Department of History
West Chester University
404 Wayne Hall
So, you ask . . . "What can I do with a degree in history?" Contrary to the belief of many, you can do a great deal. Some career choices for history majors, as for all Liberal Arts students, may not appear as straightforward as they appear for those in a more technical or specialized major, but earning a liberal arts degree, according to The Complete Job Search Handbook, assures you of one clear advantage: "Your broad education will provide that most precious of commodities in today's labor market -- flexibility." In "Why Hire Humanities Graduates?" Robert Goodward notes that "more than any other curriculum, the Liberal Arts train people to think critically about concepts and society, look at the big picture and analyze cause and effect relationships, break an idea or situation into component parts and put it back together again."
Several recent surveys - in US News and World Report and by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) - have found that the skills emphasized in our history program are the same skills needed in the current and future job markets.
A common misconception about those who pursue degrees in the humanities is that they must settle for lower salaries than people with professional or more technical degrees. Research tells a different story: a study tracking the salaries of liberal arts graduates from the University of Virginia between 1971 and 1981 reported the mean salary to be $30,000 ($71,018 adjusted for inflation); 21 percent earned $50,000 or more; and 14 percent earned at least $60,000 (adjusted for inflation, that's $142,036 in 2010 dollars!). A similar survey of liberal arts graduates from Penn State showed that, although they started at lower salaries than their counterparts in professional programs, liberal arts graduates over time earned more. More recent reports by NACE and the NACE Salary Survey provide further insight.
Humanities' graduates bring a broad range of skills to the job market, including their verbal, written communication, and their interpersonal abilities. As a discipline, History looks for the linkages among economics, politics, society, culture and thought, and religion, and attempts to foster a holistic understanding of the past. So while history incorporates the fundamental elements of learning found in the other liberal arts, it also develops an understanding of cause and effect relationships, historical development and its relevance for the present and future. According to the American Historical Association: "In sum, history is at the heart of liberal learning, as it equips students to: (1) participate knowledgeably in the affairs of the world around them, drawing upon understandings shaped through reading, writing, discussions, and lectures concerning the past, (2) see themselves and their society from different times and places, displaying a sense of informed perspective and a mature view of human nature, (3) read and think critically, write and speak clearly and persuasively, and conduct research effectively, (4) exhibit sensitivities to human values in their own and in other cultural traditions and , in turn, establish values of their own, (5) appreciate their natural and cultural environments, (6) respect scientific and technological developments and recognize their impact on humankind, (7) understand the connections between history and life."
WCU graduates have found employment in a broad range of professions and occupations: as high school teachers and university professors, lawyers and judges, ministers, museum curators, journalists, screenwriters, law enforcement officers, business and public officials (in the United States Congress as well as the Pennsylvania General Assembly). To learn more about the employment prospects for professional careers as a social studies teacher or an academic or as an institutional historian or as part of the civil service, see the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for current and future employment prospects for historians, secondary social studies teachers, college and university professors, archivists and curators, publishing, lawyers or federal government.