Here we are with a review of another very popular degree. This time we will be looking at one of the most “liked” subjects when growing up: history. The real question is, what about if you wanted to take it to the next level? Is a History Degree worth it in the UK?
There are contrasting arguments on this topic, it looks like a two-sided discussion. On the one hand you will always find people saying “history it’s a worthless degree”.
On the other hand you should also follow your real interest regardless of other people’s opinions, and many also suggest history is a very good degree.
Don’t get me wrong, considering opinions and doing research on the matter it’s very wise (as you are doing right now); but how those should influence your final decision depends on you.
Hopefully this post will contribute (positively) to your choice.
An interest for history
History is a fascinating subject that attracts many students already early in education. I remember well those days when all I wanted to see and read about was ancient history, castles, battles, empires and so on.
It was like I could “live” those moments, obviously in my mind only. I understand why so many people want to study history, it’s simply an amazing subject .
Not to mention some beautiful documentaries and, why not, some great movies (I loved “The Da Vinci Code”; I highly recommend that movie by the way, actually the entire trilogy).
I met many history students during my time at university, they were all passionate and very, extremely, knowledgeable and literate.
I myself (business and finance graduate) took some history-related modules, sort of (history of financial markets).
This leads to a very important point to make, history is everywhere and it constantly updates, it’s a never ending cycle.
Basically, it will never run out of arguments. I like to think about it like a big tree that keeps growing by absorbing knowledge.
It is from that big tree that we take information, regardless of which aspect of history you are interested in.
For example, in finance we analyse historical data to forecast future performances; in politics, they observe social behaviour overtime and past events to make decisions;
in international relations, they study old conflicts (and by old sometimes it could mean centuries) to conduct diplomatic activities.
I could continue with many other examples of how history can relate to any area of the academic or working world. It’s really part of our everyday life, historians will always be needed.
Obviously, I’m not even mentioning the clearest applications of history: national heritage sites and museums, and the education system.
“History Degrees are worthless”
Why did I mention those clear applications at the end? Because I wanted to tackle specific “answers” that I’ve been finding online:
“A history degree is not worth it because there are not enough jobs in museums”; “not everyone can be a history professor, we don’t need that many”; “the job market needs future-minded people, history teaches the past not the future”.
I found all this negativity coming from those saying that history degrees are worthless. I mean, they are not completely wrong in their arguments, but I find those as “pure rhetoric” and “shallow thinking”.
It is obvious that not all history students/graduates can become professors or work in museums/heritage sites, isn’t it?
Moreover, it also quite clear that not all who decide to pursue a degree in history want to go down those paths.
As I have briefly mentioned before, historians can use their knowledge in a large variety of industries.
Remember that big tree? You study its trunk at the beginning, but as you progress you pick the routes you want to become an expert in.
History Degree Studies
Now let’s have an overview of the history tree, what kind of studies does it involve? Well, I guess we all studied history at some point of our education journey.
Generally, we went through history from the early middle ages to our recent times.
It is already at this point that you will notice a big difference in how you are used to studying history.
In fact, at university you do not necessarily need to follow a chronological structure, and neither a geographical one. Wait what? Isn’t that going to be confusing?
Believe me I thought the same, so I asked why so to some history graduates: “when studying history at university level chronology does not mean anything, what they really push you to understand are themes! You got to be critical about them, identify recurring ones and linking it all together, even if you are jumping back and forth through centuries”.
History Degree Structure
So what will you study? History degree structures vary according to the university you want to study at.
Generally speaking, they are quite flexible at the beginning, meaning that you will have some mandatory modules
Almost certainly British history courses, or if studying in a historic city one of those would most likely involve its history.
Moreover, as well as group projects (some like them, some hate them, but I doubt you’ll have a choice); common compulsory courses will focus on developing the necessary skills to conduct historical research.
These will come in very, extremely, handy for your last year(s) when you will have to do your independent research/dissertation.
On a side note, these 3 guides can really help you improve academic writing!
In terms of non-compulsory modules, you will have a vast course selection to choose from in order to get the necessary credits to progress to the following years.
It is here where that “jumping through centuries” intensifies further. It depends on your interests and how you want to shape your degree.
You might be keen to explore ancient history (e.g. Greek history), but at the same time also to learn more about more modern history (e.g. the cold war); or maybe decide to study national history (e.g. the British empire), and then also something further away (e.g. Middle East history);
Or maybe specific history themes or periods such as the enlightenment, the renaissance, medieval times, the industrial revolution, the prohibition era and so on; I could really continue for hours!!
Advice from a history graduate: “I made a huge mistake when I picked my modules, I selected those who were kind of similar or historically close to each other. All this because I wanted to choose whatever would make my history degree easy. I ended up choosing courses I wasn’t interested in, giving up others that I would’ve loved to explore. Even worse, I limited my history knowledge a lot! Don’t make my same mistake, always pick what stimulates your interests even if that might sound like a confusing course selection, believe me it’s not!
