A master's degree in history allows candidates to focus on a particular era, region, or historical theme in greater depth. Graduate students explore historical methodologies, read important works by prominent historians, and compose original research papers. A history master's degree also confers valuable analytical, research, and writing skills that may lead to jobs in education, public history, and many other growing fields. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that many jobs requiring a history master's will grow over the next decade, with demand for museum curators and archivists projected to grow 13% by 2026.
For many students, earning a master's degree in history fulfills their academic interests and opens the door to new career opportunities. This guide covers everything you need to know about applying to a history graduate program, common careers paths for graduates with a master's degree in history, and helpful resources for graduate students.
Should I Get a Master's in History?
Earning a master's degree in history requires a substantial investment, and prospective students must be sure that the degree will advance their career or present additional job opportunities. Working alongside a faculty adviser, graduate students design a personalized study plan based on their interests and career goals. They may choose to focus on public history, for example, with the intent of working at a museum or historical society. Others study military history in hope of becoming a historian for the armed forces. Graduate students who pursue teaching assistantships gain valuable experience in education, and many go on to work as secondary teachers.
Some programs include internship components or research assistantships, both of which provide hands-on experience in professional and academic settings. Building on a network of contacts, many schools also offer job placement assistance after graduation. Individuals who hold a master's degree in history qualify for high-level positions in museums, archives, and libraries. Many graduates work in education at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, become writers and editors, or take on a variety of private- and public-sector positions.
Undergraduates considering a master's degree in history may also benefit from researching the differences between on-campus and distance learning programs. Recent graduates who live near a school with a strong history program or who are able to relocate may find that a traditional on-campus program best fits their educational goals. Adult learners and working professionals considering a career change may prefer the flexibility of online programs.
What Can I Do With a Master's in History?
Individuals who hold a master's in history can work as historians, museum curators, and archivists. Many become high school instructors and specialize in teaching world history, U.S. history, or European history. A master's in history curriculum instills numerous broadly applicable skills, and graduates excel in a variety of different occupations. History graduates build strong writing, analytical thinking, and research capabilities which benefit prospective writers, editors, or analysts. Others apply their skills in the nonprofit or business sectors. Some individuals enroll in doctoral programs after earning a history master's degree, and go on to take postsecondary teaching positions and other academic roles.
Historians research historical documents to draw conclusions about the past. They also serve as educators in many different settings. While most history professors must hold a doctoral degree, graduates with a master's in history qualify for some historian positions, both in academia or in the public or private sectors.
Median Annual Salary: $59,120
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Museum Curator
Museum curators oversee a museum's collection of historic items. They may preserve documents and objects within a certain collection, design exhibits, and develop public history activities for particular audiences. Many public history specialists work in curatorial positions.
Median Annual Salary: $47,360
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
- High School Teacher
High school teachers design and lead lessons geared toward adolescent students and assess learning outcomes. Professionals with a master's in history may teach social studies, U.S. history, European history, or world history at the secondary level. Because many states require that high school teachers obtain teaching licensure, prospective instructors may need to complete an educator preparation program.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Archivists preserve historic documents and records. They may work in libraries, museums, archives, or private collections, and their duties typically include processing and cataloging items. Some archivists may require additional training after earning a master's in history.
Median Annual Salary: $47,360
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
While some positions require a master's in library science, history graduates may work in academic libraries, special collections, or as conservation specialists. Librarians help patrons conduct research, oversee library collections, and design library exhibits.
Median Annual Salary: $58,520
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
How to Choose a Master's in History Program
Choosing the right master's history program can shape a prospective student's professional career. Before applying to schools, applicants should carefully evaluate each program to determine which ones best align with their interests and career goals. Many students begin by looking at the length of a degree, the total program cost, and school location. Professionals who cannot easily relocate may prefer online options rather than limiting their search to local programs. While evaluating cost, consider researching scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships that may partially or fully cover tuition and fees.
In addition to program cost, location, and length, it is important to research curriculum structure and contents. When entering a master's program, graduate students choose a faculty adviser to oversee their progress. This professor often acts as their thesis adviser. As you explore your options, examine faculty profiles to see if your prospective advisers who's teaching and research areas that align with your interests.
Program concentrations are another important variable. A student who wants to study ancient history, for example, may find that few graduate programs offer that concentration. Reviewing course offerings from the past several years can help you determine if a program offers classes related to your focus area. In addition, students interested in fields like public history or museum studies should research whether or not a program offers internship opportunities. Finally, it is crucial to check an institution's accreditation status before you apply.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in History Programs
Universities seek accreditation from independent agencies to demonstrate their adherence to the highest academic standards. During the accreditation process, the agency reviews graduation requirements, curricula, student learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications. The top U.S. colleges and universities hold regional accreditation, which is granted by six different agencies assigned to particular regions of the country. Some programs also pursue programmatic accreditation from specialized agencies, such as business, teaching, and social work organizations. History programs do not typically hold programmatic accreditation, and instead receive reviews from the institution's regional accrediting agency.
Students should always choose an accredited institution for their degrees. Credits earned at a regionally accredited school are more likely to transfer to other institutions, and some graduate programs only accept applicants with degrees from accredited schools. Only accredited institutions qualify to receive federal financial aid. When considering a history master's degree, it is crucial to ensure that your chosen institution is accredited, preferably by a regional accrediting body.
Master's in History Program Admissions
Prospective history master's degree candidates must demonstrate that they can succeed in graduate-level studies, and admissions packages present the chance to put their best foot forward. During the admissions process, history graduate programs check for a strong undergraduate background in history or a closely related field, examine the candidate's GPA and GRE scores, and review the applicant's statement of purpose. Many programs put a great deal of weight on the statement of purpose, in which prospective students explain their chosen focus area and why they wish to pursue a master's degree in history.
While some applicants may only apply to a small number of programs, others apply to 10 or more institutions. As you research master's in history programs, pay special attention to schools that offer concentrations in your focus area, and be sure you have met program prerequisites before applying.
- Bachelor's Degree: All master's in history candidates must possess a bachelor's degree. Current undergraduates who will finish their degree before enrolling may still apply to graduate programs. While many programs prefer history majors, most will accept applicants with other degrees.
- Professional Experience: While history graduate programs often include educator training, professional experience is rarely required for admissions. Professional experience often helps when applying for teaching assistant positions or fellowships.
- Minimum GPA: Many master's in history programs set a minimum GPA for incoming graduate students -- typically a 3.0 or better. Candidates with a lower GPA may gain provisional admission.
- Application: All prospective graduate students must fill out an application for admission. The application asks respondents about their academic history, professional experience, and other factors that may influence admissions.
- Transcripts: Almost all programs request applicants' undergraduate transcripts, as well as transcripts from any previously-attended graduate programs. The admissions committee reviews these documents to verify a candidate's undergraduate GPA and completed courses.
- Letters of recommendation: Applicants may be expected to provide two or three letters of recommendation from former professors that attest to their academic qualifications. Prospective students should provide those recommending them with at least three weeks' notice.
- Test Scores: Many history programs require that applicants provide their GRE scores, and some set a minimum GRE score for full admission. Other graduate programs do not request GRE scores, or prefer results from other standardized tests.
- Application Fee: Schools often charge an application fee to cover the costs associated with reviewing materials. While fees typically range from $40-$60, students who demonstrate financial need may apply for a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in History Program?
History is a discipline that covers many different eras, cultures, and societies, and graduate programs differ widely according to program and field of study. Before applying for a master's in history program, it is important to consider possible career paths after graduation. You may wish to narrow your focus area accordingly.
|U.S. History||A U.S. history concentration examines American social, political, and cultural history through a variety of viewpoints. While some master's students may focus on colonial history, the nineteenth century, or modern American history, others specialize in broader areas, including foreign policy, warfare, race, or labor history.||Postsecondary instructor,
|Public History||In this concentration, graduate students acquire effective instructional methods for educating public audiences about the past. Candidates learn to design historical exhibits and maintain collections, and often work on local public history projects. This concentration often requires students to complete an internship at a museum, historical society, or historical preservation organization.||Museum curator, archivist,
historical society coordinator
|European History||European history specialists explore politics, culture, society, and technology in Europe, from the fall of Rome to modern times. They may focus on the medieval or Renaissance periods, World War II, or a single European country. Master's students often narrow their studies down to one subfield within European history, such as the history of science, art history, or religious studies.||Museum collections specialist, teacher|
|Military History||Students pursuing a military history track study warfare, military tactics, and diplomacy. They may specialize in a particular era or culture, such as the Mongol Empire, or a certain military branch like the Navy. Graduates often go on to work as historians for the U.S. military.||Military historian, postsecondary instructor|
|Women's and Gender Studies||Students concentration on women's and gender studies examine women's historical roles in different cultures and societies, as well as how those social positions have changed. By studying historical conceptions of masculinity and femininity, learners gain a comprehensive view of how gender ideals have shaped society and culture.||Postsecondary instructor|
Courses in a Master's in History Program
While a master's history degree curriculum structure depends largely on the student's chosen concentration, most programs include one or more of the classes described below. Incoming graduate students are usually required to complete a basic methodology course in their first semester. Other courses, however, are usually related to the candidate's thesis topic or focus area. For example, a U.S. history student might take research seminars on the American 20th century and U.S. foreign policy, while a medieval history major would enroll in survey courses on the Black Death or medieval religion.
Master's-level historiography courses explore historical scholarship in a particular field, such as military history, gender studies, or U.S. history. Most require students to compose one or more essays on their chosen topic or concentration.
Methodology coursework addresses multiple viewpoints and approaches used to conduct historical research. Learners survey different historical methods popularized in the last century, with a focus on recent methodological developments and theories.
- Research Seminar
Master's students typically take multiple research seminars related to their focus area. After learning to analyze historical documents and exploring secondary sources, learners summarize their research in a final paper.
- Survey Courses
Survey courses introduce specialized historical topics or subfields, such as Caribbean studies, environmental history, or economic history. Providing a broader look at a subject than in-depth research seminars, these classes supplement fundamental and major-related coursework.
- Master's Thesis
Many master's history programs culminate in a master's thesis. Most curricula include 3-6 credits of master's thesis coursework, during which candidates collaborate with a faculty advisor to design an original research project and compose a thesis. Before graduating, students must defend their thesis in front of a master's committee.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in History?
Most history master's degree programs require two years of full-time study. During a master's program, graduate students complete around 30-36 course credits, meet any language proficiency requirements, and either pass a comprehensive exam or defend a master's thesis. Depending on how long it takes to meet the requirements, some learners may spend more than two years earning their degree.
Several factors may influence completion times. Some programs require a thesis project, which can add additional time to the program. Students who are already proficient in a foreign language may be able to shorten their degree, and some programs accept transfer credits or let students use one course to fulfill two requirements. Many programs also offer part-time options for students who wish to work while they study. Graduate students typically work closely with a faculty adviser to determine their graduation timeline, and some may be able to pursue an accelerated degree path.
How Much Is a Master's in History?
The cost of a master's in history varies according to the program. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that public institutions charged, on average, $10,408 in tuition and fees for graduate students in the 2012-2013 year. Tuition at private institutions, in comparison, averaged around $21,955. Some distance education programs may provide tuition discounts for online students. In addition to tuition and fees, prospective students must consider living expenses, technology costs, and any additional transportation or childcare expenses.
Many master's in history programs provide money-saving opportunities, including graduate awards or scholarships, which may partially or entirely cover tuition costs. Some institutions also offer work-study opportunities for graduate students, including research assistantships, working in the history office, or contributing to a scholarly program. Other programs may also offer teaching assistant positions. These jobs, which may require an application, assign master's students to an undergraduate course. The teaching assistant may lead discussion sections and grade assignments under a professor's supervision. Teaching assistant jobs not only provide a tuition waiver and stipend, but also offer valuable teaching experience.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in History Prepares For
- Teaching License
Are you considering a career in education? In many states, students with a master's history degree qualify to receive a K-12 teaching license. While individual requirements vary by state, all public school teachers must be licensed.
- Certified Genealogist
Individuals skilled at researching family histories may pursue this credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Candidates must create a 150-page portfolio that demonstrates their research abilities. Portfolios are evaluated by a team of three qualified professionals.
- Certified Archivist
The Academy of Certified Archivists offers certification for professionals working in historic preservation and archival fields. Candidates must pass a 100-question exam, which is offered annually at selected testing locations. To sit for the exam, candidates must hold a master's degree and qualifying archival work experience.
- Digital Archives Specialist
The Society of American Archivists grants this certification to individuals who pass a comprehensive 100-question exam. The credential helps certified archivists, library staff, and records managers stand out among other job candidates.
- Library Support Staff Certification
Developed by the American Library Association, this certification recognizes candidates who meet competency guidelines in six areas. Candidates may demonstrate competence by completing approved online courses or submitting academic portfolios. This certification is ideal for history students pursuing library careers.
Resources for History Graduate Students
Run by the American Historical Association (AHA), this page lists resources and information especially for students earning a history master's degree. Recent graduates may explore job market statistics and professional development materials.
This site offers everything from moderated discussion forums to a publication aggregator. H-Net's career center features academic job openings around the country.
The AHA provides educators with a wide selection of teaching resources, including tips for history instructors and classroom materials aimed at different grade levels.
Do you plan to teach after earning a history master's degree? This site helps future K-12 teachers integrate primary resources into their lesson plans and maintain best practices.
The Library of Congress is home to a host of resources and research tools, including a historical newspaper database, searchable online primary sources, and an extensive image library.
Professional Organizations in History
Joining a professional organization comes with a host of benefits, from fellowship opportunities to free publications. Associations like those listed below offer discounted membership for students earning a history master's degree, and some sponsor members-only scholarships, mentoring programs, and internships.
Working tirelessly to promote historical studies and education, the AHA is the world's largest historical professional organization. Members may apply for awards, grants, and fellowships, or build their professional network by attending the AHA's annual meeting.
Founded in 1907, the OAH unites historians, students, and educators across the country. Student members pay reduced dues, and gain access to internship and funding opportunities, scholarly publications, and educational resources.
This organization serves public historians by providing professional development resources and career guidance. Along with an annual conference, the Council hosts several “mini-cons” each year.
AASLH membership comes with numerous benefits, from free webinars and recorded lectures to literary publications. Members may submit their resume for review, or explore nationwide career opportunities.
An advocacy group for museums, zoos, and science centers, AAM strives to promote professionalism and excellence. Membership presents networking opportunities, career management resources, and access to exclusive job boards.