From Studying History to Making History: The Potential Careers of History Majors

From Studying History to Making History: The Potential Careers of History MajorsA Study of Career Possibilities

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it — George Santayana, philosopher and writer

Unfortunately, he never said anything about what those who do learn history do for their career. So, we decided to explore that question for ourselves.

There are many reasons to learn history — it’s a study of the evolution of human cultures, norms, and morality. It tells us about the world we inhabit and helps us understand change. It teaches critical thinking and discernment. History students develop many skills during the course of their studies

  • The ability to assess data and evidence

  • The ability to apply critical judgment to understanding events and issues

  • Understanding and assessing past change and it’s implications

All companies look for these skills in managers and professionals.

The Tapwage Study of Careers of History Majors

History majors are not always aware of the career possibilities open to them. In a previous series, we examined the career possibilities of English Majors. In this series, we did a similar study of what actual history majors went on to do. Our study focused on a large pool of graduates with history majors. The average candidate that we examined graduated 12 years ago.

The Further Studies vs. Start Work Immediately Debate

A history degree often serves as a foundation for future studies. We were not surprised to find that 55% of those we surveyed went on to pursue further studies following their undergraduate degree. 40% of graduates pursued corporate careers, and 5% joined a non-profit organization. Of those that did pursue further studies, the majority pursued a Masters of Arts. The majority did not choose History as the topic for their masters. Instead, we saw that candidates pursued their masters in a range of fields including psychology, English literature, and sociology.

A quarter of the graduates pursuing further studies studied law. Almost all went on to careers in law after that. Another quarter chose to pursue an MBA, although those candidates usually worked for a few years before choosing to do so. MBA graduates went on to the corporate world following their MBA.

10% chose a Masters of Science. The most common fields of study were engineering, technology or biology. These degrees under-pinned their future careers.

Approximately 15% of those pursuing further studies went on to complete a PhD. Most of these graduates ended up pursuing academic careers.

Entering the Workforce

Of those that chose to enter the workforce, 40% worked at big corporations, while 35% went to Wall Street banks, law firms or major consulting firms. A small fraction went to startups or pursued entrepreneurship.

The fields people chose when starting their career were diverse. Approximately 20% chose finance. Sales and business development were also popular career choices. The other fields included public relations, marketing, HR, Technology, journalism and administration.

The companies varied from large pharmaceuticals to PR firms, and well-known supermarkets. The companies and starting positions that candidates recruited into were quite diverse.

Career Transitions

Similar to our findings with English majors, career transitions were a significant theme for history majors. It usually took 4-5 years for professionals to settle into a specific field.

Professionals that pursued further studies and started out in a specific field often ended up specializing in that field. Sometimes professionals rose to management and leadership jobs within those fields.

One of the more popular mid-career transitions was into human resources. A transition to human resources was often an entry point into the corporate world. Another area that people transitioned into was public relations and communications. Those that started their career in writing or editing typically made this transition.

Many professionals found themselves in general management roles. More than 50% of graduates with over ten years of work experience ended up in senior management roles within their organization.

Careers Beyond the Survey

This survey captured a wide variety of careers and professions. There are two other careers worth highlighting. The first is positions at museums and historical societies. These positions tend to be aspirational and are underrepresented.

Marketing is another area that is underrepresented in this survey, but is very well suited for history majors. There are many sub-fields in this — ranging from market research, social media marketing, copywriting and growth hacking — that could be interesting to graduates.

How Best to Use this Study

The purpose of this study is to give our readers career ideas and inspiration. You can use these averages to guide you, but your career should reflect your interests, and personal objectives. We have linked fields and titles to curated channels. You can click through to get a sense of the real jobs and requirements underlying each field. If you have questions as you look to navigate your career, write in at We would love to hear from you.

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Data Diane is a team of Tapwage data journalists who spend their time geeking out on data to help you find that perfect career

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