History Degree Guide: 2021 Costs, Requirements & Job Opportunities

in Research   Posted on July 9, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

History is a wide and deep field that can span across many topics and even disciplines. There are many specializations and many opportunities to conduct interdisciplinary work and research. Being a professional historian is also very rare. In the United States, there are only 3,500 historian jobs. Meanwhile, the projected employment change is only +3% from 2019 to 2029. This is as fast as the average job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021).

Historians research, analyze, and make interpretations about the past. To do so, they usually travel to carry out their research. They talk to sources and do archival digging as well. Moreover, they work with other scholars and scientists like archaeologists, forensic scientists, and anthropologists. These open up various career options for historians. They can pursue a research or teaching position, or even manage museums and libraries. Of course, many historians have gone out on their own to publish works like books or by writing for popular publications.

So, if history is on your shortlist of what degree to take, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will take a look at the types of history degrees, their costs, and the available history degree jobs.

1. What is a History Degree?

A history degree program teaches and prepares students to learn about and critically examine accounts of the past using a wide variety of techniques. Techniques range from archival research and interview procedures to the use of complex data and statistical methods. History is a very wide field with many specializations. One can specialize in a specific period of time, a certain historical figure, or even the history of various disciplines like natural science or art.

Also, history research practices nowadays are continuously developing. For instance, in their article in the Journal of Economic Methodology entitled “A quantitative turn in the historiography of economics?” Edwards and colleagues (2018) discussed how quantitative approaches are gaining ground. These quantitative methods, they stated, include “citation analysis, network analysis, topic modeling, quantitative organizational history, prosopography and correspondent factor analysis.” And quite recently, they are getting more popular in the younger generations of historians of economics. As a result, this expands the conventional professional history definition and scope, especially where its research methods are concerned.

Thus, history students will also be introduced to similar techniques to round out the usual research methodologies like conceptual analysis, textual criticism, and the synoptic method. Of course, because of the rise of the digitalization of everything. Students will also learn how to use specific digital tools that can help them with their studies and research. And, this is very important as history majors can have careers as librarians, museum workers, and curators.

What can you do with a history degree?

History majors have a lot of job options. Primarily, professional historians work in academia. They become teachers, professors, researchers, curators, and librarians. Additionally, they can find work outside educational institutions. They can work for non-profit organizations, the government, think tanks, and even private companies.

Some history graduates often use their degrees as a jumping board to other occupations. Their fact-finding skills and trained eyes for details help them do well in professions like being a lawyer or politician. Of course, some of these require further graduate studies to pursue. Others become writers and even find their way to advertising and marketing.

It is also good to note that historians can set out the unique career path of becoming public intellectuals. A few good examples of historians that took this career path are Niall Ferguson and Howard Zinn. The former even takes on jobs as a TV presenter for history programs.

Source: BLS, 2021

2. Cost of History Degree

History degree tuition and other fees vary from one program to another. Also, as a general rule, the more prestigious the program, the higher the cost of attending will be. There are also other factors that affect the cost. These include the method of education delivery. Generally, online degrees are less expensive than on-campus programs. Also, in-state tuition fees are usually cheaper than out-of-state rates.

For instance, the 2020-2021 in-state average tuition and fees for history undergraduate degree programs is $7,694 compared to its out-of-state counterpart of $27,311 (College Tuition Compare, 2021). The same goes for graduate degrees with in-state tuition and fees average cost of $10,817 and an average out-of-state tuition and fees cost of $19,803.

How much does it cost to get a history degree?

The cost also depends on the type of history degree you are working on (The College Monk, 2021). On average, a bachelor’s degree costs $422 per credit, and the average total tuition cost sits at $43,712. An associate’s degree’s average tuition per credit is less than half of that of a bachelor’s degree at $201. The average total tuition is $12,527.

Graduate degrees for history tend to cost higher than their undergraduate counterparts, but only when it comes to the average tuition per credit. A master’s degree in history has an average cost of $588 per credit, while a doctorate degree’s average tuition per credit cost is $955. The average total tuition costs for these graduate degrees, however, tend to be less expensive than a bachelor’s degree. The average total tuition cost for master’s and doctorate degrees in history is $21,045 and $39,846, respectively.

Average Tuition and Cost for History Degrees

Type of DegreeTotal TuitionTuition Per Credit
Associate's Degree$12,257$201
Bachelor's Degree$43,712$422
Master's Degree$21,045$588
Doctorate$39,846$955
Source: The College Monk, 2021

Is a degree in history worth it?

If you are passionate about history, the study of historiography, or a specific area or period of history, then a history degree is a match for you. As mentioned, history is a wide field and one can have many interconnected specializations from knowledge expertise of a specific area or on different methodologies. Also, as history is becoming a more interdisciplinary field, you will also get to learn more about adjunct disciplines and their techniques to create better accounts of our past.

A history degree will let you inside the history communities and belongingness to these groups can have a sense of fulfillment. You would be able to rub shoulders with other experts, collaborate with them, and have the chance to contribute to the literature.

The average base pay, however, is not that lucrative compared to other occupations. But, it can be quite respectable depending on your employment. The median annual wages of historians in May of 2020 (at $63,100) is significantly lower than those of other social scientists and related workers (at $82,280). However, it is higher than that of the total population, which stands at $41,950 in the same time period. However, it is good to note that, typically, the entry-level education for professional historians is usually a master’s degree (BLS, 2021)

history degree - tuition and salary, average-1

3. History Degree Jobs

There are many types of history degree jobs awaiting history majors. They range from occupations in private institutions to government posts. However, the most common landing spot for people with history degrees is found in academia. Some would go to as high school teachers, community college lecturers, and researchers (Kowarski, 2019). But, there are also other career options that are highly related to the field. In this section, we will discuss the most common job options and career paths that a graduate can have. But, first, let us talk about the demand.

Is history in high demand?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), the number of jobs for history professionals in 2019 was 3,500. Experts also predict that from 2019 to 2029, the demand will grow by 3%. This, compared to other occupations, is considered as fast as average growth. Moreover, the employment change in the same period will be +100. That’s just around 100 jobs in the span of 10 years. This shows that professional historian jobs are quite rare. And, the market can be very competitive.

In the AY of 2018-2019, the National Center for Education Statistics or NCES (2021) recorded 160,600 social sciences and history degrees awarded by postsecondary institutions. Given a generous estimate that 10% of those are history degrees, there will be 16,060 people competing for the projected professional historian jobs, provided they complete some graduate-level degree—the typical requirement for a professional historian job. And, let us say that a quarter of them pursued and completed their master’s, then there would be 4,015 graduates competing for those jobs. And, this is only counting those that graduated in the AY of 2018-2019!

However, there are many other related career options. But, here are the most common occupations and career options for history graduates.

What jobs can you get with a history degree?

  1.  Historian. Professional historians can work for a wide array of organizations, from nonprofit organizations and individuals to government agencies and private businesses. They gather and study information from artifacts and texts and create interpretative accounts or narratives. Some historians also give advice on preparing books, reports, and even give lectures. Others also write books. The national average annual salary for professional historians is $74,158 (Indeed, 2021).
  2. K-8 History Teachers. Just like the one you had when you were younger, K-8 history teachers instruct students on basic history subjects. This is to prepare them for further education. They are expected to manage a classroom, administer and grade tests, and handle a myriad of other tasks.
  3. High School History Teacher. High school history teachers offer classroom instruction and guidance. Classes cover specific periods and topics. So, high school history teachers are expected to be well versed in them. Furthermore, they are also tasked to implement curriculum content, school rules, and, administer tests. The average base annual salary is $40,868 (Salary.com, 2021).
  4. Postsecondary History Teachers.  These education professionals work in colleges, universities, or professional schools. They teach courses in human history and historiography. While many are primarily engaged in teaching, others do a combination of teaching and research. The median annual wage is $76,890 (BLS, 2020).
  5. Librarian. Librarians manage print and digital resources in a library facility. They also help people look for necessary information for professional research or personal use. They usually work for the government, schools, and private organizations. The annual median pay is $60,820 for 2020 (BLS, 2021).
  6. Archivist, Curator, and Museum Worker. These professionals oversee and manage an organization’s collections of artwork or historical items. They usually work for the government, historical sites, schools, private corporations, and nonprofit organizations. The median annual pay for 2020 is $57,140 (BLS, 2020). But, take this with a grain of salt as this is a mix of a wide variety of occupations.
  7. Researcher. This is one of the most popular jobs for history majors, according to Indeed (2021). An entry-level research assistant works together with other professionals in uncovering information and collecting and analyzing data. They look for trends, translate figures, and make projections. The national average annual salary is $73,587.
  8. Journalist. The skills of a historian can also translate well into journalism. This is especially with their fact-finding and analytic skills. There are many intersections with a journalism degree when it comes to these types of skills. Journalists can work in a wide variety of organizations using different media channels from print to digital. The annual average salary of journalists for 2020 is $66,000 (BLS, 2021).
  9. Lawyer (starting out as a paralegal). There are also many intersections in skills between doing history and doing law. The main ones are fact-finding and logical analysis. If they gun for this career, history majors can start out working as paralegals doing various administrative and support tasks for a law firm. Paralegals have a median annual wage of $52,920 (BLS, 2021) while the median annual wage for lawyers is $126,930 (BLS, 2021).
  10. Writers and Authors. These professionals develop and create content for various types of media organizations. They can also work on their own by publishing original work. The median annual wage for writers was $67,120 in May 2020 (BLS, 2021)

What kind of salary can I earn with a history degree?

As shown in the previous section, the kind of salary that you can earn with a history degree varies from occupation to occupation and employer to employer. This also applies to professional historians. Pay differs in the top four industries that historians work for (BLS, 2021). These industries are the (1) federal government (excluding postal service), (2) professional, scientific, and technical services, (3) state government, and (4) local government. The last two exclude both education and hospitals. The median annual wages are as follows:

Median Annual Wages for Historians in Top Industries

Top IndustriesMedian Annual Wage
Federal Government (excluding postal service)$102,530
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services$66,750
State Government (excluding education and hospitals)$51,540
Local Government (excluding education and hospitals)$32,060
Source: BLS, 2021

4. Types of Degrees in History

There are four common history degree types. They are (1) Associate’s Degree in History, (2) Bachelor’s Degree in History, (3) Master’s Degree in History, and (4) Doctorate Degree in History. In this section, we will take a look at these different types of degrees and compare them in various aspects like the focus on the study, the time it takes to complete, and the cost to earn one.

What types of history degrees are there?

1. Associate’s Degree in History

Average time to complete: 2 years

An Associate of Arts (A.A.) in History program covers the core topics related to world civilizations and US history (Study.com, 2021) They are taught to analyze the different cultural, economic, political, and religious viewpoints that could have influenced a particular era, group, or person. Research techniques are also taught, like getting information from both primary and secondary sources. Students are also trained in various interpretative techniques for historical texts.

There are many topics covered in an associate’s degree in history program. These include the history of groups like African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Asian Americans. Typical courses include Ancient World History, World Wars I and II, American Military History, and the Civil War.

Education delivery consists of class lectures mixed with both group and individual projects. Some programs also require students to complete a capstone project to refine their research skills. Moreover, other institutions design their associate’s program as a transfer program for a bachelor’s degree.

Entry-level jobs: museum worker, research assistant, archivist

2. Bachelor’s Degree in History

Average time to complete: 4 years

There are two kinds of bachelor’s degrees in history: the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in History. The latter has a focus on a science-leaning analysis of the past. Some universities recommend this for pre-medical students. The B.A. program—also the most common—leans towards a liberal arts and humanities.

Common courses include Military History, African American History, World History, and European History. Depending on the teachers and professors, more specialized courses may be offered. These offerings are usually in the specializations of the faculty. Course delivery is also a mix of lectures and individual and group work.

Many schools offer opportunities for internships and other professional development opportunities. This is especially for students that are interested in museum care and public history (SHSU, 2021).

Entry-level jobs: document editor, records manager, curator, corporate historian

3. Master’s Degree in History

Average time to complete: 2 years

A Master of Arts in History degree program teaches and trains graduate students in more advanced methodologies in historical research and practice (Study.com, 2021). They are also expected to have mastery of various topics. They are required to search primary and secondary sources to uncover important historical information and insights.

Also, they are trained to produce a synthesis from various sources. Thus, the curriculum is writing-intensive.

Typical courses and topics covered include Public History, US History, the American Revolution, Ancient Roman Wars, and 20th Century Events (Study.com, 2021). Furthermore, students can choose to tailor their curriculum to their particular interests and needs. Other available courses include those of specific topics like colonialism, religious history, and historiography.

Master’s in history degree programs are also geared towards students who want to pursue a Ph.D. in the field.

Entry-level jobs: museum administrator, teacher, academic librarian

4. Doctoral Degree in History

Average time to complete: 5 to 9 years

A Doctor of Philosophy in History degree program hones a student’s skill to create original research works. They are trained to deeply understand complex global and historical interactions that set about transformations in societies (Study.com, 2021).

These involve intensive reading and research, especially using historical analytic and theoretical literature. Completion of a dissertation is also required to finish the degree.

Students complete coursework in high-level history topics. These may include historiography, women’s studies, ancient history, and historical research. So, the degree takes a long time to finish.

Entry-level jobs: oral historian, consultant, interpreter of historical manuscripts

5. Certificate in History

Average time to complete: Variable (according to program credits)

Certificates in history can take two forms: undergraduate and graduate (or professional). Both, however, typically offer a more general take on history topics.  But, universities often provide students with the flexibility to pursue their own interests. Also, courses being offered depend on the expertise of the university’s faculty.

These may include courses in the History of Science, Geographic History, History of Slavery, and History of Digital Technologies. There are also programs that offer archaeology-based courses. So, a student can find a particular niche to study.

A graduate certificate is usually targeted at teachers that want to augment their teaching and qualifications for high-school or lower collegiate levels (Study.com, 2019).

Entry-level jobs: document editor, corporate historian, writer

median annual wages - archivist, curators, museum workers-1

5. History Degree Requirements

In order to enter a history degree program in institutions of higher education, you need to submit and pass certain requirements. Like most undergraduate programs, you need to have finished related basic courses. Also, you need to provide certain documents, like your high school diploma or something similar. In this section, we will discuss the general history degree prerequisites for enrollment.

Admission Requirements

The general requirement to get into colleges and universities is to submit proof of your high school diploma or something equivalent. For those that chose to earn their GED, they should provide their GED transcripts. Furthermore, to increase the chance of getting accepted, it is also best to provide your target schools with copies of other certificates earned like for vocational courses, seminars, and the likes. Moreover, you should include extracurriculars in your CV as well.

Also, GPA requirements vary from program to program. Generally, most four-year colleges require you to have a GPA of 2.0 or higher. The more prestigious ones with a low acceptance rate may only entertain a higher average. So, if you are gunning for these schools, you should aim to have 3.5 or higher.

SAT or ACT Scores

Again, different programs require different minimum SAT or ACT scores. Some require a minimum of 1440 or 1560 in their SAT and 32 to 35 on the ACT. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have not taken these exams because of scheduling and logistics problems. So, many schools have relaxed their requirements. The best way to know the minimum scores required is to check on the websites of your target schools. Better yet, you can always grab the phone and give the admissions department a ring.

Entrance Exams

Schools often require students to pass standardized tests in order to be accepted. Others require special SAT Subject Tests where testing focuses on individual subjects. There are many focus areas and history is one of them. So, it is best to prepare for these exams. And, before you do, however, you should check in on your target schools’ websites or admission office to make sure what tests are required. Also, for non-English speakers, a TOEFL test is usually required to gauge their proficiency in the language.

Other Requirements

There are also other things that schools may require you to submit. Again, it is best to check with your target school on what these are. Generally, however, they are:

  • Letter (s) of Recommendation (varies in number)
  • Essay
  • Career statement
  • In-person interviews (or phone/video)
  • Application, processing, and other fees

Skill Requirements

It is best to enter a history degree program with basic skills in writing, research, and critical analysis. These form the basic history degree skills. Of course, computer and library literacy are also of big help. Students, however, should not stress this out as the fundamental aim of history degree programs is to help them build their skills. However, it is also best to enroll in the program with great motivation and gusto.

