If you have an undergraduate degree in history, you might be surprised to discover just how many other professionals do too. Although the number of history majors is declining every year, more than a million people currently in the workforce have a history degree. While some history majors do go on to become historians, high school teachers, or college professors, many others pursue a career outside academia—in fields that vary from law to research and even medicine—and so can you.
“History is a way of thinking—it’s about training your brain to think a certain way,” says Gretchen Heefner, associate professor of history and undergraduate program advisor at Northeastern University. “Very few of our undergraduate students become historians. They go into it to do other things.”
Prospective employers might not list a history degree as a “must-have” on a job description, but the skills you develop as a history student can absolutely benefit an organization and prepare you for a variety of roles.
5 Top Skills You Gain as a History Major
It’s not just about the ability to memorize facts and figures. History majors develop a number of transferable skills:
- Research: This is the bread and butter of the history major: researching something historically important using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, then bringing together different pieces of information into a cohesive whole. An employer would love to see this skill in an employee who can take on a challenge, find the right sources of information, and synthesize them in a way that makes sense and solves the problem.
- Critical thinking: History majors need to take different kinds of information—a journal, historical text, science report, census study—and understand what each has to offer in order to make connections and formulate arguments. This involves interpreting information and assessing a source to determine if and how it helps solve the question. This also requires going beyond the obvious and what “seems” like the right answer. Lots of companies thrive on innovation, and this kind of out-of-the-box thinking will add a ton of value.
- Communication: History majors train in communicating both in writing and oral presentations. How do you take what you’ve learned and explain it, within a word or time limit, so your audience easily understands something complex? That core skill is incredibly valuable to an employer—in particular, being able to present something to colleagues or clients is an underrated skill that not everyone has.
- Prediction: All of this work of deciphering and analyzing means you can understand cycles and patterns of behavior. Your research may assess: Why did an event occur? What led to it? How did we get from A to B? What do these historical events tell us about the present or future? Companies need this same type of thinking to answer business questions: Will their app work in a particular market? Will a policy be effective for a group of people? Is it worth it to make an investment in a particular solution? Based on the results of a previous campaign strategy, how should they change their approach in the future?
- Organization and management: You may not realize it, but you’re engaging in project management when you do research. You’re taking an enormous set of tasks, breaking it down into manageable parts, completing them one by one, and keeping track of deadlines while you work. So you can bring together not only disparate sources of information, but also action items, projects, and people. Businesses need people who can multitask and stay organized without losing sight of a goal.
With this in mind, what can you do with a bachelor’s degree in history? Check out these 10 jobs—seven of which don’t require any graduate-level education. Salary information comes from the compensation resource PayScale, reflecting numbers from March 2021 (their database is updated nightly):
1. Technical Writer
Average salary: $60,689
Salary range: $42,000–$87,000
Unlike other writing jobs, demand for technical writers is growing. In a nutshell, the role involves translating complicated information so that a broad audience can understand it. Technical writing jobs can show up in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and telecommunications. An employer might ask you to write a guide for a consumer product or a white paper on their research. You might need to take a complex programming document and simplify the information or summarize a company’s proposed business solution for a client in a presentation. History majors already know how to research, write, edit, revise, and package content. But most importantly, they can assess conflicting information and make intelligent arguments, which is at the core of this role.
2. Research Analyst
Average salary: $56,628
Salary range: $42,000–$81,000
An analyst could work in practically any industry, from life insurance to technology. They look at a company’s historical and current data, verify accuracy, notice patterns, conduct analyses, and make recommendations. In practice, this could mean studying sales and seeing what customers are buying or analyzing user data to understand more about the people making the purchases. You could study technical data on a product’s performance or do market research on competitors to give the company an edge. Analysts often need to present data in compelling ways both to fellow team members and clients—telling the story of what the data represents and what they could or should do next.
“If you did quantitative analysis for one of your history courses, you’ll be well-positioned to interpret sales reports and other company data,” says Caroline Ouwerkerk, a history major who became a career coach. “By studying history, you'll likely be able to predict future outcomes for a company based on their present actions.”
Find research analyst jobs on The Muse
Average salary: $40,912
Salary range: $26,000–$77,000
A journalist reports on current events: finding stories to pursue, doing research, interviewing subjects, synthesizing information, understanding bias and perspective, fact-checking, and writing a compelling narrative. Similarly, a history major essentially reports and writes on the past.
“When you study history, you become comfortable with nuance and ambiguity. The correct answer is not always apparent; you have to look for it. You also connect topics that initially seem quite disparate,” Heefner says. As a journalist, you’re ideally telling stories no one else has told before or shining new light on ongoing events. You have to go out and uncover promising leads that may or may not pan out (just like a research topic), follow the threads, and then share information that will educate your audience.
Find journalist and reporter jobs on The Muse
4. Legislative Aide
Average salary: $44,435
Salary range: $31,000–$67,000
A legislative aide supports one or more legislators as they represent and work for their constituents. In practice, aides’ responsibilities can range from research to communications and PR, and often include a wide variety of administrative tasks. The job can be fast-paced and evolving: In a short time frame, you might be asked to research healthcare challenges in a particular region, interview teachers about a proposed education program, and look up data on incarceration to support a speech about criminal justice measures. The role would be a good fit for someone who’s fascinated by matters of government and can adapt at a moment’s notice. Chances are, as a history major, you already excel at parsing fact from fiction and building an argument while keeping the audience and messaging in mind, both of which are key as a legislative aide.
A lot of history majors think about how to enter the world of policy, Heefner says. This is one of a few entry-level jobs that involve policy and politics—others include policy analyst, media strategist, and staff assistant—although sometimes it helps to do graduate policy work. Policy roles can be a pathway to politics as well as law, which is another popular track for history students.
Find legislative aide jobs on The Muse
5. Project Manager
Average salary: $74,686
Salary range: $49,000–$113,000
The responsibilities of a project manager can vary widely depending on the role and organization, but in essence, you’re overseeing a process from start to finish. Maybe your company is building a new piece of software and you need to organize the engineers who will code it. Or perhaps a group of people need to move between office spaces and you need to coordinate the technology, personnel, and construction. Whatever the context, you set the strategy, timeline, and tasks, and you manage any delays and conflicts along the way while communicating to whoever the important stakeholders are throughout. History majors already have training in viewing a situation on a small and large scale, digging into details while keeping the big picture in mind. So it’s not a stretch to apply these skills to project management.
“Startups, nonprofits, and other entities need flexible, smart people to help them launch and grow whatever they’re working on,” says Karen Cardozo, post-academic coach and Assistant Vice President, Employer Engagement and Career Design at Northeastern University. Project management is a growing field and can set you up to pursue a variety of different roles. It’s also highly transferable, so you can start in one industry and move to another easily.
Find project manager jobs on The Muse
6. Financial Analyst
Average salary: $61,568
Salary range: $48,000–$82,000
Much like a research analyst, a financial analyst conducts research in myriad business environments, from financial institutions such as hedge funds and banks to technology startups and consulting firms. They usually help a company make better financial decisions by studying marketplaces, demographics, economic trends, or company or client data. When a bank wants to expand its clientele, a financial analyst could help bring in business by assessing the market for opportunities and studying existing client needs.
History majors who’ve done quantitative analysis (for instance, with census data) would be an excellent fit here, as would those who studied economics or finance. Just make sure you like numbers before you pursue this type of role and that you feel comfortable communicating your findings to fellow employees or clients. Knowing about previous economic boom and bust periods can be a tremendous asset when helping contextualize, explain, and predict client behavior and financial trends.
Find financial analyst jobs on The Muse
7. Marketing Coordinator
Average salary: $44,972
Salary range: $35,000–$59,000
Marketing coordinators work on campaigns that are intended to bring a particular product or service to potential customers. The job might include preparing any kind of print or digital content—such as social media posts, email newsletters, ads, and blog posts—as well as making assessments about what ads have worked in the past, what clients are responding to, and what market research can reveal about potential audiences. Depending on the company and team, you might also help run e-commerce initiatives, work on search engine optimization and marketing (SEO and SEM), plan events, and more.
History majors spend a lot of time studying people in different locations, eras, and contexts, as well as how popular opinion changes over time, which means this work—which is ultimately about tailoring content to a particular audience and understanding their needs and motivations—would come naturally. Marketing teams stand to benefit from history majors’ combination of qualitative and quantitative knowledge, as they need people who feel comfortable going back and forth between numbers and words, between analyzing data and telling stories about what it means.
