What Can I Do with a History Degree?

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History is the study of the past, particularly as it has been communicated through writing. However, a degree in history does not simply mean that you have memorized a string of dusty names and dates. Rather, a history degree teaches you to draw lines of cause and effect through time, to interpret past events and documents, and to piece together disparate pieces of information into one coherent whole. A history degree can prepare you for a career in teaching, research, or public relations, among many other job prospects. As a history major, you’ll develop an attention to detail, the ability to synthesize ideas, and strong research skills, which will all be of value to prosective employers.

A history degree can help you discern patterns, navigate through sources and weave them into compelling narratives. You’ll learn how to communicate your knowledge—not just of historical names, dates, figures and events, but also the trajectories of the human experience—to others.

The study of history is a vast and complex one that often overlaps with other disciplines. History buffs might be interested in subjects ranging from the social mores revealed by the Code of Hammurabi or how King Henry VIII managed to marry so many unfortunate wives, to the politics of the Cuban missile crisis or the recruitment tactics used in World War I. As you can see, fields such as law, gender studies, and English can illuminate the topics that interest you—or you can use a history degree to give context to another discipline like business, political science, or psychology.

Because the study of history covers so much ground and overlaps with so many other fields, a history degree can pave the way for you to enter a variety of careers. While teaching history is one of the most common paths to take with your history degree, it is by no means the only one. You might want to leverage your knowledge of past events to excel in journalism, or channel your research skills into a career as a librarian. Perhaps you are interested in a career in law or criminal justice. Understanding the evolution of our laws, the foundations of our legal system, and the historical conditions that gave rise to current practices could be invaluable to your career as a lawyer or a social justice advocate. And if you are most drawn to the idea of building knowledge and synthesizing ideas, a career in research—for a firm, a university, or a government branch—might be right for you.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education–recognized accreditor for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency–based education, or other education models that operate under a for–profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
Generally speaking, history is not one of these disciplines. Provided that your chosen university is accredited by one of the regional agencies above, you can feel secure in the credibility of its history program.
With that said, many who seek a degree in history do so with the intention of one day educating in the field. If you plan to pursue a dual degree in history and education (an option which we discuss in greater detail below), you may want to consider a program that is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is a programmatic accreditation agency focused on ensuring standards among educator preparation providers conferring certification/licensure, bachelor’s, master’s, post–baccalaureate, and doctoral degrees in the United States and internationally. While it may not necessarily be required by all future prospective employers, a degree from a CAEP–accredited program could improve your professional stature as you seek entry–level opportunities.

In a general sense, the easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.

Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Kinds of History Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in History

An associate degree in history is most commonly offered by local community colleges. It consists of 60 credits of college level coursework. The degree is often considered an entry point into the field of history, and many study at the associate level with the intention of transferring their credits into a bachelor’s degree at a larger college or university. This degree will typically take two years of full–time course work, though you can offset that length by taking on summer courses. Typically, coursework at the associate degree level focuses on introductory material. Just be sure before you enroll that your program’s credits can be transferred to most private, public, and online four–year colleges.

What History Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?

  • Ancient World History
  • Historiography
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • World War I and World War II

Bachelor’s Degree in History

The bachelor’s degree in history is typically a 120 credit, four–year degree given by a private, public or online college or university. A bachelor of history degree will typically include and build on the foundational coursework provided at the associate level. Your bachelor’s degree program will also move into more specialized curriculum. This is where you’ll have a chance to choose a focus based on a part of the world or point in human history that most inspires and intrigues you. You’ll also be encouraged — and in some programs, required — to complete an independent study or capstone project. This will typically involve writing a substantial senior thesis. Indeed, if you do plan to pursue a history degree, you can expect to do a lot of writing.

What History Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program?

  • Capstone/Senior Thesis
  • Geography
  • Historical Methodology
  • Historiography
  • Reading Seminars
  • Specialized Coursework
  • U.S. History
  • World History

If you’re ready to dive in, then check out:

Dual History and Education Degrees

As noted earlier, if you’re considering applying your history degree to secondary education, you’ll need to acquire teaching credentials as well. Teaching certification requirements vary a great deal according to each individual state, and dual degree programs vary a great deal from one school to another. Some colleges will offer a streamlined dual bachelor’s degree, while others will combine their degrees into a dual bachelor’s/master’s degree. This approach allows you to earn more credentials faster and typically with less expense than you otherwise would have incurred. Also bear in mind that, in order to teach in a public school, you will need to sit for licensure in your state. Some states may also require you to earn a master’s degree before you can test for a teaching license.

What History Courses Will I Take in a History/Education Dual Degree Program?

  • Capstone/Senior Thesis
  • Historiography
  • Specialized Coursework
  • Numerous Education Courses (some variation on a state by state basis)
  • Reading Seminars
  • U.S. History
  • World History

If this is something that interests you, you may also want to check out:

Master’s Degree in History

A master’s degree in history is the right move for you if you’re seeking to enhance your upward mobility in the teaching profession, or if you’re planning on eventually pursuing doctoral work. As noted above, if you are hoping to teach history, you should consider a dual degree program. For a flexible program that works according to your schedule, check out the 50 Best Online Colleges & Universities 2019.

