demand positions exist all over the country.
#1 High School History Teacher
Avg. Salary: $56,000
It is one of the most obvious history major jobs, but it takes more than just a strong knowledge in history. Being a teacher in any form requires patience, dedication, and commitment. While elementary and middle school teachers will cover history in some form, high school is when history-specific classes usually begin. You’ll need an education not just on historical information, but on how to teach. You’ll also need a certification to teach in your state.
#2 Research Assistant
Avg. Salary: $43,000
A researcher is someone who investigates knowledge and seeks to establish facts. They will need to make detailed observations, analyze information, and interpret the results to make a conclusion. Research skills are needed from nearly every corner of the job market, including the public and private sectors. These jobs include working with teams, meeting with clients, designing a research program, and running field work.
#3 Paralegal or Legal Assistant
Avg. Salary: $48,000
High Salary: $77,000
Working as a paralegal requires research, organization, and clear writing skills, and lawyers don’t always have time to conduct these tasks on their own. A paralegal or legal assistant is responsible for gathering facts related to a case, searching for previous cases, and finding laws, regulations, and legal articles related to the issue at hand. A degree in history becomes extremely useful, and many history majors find jobs in the legal sphere.
With training, certification, experience, and further education, history majors can work in almost any part of the economy. While these history graduate jobs may require additional education, they also come with a handsome paycheck and long-term career stability.
Liberal arts degrees, including philosophy, literature, and of course, history, can get a bad reputation for being too broad, meaning they don’t directly apply to a single career. However, the one distinct advantage of a history degree is the large amount of options you have after graduation. As we showed you earlier, you can go anywhere with an education in history. Jobs with a history degree range from from writing historical books to creating history as a political leader. But how do you convince employers that you are the right candidate for a job?
It applies to any position, but you should always focus on how your skills benefit an employer. Some educational paths have it easy, as their skills directly apply to the position. An accounting major, for example, has a pretty clear idea of how their skills will help a business. So how does a history degree help a business? Start by finding out what the position includes and highlight ways that your education complements these tasks. This can include all of your research, communication, and analytical skills, but try to be as specific as possible.
The best place to start selling these benefits is your cover letter. The resume is all about you: what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and what recognitions you’ve earned. The cover letter, however, should be about the employer and how you can help their needs. Site an example of their needs in the job description, then highlight how your history degree and skills will fill this need.
Depending on what direction you take your career, you will likely want to continue to grow, develop, and enhance your education. This can include more formal education, like a master’s degree or doctorate, or it can come from certification and training by recognized organizations. Your education could also involve a specific minor that complements your history studies.
With increased interest in local history, and websites like Ancestry.com, a concentration in public history offers more targeted work opportunities in archives, museums, local governments, and the tourism industry. Employment with popular destinations points, such as George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, or work as a preservationist at a local college library allows historians to practice research with hands-on applications.
Because history covers so many topics and applies to so many industries, there are many options that you can take. However, you should probably consider a minor that will enhance your writing, research, and analytical skills. A minor in journalism is especially useful for history majors, as it covers all the basics and has overlapping skills that make you more effective in both areas. Other minors that enhance a history degree include government, philosophy, and foreign languages.
Getting a certification will depend on the industry you choose to go work in. For some, there are no certifications, for others there are certifications that enhance your skills but aren’t required, and for others, you will need to be certified before you can enter the field. Public school teachers, for example, are required to become certified before they can enter the job market. If you want to teach history at the high school level, you will need to become certified in your state. Each state sets their own standards, so the amount of testing will change depending on where you live.
Some jobs will have certificates that simply make you more hirable and attractive to employers. Librarians, for example, can become certified through the American Association of School Librarians. These certificates require you to complete courses, pass tests, and demonstrate competency in a specific area of librarian work.
Many of these jobs will require master’s degrees or some form of postgraduate education. To become a lawyer, for example, you’ll need to go through law school and pass the bar exam.
History professors will need at least a master’s degree, while many will have doctorates in a specific topic related to history.
Most history authors will also have an advanced degree in history, as well as education in writing and analysis. Next time you’re in a book store, take a walk to the history section and look at a few of the authors’ bios. You’ll likely find that they have master’s degrees or doctorates in history, and many of them make a living as history professors while writing original history research papers and books on the side.
With a broad range of skills and a strong knack for research and writing, history majors jobs abound, and, with the right approach, history majors can work at practically any company in the country!