What can you do with a history degree?

Why study a history degree? Our essential guide to what you will learn on a history course, what you should study to get your place on a degree, and what jobs you can get once you graduate
November 2 2016

What is history?

History is the study of the sum of human experience. It is concerned with the past and its present legacy.

The study of history develops an array of skills including independent critical thinking, analytical skills, the ability to process and synthesise vast amounts of information - which is crucial in our world overflowed with information, and to engage in a historiographical debate.

This means that history is among the university subjects where you have to read the most material.

Engaging with the historiographical debate is central to a university essay as opposed to a school essay; this also means that the number of secondary and primary sources you will have to read increases dramatically.

Like all humanities, history also teaches verbal and written communication skills, as most evaluation is based on written essays and oral presentations.

What do you learn on a history degree?

History is one of the broadest subjects you can study and it gets taught in very different ways on different degrees. The various strands of the subject include economic, cultural, social and political history as well as the history of ideas. All of these topics can be studied at local, national or international levels.

Usually undergraduate degrees in history are varied so that you can cover a range of eras and types of history but degrees may focus on faculty members’ interests.

Alongside learning about the historical method, typical modules you may find are Medieval Europe, Politics and Society in the 18th and 19th centuries of the country in which you are studying and World History of the 20th century.

Other modules you may find on a history degree are History of Political Ideas from Plato to Rousseau, Civil Rights in the US, Economic History after the Second World War in the country in which you are studying, Women in the 18th century in the country where you are studying, the Study of the Family in Early Modern Europe, etc.

Nowadays history is considered everything that happened until 20 years ago.

If you’re not fully set on history, it’s possible to study it alongside another subject in many universities around the world.


More subject guides:

Why study art?
Why study mathematics?
Why study medicine?
Why study architecture?
Why study performing arts?
Why study sports science?

Why study veterinary science?
Why study business? 
Why study biology?


What should I study at high school if I want to study history?

In order to study history at university, it’s handy although not mandatory to have studied history in high school. A background in other humanities is helpful too.

Different universities have different requirements, so do check the pages of universities you are thinking of applying to.

If you’re aiming high, say Oxbridge in the UK, you will have to get top marks: three As, above 38 points in the IB, at least 85% in the European Baccalaureate or 1,470 SAT points.

If you are applying to study history in a different country than your country of origin, you will very probably have to pass an additional language test to prove a high proficiency in that language.

If you are taking the European Baccalaureate, it may be a better idea to do the humanities profile rather than the science based one if you are interested in a degree in history.

What do people who study history do after graduation?

After graduating, history students go on to anything and everything.

In the past, history graduates have forged careers in academia, research, civil service, politics, journalism, consultancy, banking, business, PR, marketing, retail, accountancy and more.

History trains transferable skills which can lead to the most varied career paths.

According to the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency, 88 per cent of UK domiciled historical and philosophical studies graduates were in employment or further study six months after they finished their first full-time degree in 2015.

More than 40 per cent of graduates joined full-time work after their degree, 23.6 per cent did further study, 14 per cent did part-time work and 6.6 per cent did both further study and work.

In France, a history degree is seen as the best preparation for careers in journalism and politics.

Which famous people studied history?

The list of famous history graduates includes Irish-American author, academic and diplomat Samantha Power, UK’s ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie and Russian American writer Ayn Rand.

Elena Kagan, the first female dean of Harvard Law School and U.S. Supreme Court Justice graduated summa cum laude in history at Princeton.

Actor Edward Norton, famous for his role in Fight Club, studied the subject at Yale in 1991.

Journalist Louis Theroux got a first class degree in the subject from Oxford.

Perhaps surprisingly, a whole lot of philosophers including Machiavelli, Hume, Hegel and Marx also studied history.

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