If you enjoy learning about the past and are in the process of applying to undergraduate programs, you may have asked yourself the question: “What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in history?” An undergraduate history degree prepares students to work in fields that emphasize strong research and communication skills — including a few that may surprise you — such as advertising, political campaigning, legal professions, and even the finance industry.
These are just three of the examples covered by this guide to 10 types of careers with a history degree. Our guide also discusses important topics like why the study of history matters, and how pursuing your degree in history can help you hone marketable skills, like the ability to write clearly and conduct efficient research.
Whether you are choosing an online degree or on-campus study, the undergraduate history program at National University offers students nuanced perspectives on life in the modern world by focusing on how historical structures shape identity and politics among the world’s different cultures. Read on to discover why history is especially relevant to us, what sorts of career prospects the field has to offer, and what undergraduate history students can expect to learn as they work toward their degrees.
Why Study History for Your Bachelor’s Degree?
A bachelor’s degree in history opens many doors for those who are curious about the past, want to learn better research skills, and learn critical thinking skills that can be applied to many professions. According to Dr. Duncan Campbell, an associate Professor of History and the Academic Academic Program Director of the Bachelor of Arts in History at National University, “History is not just a collection of names and dates — it’s an understanding of what happened in the past, and it reflects very much what we do in the present.”
It’s these fascinating parallels that draw so many students to the field of history, whether it’s in elementary school classrooms or doctoral programs. But beyond a passion for learning, what are some practical reasons to consider a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in History? In other words, what can you do with a BA in history, and what skills will you bring with you into today’s competitive job market?
Let’s start by answering the last question, focusing on three specific yet versatile skills you’ll develop as an undergraduate history student:
- Thinking critically
- Conducting research
- Writing and communicating effectively
People Who Earn a Degree in History Develop High-Level Thinking Skills
Having the ability to see patterns and think critically is essential to Identifying connections between historical events, understanding their (often complex) root causes, and — maybe most crucially — how they continue to sculpt and inform the economic and geopolitical events of today, such as wars, recessions, elections, and international trade. Therefore, the undergraduate history program at NU places a strong emphasis on critical thinking skills, which are vital not only for completing the coursework but moreover, for becoming a competitive job candidate in a constantly changing marketplace.
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in history are more likely to understand how they are part of a larger picture — and when students recognize the importance of the past in today’s events, they begin to see how they are, in fact, a part of history. Dr. Campbell says, “We are in a sense, ourselves, historical figures participating in historical events. All these events in the past affect us.”
The bottom line? The more a historian analyzes the past, the more likely they are to see its relevance today — and those sorts of critical thinking skills can help spell the difference between failure and success in fields as diverse as law, archaeology, and politics.
A Degree in History Trains Students to Research and Write
Dr. Campbell says that understanding the past requires curiosity and persistence in studying society. He quotes Herbert Butterfield, who said that “the historian is not a judge, [but] a detective.” When studying for a bachelor’s in history, students follow leads to discover new information — much as detectives do.
After all, the study of history would be impossible without the ability to locate and interpret a wide range of sources, such as manuscripts, treaties, poems, visual art, clothing, artifacts, weapons, contracts, scholarly works, court documents, newspaper articles, letters, currency, and countless other records of the past. That demands strong research skills, which students will benefit from and be able to apply in any career path or work environment.
Studying history also trains students to sharpen their writing skills, which are put to the test with the completion of a capstone project, a subject we cover in detail below. History undergraduates must be able to communicate in a clear and compelling way, illuminating key details of an event or time period in order to bring a deeper understanding to a familiar subject. Strong writing and communication skills are useful in a wide range of careers, where you may need to write press releases, request or apply for funding, compose emails or newsletters, create lesson plans or mission statements, coordinate numerous employees, or write educational content — to provide just a few examples.
The takeaway? When someone graduates with a history degree, they have been trained to research thoroughly, think critically, and communicate effectively. Together, these skills build a robust base for entry into varied fields and professions, as we’ll explore in the next section.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in History?
One of the popular career choices made by NU History students is to become an elementary or secondary school teacher. That career choice mirrors the national trend.
The next most frequent occupation is managing various types of businesses, followed by secondary school teachers with a bachelor’s degree in History, who represent 4 percent of high school teachers. Other frequent occupations for graduates in history are supervisors in retail sales and, in fifth place, paralegals and legal assistants.
According to the California Department of Education, California has approximately 146,000 public elementary school teachers, about 47,000 public middle school teachers, and roughly 83,000 public high school teachers, at least as of the 2020-2021 academic year — and National University recommends more students for teaching credentials in California than any other university in the state. But when it comes to thinking about what you can do with a history degree, you also need to think beyond the possibility of teaching.
