A master's degree in history takes an average of two years of full-time study to complete. This degree is commonly pursued by professionals interested in education, research, politics, preservation/archiving, or museum work. Master's programs commonly focus on developing skills in analytical research and interpretation through interdisciplinary study of subjects like anthropology, sociology, and political science. Concentration options in subfields like American history and European history allow students to target specific academic and professional goals.
Keep reading to learn more about earning a master's in history. Topics covered in this guide include career opportunities for graduates, program selection tips, and common curriculum and admission requirements.
Is an on-campus or online history master's degree right for you? Visit our online master's in history programs page to explore the benefits and challenges of this academic discipline.
What Are the Best History Master's Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:
|1||Harvard University||Cambridge, MA|
|2||Florida International University||Miami, FL|
|3||Arizona State University||Scottsdale, AZ|
|4||University of Nebraska at Kearney||Kearney, NE|
|5||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA|
|6||Norwich University||Northfield, VT|
|7||Missouri State University||Springfield, MO|
|8||Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania||Slippery Rock, PA|
|9||Louisiana Tech University||Ruston, LA|
|10||University of North Carolina Wilmington||Wilmington, NC|
What You Can 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. The curriculum for a master's in history instills numerous broadly applicable skills, and graduates excel in a variety of occupations. History graduates build strong writing, analytical thinking, and research capabilities that benefit prospective writers, editors, or analysts. Others apply their skills in the nonprofit or business sectors. Some individuals enroll in doctoral programs after earning their history master's degree and go on to 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Historians research historical documents to draw conclusions about the past.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 and private sectors.
Median Annual Salary: $61,140*
- 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: $48,400*
- 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: $60,320*
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: $48,400*
While some positions require a master's in library science, history graduates may work in academic libraries or special collections or as conservation specialists. Librarians help patrons conduct research, oversee library collections, and design library exhibits.
Median Annual Salary: $59,050*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Learning to interpret and preserve the past can help you secure a fulfilling job for the future. Explore our history careers guide to see where the best history master's programs can take you.
What to Expect in a History Master's Program
Whether you enroll in a history master's program online or on campus, you will likely complete a total of 30-36 credits of coursework. Common learning outcomes focus on a graduate's ability to:
- Demonstrate broad knowledge of historical periods, events, and their significance
- Explain and critique historical schools of thought
- Conduct original research and utilize skills in critical analysis
Toward the end of their program, most master's candidates fulfill 3-6 course credits by crafting a thesis. This process involves extensive preparation, research, writing, and collaboration with faculty, resulting in a persuasive essay that explores a challenging question or issue. Many schools also offer non-thesis tracks, allowing students to complete an academic portfolio or research project instead.
Within a sprawling academic discipline like history, specific class subjects can vary widely depending on the school, program, and concentration. However, you can expect to encounter the following course formats.
- Survey Courses
- Survey courses provide a broad overview of a specific era, such as world history, European history, American history, or the rise of the Roman empire.
- Research Seminars
- Research seminars are reading- and writing-intensive courses that help students develop skills in academic research and critical analysis. Seminars often focus on concentration areas.
- Topics in History
- In a format similar to survey courses, learners explore a variety of topics and perspectives relating to specific historical eras, events, cultures, and religions.
- Historical Methods
- Historical methods courses encourage students to examine, discuss, and try out various techniques, guidelines, and practices used by contemporary historians in research and writing.
- Historiography courses focus on the scholarship surrounding a specific topic. Students conduct their own research and writing while exploring how historians previously approached the subject.
Interview With Steve Ryan
Steve Ryan, founder and CEO of RyTech LLC, received his undergraduate degree in history in 2008. Steve is energized by helping businesses succeed and grow through their digital marketing efforts. In founding RyTech in 2012, Steve wanted to assist businesses with the expanding digital market and changing digital landscape and become a trusted partner to develop long-term partnerships. Steve holds degrees from Marquette University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and frequently speaks on digital marketing topics at industry conferences, trade shows, and seminars.
- Why did you decide to pursue a degree in history? Was it something that always interested you?
History was always my favorite subject growing up. I could imagine myself living in the time period we studied, an escape from the daily regimen, and was fascinated by how certain decisions and events impacted modern-day life. The subject matter was interesting, the content was exciting, and I thought I'd be a high school history teacher for my career. So, naturally, a history major was an excellent fit for both my interests and career aspirations.
- What are the unique aspects of a degree in history?
