What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Historian?

Historian degreeIf you have a fascination for days, years, and centuries gone by, consider a career as a historian. History is among the top 10 degrees for intellectuals, allowing you to put your interest in the past to work in museums, institutions, archives, research organizations, nonprofits, historical societies and even commercial industries. Work as a historian can be very rewarding. To start preparing for a career researching and sharing historical knowledge, you will need an advanced degree.

Undergraduate History Degrees

The first step to becoming a historian is to earn a bachelor’s degree in, naturally, history. During their four years of full-time study, history students will cover coursework in national, international, and perhaps regional history. The topics of their studies will range from ancient civilizations to modern research methods. Students will also round out their academic careers with general education courses and often take classes in foreign languages.

A bachelor’s degree in history may be sufficient to attain entry-level historian positions in museums and historical societies, especially if the candidate has real-world experience working, interning or volunteering with a historical society, museum, nonprofit organization or government agency. However, most often candidates with only an undergraduate degree put their historical knowledge to work in fields like education, law, journalism and business, according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). 

Comparing Graduate and Doctoral History Degrees

If you’re serious about becoming a historian, an advanced degree is a better educational path. Whether a master’s degree or a Ph.D. is the right choice for you depends on your ultimate career goals.

For a job at a museum, historical society or archives, a master’s degree is often the right choice. Graduate students can study history generally, or they may choose more specialized programs in public history, archival management, museum studies or historical preservation, the BLS reported. Internship experiences are recommended and, in many programs, required for graduation.

If a research position, particularly one with the federal government, is of more interest to you, then it makes more sense to pursue a doctoral degree. Earning a Ph.D. in history will give you the opportunity to specialize in the history of a certain place, time period or field, according to the BLS. For Ph.D. students, like graduate students, an internship or other opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in the field of history is important for preparing you for a career.

For those with a true passion for the past, researching, analyzing and sharing historical data is a rewarding calling in and of itself. While the number of job opportunities available to historians is relatively small, the median annual salary of $52,480 is well above the median wage for all industries, proving that you can still make a good living doing something you love. If the idea of finding and interpreting historical documents and spreading education through exhibits and published papers intrigues you, don’t let anything stand in the way of your dream job.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris