History And Career Options
This page will address the concerns of students and parents regarding the usefulness of a history degree in today's (and tomorrow's) marketplace. Given the costs of higher education and the rapidly changing work environment, doubts about whether a history B.A. is a good economic investment are quite understandable. Furthermore, as is traditional with liberal arts majors, students majoring in history often remain unclear about how to link their chosen major with the world of work after college. So we hope this page will help first- and second-year students to clarify the linkages between their studies and their employability, and in the hope that it will help Juniors and Seniors to plan for and take the steps necessary to assure a successful transition from the world of collegiate studies to the world of career and work
Employment and a Liberal Arts Education
As history majors, you have likely all heard at some time from friends and family: "History, eh? What are you going to do with that?" or "What job does that prepare you for?" or even worse, "What a useless degree!"
It is true that career choices for history majors, like all liberal arts students, are not as straightforward as they are for someone in a more technical or specialized major, but that certainly does not mean that there are no career opportunities for our graduates. In fact, as Howard Figler has written in his best-selling The Complete Job Search Handbook, earning a liberal arts degree assures you of one clear advantage: "Your broad education will provide that most precious of commodities in today's labor market -- flexibility."
Our departmental historians recognize that a history major does not necessarily become a historian, just as a psychology major might not choose to become a practicing psychologist. The history graduate may choose to pursue a career in law, journalism, teaching, the arts, business, or government, for example. But whatever the future holds, all of our graduates will discover they have developed very practical career skills while studying history. Robert Goodward, Director of Publications for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, has written an article entitled "Why Hire Humanities Graduates?" in which he concludes: "More than any other curriculum, the liberal arts train people to think critically about concepts and society, look at the big picture and analyze cause and effect relationships, break an idea or situation into component parts and put it back together again."
As a history faculty we also hope that we will nurture your love of history as a discipline that gives us all so much insight into the questions we share about the human experience. History is at the core of a liberal arts education, and as such it enriches the quality of our lives beyond what money can buy. Our goals for all history majors are simply this: that as people who are liberally educated, you will be able to (1) discern who you are and what you value, (2) articulate what your career goals are, (3) become eminently marketable as a job seeker, and (4) develop a humane philosophy of life based on your historical studies while continuing to educate yourself after college.
Finally, we must emphasize the long-term value of a liberal arts education in the areas of career satisfaction, advancement, financial stability, and quality of life.
The Humanities: Jobs and the Real World
"It is a frequently-held misconception that a liberal arts degree is limiting for graduates entering the workforce. But research shows, to the contrary, that the liberal arts provide a solid background -- no matter what the major -- representing the best opportunity for long-term professional success. A classic liberal arts education has formed the cornerstone of education for centuries, virtually throughout the world. We will demonstrate how the humanities contribute to the development of decision-making skills, critical thinking skills, and breadth of knowledge that are requisite to professional development in any sphere.
Arguments for a Liberal Arts Education: The presumption has long been that to pursue a degree in the humanities was to opt for a cut in pay upon graduation. But research tells a different story: a study tracking the salaries of liberal arts graduates from the University of Virginia between 1971 and 1981 reported the mean salary to be $30,000 [$50,820 in 2000 dollars]; 21% earned $50,000 [$84,700 in 2000 dollars] or more; and 14% earned $60,000 [$101,640 in 2000 dollars] or more (Benner & Hitchcock, 1984). Similarly, a survey of liberal arts graduates from Pennsylvania State showed that, although they started at lower salaries than their counterparts in professional programs, over a period of time liberal arts graduates outdistanced the field in every one of those occupations in salaries (Paulson, 1980). Salaries for liberal arts graduates may start out lower than those of graduates from professional programs, but in as few as three years' time, the liberal arts graduate stands to fare better, not worse, than the student who has taken a degree in a more technical field.
The long-range career success of humanities graduates is most certainly due to the broad range of skills the liberal arts graduate brings to the job market -- skills that include strong written and oral communication, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and adaptability -- the very skills employers are seeking (Murphy & Jenks, 1982). These skills translate into enhanced advancement potential, as well as a greater quotient of job satisfaction (Murphy & Jenks, 1982). [Editor's note: as further evidence of career advancement benefits, recent research indicates that about 60% of the nation's CEOs have a liberal arts degree]
In particular, liberal arts graduates are touted for their verbal and written communication skills, as well as their interpersonal skills. These skills help humanities graduates at every stage of their working life, from the interview process on. A full 91% of graduates from University of Virginia's College of Arts and Sciences agreed that a liberal arts education provided the best undergraduate preparation for their careers ten years following graduation (Benner & Hitchcock, 1984).
Those students are no doubt aware that their work in the humanities prepared them to continue to learn on the job, an ability executives from General Motors, AT&T and Far West Laboratories, among others, agree is critical to long-term career advancement. One of the greatest assets a liberal arts graduate brings to the job market, R. W. Goddard argues, is that their education ‘has taught them how to learn how to learn' (1986). Former General Motors Chairman Roger Smith sees generalists such as liberal arts graduates as ideal candidates for higher level management positions precisely because the generalist is not limited by a narrow specialty (Smith, 1981).
Stanley Paulson suggests that this broader focus contributes to greater job satisfaction for the humanities graduate. He cites a study which finds that as many as 80% of the liberal arts graduates surveyed reported high satisfaction with their jobs -- compared to a 46% satisfaction rate for engineers. Paulson accounts for the discrepancy by noting that the liberal arts graduate ‘does not have highly fixed expectations' pertaining to a specific job, since training in the liberal arts is not job-specific.
Quality of Life: A Way of Seeing: The humanities provide more than an avenue toward a successful career, however; the humanities disciplines contribute to a way of seeing the world that is perhaps measurable in its effect on quality of life. In a recent essay, Earl Shorris discusses how integrated exposure to the humanities influences the lives of two cohorts of uneducated urban poor. Shorris developed the Clemente Course, a year-long curriculum designed to provide poor people with an introduction to the concerns around which the humanities center -- literature, art, logic, history, and philosophy. After only two years' experience with them course, the findings are astonishing: the humanities, he contends, teach people to reflect rather than react, to negotiate instead of using force. The humanities make people rich, Shorris insists, not in terms of money, but in terms of life."
The Liberal Arts and a History Education
Having looked at the advantages of a liberal arts education in general, now let us look at the history degree in particular. As we have already stated, history is at the core of the liberal arts. History as a discipline plays an integrative role in liberal learning, since its essence is a search for the connectedness of human experiences. History looks for the linkages between economics, politics, society, culture and thought, and religion, and attempts to create a holistic understanding of the past. So while history incorporates the fundamental elements of liberal learning found in the other liberal arts, it also serves to integrate liberal studies while developing an understanding of historical development and its relevance for the present and future. The American Historical Association has recently stated it best: "In sum, history is at the heart of liberal learning, as it equips students to: (1) participate knowledgeably in the affairs of the world around them, drawing upon understandings shaped through reading, writing, discussions, and lectures concerning the past, (2) see themselves and their society from different times and places, displaying a sense of informed perspective and a mature view of human nature, (3) read and think critically, write and speak clearly and persuasively, and conduct research effectively, (4) exhibit sensitivities to human values in their own and in other cultural traditions and , in turn, establish values of their own, (5) appreciate their natural and cultural environments, (6) respect scientific and technological developments and recognize their impact on humankind, (7) understand the connections between history and life." In addition to these aspects of personal education and maturation, historical study also develops the following essential skills so desired by employers:
- Ability to conduct research and synthesize ideas
- Ability to clarify problems or situations
- Ability to document a conclusion and present it clearly and logically
- Ability to interpret both past and present events
- Ability to read carefully and extract relevant data
- Ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- Ability to discern long-term developmental trends within complex data
- Ability to assess conflicting interpretations of data
- Critical thinking, analytical thinking, and problem solving skills
- Communication proficiency (both oral and written forms)
- Organization (of information and people)
- Proficiency for accurate detail
- Appreciation of ethical concerns
- Interpersonal relations skills
- Leadership and management skills
- A broad knowledge of economics, social dynamics, political events, cultural formation, and interaction between these forces in history
The National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey for September 1999 (Volume 38 Issue 4) indicates that college graduates with a History B.A. were at that time receiving starting salary offers on average of $28,557, with Education positions averaging $27,723, Museums/Cultural careers averaging $28,667, and Research organizations averaging $30,500. There were even history majors entering careers in investment banking starting at $37,000 and in consulting services at $40,545. This compares favorably to business majors starting at an average salary of $33,217 and science majors starting at an average salary of $33,036. Though liberal arts graduates often start careers with salaries slightly lower than those from business and the sciences, studies show that within just a few years liberal arts graduates outpace graduates from business and sciences in earnings and career advancement (as the salary figures in the above essay "The Humanities: Jobs and the Real World" have already indicated).
This is because you will have been educated rather than trained in your college experience, and therefore you possess the skills that will enable you to advance beyond the job training aspects of any career and take on leadership roles. Just identify how many skills you will develop as a history major from this list of the most desired employment skills according to Fortune 500 Companies (in order of importance): Teamwork, Problem Solving, Interpersonal Skills, Oral Communication, Listening, Personal/Career Development, Creative Thinking, Leadership, Goal Setting/Motivation, Writing, Organizational Effectiveness, Computation, Reading. With the exception of computation, you shall have ample opportunity to develop all these skills as a history major. So have confidence that you will be very competitive on the job market after graduation, no matter what career path you choose. You need only discern your own career interests and then use your undergraduate education to prepare yourself for your chosen career path (or paths!).
*For more on history and liberal arts education see this website:
Having so many options to consider in a career search should be encouraging, but it can also be difficult because the options are so broad. While your colleagues in the sciences and professional programs will feel anxieties about finding a job within their narrow technical field, you will feel the anxiety of locating yourself in a much wider range of career paths. You should therefore sense the need to focus your particular career exploration by linking your personal goals with jobs that make use of the skills you have developed.
To begin with, think of a career not as something you must achieve by graduation, but rather as something you should take the initiative to begin designing for yourself during your undergraduate years. As Burton J. Nadler indicates in his Liberal Arts Jobs, "the so-called plight of the liberal arts graduate is not (as so many students, parents and well-meaning advisors think) that employers do not hire liberal arts job seekers. It is that liberal arts graduates tend to be less willing and less able to articulate career goals, thus resulting in a more difficult and unsuccessful job search." We hope to make sure that your education as a history major prepares you both to discern who you are as well as to articulate your career goals. This will enable you to successfully negotiate the transition from collegiate education to career path. To manage this transition smoothly, we recommend the following plan for discerning your career decisions:
Freshman Year: Increase Self-Awareness
- Meet with your academic advisor to discuss your academic interests.
- Meet with a Career Center counselor to help identify interests, values, and abilities.
- Use one of the Career Center's guidance programs to learn more about the world of work.
- Interview friends and family members about the nature of their jobs (informational interviewing).
Sophomore Year: Explore Careers
- Obtain information about occupations (reading and research).
- Begin to identify what is important to you in a career (e.g. using interpersonal skills, technical skills, the work culture of a given career path, etc.).
- Target electives to increase marketability; consider a minor related to your interests.
- Consider opportunities for study abroad and undergraduate research.
- Explore relevant work experiences such as internships and summer jobs.
Junior Year: Link Self-Knowledge with Occupation Information
- Begin to relate values, interests, and abilities to career fields.
- Develop networking relationships with faculty and professionals.
- Enhance leadership skills through participation in campus and community activities.
- Participate in an internship, study abroad, or undergraduate research opportunity.
- Begin to develop an effective resumé that highlights education, work, and student activities.
- Meet with prospective employers or graduate schools in your career field (through on-campus recruiting, off-campus contacts, or correspondence).
Senior Year: Career Implementation
Use the resources of the Career Center to:
- Complete an effective resumé that highlights education, work, and student activities.
- Sharpen interview skills.
- Learn to write effective letters of application.
- Have the confidence to "sell yourself" in interviews!
Students we counsel about career decisions generally fall into two groups: those who know what they want to do but feel they lack the necessary experience, and those that feel confident in their abilities but are overwhelmed by the possibilities before them. Those feeling the need for experience should address this through internships, while those feeling overwhelmed should do some self-exploration to identify what is important to them. Then both groups can match their experience and personal characteristics with future career paths. Once they have identified which career direction they would like to pursue, the next challenge is learning how to articulate their skills, experiences, and enthusiasm to employers. This is time to remember all those general liberal arts and specific historical skills, along with the personal growth, that has come from your collegiate career as a history major!
Hopefully it is clear by now that a liberal arts degree in general, and a history degree in particular, is not just about landing a job. It is also about coming to know yourself and translating that knowledge, along with the employment skills learned, into terms that employers understand. With a little extra time spent on discernment and thorough educational preparation, you will find yourself with an abundance of opportunities for further personal growth and advancement in a career.
Below is a list of careers that history majors have successfully pursued. Of course, not all of them will be of interest to you, and neither are they an exhaustive listing of possibilities. This list is only designed to help you in the career discernment process
- Advertising: account executive, media buyer, media planner, copywriter, researcher, sales.
- Banking: loan officer, operations manager, trust officer, branch manager
- City Planning: regional planner, urban administrator, urban planner.
- Computer Services: computer operator, operations analyst, marketing representativ(information technology)
- Education: bilingual teacher, college/university professor, secondary school teacher, school counselor, special education teacher.
- Education Administration: admissions counselor, academic advisor, alumni affairs staff, career services staff, financial aid staff, learning support services staff, development staff, student activities staff, student housing staff, dean of students, counseling staff, principal.
- Environment: advocacy staff, community relations, contract administrator, environmental education,environmental journalism, environmental policy, fundraiser, lobbyist, park ranger, social research analyst, technical writer, wildlife/recreation management.
