Because history is lodged in the past, people commonly hold the misconception that graduates of history programs are irrelevant in the modern job market. The career paths a history degree offers are not as clearly defined as other programs, like business, where graduates generally have a good picture of the type of work they will be doing upon graduation. To make the most of your history degree, you need to assess how far you are willing to delve into academia and how you can market your skills to potential employers once your education is complete.
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An Associate Degree in History is rarely offered because introductory history classes in areas like Western civilization or American history are usually included as part of the general education offered at community colleges. The few schools that do offer an associate degree in history offer two-year degrees intended for students who want to transfer to bachelor’s degree programs after graduation and they do not prepare students for typical history careers.
A Bachelor’s Degree in History is offered ubiquitously at major colleges and universities. A bachelor’s degree is usually not enough education to prepare for a career as a historian.
A Master’s Degree in History essential if you want to work as a historian. They typically take two years to complete, including coursework in your concentration and the development of your thesis.
A Doctorate in History, or PhDs, is the best option if you want to pursue an academic career. You should be absolutely committed to studying history if you want to study at this level.
Nearly all history programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels require students to specialize their knowledge by choosing a concentration. In some cases, you can earn a degree in general history, but this is uncommon. Specializing in a narrow area of history allows students to explore that theme, time period or place in much greater detail than a general survey of all history. By focusing on one or two areas that particularly pique your interest, you will become an expert in that subfield.
It is possible, and not unusual, to specialize in multiple areas of history, as the lines that divide regions and time periods shift, fade, and blur according to individual historians and the schools that train them. But you should be aware that specializing in more than one history concentration will require you to take additional classes and conduct further research, which is likely to lengthen the time you spend earning your degree.
Jobs as historians are extremely competitive, and you will not be able to find a job in the field without at least a master’s degree. The field portends an 18 percent increase in employment through 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is consistent with the trends for all occupations. However, that rise only accounts for only 700 new jobs, with a total of 4,700 practicing historians predicted in the coming decade. Of those historians, 57% will work for local, state, and federal government agencies. Others work for historical societies, consulting firms and research organizations. The average salary for historians is $53,520 as of 2010.
Because of the strong job competition, most history students will work in related fields like teaching. Secondary teachers who instruct middle and high school students can expect to make about $53,000 as well, with about 72,000 new jobs available. However, it should be noted that only a fraction of the total teaching jobs available are for history teachers. (BLS does not currently have data available about history teachers specifically at this time.) History teachers need a bachelor’s degree to earn teaching certification, but in many states they will earn raises if they have a graduate education, such as a history master’s degree online.
Some history degree graduates also work for museums as curators, museum technicians and conservators. These staff members oversee historic collections and create informational displays and presentations for the public. The average salary for these positions is about $42,310, and the profession will see a 16 percent rise in employment in the next decade with about 8,400 new jobs available. A bachelor’s degree is minimum education for these careers, but most applicants have master’s degrees.
Some fields where you can apply what you learn include: