One weekend during my freshman year of college, I went home to visit my parents. While eating lunch at my hometown pizza place, I hesitantly told them that after a great deal of thought, I decided I wanted to switch my major from pre-pharmacy to history. My parents looked at me with dumb-founded expressions, before my father finally asked, “What are you going to do with a history degree? You know college is expensive, right?”
Despite their reservations, I forged ahead with my plans and recently graduated with my B.A. in history. That is not to say, however, that I was not discouraged frequently during my undergraduate education. Upon learning that I was a history major, relatives, friends, and even casual acquaintances would remark, “That’s a useless degree,” or worse, “Good luck with unemployment!”
I entered college intending to pursue a career in the medical or pharmaceutical field, but I quickly found that such a path was not for me; it did not incorporate my love of writing. But when I finally settled on studying the field of history, I found that it was largely devalued and discounted in terms of finding a viable career path after graduation. That was discouraging. Until I found that skills I was honing in the history department also allowed me to excel in the other disciplines that I studied.
Until I found that skills I was honing in the history department also allowed me to excel in the other disciplines that I studied.
In terms of employability, history is much less about dates and subject matter, and much more about the skills that it develops, notably effective writing skills, analysis and critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to formulate arguments and support them. And the reality is that the skills I learned as a history major are necessary in a job market where, according to Forbes, the average person stays at a job for just over four years, a figure that drops to less than three years for the average millennial. The average adult has held ten different positions by the age of forty, and will potentially have as many as fifteen to twenty in a lifetime. Another reality is that in a largely postindustrial and technological world, people my age my very well hold jobs in the future that do not even exist presently.
history is much less about dates and subject matter, and much more about the skills that it develops, notably effective writing skills, analysis and critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to formulate arguments and support them
While it is not viable to assume that every person that studies history will obtain a Ph.D. and be a university professor, it is a myth that a history degree and employability are incongruent. Historians with an undergraduate degree can reasonably find employment at museums, or possibly even as archivists or librarians. Another viable option is as a primary or secondary educator. However, the writing skills that history majors develop lead many to pursue work as writers, journalists, and editors. Many more use their history degree as a foundation for law school and become lawyers. Others find work as paralegals, legislative staff, or even politicians themselves. There is also the opportunity to become a professional researcher for a company or a policy advisor in government.
Additionally, a growing number of universities look to accept history majors into graduate programs in other disciplines as their ability to analyze and think critically allows them to excel. A large percentage of CEOs were also, surprisingly, history majors, while only about a third actually have MBAs. Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Co-Chairman of NBC Universal Ben Silverman both majored in history, and credit this background with allowing them to think outside the box and implement innovative solution to problems.
...a growing number of universities look to accept history majors into graduate programs in other disciplines as their ability to analyze and think critically allows them to excel.
History majors are employable. The key is to make oneself marketable. Focus on honing research, writing, and analysis skills. Involvement while in college is also important as it shows potential employers that you actually have practice using the skills acquired as a history student. Ultimately it matters less that a history graduate can remember when the War of 1812 took place, and more that they can transplant their historical training to the job market. It is, by no means, a “useless degree,” but quite the opposite.
Other well-known history majors: