You can do almost anything you want to do with a major in history. The skills necessary for the study of history are highly practical and prized by graduate schools, professional schools, and employers. Hanover history majors have moved on to careers in business, law, government service, education, and social work.
Neither a history major nor any other major in the liberal arts, however, is designed as preparation for a particular profession. A liberal arts education is not vocational education. Historically, the liberal arts have been defined as the arts suited for free people, designed to encourage wisdom and virtue. The principal reason for embracing the liberal arts is to develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding essential for the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. But the liberal arts are also practical; they prepare one for citizenship and a career. The skills encouraged by the liberal arts in general and history in particular--the ability to articulate significant questions, find and evaluate evidence, weigh alternative methods and interpretations, appreciate complexity and ambiguity, draw sound conclusions, and articulate substantive arguments with clarity and precision--are exactly the skills that are in high demand in a wide variety of professions.
The History Department offers the following recommendations for academic and career planning.
- Pursue the liberal arts in the spirit they are intended. Develop an academic program based on academic interests. No major, no academic program, is more practical than another. To approach a liberal arts education as a preparation for a particular vocation violates the spirit and integrity of the liberal arts and risks losing the very benefits that a liberal arts education brings to professional careers. The practical benefits of a liberal arts education--the acquisition of the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication--result from an immersion in the liberal arts for their own sake and from a serious effort to realize the objectives of the liberal arts.
- Give early and thoughtful consideration to post-graduate opportunities. The options available to history and liberal arts graduates are so many and so varied that it may require considerable time and effort to identify career paths and objectives. Thus students need to begin to explore their options early with the help of their major advisers and the Career Center. Internships, summer jobs, and special programs such as the Philadelphia Center Program can be invaluable in clarifying personal strengths and preferences.
- Practice articulating the value of a liberal arts education. The more the economy changes, the more we need people who are creative and flexible, people who can solve problems, make sound judgements, and communicate effectively. Increasingly, business leaders and employers are recognizing and publicly acknowledging that narrow technical training does not develop the practical virtues learned through a liberal arts education. Nevertheless, the liberal arts remain widely misunderstood in society. Thus, it is ultimately incumbent upon liberal arts students to explain to others the value of a liberal arts education. In a variety of contexts--on resumes, in interviews, and in conversation for example--students of history and the liberal arts must be able to clarify the substance behind their transcripts, to highlight the skills they learned, and to articulate how and why those skills are important.
Advice on Choosing a Career Path
Robert Pace, "I would like to major in history, but . . . What Can I Do When I Graduate?" (friendly advice from a history professor who had a difficult time choosing a major when he was a student)
American Historical Association, "Careers for History Majors" (an overview with links to more in-depth explorations of careers associated with specific history-related skills like research, communication, and advocacy -- the AHA asserts that "the world is your oyster" as a history major)
Advice about the Job Search
Margaret Krantz, Job Search Guide (an overview of the job search process, including topics such as "Selling Your Liberal Arts Skills," "Informational Interviewing," and "Networking")
Advice about Graduate School
Thomas H. Benton, "The 5 'Virtues' of Successful Graduate Students" (an English professor gives brutally honest advice about graduate school)
The Law School Admissions Council, "Thinking about Law School" (advice on preparing for law school, the admissions process, etc.)
Margaret Krantz, Graduate and Professional School Guide (a guide to deciding what is appropriate for you and to understanding the application process -- includes sample application materials)