February 26, 2021

A more in-depth look at the benefits of history majors

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This archived article was written by: Nathan Pena

So many questions revolve around what a history major offers. College students today pick majors that open doors to careers with steady jobs and appealing paychecks. That is true for history majors who find well-paying jobs in a wide variety of careers.
Susan Neel, coordinator for the history major at USU Eastern talks more about the benefits of being a part of the history program. She says, “We are really lucky here at USU Eastern that the four-year history degree is one of the options since the merger with USU. USU has been offering history as a degree at the Regional Campuses for 10 years, so it is a degree with a good success rate among students at USU.”
“History can be a really good choice for a lot of people,” Neel says. “Unlike some majors that train students for a narrow range of specific jobs, history prepares people for careers in everything from teaching to business to public service.” As examples of the great diversity of careers that history majors can have, Neel points to some notable Americans who began as undergraduate history majors, including former President George W. Bush, the basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar, TV personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Conan O’Brien, and entrepreneurs like Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and crafting multi-millionaire Martha Stewart.
Not all history majors become rich and famous, but most do earn a decent salary. “Contrary to popular opinion, history majors are not at the bottom of the earnings barrel,” says Neel. “History majors make less than people in some science and health fields, but the difference isn’t as much as you might think.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau data people with bachelor’s degrees in history earn an average of $54,000 annually over their careers. Annual average for majors with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, health care and business is $65,000.
The annual average for history majors is about the same as for people with bachelor’s degrees in biology, criminal justice, advertising and public relations, medical administration and journalism. History majors do better than those majoring in psychology ($49,000 annual average), social work ($42,000), theatre arts ($45,000) and graphic design ($51,000).
These figures reflect earnings of people who have achieved a four-year degree. “For many history majors, however,” according to Neel, “The bachelor’s degree is just the starting point for their careers. Many history majors go on to further their education in law, business and medicine. An undergraduate major in history has long been recognized as excellent preparation for law school. Just ask any of the four current U.S. Supreme Court Justices who started their careers as history majors.
Statistics have shown that top MBA programs across the country admit more humanities and social science majors than business majors. The Stanford School of Business reports in 2011 that 47 percent of their entering class had undergraduate majors in the humanities and social sciences while only 17 percent had majored in business.
Not many people realize that humanities degrees, including history, are also an excellent path to medical school. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges only 51 percent of those accepted into medical school have undergraduate degrees in the biological sciences. Of the accepted applications to medical school, there is little variation on key entrance requirements, such as the MCAT and GPAs between those with undergraduate degrees in the sciences (a mean MCAT of 31 and GPA of 3.69) and those in the humanities (a mean MCAT of 31.8 and GPA of 3.66).
A thought that always comes to the mind of college students is: why history? Why should someone major in something that concerns the past? “The answer,” Neel says, “is simple – the past makes who we are. You can’t understand the human experience without understanding the past and you can’t chart a course into the future without knowing where we came from.”
“Studying the past forces us to realize that the human experience is changeable and diverse. To me history is the most reassuring thing to study because it tells me that all the things we are experiencing now are normal parts of the human experience. I know that in the future, there’s going to be just as much badness and goodness and we can make of it what we will. And to me that’s incredibly inspiring and gives me confidence. Don’t be afraid of the past.”

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