Pity the history major. They are the ones whose parents shake their heads wondering if their child will ever get a job beyond being a Starbucks barista. However, what those parents may not know is that a history major can be a strong basis for a number of jobs — and lucrative jobs at that. A bachelor's degree in history is designed to teach students the following valuable skills:
- Analytical thinking
- Written and oral communication
- Research methodology
- Organization of complex material
These are all transferable abilities, and while students may learn them as a history major, they can be applied to a variety of occupations. In fact, the skills gained while studying history are among those most highly valued by employers across a wide range of industries.
Here are five of the highest-paying jobs for those who may have started out with a history major. These occupations may require some additional schooling or experience in the field, but the rewards, both financial and personal, may be well worth the effort.
- Degree needed: Professional degree
- Average income (2014): $133,470
- Job growth (2012-2022): 10%
History, along with English, philosophy and political science, is considered one of the more traditional undergraduate fields for future law students. That's largely because the skills needed by attorneys — critical thinking, analysis, research and organization — are the same skills students may learn in the undergraduate history department.
What's more, the practice of law is based, in large part, on the precedent of past legal cases and court decisions. Having a strong grasp of history not only allows a student who has studied U.S. history to walk into law school with a familiarity of major court cases but also provides the context for how those decisions were made.
To get into law school, students must first take the LSAT entrance exam. History majors seem to fare well on the test too, according to an analysis of 2013 data by Pepperdine University School of Law professor Derek T. Muller. His review of average LSAT results found history majors scored an average of 155.4, good enough to place them 12th out of the 46 majors reviewed. History was also the sixth most popular major selected by LSAT test-takers that year.
Once they get into law school, students will spend at least three years earning their Juris Doctor (J.D.). Then it's time to take their state's bar exam before they can begin practicing in their selected specialty.
Public Relations Manager
- Degree needed: Bachelor's degree
- Average income (2014): $115,400
- Job growth (2012-2022): 13%
Public relations is all about developing effective communication, and excellent writing skills are particularly prized in the industry. PR professionals also must research their market, collect data and then organize it into a way that makes sense.
Does that sound familiar? It should because although history majors operate in a different realm, they do much of the same work. They have a copious amount of writing experience and know how to research events, collect data and analyze it. While historians may be gathering information for academic or public policy purposes, public relations managers are using it to guide business decisions.
History majors may also have an advantage when it comes to public relations because they have a deep understanding of what has worked — and what hasn't worked — in the past. That's knowledge that can be put to good use in avoiding future PR or marketing blunders. Those who are interested in a career as a public relations manager may first need to pay their dues working in the trenches of public relations for a few years or earn a master's degree in business or public relations to prove they know what makes the marketing world tick.
Judge or Hearing Officer
- Degree needed: Professional degree
- Average income (2014): $106,420
- Job growth (2012-2022): 1%
Once a history major gets a law degree, there's no reason to settle for simply being an attorney. With experience, a person with a J.D. may be able to move to the other side of the bench and work as a judge, magistrate or hearing officer.
Like lawyers, judges need to be highly analytical and have to be able to gather and distill complex information. They also need to have a strong understanding of legal precedent and how past cases affect current ones. An undergraduate degree in history lays the foundation for these skills and more.
It's no wonder so many members of the U.S. Supreme Court studied history at the undergraduate level. Chief Justice John Roberts originally planned to become a history teacher before going into law, and Justices Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy were all history majors.
Of course, jobs at the Supreme Court are few and far between, but federal, state and local courts all have a need for competent judges and hearing officers who have the analytical and critical-thinking skills that many history majors possess.
- Degree needed: Master's degree
- Average income (2014): $104,000
- Job growth (2012-2022): 21%
Political science and history have much in common. Both disciplines take a critical look at the past and seek to understand how events have shaped societies. Both also research, analyze data and present written reports with their findings. While history majors may take a more generalized look at the past, political scientists focus on government and use lessons from history to generate information that can be used to direct policies of the future.
Undergraduate history majors are well-positioned to exercise their skills and knowledge as a political scientist. To do so, they may have to return to the classroom and earn a master's degree in political science, public administration or a related field. However, once they graduate, they may be able to step into one of the highest paying jobs a history major can find.
Political scientists typically work full-time for think tanks, nonprofit organizations, lobbying groups, colleges or labor organizations. In 2012, half of all political scientists in the U.S. worked for the federal government, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Postsecondary Education Administrator
- Degree needed: Master's degree
- Average income (2014): $101,910
- Job growth (2012-2022): 15%
Another six-figure occupation potentially suitable for history majors is that of a postsecondary education administrator. Working in colleges, universities and technical schools, these professionals may be in charge of everything from research to student services.
How does a history major fit in? Well, a student of history is likely to have the type of organizational and problem-solving skills administrators need. An education administrator needs to be able to see the big picture and approach an issue from a number of different angles. They have to draw conclusions and make recommendations based upon the information available to them.
These are all things history majors typically do on a regular basis as part of their undergraduate studies. While some entry-level jobs may be available to those with a bachelor's degree, many institutions prefer to hire administrators with a graduate degree, and they may hire people with advanced degrees from a variety of academic backgrounds. That means those who loved studying history at the undergraduate level could also study it at the graduate level and walk out ready to pursue a career that averages $100,000 a year.
Overall, those who major in history may learn valuable skills that can be transferred to various profitable careers. This list of five high-paying jobs demonstrates that parents need not shake their head and worry over the child who chooses to study history; it's possible for students to pursue their passion for history while still preparing for a fulfilling and lucrative career.
Lawyers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/public-relations-managers.htm
Judges and Hearing Officers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/judges-and-hearing-officers.htm
Political Scientists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm
Postsecondary Education Administrators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm
The Best Perspective Law Students Read Homer, Derek T. Muller, http://excessofdemocracy.com/blog/2014/4/the-best-prospective-law-students-read-homer?rq=LSAT%20score%20by%20major
Who Knew? Famous History Majors, Department of History, University of Illinois, http://www.history.illinois.edu/undergraduate/history/
John Roberts, Biography, http://www.biography.com/people/john-roberts-20681147