What Does a Career in Liberal Arts History Entail?
A career in the field of history, and history degrees, can take many forms. For one, this major doesn’t present a clear path forward like an engineering degree might or becoming a doctor. Instead, the benefits of earning a history degree come less in the form of specific career paths and more in the versatility that this pursuit can provide.
At its core, a bachelor- or master-level history degree program involves a lot of critical thinking, analysis, research, writing skills, and drawing parallels and connections between seemingly disparate events, no matter what degree level you choose. In all, your options for careers if you study history will primarily be built around using the intellectual toolkit you develop during your studies, whether you end up a museum curator, working in history education as an American history professor, or in the administration of a United States government department.
Components of A Successful Career In History
Because there’s no clear-cut answer to what successful careers in history even look like, the definition of successful careers can vary considerably. A position you earn with your history degree might come in the form of a political career or non-profit work, a teaching position as a history professor, a research position, or a job as an archivist or museum curator.
From a monetary standpoint, high-profile politicians or those who later go into law might be considered the most successful but it all depends on what you want your career to look like, as well as how much you’d need to earn to create the life you want.
Working as a historian or in a museum setting may be more in-line with your passions, but these can be competitive careers to get into, without many jobs available or much earning potential. Success is relative—and degree holders can choose between academia and working in the corporate world, working as a writer or journalist, or in the legal profession. However, if you want to get into a museum position or work as a teacher, you may need to return to graduate school and continue to study history at a higher degree level.
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What Can You Do with a History Degree?
History majors get a bad rap. It’s one of those degrees that people on the outside deem useless. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The skills you learn in your history studies will prepare you for success in a wide range of fields.
So, in all honesty, the number of people who get a history degree and then go on to become a historian is relatively low. But that doesn’t mean that this degree doesn’t come with a wealth of possibilities. History majors might become teachers, lawyers, archivists, writers, politicians, the list goes on. In some instances, history is the starting point. A solid foundation on which a graduate can build. This history major serves as a starting point for some paths that require additional education, though in other cases, can mean that graduates enter a career right away.
History majors also spend a great deal of time doing research. This training prepares them for careers in journalism, fundraising, public relations, marketing, and more. Often history majors are strong writers and may choose to find work in a media-related field.
Typical History Degree Requirements
An undergraduate degree in history gives students a comprehensive view of the recorded past and how earlier actions have influenced humanity. History majors will generally study US history, as well as history courses organized either by region or period.
Typical History Certifications Needed
There are no specific federal or state requirements that dictate whether historians must hold licenses or certifications. Potential employers will evaluate the candidate in the context of the position. For example, employers might look at a historian’s peer-reviewed articles or their research to determine whether that person is qualified for the job. Or, things like oral presentations might come into play.
However, though there are no official history certifications, there are a couple of certifications which you may find useful if you are looking to fight for those hard-to-get positions.
- A certificate in Historic Preservations is 16 credit hours and can be earned, either in the normal course of study for a bachelor’s, or after you have completed a degree. It will let you learn about historic preservation history, and its methodology and issues in current practice.
- A certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture is meant to augment graduate studies. It will help you learn about how materials are kept and curated within the museum environment.
Academic Standards for History Degrees
A bachelor’s history degree is enough to qualify entry-level applicants for office work, or a role as a research assistant, campaign worker, consultant, writer, librarian, or lobbyist. History is one of the humanities, and for that reason, there’s aren’t many markers of quality in place that aren’t subjective.
When applying for jobs post-graduation, most employers will look for some evidence of competency—which of course is supported by having earned your degree. Most employers look for a degree from an accredited college or university, so keep that in mind when you apply to programs.
Exam/Experience Needed for History Degrees
There isn’t a clear-cut career path like what you’ll find in other fields, but your education will be a great starting point for many careers. For most history-centric jobs, a master’s degree, at minimum is the norm. With that in mind, you should plan on taking the GRE and maintaining a high GPA as you earn your undergraduate degree.
Another option is pursuing a teaching credential, which requires a bachelor’s from an accredited college or university. Students will also gain hands-on classroom experience before earning their credential. All states require public school teachers to be certified in the specific grade and subject matter they wish to teach, and final licensure comes from the state.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a History bachelor's degree online?
Most bachelor’s degrees, including those with a history major, are offered as 120-credit hour, four-year programs. This is the same online and on-campus Students enrolled in online classes may be able to work at their own pace, though they’ll need to consider the cost and the workload associated with enrolling in additional credit hours. An online degree offers more flexibility for working professionals than you’d get with a traditional on-campus program. However, if you choose to take less than full credit hours to take advantage of this flexibility, you may find yourself taking much longer to complete your degree.
How much does a History bachelor’s degree cost?
Earning a bachelor’s history degree tends to cost between $275 and $525 per credit hour, and with that in mind students can expect to pay between $33,000 and $69,000 total throughout their four-year program. However, this varies greatly between regions, in-state vs out-of-state students, and public vs private institutions. Research thoroughly the programs you’re interested in.
History Bachelor's Degree Coursework
The courses you’ll take in an online history program help students develop a framework for understanding the world from a historical perspective. While you might choose a specialization like European History or the history of Indigenous peoples, most programs offer a core curriculum emphasizing writing, research, and analysis. These skills are essential for a broad range of fields from teaching to law, journalism, politics, and business.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
Naturally, you don’t want to end up at a school that doesn’t have the program you’re considering. The beauty of an online program lies in the ability to “attend” a school that might not be nearby, so it may open up your options if moving is out of the question.
We should also mention that you’ll need to make sure the schools you’re considering offer your desired program online. Many schools offer more options for on-campus students and a more limited selection of majors for the online set. General history is a common major, but students looking for a more specialized degree may need to do some research to find where they are available.
If you’re unsure of what you want to study, look for a school with multiple humanities concentrations. The first year or two of your bachelor’s are primarily about fulfilling general education requirements—and as such, will give you some flexibility to explore a few options.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
When you’re looking at history programs, and schools in general, the graduation rate is something that might give you some insight into the quality of a program. For example, a school with a low graduation rate may not give their students the support they need to complete their coursework successfully.
Whereas, as a school with a higher graduation rate tends to be full of students and faculty excited to learn and equipped with the resources needed to move through their program on a relatively predictable timeline.
That said, this isn’t the only metric that should come into play, here. People take longer to finish school for all kinds of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the quality of education they’ve received.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold?
Accreditation is one of the most critical factors in selecting an online school. Colleges and universities receive accreditation from a variety of agencies that are certified by the US Department of Education, which signifies that a school meets standards.
A bachelor’s history degree from an accredited program means that the student completed coursework in line with relatively universal standards that ensure students cover the same subject matter and meet similar criteria during their studies.
Regional accreditation is going to be the most visible marker of quality. Especially when you’re considering something like history or the humanities, which serve as a means of developing your ability to think critically and draw your own conclusions. Finally, accreditation is a must if you wish to gain entrance into law school, a master’s program, or a teaching certification program.
How is it regarded in the field?
The school’s reputation will have a lot to do with your success down the road. Your main concern should be whether the school is accredited. However, it’s smart to choose a school with a reputable history program. Additional considerations depend on your goals. If you’re looking at law schools or master’s programs, performing well in the context of a competitive institution may help with admissions. Regarding professional development, you’ll want to look at the success rates of former students, as well as faculty qualifications.
As a history major, you probably won’t need a significant amount of tech savvy to do well. However, you should be able to work a computer and conduct in-depth research both online and off. It’s worth pointing out that if you choose to pursue a path where you’re writing a lot, you may need to learn more about tools like project management software, social media, and web analytics.
Associates programs in history cover core topics related to US history as well as the study of history and cultures from around the world. Students learn to analyze historical events—looking at the cultural, religious, and political context to gain perspective on the current state of humanity, and what’s in store for us down the road.
Students who earn an AA with a history major are in an excellent position to transfer to a four-year school to finish their bachelor’s. During their studies, they’ll get their general education courses out of the way, while having the opportunity to study different areas of interest. From there, an AA grad might choose an area of specialization to pursue when they go for their bachelor’s history degree.
While, if you want to be an actual historian, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree or a PhD, a bachelor’s is your most likely starting point. Those who don’t plan on continuing their formal education past this point will likely work in entry positions or a different field.
That said, your history education isn’t without value, even if you pursue the traditional workforce. A bachelor’s in history is similar to other programs that fall under the humanities umbrella.
History programs typically start with foundational history courses in the first two years, and from there, students may select a specialization. In general, you’ll learn more about how world events shaped governments and cultures or how certain beliefs from the past have led to contemporary thinking. Students will be assessed based on their ability to write well-researched papers and their performance on exams and in class discussions.
Admission requirements vary based on the school. More competitive schools may require that students have earned top grades in their high school history classes, while others only require that students have a GED or high school diploma.
If you choose to pursue a master’s degree in history, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s in a relevant area of study, and you may need some additional elements like letters of recommendation and GRE scores. Master’s students will deepen their knowledge and complete a thesis project in their chosen area of expertise.
Most programs are about 60 credit hours and take about two years to complete.
Earning Potential for History Degree Fields and Occupations
For associate degree holders, the median income is roughly $35k, though earnings depend on the occupation you choose. We should mention that an associate degree in history likely won’t land you a position in your field of study. Still, that two-year degree provides a foundation that can help you earn a bachelor’s or work in a position that leverages your writing and research skills.
At the bachelor’s level, your earning potential rises significantly. The median income for those with a bachelor’s in history is about $62k. While many history-focused jobs like archivist or historian require a master’s degree, a bachelor’s can help you get into writing, journalism, or marketing.
A master’s degree in history isn’t the most lucrative path, as many students choose to pursue academic or museum work after earning their degree. As you can see below, curators, archivists, and historians don’t make much more than those with a bachelor’s working in adjacent fields.
History Fields of Study Median Salaries
Cultural history spans the study of languages, literature, visual arts, and music. This area of specialization dives deeper into other cultures and their lifestyles and traditions. An aspiring historian may study a specific area like modern art or musical traditions from a region.
Specializing in political history means you’ll learn about philosophies and political figures of the past. By studying political ideologies, policies, and events from world history, students gain an understanding of how present circumstances came to be.
Religious History focuses in on world religions and how traditions and beliefs shape culture and events around the world. Religious history is less about one specific religion and its tenets, and instead, focuses on how religion has played a role in everything from political ideologies to war, art, and customs.
History Salaries by Occupation
If you’re looking at history occupations and earnings, you’re not getting a clear-cut correlation between those with master’s degrees and those who hold only a bachelor’s degree. Those pursuing a career in academia or as historians, curators, or archivists, need a master’s degree or a doctorate. These positions, though rewarding, don’t offer the most competitive salaries. Median incomes for historians tend to hover between $55k and $60k; this is a path that requires a whole lot of passion.
Job growth for historians, according to the BLS is expected to grow at a 6% rate between 2016 and 2026. The agency reported that as of 2016, there were 3,300 total historian jobs nationwide, which isn’t many. By contrast, jobs like writing or journalism are natural fits for history majors and don’t require a master’s degree. Earnings range considerably, based on experience, workload, and employer. The median income for a writer is about $69k.
History majors may also do well to pursue a teaching credential or go to law school. History is a common pre-law major as you’ll learn to formulate arguments based on research.
|Occupation||Entry Median||Mid-Career Median||Late-Career Median|
While most people tend to think of art galleries when they think of curation work, historians can fulfill this role for a wide array of cultural institutions. In this role, curators will guide tours, research items that could be added to a collection, and work with physical and electronic records. In most cases, you’ll need a master’s degree in history to qualify for this job, though there may be some employment opportunities in an entry-level position for those with a bachelor’s degree in history.
If you’re passionate about history, teaching is the best profession for spreading your love of the subject. History teachers work in a K-12 setting and put together reading assignments, exams, and creative projects aimed at providing age-appropriate context to various historical subjects.
Qualifications depend on the competition in the school district, as well as the grade level you hope to teach. Generally, K-12 teachers need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential, though a master’s degree may help you edge out the competition and negotiate a higher pay rate. If you’d like to teach at the university level, you’ll need a master’s degree at minimum to qualify.
Historians are experts that collect historical documents and ephemera, conduct research, and present findings to organizations, in lectures or the form of published works. Historians may work in a government setting, at a university, or within the context of a historic institution. In most cases, you’ll need at least a master’s degree to find work in this field.
Archivists work to process, appraise, catalog and preserve historical documents and other records. Many archivists find work in a museum setting, in the government, or at a university.
A degree in history lays the groundwork for a career as a writer. This degree requires a great deal of reading, writing, and research, which translates to an understanding of world events in a broader context—perfect for journalists or novelists to enrich stories with historical facts.
A bachelor’s degree is usually the only prerequisite for most writing jobs, and history majors bring the right skills to the table, whether they’re ghostwriting for the web or crafting compelling essays.
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Fellowship
The ASECS Fellowship program awards graduate students working on research related to 18th century American history a monthly stipend of $1850. Candidates must submit an online application, CV, outline for the proposed project, two letters of recommendation, and a relevant bibliography.
Dr. Aura-Lee A. and James Jobbs Pittenger American History Scholarship
This scholarship is offered to graduating high school seniors entering an undergraduate history program at an accredited four-year university. It is renewable for a maximum of $2,000 for up to four years, and qualified candidates must maintain a minimum 3.25 GPA.
AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program
Funded by the AFSCME/UNCF Union, this scholarship provides students with a 10-week summer field placement with a $4000 stipend and a $5000 award to student activists studying Labor Studies, Sociology, History, Political Science, or Public Policy. Applicants must be students of color with a 2.5 GPA or higher and be a sophomore or junior.
J. E. Caldwell Centennial Scholarship
The Daughters of the American Revolution National Society offers the J.E. Caldwell Centennial Scholarship to outstanding students pursuing a graduate degree related to historical preservation from an accredited US institution.
To qualify for the $2000 award, candidates must have a minimum 3.25 cumulative GPA and be enrolled in a full-time program. Additionally, the scholarship is given based on need and leadership skills.
Professional History Organizations
Professional history organizations usually provide professionals within the field with opportunities to network with other historians, look for work, and immediate access to information about fellowships, grants, or calls for papers.
Here are a few of the organizations you should know if you’re thinking seriously about pursuing a career in history.
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association or the AHA is one of the most important professional organizations for historians. The AHA works to provide history majors, grad students, and professionals with professional development resources, publications, and more. It’s also an excellent resource for finding grants, awards, and fellowship opportunities within the space.
Organization of American Historians
Organization of American Historians
The Organization of American Historians or the OAH is a professional organization that has been around since 1907. The organization offers resources like history publications, internships, and more to professors and K-12 history teachers, as well as an online career coach for newcomers to the field. The OAH also offers an online career center featuring job listings at all levels.
National Council on Public History
National Council on Public History
The NCPH provides serval resources for public historians such as job listings, professional development opportunities, and career guidance. Many of the jobs include positions outside of academia—like libraries, museums, historic preservation societies, and more.
American Association of State and Local History
American Association of State and Local History
The AASLH is an association for history professionals, like those we’ve mentioned above. This organization offers a career center with job postings as well as a resume review service that can help those new to the field gain a competitive edge when applying to jobs.
Choosing an Accredited College
College accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider before applying to an online program. When a regional agency accredits a school, it means that they meet a set of uniform standards suggesting that the curriculum and the degree are legitimate.
Many professional industries require that degrees come from an accredited school, and if you choose to pursue a master’s degree or doctoral program after graduation, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
Start your research at the United States Department of Education website. They offer a database of accredited schools, as well as some background on the various accrediting agencies around the country.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
These days, attending college doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a classroom. Today’s students have options ranging from the traditional on-campus set-up to all-online learning. Online programs are ideal for those students that have full-time jobs or other obligations but want to pursue their education.
There are countless benefits—namely convenience—associated with earning a degree online. However, fully online learning isn’t a natural fit for a lot of people. Students who prefer to learn by reading and doing research may do well in a digital setting. History majors already do a considerable amount of reading and writing, so many courses are highly adaptable to the remote environment. That said, the other key component in this major is discussion. With a fully online program, you may miss out on some crucial elements like debates and discussions with classmates or hands-on interactions with professors.
If you’re looking into online programs, but want some of the on-campus experience, it might be worth enrolling in a nearby school and taking a mix of online and in-person courses. The hybrid approach provides the best of both worlds—access to the in-person learning experience, with the advantage of taking some classes at home.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
While professional organizations may be able to fill this need, it’s also worth looking into schools that offer job placement and career opportunities to students and alumni. History is a competitive field, and a college that can help you navigate this challenging space can make a difference between working in your area or struggling to find a position that aligns with your passion and skills.
Why You Need to Consider How Rating/accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
Colleges and universities tend to have a good reputation when they’ve proven that they can produce qualified graduates who can find gainful employment after graduation.
While elite schools tend to have positive reputations, there are many hidden gems out there. Look toward online review sites, speak with the school admissions counselor, and do some extensive digging on the web. Things like graduation rates, job placement, faculty credentials, and more all come into play here.
Professional historian salaries vary tremendously, based on several factors. If you’re pursuing a path as a historian or academic, school ratings can help or hurt your chances of being accepted into a top grad program or finding the rare job after graduation. What’s more, if you choose a school that does not have accreditation, you might not be able to get into a grad program at all or find work that requires a degree.
What kind of support is available to students?
Online students should still seek out schools that offer more resources than merely providing the classes you wanted or an affordable degree. While you might not be able to take advantage of job boards, mentorship opportunities, recruitment, and events you may be able to take advantage of their career services department for resume writing, internships, etc.
Liberal Arts Degrees & Career Paths