Have you always loved reading about the days of yore? Do you enjoy watching historical documentaries on telly? Were school field trips to ancient ruins and palaces your favourite days of the year?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, a degree in history might be the right path for you. However, you may have heard that a history degree ‘won’t get you very far.’ As you’ll see in this article, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Before you decide to do a history degree, you can always take a few history courses online. They will help you ‘get your feet wet’ and find out if you’d be interested in learning more about history in a structured setting.
History – a useless degree?
While you might have heard that history is ‘a useless degree’ from people who want you to go into the sciences or tech fields, it simply isn’t the case. The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s ‘2017 Labor Market Study,’ people who study history earn an average of $25,000 more each year than the US national median salary.[i] That doesn’t sound very ‘useless,’ now does it?
Did you know that some very famous and essential people chose to do a degree in history? Winston Churchill, Gordon Brown, W.E.B DuBois, and seven different American presidents all took history! So too did writer Salman Rushdie, documentarian and journalist Louis Theroux, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and Hackney Labour MP Diane Abbot. [ii]
So, what can you do with a history degree?
This degree equips you with many useful history graduate skills. Most importantly, you’ll learn the importance of recognising and applying the patterns of the past. History teaches us just how crucial problem-solving and analytical skills are to success in any industry. Debating the lessons of the past with like-minded academics and professors will arm you with the quick thinking and analysis needed to advance in your career.[iii]
In addition to improving your career prospects, a history degree will improve your trivia knowledge, help you understand the world’s current events, and solve complex problems in your own life. You’ll be well-equipped to succeed in a variety of different fields, particularly business, law, and politics.[iv]
The best jobs you can get with a history degree
Once you have a history degree, you are primed for a variety of exciting and interesting careers.[v] Employers in most fields will be impressed by your history degree, as it shows that you can complete complex academic projects and that you are dedicated to problem-solving. Even if the following careers don’t always directly correspond to the specifics of a history degree, you’ll find that employers are excited to see this field of study on your CV.
- University Professor – You will need to obtain a PhD level qualification to teach history at a university level, but this is a truly rewarding career with plenty of perks. Working in a university research setting, you will likely combine academic research with teaching and mentoring students.
- Archivist – Archivists are the protectors and documentarians of the world’s most important documents and letters. Understanding their historical importance is a big part of archiving them correctly.
- Politics – After you gain valuable experience and connections during your career, perhaps a move into politics could be in your future? Many famous politicians have a background in history.
- Heritage manager – Conserving, managing, and interpreting heritage sites is a rewarding and essential job. Understanding and communicating the history behind each site is a vital component of the job.
- Museums careers – There are plenty of exciting and challenging careers inside museums, including education, curation, interpretation, and exhibitions. Whether you like working with the public or prefer solo challenges, there are roles inside a museum for any historian.
- Secondary school teacher – Many historians choose to undergo teacher training (ITT) in order to inspire budding young historians as a secondary school teacher. History will amply prepare you to inspire students and stoke their passion for the past.
- Archaeologist – While you will likely also need specific qualifications in archaeology, a degree in history is an excellent place to start before applying to an archaeology MA programme.
- Journalist – Understanding the lessons of the past will put you in an excellent position to investigate and report on the top stories in the UK and around the world. Your vast experience writing papers will prepare you for print journalism, and verbal presentations will set you up for broadcast journalism.
- Civil Service administrator – A history degree will help you hone a keen attention to detail, giving you the necessary experience that you need to be a civil service administrator.
- Human resources officer – HR roles require a particular type of person – you need to be inquisitive, interested in detail, and exceptionally organised. A history degree will equip you with these skills (and more).
- Information officer – Organisations of all types require at least one information officer, who manages digital information and ensures that it is easily accessible to all employees and/or members of the public. As a historian, you will have a lot of experience working with and organising vast quantities of info.
- Marketing executive – At its core, marketing is all about human nature and historical patterns. History teaches you to recognise these patterns and transfer them into valuable insight about consumer behaviour and activity.
- Solicitor – Many lawyers do their foundational degree in history to get a firm understanding of the past before analysing and applying the laws of today.
- Talent agent – As a talent agent, you will help your clients shape their careers, orchestrate deals, and make sure that they (and you) get paid what they’re worth.
Transferable skills learnt during a history degree
Your undergraduate history degree will give you plenty of soft skills that will serve you throughout your entire career.[vi] These transferable skills include:
- Time management
- The ability to meet deadlines
- Group projects and cooperation
- Focussed research
- Critical thinking
- Media literacy
- Engaging presentations
- Oral communication
- Essay and report writing
- Project planning and execution
- Liaising with academics at all levels
- Word processing, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint
- Gleaning the most essential information from large blocks of text
Employers in a variety of fields look for these skills when hiring new recruits. Your history degree demonstrates that you have these competencies and more.
Did you know that the skills you gain in this so-called ‘useless degree’ can set you up for financial success in your career? It’s true – the transferrable skills that you gain in a history degree will get you ready for management and CEO positions. In the US, 15% of humanities grads go on to lucrative management roles.[vii] That’s followed by 14% who work in admin and office jobs, 13% in sales (which can also be very well-paid), 12% in education, and 10% who work in finance and business.
According to a report by the BBC, employers are always on the hunt for specific soft skills. [viii] The cited LinkedIn’s 2019 research on employers’ most desired skills, which found that creativity, persuasion, and collaboration were in hot demand. These are precisely the skills that your degree in history will foster and help you to develop.
Are you, (or your parents) worried that you won’t be able to compete in the fast-paced world of tech? A history degree can even help you in the STEM fields. According to the BBC article, Microsoft executives are in the market for more humanities graduates. According to the CEO, “as computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.”
Is it worth doing a history degree?
While history is certainly not for everyone, if you enjoy learning about the past and immersing yourself in world events, it might just be the right path for you. Don’t worry for one second that it could be a ‘dead end’ – as you can see above, there are plenty of exciting and well-paid careers for people with history degrees. Now, you just need to decide what era and region you are most interested in studying!
AGCAS editors (2020). What can I do with a history degree? | Prospects.ac.uk. [online] www.prospects.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/what-can-i-do-with-my-degree/history [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2019). Occupations of Humanities Majors with a Terminal Bachelor’s Degree. [online] American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Available at: https://www.amacad.org/humanities-indicators/workforce/occupations-humanities-majors-terminal-bachelors-degree#en_-1_7 [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Chiu, M. (2019). Best Ways to Use a History Degree: Careers & Salary Potential. [online] AffordableCollegesOnline.org. Available at: https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/using-history-degree/ [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Rasheed, R. (2020). Top ten celebrities with a History degree. [online] www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk. Available at: https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/student-advice/what-to-study/top-ten-celebrities-with-a-history-degree [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Ruggeri, A. (2019). Why ‘worthless’ humanities degrees may set you up for life. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190401-why-worthless-humanities-degrees-may-set-you-up-for-life [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
Tucker, L. (2014). What Can You Do With a History Degree? [online] Top Universities. Available at: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/careers-advice/what-can-you-do-history-degree [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].
University of St. Andrews (2020). History | University of St Andrews. [online] www.st-andrews.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/careers/exploring-your-future/course-matters/using-your-degree/history/#:~:text=Undergraduate%20history%20courses%20specifically%20invest [Accessed 13 Aug. 2020].