What Can You Do As A History Major?
History majors learn about the past while honing valuable skills. Public speaking, clear and concise writing, in-depth research, and critical thinking are complemented by an ability to organize evidence, make connections, and offer objective, carefully reasoned arguments. These lead to an incredible variety of careers, such as those enumerated below.
Graduate and Law School: Many of our graduates continue to study History (and why not? it's fantastically interesting and always subject to debate), with a fair number staying here in Macomb to earn the MA while others enter Museum Studies (some at the WIU QC campus) or Public History programs. But there is an amazing variety of fields of study from which to choose, from analytics to sociology, and every year some of our graduates enter law school.
Business: An increasing number of History majors graduate and go into business. They are hired because of the skills we teach; skills our classes offer ample scope for practicing. This includes the obvious skills of reading, research, writing, and presenting information, but it also includes intangibles, such as a sense of perspective, an ability to make connections (that is, to see how context creates contingencies that change over time), and a willingness to see the world as dynamic, as ever-changing. Visit with the employers at the career fair that is held each semester. They hire history graduates because of the skills you have learned and perfected in your classes.
Journalism: Even in the age of the internet, journalists--writers who can collect and communicate news and information clearly to the public--are in great demand. If you can write, the world is your oyster. If you are not yet an excellent writer, here's good news: being a better writer is a matter of practice.
You can choose from among many options for your future. You can teach in middle schools or high schools, work with the general public in public history positions , and pursue graduate studies or attend law school. A variety of resources are available to help you with your career decision and job search. Check out this list of famous History majors from all walks of life!
One recent alumna in London to work on her Ph.D. in History
Careers in Business and Government
Because of the valuable training in critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills History majors gain through your education, a great many of our graduates find employment in a range of non-historical business careers in book publishing, newspaper editing, technical writing, journalism (as both foreign and domestic correspondents), real estate appraisal, insurance underwriting, and market research, among other fields.
Matt Miller, WIU's Distinguished History Alum for 2008 and a successful corporate CEO, has commented that:
"I could not imagine a path that would have done more to prepare me for my future career in business. A liberal arts education, specifically in History at Western Illinois University, prepared me thoroughly to compete in the business world. At Western I learned to think critically, to adapt, and in short, to learn. Through this process the foundation was set for success throughout my career. . . . The world changes so quickly that it is virtually impossible to teach someone a skill that will still be in demand even five years after graduation, let alone twenty. However, if the foundation is set establishing the desire and ability to learn, adapt, and change, one graduates with the skills necessary to be successful in any endeavor they choose. My degree in History from WIU gave me that foundation."
Many government careers are open to History majors, including positions as Foreign Service officers in the State Department, intelligence analysts in the federal government, FBI agents, defense and prosecuting attorneys, judges, and Congressional aides.
The U.S. government maintains a website with information on all federal job openings . For history-related jobs with the National Park Service, the U.S. military, and other federal agencies, enter "historian" into the keyword box at their website.
Many WIU History graduates have pursued careers in secondary school teaching, teaching History and related subjects at middle schools and high schools all over the nation. The Department's History -- Teacher Licensure degree is specifically designed to prepare students to successfully pass the state's required teaching exams (including the EdTPA) and obtain teaching positions in secondary schools.
The Illinois State Board of Education maintains a website with links to information on teaching opportunities in middle schools and high schools.
Additional print resources for those who are teaching history are available in the History Department Advisor's office (436 Morgan); a list is included on the History Department's Teacher Education page.
Some hard-working History Graduate Assistants take a well-deserved lunch break
History alums have also found success in a variety of careers directly related to their History major in various kinds of public history, where they work to make history interesting and accessible to the general public. Some examples of such careers are archivists, research librarians, museum directors and curators, historic preservationists with state and local governments, book conservators, genealogical consultants, auction house specialists, resort consultants, tour guides, and National Park rangers. Cliff Haka, for example, a WIU History alum (1971) is Director of Libraries at Michigan State University; Henry Crawford, a 1983 WIU History alum, is Curator of the Texas Tech University Museum.
In addition, every Department in the federal government, as well as the Peace Corps and each branch of the military, employs historians. Also, many major corporations and labor unions (including, for example, Coca-Cola, John Deere, Anheiser Busch, and the AFL-CIO) employ historians, including in their corporate museums.
The National Council on Public History maintains a website with information on a variety of careers for history students, as well as listings of specific job openings and internships in the area of public history.
The National Park Service (NPS) has a number of career and internship opportunities as Park Rangers available for History majors. Some are seasonal (summer) jobs or are internships specifically designed for college students. Students graduating with at least a 3.5 GPA are eligible for special preference under the NPS's "Outstanding Scholar" special hiring provision for career positions. See Dr. Boynton or Ralph Heissinger for further information.
The Museum Employment Resource Center maintains information on position openings in museums nationwide at its web site.
The Job Headquarters of the American Association of Museums also has information on job openings.
Visit the On-Line Career Center of the Society of American Archivists for help in obtaining archival positions.
WIU History Alum Major John Nawoichyk (right) with Katie Couric in Riyadh
Majoring in History prepares students for a wide variety of graduate studies. A number of our recent alums have gone on to pursue graduate degrees (at WIU and elsewhere), in History, Political Science, Historical Geography, Historical Sociology, Archeology, Kinesiology, Library Science, and College Student Personnel Administration, while others have graduated from a variety of law schools and seminaries.
A recent national study of law school admissions commissioned by Chicago State University found that History was the second most common undergraduate major of applicants to U.S. law schools. The study reports that 79 percent of History majors applying to law schools were admitted, compared to 77 percent of English majors, 73 percent of Political Science majors, 67 percent of Sociology majors, and 56 percent of Criminal Justice majors.
The website of the American Historical Association (AHA) also includes information on job options for History majors.
Careers for Students of History by Constance Schultz, et. al., has much useful information on career possibilities.
History: What Can I Do With This Degree? , prepared by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, include lots of ideas about the many career options available to History graduates.
Careers for Students of History gives an overview of the many options available to those with a degree in History.
"Why Study History," an article by Peter Stearns that is available on the AHA website, includes food for thought when putting your resume together.
Applying History connects the study of history and historians’ methods to nonacademic careers in private enterprise and public service.
Business & History provides information on using your History degree to pursue career opportunities in the business world.
History & the U.S. Army explains the many ways in which historians serve their nation through the armed forces.
Value History! provides additional information on how the study of History enhances your personal life, guides your civic/public life, and strengthens your professional life.
In History as a Literary Art , historian Samuel Eliot Morison champions clarity, vigor, and objectivity in historical writing, as he offers advice on making history – and writing – come alive -- in a 1946 essay that is itself a historical document reflective of the historical context within which it was written.
For additional ideas on career opportunities for History majors, see the following print resources, available for browsing in the History Advisor's office ( Ralph Heissinger , 436 Morgan Hall):
Camenson, Blythe. McGraw-Hill's Careers for History Buffs. 3d ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. [436 Morgan]
Dunham, Sarah, Lisa Vollmer, and the Staff of the Princeton Review. What to do with your History or Political Science Degree. NY: Random House, 2007. [436 Morgan]
Lambert, Stephen and Julie DeGalan. Great Jobs for History Majors. 3d ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008. [436 Morgan]
WIU Career Services offers information on job opportunities, as well as resume writing, job search strategies, and interviewing techniques. You can sign into the Leatherneck Link , using your ECOM username and password, to access an on-line library full of information about employers and career opportunities. Remember, it's never too early in your college career to visit one of the Career Fairs sponsored regularly by Career Services.