Common Career Fields for a Bachelor’s in History
As Dr. Campbell says, “History trains you to do all sorts of jobs that people don’t consider or normally recognize as necessarily historical.” Below, we’ll explore just some of the exciting careers a degree in history can lead to, including a few that you might be surprised to see on this list. Fields a student might enter include:
- Advertising and marketing
- Anthropology or archaeology
- Historical research
- Local, state, or federal government
- Media and communications
- Museum curation
- Political campaigning
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
The skills acquired from a history program can translate to a variety of careers in marketing, promotions, or advertising. According to LinkedIn contributor Adrienn Wiebe, Director of Marketing at Fischer Identity, “Being a history major taught me three of the most valuable skills successful marketing requires: research, writing, and identifying significance.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that advertising, promotions, and marketing managers earn a median salary of over $133,000 as of 2021, with jobs in this field expected to grow by 10% from 2020 to 2030 — slightly faster than the 8% average growth rate.
Assistant to an Anthropologist or Archaeologist
Becoming an anthropologist or archaeologist requires a master’s or PhD degree, but graduates with a bachelor’s degree in history can work as an assistant in the field. Learn more about earning your doctorate degree, or explore some of the key differences between archaeologists — who study historical artifacts, like weapons or agricultural tools — and anthropologists, who devote their careers to the study of specific cultures or societies.
While the BLS does not provide salary information specific to assistants, it does report that anthropologists and archaeologists earn a median salary of approximately $62,000, with 7% job growth expected in these fields from 2020 to 2030 (“as fast as average”).
Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers
Historians are exceptional researchers who excel at finding information, equipping them to work in settings like museums and libraries. State and federal government organizations have a continuous need for workers in settings like parks, archives, and exhibitions, to provide just a few examples. For example, as they work to provide more and more virtual offerings and exhibits, museums seek out job applicants with history degrees who can maintain and manage their virtual archives.
According to the BLS, curators, museum workers, and archivists earn a median salary of approximately $50,000, with impressive job growth — 19%, “much faster than average” — expected from 2020 to 2030.
History graduates also work, not surprisingly, as professional historians. As the BLS points out, you’ll generally need to obtain a master’s degree in order to become an entry or assistant-level historian. In your role as a professional historian, you’ll delve deep into primary sources like “government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries [and] letters” in order to draw out new insights, assess the authenticity of documents, identify historical trends and patterns, ensure that historical items are properly preserved and archived, and communicate the significance of historical figures or events to members of the general public. Some historians even consult on films, novels, or video games.
Based on BLS data, professional historians earn a median salary of approximately $64,000. However, job growth in this field is slightly slower than average (currently 5%, compared to the average of 8%).
Media and Communications
Media and communications are additional careers that draw History graduates. As learning about history trains students to research, write, and communicate effectively, providing a foundation for a career in communications or media. Journalists, for instance, need to ask the right questions and tell compelling stories — just as historians do. And if a student has studied the history of another country, they may be able to find work reporting from that country as a foreign correspondent. Book publishers are another example of employers that prioritize writing and editing skills.
According to the BLS, “The median annual wage for media and communication workers (such as announcers, interpreters and translators, and technical writers) was $62,340 in May 2021, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $45,760.”
Nonprofit work in fundraising is another career that History graduates thrive in. With strong organizational and communication skills, fundraisers work to advance causes they believe in by cultivating financial networks to support them. Strong research and communications skills are necessary, as is an ability to understand the big picture, making history students particularly well-equipped for careers in this field.
According to the BLS, fundraisers earn a median salary of over $60,000, with the field expected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030. This rate of growth is, as the BLS also points out, “much faster than average” — double the average 8% rate.
Working on a political campaign involves researching issues and framing information in a way that tells a story — tasks that require the types of skills history students acquire through an accredited program. According to Payscale, campaign workers earn an average salary of $51,000, while Salary.com reports average earnings of over $63,000 for workers in management positions.
The BLS categorizes political campaign organizations as part of the political organizations’ industry, which also extends to cover “political parties, political action committees (PACs)… and political organizations and clubs” that meet certain criteria. According to the BLS, “Political organizations employment has been rising since early 2019,” and “has been above 10,000 since July 2019” — a first, for years without national elections.
State Department and Other Government Positions
Governmental positions also are typical choices among History graduates. Such positions are available at the city, county, state, and national levels. For those interested in State Department jobs, learning a second (or even third) language may open numerous professional doors — and not just to translation jobs. If you have learned a second language as part of your bachelor’s degree in history, you may be able to work for the U.S. government or military in a variety of capacities, interacting with public officials and business leaders from diverse countries and cultural backgrounds.
According to ZipRecruiter, government employees earn an average of approximately $62,000, while Indeed.com reports salaries that range anywhere from $51,000 (for government insurance specialists) to $186,000 (for assistant directors), depending on job title.
Investment companies often hire people with strong research skills to study investment opportunities, such as applying training in history to research investments and economic trends for stock traders. According to BLS statistics, financial analysts earn a median salary of over $81,000. The BLS also expects this field to grow at a rate of 6% from 2020 to 2030, which is slightly slower than the average (8%). As a financial analyst, you’ll analyze market trends and economic data, review and recommend investments and portfolios, and work with organizations and/or individuals to help them manage and grow their finances wisely.
Paralegal or Legal Assistant
Many people with bachelor’s degrees in history enter the legal profession, working as legal assistants or paralegals. Lawyers and their legal teams need people with strong research and communication skills to research materials that will be relevant to a trial or other legal matter.
According to the BLS, paralegals and legal assistants earn a median salary of over $56,000, with 12% job growth (“faster than average”) expected from 2020 to 2030. The BLS likewise reports that attorneys — who may also hold history degrees but must earn Juris Doctor (JD) degrees in order to practice — earn a median salary of nearly $128,000, with 9% job growth expected during the same period.
National University’s Bachelor’s Degree in History Requirements
When a student decides to pursue a major in history at National University, they take a balance of courses in U.S. and world history. As Dr. Campbell explains the program’s philosophy, “We’re very much committed to giving [students] a broad view of the wider world.”
To provide a few examples, students explore topics such as modern world migration, which includes immigration and refugee situations; the Middle East; the global economy; political history; and modern history. Required courses include studies of the ancient and classical worlds, as well as the modern world from 1500 to the present. In the area of American History, students complete coursework on the American colonial experience; the making of the Union; and the period ranging from the Civil War and Reconstruction through the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. Additionally, students are required to study a second language, including options like Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.
In each course, the emphasis is on research skills, critical thinking, and communication — the three skills we discussed earlier in this guide to the history major. To graduate from the program successfully, students must complete a total of 180 quarter units. To view additional criteria, explore our requirements for general undergraduate admissions.
All students who earn a bachelor’s degree in history at National University do a capstone research project. All of their other coursework leads up to this research project and paper which is written on a topic of the student’s choice, approved by the course instructor. The capstone is much like an academic article and includes the use of primary source material. In the paper, a substantial piece of research, the student demonstrates a familiarity with the literature on the topic.
Dr. Campbell says that by the time candidates for the bachelor’s in history research a capstone project, they should have a sense of the big picture of U.S. and world history as well as smaller topics, such as colonial America. When students write this final paper, they “have actually done essentially what professional historians do.”
How the Research in Your History Program Builds Job Skills
The history program at National University offers courses that other students in other programs take as well. Whether students major in history or just take one course, the program emphasizes teaching students how to do proper research. “It’s a lot more than just clicking online into Wikipedia and copying down what you see. Honest-to-goodness research means tracking down sources that are not readily available, knowing where these sources are, and how to access them. This is a real skill, mining information,” Dr. Campbell says.
“Genuine digging is hard work, and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. How do you evaluate sources? How do you evaluate that a source of information is accurate or reliable?” he adds.
Problems with research in the work world can have significant financial cost, he says. “If you’re working for an investment company and you screw that up, you’ve just lost your company millions. Actually understanding how to do research and do it properly matters a great deal.”
But research is only part of the equation. “The other thing is this business of communicating information and explaining what’s going on. Ronald Reagan may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but he is called the Great Communicator for a reason. Your ability to actually explain things clearly to people, to convey complex information in the way they will understand it and be able to act upon and make informed decisions about something is a very valuable skill,” Dr. Campbell says. “This takes training. It’s not something you can just do. It’s something you have to really learn how to do, and this is the point about history.”
Research. Communication. Critical thinking. These are all skills in high demand in today’s diverse, multicultural work environment and they are all part of achieving a degree in history. “If you can find information that other people cannot and if you can communicate effectively when other people cannot, you’re going to find that you’re going to have no problem getting a job, and more importantly, have no problem keeping the job, because you’re actually going to be good at what you do,” adds Dr. Campbell.
For more information about the National University’s Bachelor of Arts in History program, look at our BA in History program page to learn more