What Can I do with a History Degree?

While a university education is partly about broadening one’s horizons and personal enrichment, you are also probably concerned about what kind of job you will get after graduation. The cost of attendance for an in-state student is about $10,000 per year on average. [1] Likewise, while unemployment is dropping, the jobless rate sat very high in the recent past. [2] You and your parents both want to know that a well-paying job waits after school.


[1] https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2018-19

[2] https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/lns14000000


A history degree prepares undergraduates with a valuable, marketable set of skills and prepares them for gainful employment. So, what skills will you learn as a history major or minor?



Unlike a STEM degree, which teaches specific scientific skills, or journalism which focuses on a specific industry, history offers a wider range of training that can be taken into a variety of jobs. These “soft skills” are in fact in demand and employers have expressed their desire to hire candidates with the training we offer. [3]


[3] https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/the-landscape-after-college



It may surprise you, but only 18% of history graduates enter the education field. Many go into law, business management, and public service, among other careers. [4] One of the skills all these fields value is the ability to answer big questions that effect an organization. You may be called on by your manager to research how the laws effecting your industry have changed over the years. You could also be asked to come up with a solution to a problem facing your company and use data and research to back up your answer. Being able to problem solve by utilizing verifiable information is something that employers look for and a skill that you will learn through research for papers and presentations. [5]


[4] https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/what-can-you-do-with-that-history-degree

[5] https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/talking-to-employers-about-your-degree



Being able to express yourself, both in writing and orally, is a critical skill in any job. Most business communication takes place in writing, but there is also an expectation for being able to explain complex issues verbally. If your boss wants to read or hear the results of your research above, all your efforts will be wasted unless you can accurately, concisely, and persuasively communicate your argument. Likewise, a lawyer must learn to write briefs and argue in court. A person working at a government agency may have to write applications for grants. All of these require the ability to argue a point clearly and effectively, something that managers have said they actively look for. Again, through writing research papers and presenting to your professors and classmates, you’ll practice these valuable skills. This will also help in a job interview, where you will need to communicate what makes you stand out as a candidate for a competitive job. [6]


[6] https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/opening-doors-to-life-in-a-global-economy


The Ability to Persuade

While some people find debating fun, many of us are not comfortable with arguing, let alone when we must do so with coworkers or a boss. However, knowing how to argue for your position in a calm and rational way is an important life skill. In order to advocate for change, in society or at work, you must be able to present your position in a clear way that invites debate, not conflict. A lawyer must be able to argue their position in court civilly and persuasively. A businessperson must be able to advocate for a corporate policy to management. A public servant must explain to the community why a policy is needed.  Being able to defend a position and change minds without hurting relationships is a skill that you can take into any industry with great effect. Indeed, employers openly desire people who can deal with information critically and have the ability to communicate effectively to change minds. [7]


[7] https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/the-landscape-after-college



A history degree imparts all these skills, but how many graduates make a good living?



Only about 2% of undergraduates receive a history degree. [8] This means that the skill set offered here is not common. You will stand out among fifty candidates, being the only one that can answer that you bring this set of unique skills to your prospective workplace. Likewise, if you want to move on to graduate school as about 50% of history majors do, these skills will also serve you well in the competition to be admitted to postgraduate programs. [9] These abilities are also valuable if you seek a position in the legal field, where 11% of history graduates gain employment.


[8] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data

[9] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data

[10]  https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/why-study-history/careers-for-history-majors/what-can-you-do-with-that-history-degree



So, how many history majors land a job at all? Data from 2013 shows that while the general population had an unemployment rate of 7.7%, history majors sat far lower at 4.6%. Even when one adds in in demand jobs like nursing and STEM fields, the general unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor’s degree was only 4.1%. [11]History majors, on average, enjoy low unemployment. A comprehensive study conducted in the United Kingdom, examining all university majors, also demonstrates that history majors do well in comparison to other fields.[12]


[11] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data

[12] https://luminate.prospects.ac.uk/what-do-graduates-do?utm_source=prospects&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=publications



Because the careers one can go into are so diverse, pay data varies widely. If you choose to use a history degree to pursue a career like teaching, you might make around $50,000, while pursuing the law could see you start in the low six figures and move up from there. [13] History does not constrain you on a certain path with a certain amount of pay. It leaves the door open to a variety of options for you to pursue your passion while keeping a high paying position within reach. In short, history does not close off paths; it opens them up for you to have a variety of options even later in life.


[13] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data