Why major in history?


We already know you are interested in and maybe even love the study of history, but you might be concerned about what you will be able to do with a degree in history. We want to try and provide some answers and information to help.



Recent employment trends show that it is common for most individuals to change jobs or positions every few years, meaning that on the job training is common. People who do best in this kind of job market are those with a broad range of practical knowledge and skills. These include the skills that you will develop as a history major: the ability to think both critically and creatively, the ability to write clearly and persuasively, the ability to evaluate information and facts, draw conclusions, and make decisions. In one study, carried out by Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Association for Higher Education Management Systems, 93% of employers reported that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

History teaches students to evaluate issues and societies in chronological perspective on the basis of the evidence left behind by human beings. History majors learn to evaluate evidence critically, argue from it logically and speak and write about it clearly.  We provide students with practical skills by teaching them how to read a document, perform detailed research, weigh evidence, assess complex debates, write clearly, and argue convincingly.  These are skills and tools are useful in any professional capacity, and make History majors eminently employable in a wide variety of fields.

Yes, and majoring in history does provide you with real world skills! Studying history teaches you critical thinking as well as imagination, empathy, and resourcefulness.  It teaches you to research, evaluate evidence, communicate, and problem solve. Rather than providing narrow training for today’s job world that will be obsolete in a few years, it teaches you how to learn for a lifetime. History teaches you not what to think, but rather how to think.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment recently tested college students nationwide at the start of their freshman year and again after two years of study to gauge how well they were learning.  Liberal arts majors, including history majors, consistently outperformed their peers in business, communications, and other newer “practical” majors. There is also good evidence that companies want to hire smart, creative people and often value those with educational backgrounds that set them apart from the crowd. Here’s what a couple of History majors have to say:

“Pursue a liberal arts education. For most people, it’s the best foundation for a successful career… The formula for businesses trying to compete in today’s economy is simple: hire employees with the mental agility, leadership and passion to navigate constant change—in other words, hire those who are liberally educated.” A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble

“Just think about the world today—about globalization, about the need to understand different cultures and perspectives, the ability to be intellectually curious… What we really need today are people who have broad perspectives… A liberal arts education is critical in providing people with broad perspectives and helping them to ultimately become effective leaders.” Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express

Not really. Today, the unemployment rate for young humanities majors (ages 22 to 27) is similar to the rate for majors in other fields: art history (3.2%), chemical engineering (3.8%), communications studies (3.9%), and biology (5%).

The Wall Street Journal reports that students who earn a Bachelor’s degree in the humanities ultimately do as well as—or better than—majors in other fields, including business management and accounting. For example, the median salary for history majors is $41,000 out of college and rises to $81,000 after 20+ years, while philosophy majors go from $42,000 to $97,000. This is similar to the earnings of those with degrees in political science ($43,000 to $89,000), accounting ($47,000 to $84,000), and business management ($45,000 to $81,000).

Similarly, a report from Georgetown University shows that history majors earn higher median salaries than all other humanities majors and earn the same or more than education, communications, or international relations majors, and 20% of history graduates were employed in management positions. By their peak earning years, workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities or social sciences earn more than those who majored as undergraduates in professional or pre-professional fields.

In fact, high achieving History majors have higher lifetime earnings than those in other disciplines: $3.2 million for Computer Science, $3.46 million for Philosophy, and $3.75 million for History.

Nearly 60% of humanities majors have jobs that involve managing or supervising.

Jobs of Recent History Grads

  • Doctoral student in history
  • Secondary school teacher
  • Physician
  • Dentist
  • Lawyer
  • NPR producer
  • County Prosecutor
  • Goldman Sachs Analyst
  • Professional Genealogist
  • Archivist
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Project Manager
  • Museum Director

The American Historical Association has prepared a guide on Careers for History Majors: