How to Build a Career After Getting a History Degree
Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history means inviting a deep education in vital core competencies. To earn their degrees, history majors must demonstrate that they are astute thinkers, researchers and writers, who recognize the larger patterns that connect modern events to their historical roots. Plenty of employers need the skillset that this academic work refines.
John Fea, history professor and member of the American Historical Association (AHA) writes: “We live in the midst of a rapidly changing marketplace in which very few twentysomethings pursue the career they trained for in college…As a bedrock liberal arts discipline, history offers a host of transferable skills that will serve young people well as they navigate that volatile marketplace.”
Pursuing a BA with a history major provides a solid intellectual and skills basis in itself. It also creates a fine baseline for future academic work. Many graduates who earn their BA with a history major work as journalists or in the political or legal fields. Others find fit in institutions that harbor knowledge, museums, non-profits or universities, for example. Some grads also further their studies, pursuing additional degrees in history or related fields such as finance, political science, diplomacy, international relations, non-profit management, etc.
If you’re a history buff who’s wondering: What can I do with a history degree? Here’s the lowdown you need.
Skills for History Majors
History majors are thinkers, researcher and writers. While in pursuit of their degrees, they spend their time studying, analyzing and explaining how institutions, laws and events occurred and the implications of those developments.
Fea summarizes how this academic pursuit translates to the professional realm: “The study of history prepares one for life in a global economy. Historical thinking skills are widely marketable. Students of history learn to think contextually, to recognize change over time, to grapple with the complexity of the human experience, and to distinguish cause and effect. The practice of empathy—working to understand the needs, beliefs, and emotions of people on their own terms—is an essential skill in a host of fields, from medicine to marketing. Students of history learn to tell stories. They take data and make meaning of it.”
These are some additional skills that history majors hone over the course of their studies and use throughout their careers:
- A systematic and creative approach to conducting research
- Astute research skills
- Analytical-thinking skills
- The ability to ask good questions
- Stellar writing, communication and storytelling skills
- An understanding of culture and anthropology
- A basic understanding of governments, world religions and geography
- An understanding of current events-political, social, etc.
- Fact-checking skills
Where to Begin Your Career After Getting a History Degree
It’s important to know what you want after you earn your BA. Are you interested in pursuing further studies or would you like to put your degree directly to work? In either case, starting working towards your ambition before earning your degree.
Meet with your professors and those you know at the university to expand your network. This way, you’ll have a greater bank of resources to draw from as you start looking towards your next chapter.
Align yourself with professionals who are doing the jobs that look exciting to you. See who you know who is engaged in the work that you’re targeting or who is positioned at a workplace that interests you. Set up an informational interview to learn more about your industry and the professionals doing the work that looks like it could be a fit for you.
Also, consider joining alumni groups or professional associations. These networks are generally receptive and inviting to young professionals. Plus, professionals in this organizations tend to be well-positioned to help you learn more about your industry and to make important connections.
Quick Job Search Tips for History Majors
Be proactive about your job search. You don’t have to wait until you have your degree in hand to start working towards your first professional role. Learn to talk about your skillset, and to describe how your academic skills relate to the job market. Hone your elevator pitch, a clear, concise articulation of your professional experience and plan.
Prepare your candidacy package, which includes your resume, cover letter and Glassdoor profile. Clearly, you can’t job search without these vital pieces. They are also valuable because they give you the chance to reflect on what you’ve learned and to think deeply about how that’s shaped your skills and ambitions.
One challenge for history majors is that the skills that you absorb are somewhat abstract, and part of your role as an interviewee is to demonstrate and explain how your academic basis correlates to the professional world. History professor and AHA member Sarah Shurts writes: “History graduates are well positioned for a broad variety of career paths, something employers will recognize as students learn to translate their skills into a language that employers understand.”
Practice this translation. Describe the skills that you’ve amassed over the course of your studies by rehearsing interview responses. Discussing your budding professional skills may seem uncomfortable at first, but this muscle will get stronger with practice. It should also give you a boost of confidence to recognize all that you’ve accomplished over the course of your academic career.
Pursuing a history major is hard work, and it yields key professional skills. Get comfortable touting those.
Continuing Education and Certifications
History is a valuable academic pursuit, and it’s also a strategic basis for continued study in a range of disciplines. Those who earn an undergrad degree in history can go on to do graduate work in history, finance, geography, anthropology, law, political science, data science, business, library science, non-profit management, diplomacy, international relations, etc.
There are also plenty of career opportunities for those who enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, additional certifications are required. These are some roles that require such certifications:
- Archivists must take an exam to earn their certification, which requires renewal every five years, according to the Academy of Certified Archivists.
- Paralegals in some states and for some employers are required to earn licenses to work professionally.
- Junior high or high school history teachers may need to do additional work and earn a certification to qualify for the role. The website Tobecomeateacher.org explains: “Completing a teacher education program, as well as student-teaching experience, are requirements before an individual qualifies to apply for a license or certification to teach in their state of residence.”
- School librarians generally need a Master’s Degree in library science along with a state license.
Most Common First Jobs for History Majors
History majors have a range of career opportunities available to them once they earn their bachelor’s degree. History majors hone a versatile expertise, and because of that they can work in a variety of different fields like legal, education, sales and management.
These are some common jobs that history majors assume, once they have earned their bachelor’s degrees:
Glassdoor salary range: $35,000-$72,000
Glassdoor salary range: $40,000-$73,000
Glassdoor salary range: $48,000-$67,000
Glassdoor salary range: $36,000-$81,000
Glassdoor salary range: $37,000-$80,000
Entry-Level History Major Jobs
Finding your first professional role that draws on the skills you honed as a history major is a thrill. Look for positions that offer plenty of opportunities to research, write, share information strategically and think critically-all skills that you’ve refined over the course of your academic career.
Think, too, about where you’d like to work. There’s plenty of opportunities for your skillset in the non-profit world, so look at how you might advance the work taking place at universities, hospitals, museums, libraries, zoos and performing arts centers. Fundraising offices, in particular, tend to have rich opportunities for research and communications pros.
Glassdoor salary range: $40,000-$68,000
Glassdoor salary range: $39,000-$76,000
Glassdoor salary range: $36,000-$81,000
Glassdoor salary range: $33,000-$69,000
Social media marketing coordinator
Glassdoor salary range: $36,000-$63,000
History Major Internships
Working as an intern prior to earning a history degree is a good strategy for securing post-grad employment. It gives you relevant experience that you can add to your resume, and it expands your network. Both help tremendously when you are job searching.
Consider these exciting internships for history majors:
Historical research internships
Having the commitment, depth of knowledge and skillset to pursue a history degree is impressive. Plus, it prepares you for an exciting career that’s rich with possibility! Here are a few more resources to help you on your path to success:
The Guide to Getting Your First Job
How to Build Your Own Career Path Within an Organization
How to Succeed in Your New Job
How to Write a Resume Objective