The vast amount of different classes that I could take within the history degree. In one semester, I was learning about the British Empire and religion in Latin America, and the following semester I was knee-deep in the growth of the American nation and intellectual history of the United States. The content is endless and could be quite broad or quickly narrowed to pull on a specific topic within a specified time frame. With so much content to choose from, a degree-seeker can quickly find an area he/she is most curious about and dive deep into the subject matter.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
Immediately after graduating with my history degree, I took to the education field and taught middle school social studies. With my love of historical time periods, I quickly put my own spin on the curriculum and included various components from my undergraduate studies that were not previously included. I presumed I'd stay in the education sector for quite some time and potentially rise through the administrative ranks. Fueled by curiosity, armed with a versatile degree, and excited to see where technology would move to in the future (to make history), I set off on a path that landed me running an online marketing firm.
- Is a degree in history a versatile degree or is there a clear career path?
Traditionally pigeonholed into pre-law, education-related, or political aspirations, history majors can go on to accomplish a whole host of different careers -- even to found and run a digital marketing firm, like I did. I view a history major as more than a degree. Rather, it's the ability to hone and perfect skills related to analytics, critical thinking, communication (verbal and written), and many more. The history degree is the foundation of these skills that individuals can build their careers upon.
- How has your degree in history helped you in your career?
While I can't say that I currently use a lot of the facts that I learned while studying history, I can say that I use a number of the skills that I learned along the way. The communication skills I learned have helped me to prepare presentations that I've given at conferences across the country. The writing skills I honed are still used today as we write compelling digital marketing initiatives on social media. The analytical skills I developed are used in every report I write to clients that synthesizes their data and provides reasoning for outliers (positive and negative). Without these skills, I wouldn't be in the career that I'm in today.
- What advice would you give to individuals considering pursuing a degree in history?
Pay attention to the soft skills that you'll learn. The degree is not about the facts of when a war started or how a conflict ended. The degree is about the critical thinking skills you'll acquire by reading a primary source, the analytical skills you'll develop as you take a point-counterpoint approach to a debate, and the writing skills you'll improve as you write essays upon essays to prove your thesis.
- What are some of the skills someone considering pursuing a career in history must have to be successful?
In order to be successful with a history degree, you need to have three things: patience, resilience, and time management.
Your patience needs to be front and center, because you have a lot of work ahead of you and you cannot skip the last chapter to see how something ends. Rather, some of the most important components of an event or historical time period occur in the middle to inform the outcome. Knowing the outcome is one thing; knowing how the result was achieved is more beneficial.
The resilience comes into the picture when you have a great idea for a research paper, tons of sources to support your thesis, and a well-documented plan only to have your professor tell you to try again. They likely tell you this because they know you can do better and you took the easy route.
Time management is incredibly important as there are a lot of external reading assignments, papers, and projects. These all require time and the appropriate allocation/prioritization. Without that skill, you might end a semester not sure what happened and then your history degree will become history itself.
How to Choose a Master's in History Program
Accredited colleges and universities undergo third-party evaluation of their commitment to academic quality, professionalism, and ethical operation. Although accreditation is technically voluntary, it's extremely important for graduate students to earn their degree from an accredited school. This guarantees the quality of your education, allows you to transfer your hard-earned credits, and ensures that employers recognize the legitimacy of your diploma.
There are two main forms of institutional accreditation: regional and national. Regional accreditation is common with public universities, while national accreditation is more common with private and vocational schools. For an academic discipline like history, seek out regional accreditation.
Below is a list of other program aspects to keep in mind when researching programs.
- Concentration Options
- Make sure your institution of choice offers an engaging concentration option in your preferred area of focus.
- Thesis, Capstone Project, and Internships
- Choose a program that offers opportunities geared toward your career goals. Aspiring researchers may prefer a thesis track; educators, a capstone project; and museum curators, an internship.
- Program Cost
- The cost of graduate education varies depending on the school you select. Make sure you choose a program you can afford. Look for scholarship, assistantship, and fellowship opportunities.
Master's in History Admissions
In the section below, we examine several admission requirements and application materials commonly requested by graduate schools. Prospective students should note that, while the following information is representative of most programs, the admission process for your preferred on-campus or online master's in history may vary slightly. However, you should expect to provide evidence of the following:
- Bachelor's degree
- Minimum GPA
- GRE scores
- 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.
- 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 to $60, students who demonstrate financial need generally may apply for a fee waiver.
Resources for Master's in History 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.