What Can I Do with a Degree in History?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in history. Find information on history careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in history.


Perhaps the single most frequent question a history major will hear is: “What can you do with a degree in history?” Traditionally, the answers were seen as few: history teacher, museum curator, archivist, or librarian. Historians are certainly not studying the discipline to become rich. However, it is not necessarily what history teaches, but how history teaches the individual to think that makes an individual attractive to any number of career paths. History, as a branch of knowledge, imparts six separate and unique skill sets that can be applied to almost any career: research, writing, communication, critical reading, organization, and the ability to form a coherent argument. By studying the past, historians are able to see the larger picture of human history, understanding cause and effect, and the multiple factors that led to decisions made by individuals and societies. History is the story of the human race. Being able to grasp the significance of the past allows any individual to, not only tell that story, but also to organize information and present a narrative to a larger audience. These are career skills that employers will need, regardless of job title. History is more than immersion in dusty books and sterile museums. History is life. History is human drama.


The most obvious career choice for a history major is that of a teacher. From the elementary level, through high school and into a university setting, history teachers will always exist. However, of the ten most popular careers for history majors, teaching is only one. The other nine areas are: technical writer, editorial assistant, insurance claim adjuster, financial aid counselor, legal secretary, office clerk, paralegal, data entry operator, and intelligence operator. The skills imparted by the discipline also allow the individual to pursue careers in the media, including journalist or public relations specialist. Many history majors choose to enter law school after graduation, leading to a myriad of career paths in law and politics. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush were all history majors in college. Roosevelt and Wilson, in addition to being President, each wrote several major histories during their lifetime. While most history majors will not grow up to become President of the United States, career options such as campaign worker or congressional aid are viable.


As the career options for history majors are near unlimited, the salaries are also as varied. A full professor of history at a university earns, on average, $85,294 per year. High school history teachers make around $49,400 each year. The President of the United States currently makes $400,000 each year. Most history majors will find themselves in some other occupation, and their average salary will vary by industry and geographical location. Technical writers earn, on average, $67,900. Editorial assistants make $30,800. A paralegal can earn about $51,000 per year. Insurance claims adjusters are reported to make about $56,000 in a year.

The average annual salary for an archivist was $45,020 in 2008. This is similar to pay scales for other museum-related careers, such as curators, who earn $47,200 and museum technicians/conservators, who make $36,660 on average. Similar positions for the Federal Government paid higher: archivists, $83,758; curators, $90,205; technicians, $43,662.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for individuals determined to pursue a career as a professional historian can be bleak. Academic openings as colleges and universities are extremely scarce; it has often been noted that there is a “glut” of History Ph.D.s seeking out a limited number of openings. Individuals pursuing careers in the museum industry will fare better, as demand for archivists, especially those familiar with computer-based archive systems, will grow by 20 percent in the coming decade. However, competition for these jobs will be keen, as many candidates exist for limited jobs. The private sector will also see a need for archivists, as companies seek to organize their records and make them accessible.

However, for the individual who seeks out a degree in history with the idea that the skill set will translate into any number of fields, job prospects should appear much greater. Those individuals who seek out a wider career path, as opposed to the narrow one, will eventually find success and financial stability.

Recommended Schools

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