Common Career Paths for History Majors
What can you do with a history degree?
The percentage of history majors who become professional historians is low. Instead most go on to become lawyers, librarians, businesspersons, writers, archivists, researchers, teachers, politicians and even entertainers. Leaders in every industry, from business to the arts, can point to their training as history majors as the starting point for their success. Indeed, historical study plays an important part in fostering well-rounded intellectual development as well as instilling valuable career skills in research, writing, argumentation and documentation.
The market for teachers in primary and secondary schools remains good in many locations, and students with a solid background in history will be well suited to obtain teaching credentials in subjects such as history, social studies, government, political science, humanities, and general studies.
The rigorous research and writing requirements asked of history majors also offer excellent preparation for careers in law, journalism, public relations, technical writing, fundraising, administration, government service. Interestingly (and luckily for history majors) recent trends in medical and business school admissions suggest that professional schools are looking for students with training in humanities and social sciences. Students wishing to attend medical schools still need to take the necessary science prerequisites, but in an increasingly competitive market with growing competition, students differentiate themselves by means of attributes such as a background in the history of medicines or completion of a history honors thesis.
Career fields for history majors
Many history majors go on to become educators, focusing on the communication of their ideas. Educators include teachers in elementary and secondary education. They also include higher education on many levels, including teaching at community colleges, undergraduate colleges and universities. But educators also are important members of other educational institutions that you may not think of as immediately as schools. These include historic sites and museums, where history majors can become docents, education directors, curators, guides and interpreters. In addition, teaching can take forms other than standing up in front of a classroom. These include work as historical consultants, contract archivists, public historians, writers and even filmmakers.
Many history majors enter careers as researchers, emphasizing their skills in evaluating and analyzing documentary evidence. Historians as researchers include public historians as well as policy advisers, who serve as planners, evaluators and policy analysts, often for state, local and federal governments. In addition, historians often find employment as researchers for museums and historical organizations, or pursue additional specialized training to become professionals in cultural resources management and historic preservation.
Because history majors must learn to deal with documents, many pursue a one- or two-year graduate program in library studies (commonly, a master of library science, or MLS, degree) or archival management, and enter careers as information managers. With this additional training, they enter the fields of archives management, information management, records management and librarianship.
Many history majors find that historical training makes a perfect preparation for law school, as historians and lawyers often do roughly the same thin — they argue persuasively using historical data to support their arguments. Many history majors become lawyers; some undertake careers in litigation support as paralegals. Others enter public service and become policy makers, serve as legislative staff members at all levels of government, or become officers of granting agencies or foundations.
Most people overlook the value of a history major in preparing an intelligent person for a career in business. Historians track historic trends, an important skill for people who are developing products to market or are engaged in corporate or financial planning. Many people who completed an undergraduate degree in history enter banking, insurance and stock analysis. Historians also learn how to write persuasively, and this training gives them an edge in advertising, communications media and marketing. Many industries additionally depend on an intimate knowledge of government policies and historical trends; thus, history majors have found their skills useful in extractive industries and in public utilities.
Famous history majors
- John F. Kennedy: President of the United States
- Richard M. Nixon: President of the United States
- Joe Biden: Vice President of the United States
- Anthony M. Kennedy: Supreme Court Justice
- Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court justice
- Newt Gingrich: Former Speaker of the House
- Bill Bradley: Former U.S. Senator and NBA player
- George Mitchell: Special envoy to the Middle East
- Eric Holder: Attorney General of the United States
- Robert Johnson: Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)
- Lee Iacocca: Former CEO of the Chrysler Corporation
- Carly Fiorina: Former president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard
- Ben Silverman: Co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal Entertainment
- Larry David: Actor, writer, comedian, producer and film director
- Conan O'Brien: Comedian; former host of The Tonight Show
- Steve Carell: Comedian and star of The Office television series
- Jimmy Buffett: Songwriter, singer, restaurant-chain owner and businessman
- Wolf Blitzer: Journalist
- David Brancaccio: Host of Now on PBS
- Ray Suarez: Senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour
- Charlie Rose: Host of Charlie Rose
- Chris Berman: Anchor of ESPN SportsCenter