If you choose to major in history, you might face some backlash from critics who describe a degree in this subject as “useless.” In reality, a history degree can help you get a job in numerous important career roles, including historian, one of the highest-paying social science careers. By helping you cultivate a set of skills with applications across all industries, a history degree overs plenty of value in terms of employment – and there’s data to prove it. Even outside of considering your employment prospects, studying the field of history has intrinsic value. Knowledge of history helps you to understand where we, as a country or the world, have come from and, in turn, where we’re going.
A Path to Numerous Job Roles
One reason why history as a college major gets a bad reputation is because it doesn’t provide vocational training and a direct career path. Most engineering students will become engineers, and most science majors will go on to work in science in some capacity, but relatively few history majors become historians. Just 3,300 workers across the United States fit into this occupation, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
However, that doesn’t mean that the history degree itself isn’t useful, just that history majors tend to use their degrees in more diverse ways. History majors often go on to become museum curators or archivists, educators, librarians, writers or journalists, politicians or political advisors, lawyers, consultants and more, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some history majors may choose to bring the past to life in more literal ways in a role like historic interpreter, whose job duties may include dressing up as and acting the part of historical figures at a historical site.
Although there’s value in degree programs that provide direct vocational training, there’s also value in having options for how you use your education. History majors can try different things, and if they find they don’t like one career path, they can switch careers.
A Focus on Developing Versatile Skills
The reason you can do so many different things with an undergraduate background in history is because – whether they realize it or not – students of history aren’t only studying the events of long ago. Besides learning the dates of historical events and the names of famous figures from the past, history majors are developing highly transferrable skills.
As you learn the four types of historical thinking skills – chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, developing historical arguments from historical evidence and interpreting and synthesizing historical information – you’re also learning skills with more general applications. History majors become proficient in research, learning not only how to find the information they’re looking for but also how to evaluate the credibility and accuracy of sources. They learn how to analyze and think critically about all kinds of information, which can help them make meaning, identify inconsistencies and develop deeper understandings of problems and their potential solutions. The reading, writing and other forms of presenting information that you engage in throughout your curriculum lead you do develop strong communication skills that employers are looking for in every job field.
According to Education Week, employers in 2018 ranked oral communication, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and written communication among the most important skills for new hires. Other top skills include ethical decision-making and teamwork.
A History Major’s Career Outlook By the Numbers
It’s one thing to say that history majors could find employment in so many fields, but backing those claims up with evidence is another thing entirely. Data from the American Community Survey, an annual survey performed by the U.S. Census Bureau, sheds a lot of light on what history majors go on to do with their degree, according to Perspectives on History, a newsmagazine published by the American Historical Association.
Of the nearly 30 percent of adults over age 25 who reported having a bachelor’s degree, only around 2 percent majored in history, according to the survey. However, for history majors, the unemployment rate was actually lower than the overall unemployment rate – 4.6 percent compared to 7.7 percent. The unemployment rate for history majors was comparable to the 4.1 rate reported for all college graduates, higher by a mere 0.5 percent.
The survey also uncovered the fields in which history majors most often work. Close to 20 percent of history majors work in education at various levels of study, 15 percent work in management roles in businesses and 11 percent become lawyers or work in other positions in the legal industry. An undergraduate degree in history is also great preparation for graduate coursework. Almost half of all history majors in the study reported going to graduate school, compared to just 37 percent of the general population.
Data from the American Community Survey can also show how much history majors go on to make. Median wages vary considerably from field to field. The fields of social services and education pay the least, with median wages of $45,000 and $47,000, respectively. Legal occupations pay the most, with a median wage of $100,000, followed by managerial roles, which pay an $80,000 median wage. The overall median income for employed history majors is $60,000 per year, according to the survey – around $20,000 more than the median wage the BLS reports for all occupations.
The value of studying history isn’t only in the career path it can put you on, but also in learning from the past and pursuing a field that truly interests you.
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