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8. Management Consultant
Average salary: $87,883
Salary range: $61,000–$144,000
The context can vary, but management consultants work with clients to optimize or organize some part of their company by understanding their needs, analyzing their data, and making recommendations by communicating their conclusions. Consultants could come in to work with a division that isn’t performing well or needs change or advise on how to start a new initiative or program that didn’t exist before.
Consulting with an organization requires the ability to learn and synthesize information quickly, since consultants move between projects within a matter of weeks or months, and capacity to think about a company’s big picture goals. History majors have an advantage because of their out-of-the-box thinking and interpretation skills.
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9. Career Counselor
Average salary: $45,841
Salary range: $34,000–$63,000
To be an effective career counselor, advisor, or coach, you need to understand a person’s story and aspirations in order to position them effectively for career growth or change. You could do this in different ways: as a consultant running your own business, as part of a larger coaching company, within a high school or college, or inside a company as an employee resource. Depending on where you’d like to work, you may need licensing and a graduate degree, so check the requirements first.
You need to understand people, organizations, and industries, especially how your client’s or student’s unique qualifications might be transferable to different organizations and industries. From helping an applicant tailor a resume to a particular job to guiding someone through a career change, the role uses your interpretation and creativity to think beyond the person’s current role to all the possibilities that lay beyond it.
Find career counselor jobs on The Muse
Average salary: $51,017
Salary range: $33,000–$83,000
A curator manages a collection of something (often art or artifacts). While you’d most likely see these roles at a museum or gallery, you might also look at universities and colleges, or even collections that a corporation might house. Being a curator requires you to learn and recall facts and stories about the items and their significance, but you also need to build relationships and communicate with potential audiences and donors.
This type of role can also extend to public history services—local history museums, park services, city tours, and so on—and really make use of your love of history. “A lot of our history students will do internships with Boston public history education programs. There’s actually a wealth of jobs in that arena,” Heefner says. Some of these entry-level roles don’t pay well, so students sometimes do them as internships or summer jobs and use them as springboards to better-paying positions. To land a more senior position, you might need an advanced degree.
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5 Key Tips for History Majors in the Job Search
So you have an abundance of potential roles to pursue! Now what do you do to find and land the right job for you?
- Take on an important academic project. “Make writing a thesis part of your program—even if it's optional,” Ouwerkerk says. “The skills you'll learn in project management, interpreting information, and producing a substantive piece of writing are crucial.” If a thesis isn’t offered, see if you can do independent research or another kind of senior project.
- Find your skill set and search across industries. Understand what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about, then find the work that matches both. “It's crucial to get clear on what you're looking for, even if you don't know what that job is called,” Ouwerkerk says. There could be multiple job descriptions that make use of your skills. “You’ll realize that those functions are needed across multiple industries and within any large organization,” Cardozo says. Set up job alerts for all these roles, start reading the descriptions, and identify which ones get you excited. Explore internships, part-time or summer work, volunteer opportunities, and other ways to develop your knowledge and “try on” different roles or industries.
- Translate your experience. Don’t assume a recruiter or hiring manager will know how to interpret your experience—make their job easier by doing it for them. “If you did interviews as part of writing your undergraduate thesis, highlight in your cover letter how that means you'll be great at talking with customers to understand their needs,” Ouwerkerk says. “If you wrote a million papers in college, talk about how that means you’re good with interpreting information on a deadline. If you took a course that touched on the issue the company works on, talk about how you're motivated to apply what you learned.”
- Talk to everyone, and ask for help in your professional evolution. It may not seem like you’re accomplishing much going to networking events and asking people about their career paths, but you’d be surprised how many professionals started out with a liberal arts degree. They may be inclined to help you with your career path. “Hiring primarily happens through relationship referrals,” Cardozo says. “You’re building a web that will hold you through a lifetime of job searching and career growth.”
- Close the gaps in your experience. If your search points you to a job that requires specialized knowledge, like a computer science job where you need to know how to code, don’t assume you’re not a good fit, Cardozo says. “Even then, that history major could attend a coding bootcamp and close that gap,” bringing their other valuable skills to the table.
Thankfully, employers are recognizing the value of the history degree. “In the past few years, [a history degree] has become an easier sell,” Heefner says. “People have started to realize this is something we all need to know.”