What Other Kinds of Master’s Dual Degree Options Do You Have?

Many schools will offer other kinds of dual history master of arts (MA) degrees. For example, a law school will often offer a doctor of law (JD) in conjunction with an MA program, typically to be completed in four years. Business schools will sometimes do the same with their MBA programs. Those seeking this degree in conjunction with another program will often forgo a master’s thesis (similar to a bachelor’s senior thesis, but longer and more in–depth). Conversely, if you’re seeking a master’s degree in history in preparation for a Ph.D, you’ll probably prefer independent research. This will give you an opportunity to work with your advisor, ultimately developing models for later research initiatives. If you are curious about dual master’s degree programs, check out our ranking of The Best Online Dual Master’s Degree Programs.

With all this said, you should carefully consider whether you want a history degree for teaching purposes or for professional applications. Once you make this decision, you can choose your degree path (dual or otherwise) accordingly.

What History Courses Will I Take in a Master’s Program?

  • Capstone/Senior Thesis
  • Historiography
  • Numerous Education Courses (some variation on a state–by–state basis)
  • Reading Seminars
  • Specialized Coursework
  • U.S. History
  • World History

For our ranking of the best master’s in history degrees, go to:

Ph.D. in History

When looking at doctoral programs, it’s important to remember that there is a substantial difference between these kinds of programs when granted by U.S. universities as opposed to universities abroad. Most U.S. doctoral programs incorporate coursework, language requirements, and a dissertation. The typical doctorate program will include at least two, perhaps three, years of additional courses. This is true regardless of whether you’ve already earned a master’s degree in history, although students with previous master’s level work are often eligible for some transfer credits.

Most Ph.D. programs incorporate language requirements, often French and German. However, programs sometimes allow substitutes or require additional languages depending on your dissertation. After completing all prerequisites, you will be allowed to write a dissertation. The drafting, revision, and editing process typically takes three years.

It’s worth noting that many U.S. Ph.D. programs offer full–tuition scholarships, expense stipends, and health insurance, if you qualify.

What’s the Difference Between U.S. and International Ph.D. Programs?

International doctoral students usually forgo the coursework. Your master’s degree will fulfill a good portion of your prerequisites, though most students will be required to complete some additional coursework to earn entry into an international Ph.D. program. Your program will likely last a duration of three years, but contrary to a U.S. Ph.D program, most international programs won’t provide tuition or other scholarship grants. However, the price tag on international history Ph.D. programs is often far lower than it is in the U.S.

What History Courses Will I Take in a Ph.D. Program?

  • Dissertation Credit
  • Reading Seminars
  • Specialized Coursework

What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do You Need?

This entirely depends on whether you are pursuing history to advance a professional career or an academic one. As a professional, your licensing and certification needs will be associated with your sister discipline. As an educator you will need to pass whatever requirements your intended jurisdiction desires, which will usually include a degree in education as well as time spent student teaching. As a lawyer who studied history jointly you will need to finish your doctor of jurisprudence degree, pass the Bar, and finally be approved to practice law by the appropriate committee. Those who are looking to become historians need to look no further than a doctorate. After acquiring the Ph.D, you are ready to publish in peer–reviewed journals, present papers, and teach at the university.

What Can You Do With a History Degree?

It’s common to wonder: “What can I do with my history degree?” You’re in luck. Your knowledge of human history — how we have interacted, evolved, and understood one another throughout the passage of time — can be applied to boardroom negotiations, courtroom debates, classroom lesson plans, and elevator pitches. History, properly understood, provides us with a unique perspective on culture and human interaction. This background can be an enormous advantage in a variety of fields:

What Kind of Salary Can You Earn With a History Degree?

Your history degree could lead to a wide variety of career outcomes. This means your salary prospects are also widely variant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the median salary for the following history–related professions as of 2018:

Career Median Salary
Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers $48,400
Social Work $49,470
Librarians $59,050
Editors $59,480
Public Relations Specialists $60,000
Writers and Authors $62,170
Post Secondary History Teachers $74,590
Lawyers $120,910

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Historical Organizations or Societies You Should Join?

Obviously there are many branches of history and, consequently, there are many specialized historical societies. For example, you can find groups dedicated to the history of science or even the history of the philosophy of science. Joining the right group can create tremendous opportunities for networking, remaining current on events in the field, and making yourself known to others in your academic community.

American Historical Association
Founded in 1884, the American Historical Association (AHA) is the largest and most well–known historical society in the United States. This organization provides networking and research opportunities through numerous publications, conferences, and other scholarly venues. The organization also distributes grants and fellowships as well as prestigious awards.
Organization of American Historians
The Organization of American Historians, founded in 1907, is the leading professional society for teachers of American history. The organization is dedicated to the advancement of scholarship, historical advocacy, and professional integrity.
World History Association
Founded in 1982, the World History Association is a relatively young scholarly society. But despite its youth it has quickly emerged as a leading historical association dedicated to filling a rapidly expanding subfield of history.

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