6. What to Look for in a History Program

Not all history programs are alike. The courses, the style of doing history, and the requirements for passing will differ from program to program. So, before enrolling in a specific history program, it is best to take into account factors like accreditation, available specializations, and funding.

Available Specializations

The courses and their contents in curriculums may vary from school to school. And, the courses being offered, aside from the most general ones, depend on the expertise of the faculty. So, if you are looking to specialize in a particular topic or period in history, you should look up the faculty members and their research.  Also, there are many specializations that you can get into. They include:

  • Political History
  • Business History
  • Labor History
  • Economic History
  • Intellectual History
  • Indigenous Histories
  • Empires
  • Digital History

Accreditation

The United States Secretary of Education recognizes many accrediting agencies as trustworthy authorities on the quality of training and education, especially in higher education. These organizations have scopes of recognition.

For instance, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges specialize in accrediting associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree “that are predominantly organized to educate students for occupational, trade, and technical careers, and including institutions that offer programs via distance education (U.S. Department of Education, 2021).”

On the other hand, the scope of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission accreditation powers only apply to postsecondary degree and/or non-degree programs that are primarily deployed via distance or correspondence method. They also accredit programs for professional doctoral degrees.

It is just best to look into your chosen school’s and programs’ accreditation status. You can check individual accreditation agencies or your target school’s website. If you are planning to enroll in a distance or online program, it is better to get to know the landscape through these online education statistics.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Another important aspect to consider is the student-to-teacher ratio. It is highly preferable to enroll in an institution with a low student-to-teacher ratio as teachers can provide more attention to students. In one study by Schwarts and colleagues (2012), they found that reduction of literacy performance is greater when the group size increased. Their study involved 85 Reading Recovery intervention teachers catering to 170 at-risk first-grade students. All of them taught a 1:1 “instructional format with teacher-student ratios of 1:2, 1:3, or 1:5.” They found that the “1:1 instruction yielded significantly higher outcomes than the combined small-group conditions on eight of the nine measures.” This was using the six subtests of the An Observation History Survey of Early Literacy Achievement and the Slosson Oral Reading Test. However, on the same measures, the performance small-group conditions did not have significant differences with each other.

Assuming that this applies to higher education, then it should be more preferable to enroll in a school with a low student-to-teacher ratio.

Financial Aid Options

One of the most important things to look into is the availability of financial aid options. Usually, public schools offer various government-sponsored aids and grants. Private institutions, such as the Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF)  and the Neil Martin Carman Scholarship also offer financial aids to students. Hence, for your financial sake, it is prudent to check states and school websites for financial aid options. Also, if you are still in high school or someone who just graduated, it is also helpful to contact your guidance counselor or principal. They or other school employees may know of grant-giving institutions that can help you with your tuition and fees.

For more information, you can check out statistics and trends about free college education in the United States.

7. Majors Related to History

History, as a discipline and with its scope, is related to virtually any other discipline that values the string of events that leads to its current state today. This is also reflected by the different topics and specializations that one can master as a historian. There are history majors that become historians of engineering, science, philosophy, mathematics, and art. If you wish to build expertise in the histories of these disciplines, then you should also delve into the technical and theoretical aspects of other disciplines.

However, more generally so, a history major has its intersection with other majors including:

So, are you ready to be a historian? 

History is a very exciting field. It is not only the wide variety of topics and subjects but also the growing list of methodologies in studying history that is accepted by historians. Moreover, with its inherent intersections with other disciplines, historians often collaborate with other experts when doing highly specialized research. And, in many cases, historians also take up other skills in order to better understand the objects of their study and collaborate well with other researchers.

For many, the journey of uncovering the past using different techniques and with the help of other respectable experts can be quite fulfilling. The pay, as seen in a previous section, may not be that lucrative for prospective historians. But, if you play your cards right, there are many opportunities for history majors out there. You can find employment in both the public and private sectors. Moreover, you can go on your own and become an author about certain topics in history.

However, if you are not so sure yet about starting your career as a historian, then maybe our guide on which degree should you go for could help.

 

References:

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