A history degree could put you on the path to some of the highest-paying social science jobs – as well as some lucrative and fulfilling career roles in other fields. Although the occupation most closely related to a history degree, historian, is small, it comes with an above-average pay rate and allows you to pursue your passion professionally. You can also leverage your history degree to work as a museum curator or archivist, a librarian, an educator or even an attorney. A big part of the reason why majoring in history allows you to pursue such a diverse collection of career paths is because a history degree curriculum equips students with skills that are important in a variety of industries and employment roles.
Working as a Historian
Historians are professional scholars in the field of history. Their job duties include researching and analyzing information from historical sources to better understand historical developments and learn from the past. Historians can work in a surprisingly wide range of industries and employment settings, including public-sector entities, and private-sector companies, nonprofit organizations and historical associations and even individuals, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Depending on their specific job role, a historian might write books about their findings on historical matters, work with the historical documents and artifacts in museums or consult on government land use matters or entertainment projects with a historical focus.
The majority of historians are employed by the government in some capacity. The federal government is the largest single employer of historians, accounting for 22 percent of the 3,300 jobs that make up the field, the BLS reported. Another 20 percent of historians work for local government entities, and 16 percent work for state governments. The professional, scientific and technical services industry employs 18 percent of the field. Opportunities to work as a consulting historian, either as a self-employed independent contractor or as part of a consulting firm, are growing, according to the American Historical Association.
Despite the pervasive misconception that historians can’t make a living, this small profession has a median wage well above the average, $63,680, and a job outlook that’s on par with the average growth rate for across all occupations, the BLS reported.
A Career Curating, Preserving and Managing Information
If you would like to work in a place where history comes to life, you might enjoy a role as a curator or archivist at a museum or historical site. Both of these related but distinct roles involve working with historical artifacts, documents, records and more. A curator’s job duties emphasize acquiring collections of historical items, while archivists focus more on the preservation of specific kinds of historical documents, according to the BLS.
There are far more jobs for curators, of which there are 13,700 working across the United States, than for archivists, of which there are only 7,800. Although museums and historical sites employ the most curators and archivists, just 42 percent of these occupations work in those fields, according to the BLS. Another 23 percent of curators and archivists work for government and 17 percent work in educational services.
Another option is to utilize your skills in research and your knowledge of sources and documents as a librarian. Librarians have extensive knowledge of how to conduct research and find information, and they are comfortable working with a variety of sources and publication types. If you aspire to work as a librarian, you will need to first pursue graduate studies in library and information science.
For curators and archivists, the BLS reported a median wage of $54,570 and $53,950, respectively. Librarians make somewhat more money, with a median salary of $59,050. Librarians also have a slightly better job outlook than curators and archivists.
Working in Education
History is a popular academic background among educators at all levels of study. Aspiring elementary school teachers may double-major in education and history. Tenured college professors at prestigious universities usually have a Ph.D. in history.
Naturally, studying history gives you the required familiarity with the content that you would cover as a history teacher, but it also accomplishes so much more. As you work through your undergraduate history curriculum, you will develop strong communication skills that will help you effectively express ideas to your own future students. Your skills in evaluating sources and analyzing and interpreting data will help you assist students in learning the rudimentary concepts of research, such as identifying credible sources and creating well-reasoned arguments backed by reliable evidence.
The median wage for the education, training and library occupations was $50,790 as of May 2019, according to the BLS. The BLS reports median wages of $59,420 for elementary school teachers, $61,660 for high school teachers and $79,540 for postsecondary teachers.
Preparing for Law School
Many students use their broad, reading- and writing-intensive undergraduate degree in history to prepare for law school, according to U.S. News & World Report. Aspiring lawyers must be comfortable doing a great deal of reading and precisely – if formally – conveying their thoughts in writing, which is something a history curriculum will certainly train them to do. Studying the past and its influence on modern issues also helps students to build the critical thinking skills that attorneys must have to understand all angles of a legal matter and identify the arguments they use handling any given case.
The skills to delve into historical sources and theories also can be put to use in direct ways as a lawyer, such as researching case law to understand how trends in the law have changed over time and how those patterns impact the arguments in a specific case.
Lawyer is perhaps the highest-paying career path for a history major, with the BLS reporting a median salary of $122,960. However, you definitely need an advanced education for this occupation, which requires law school and passing the Bar Exam.