- Government: analyst, caseworker, city manager, civil service, community affairs coordinator, codecompliance officer, congressional staff, criminologist, customs agent, diplomat, economicdevelopment coordinator, foreign service officer, housing & community development, intelligence analyst, investigator, legislative analyst, legislative assistant, politician, program analyst, program information officer, public affairs officer, researcher, speech writer.
- Film, TV, Radio: broadcaster, production assistant, producer, programming assistant, public relations, sales, scriptwriter.
- Health Care: public health administrator, human resources manager, public relations.
- Historical Research: archaeologist, archivist (national, state, local, medical, corporate archives), biographer, curator, historian, demographer, historical society administrator, international relations analyst.
- Human Resources: benefits specialist, college recruiting specialist, compensation manager, employee relations officer, employment interviewer, job analyst, organization development specialist, recruiter, labor relations, training specialist.
- Insurance: actuary, branch manager, brokerage manager, sales, underwriter.
- Investments: commodities trader, research analyst, securities analyst, stock broker.
- Journalism: editor, photojournalist, writer, researcher, news correspondent, foreign news correspondent (see also Publishing).
- Languages: consul, customs inspector, exporter, foreign language teacher, immigration officer, importer, intelligence officer, interpreter/translator, researcher, travel agent.
- Law: attorney, judge, law professor, legal research assistant, paralegal.
- Library Science: librarian, library technology manager.
- Management & Business: accountant, sales, sales manager, economist, corporate policy analyst, human resources manager, research & development manager, CEO.
- Marketing: market research analyst.
- Multimedia: business development, customer support, marketing, online copy editor, online researcher, production assistant, sales, scriptwriter, website designer, web editor, web producer.
- Museums & Public History: curator, exhibits designer, historic preservation specialist, historic site manager, public history curator, special collections curator, appraiser of antiquities and art, museum technician.
- Non-Profit Sector: clergy, consumer advocate, fundraiser/development, education administrator, foundation work (United Way, Red Cross), grant writer, Peace Corps/Vista volunteer, public relations, activist careers, advocacy/labor unions.
- Performing Arts: actor, choreographer, director, producer, stage manager, community affairs director, fundraising/development, government relations, investor relations, press relations officer, promoter, publicity officer, speech writer.
- Publishing: author, book editor, columnist, corporate communications, copy editor, editorial writer, electronic publishing specialist, employee publications specialist, freelance writer, government publications specialists, journalist, newspaper/magazine writer, playwright, production assistant, public information officer, public relations, magazine designer, (see also Multimedia).
- Real Estate: appraiser, commercial real estate agent, residential real estate agent.
- Retail and Merchandising: buyer, retail manager, sales representative, entrepreneur, executive.
- Visual Arts: appraiser, editorial assistant, graphic designer, photographer.
Graduate School and Careers as Professional Historians
Students are often interested in just how viable careers in the historical professions are given the current economic and political realities of American higher education and of historic preservation. To help address this question, we have included here the following webpages from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, which assess the current and future expectations for college and university faculty careers (http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos066.htm) and for archivists and curators (http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos065.htm ). See also several of the webpages listed below in sections VII and VIII for additional information.
In the last decade our history majors have gained admission into such graduate institutions as Harvard University, Yale University, Yale Law School, Penn State University, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh, Duke University, Syracuse University, Princeton Theological Seminary, University of Toronto, University of Illinois, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, University of Dayton, and Villanova University to name but a few. They have pursued graduate degrees in fields ranging from history, museum studies, law, education, special education, library science and seminary to English, communications, sociology, theater, and environmental policy. Our department therefore has a strong track record of success when it comes to graduate school preparation, and our students have excelled in a wide range of professional careers.
Useful Books Specifically Related to History Majors
Useful Websites with Career-Related Information
- Barbara Howe, Careers for Students of History (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1989)
- Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert, Great Jobs for History Majors (VGM Career Horizons, 1995)
- Melanie Gustafson, Becoming a Historian: A Survival Guide rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2001)
- Blythe Camenson, Opportunities in Museum Careers (VGM Career Horizons 1996)
- Blythe Camenson and Stephen Lambert, Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors (VGM Career Horizons,1997)
- Ronald and Caryl Rae Krannich, The Best Jobs for the 1990s and into the 21st Century 2nd ed. (Impact Publications, 1995)
"Liberal Learning and the History Major"
"Why Study History?"
"Why become a Historian?"
"Careers in History" by the AHA
Keirsey Character Sorter [similar to Myers-Briggs, this test helps identify different kinds of personality temperaments]
History Departments around the World
AHA Data on the Historical Profession
Best History Graduate Schools
Public History Graduate School Programs
Best Law Schools
Secondary Education Teaching Careers Outlook
Museum Employment Resource Center
Government, Law, and Public Administration program links
National Internships Online
Websites for the History Profession
NOTE: For public history graduate programs and organizations see the Links page.