History Joint Degrees
Nowadays these degrees are very common and allow you to combine your interest in history with another subject.
This is extremely useful if you also have an interest for another subject and cannot decide which one to pick.
Furthermore, it would solve the problem of a history degree not being worth due to the “lack of employability skills” if you really had that concern.
With a joint degree, you could choose to combine history with varying from social sciences, arts, or even STEM if you wanted to mix it with something more technical.
However, mind that in a joint degree you will have a less flexible selection of non-compulsory history modules, since obviously your degree will have two subjects to build upon.
Some popular history joint degrees include: History and Philosophy; History and Politics; History and Archaeology; or History and Arts; History and Literature and more.
It’s also quite popular to combine history with English or with a foreign language.
You could also move a bit away from it with less related subjects such as History and Computer Science; History and Mathematics; or also History and Economics; History and Law; History and Marketing and so on.
Although most universities are expanding their list of joint degree courses, you might struggle to find the one you want nearby you.
If you are that unlucky and also not willing to move to another city, then an online degree is probably your only viable option.
In that case, you might find this other post I wrote useful: “Is an online Degree worth it in the UK?”.
What can I do with a history degree?
It is by answering this question that you can assess better if a history degree is worth it. So, what can you do with a history degree?
Unsurprisingly, like most social sciences and humanities degrees, this takes two clear routes right after graduation: academia or job market.
Many history graduates continue their studies to specialise in specific areas they want to become experts in (historian).
A practical example, my friend specialised in Middle East history and she now works as a consultant for important international agencies that operate there; many times she gets to travel there to be on the field too!
Many decide to pursue a career in academia to continue doing what they love: history research. Remember what I said earlier, history is a never ending cycle; whether you would like to research past or recent history, you will never run out of themes!
Obviously, it is also very common for graduates to train to become history professors. Heritage sites, museums, art galleries and such are undoubtedly common workplaces for history graduates.
Those include roles such as gallery curator, archivist, librarian, educator, guide and many more.
Other jobs you can with a History Degree in the UK
So is that it? Is that all you can do with a history degree? If so, those arguments I mentioned earlier like “history degrees are worthless”; or “you won’t find a job with a history degree”, are correct!
There are simply not enough jobs for history graduates. Wrong! Let me tell you why and give some examples.
History research is not just for the academic world! I bet you remember those documentaries that fed your passion for history.
There are thousands, millions of people (like me) who are fascinated by this subject and want to know more about it.
This audience needs history to be delivered in a more “entertaining” manner than reading research papers.
You are probably thinking “ok, other jobs you can do with a history degree also include reporter or journalist, you could have said that earlier”.
Yes, but there is a reason why I did not do that. We are living in the internet era, what are the themes of such? I would say virtual reality, social media, sharing, influencing, followers and so on.
Among many things I dislike form the internet era, there some good ones that are relevant here. It allows you to interact with a worldwide audience, to create community of people who share similar interests, it’s scalable!
You could open your history YouTube channel, a history website or whatever else will come up in the future! Who says that a history graduate cannot be a modern era entrepreneur?
These are just some examples; I’m not even mentioning the opportunities you will have with a joint degree and the knowledge of another subject too.
I just wanted to talk about those areas closer to history, but opportunities are endless for those who really want!
Are you still wondering if a history degree is worth it in the UK? (or anywhere really)
History Degree Skills
Another question people often ask is “what skills does a history degree give me?”. Well, let me tell you that a history degree will equip you with a variety of transferrable skills.
For example, you will master critical thinking and gain high analytical skills, any employer looks for those!
You will also develop the ability of proper text comprehension; and trust me that’s the key to problem solving!
You will be able to spot themes affecting your tasks, expanding on those with facts and evidence. Moreover, you will think logically and coherently, with a sharp ability to communicate verbally and in writing.
These are just a taste of the skills you will get, make sure to put those in your CV! Another thing I usually say is that any degree is always worth it in the UK!
People tend to forget that there are many graduate schemes and jobs that welcome applicants from any background; and obviously a degree in history is very useful for that!
These could include roles in the public sector as well as the private one, e.g. large consulting firms and marketing agencies. Large companies enjoy a varied workforce that can tackle problems from multiple perspectives.
From my personal experience working in corporate finance, I was surprised to see how many of my colleagues did not actually have a finance background or any prior knowledge of the subject!!
Conclusions, is a History Degree worth it?
I wanted to write this post to really tackle that negativity towards pursuing a history degree. You will always find people saying that it’s a worthless degree, that you won’t find any job and so on.
I’m not saying that you should not listen to them, it is always useful to do a comprehensive research before taking important decisions.
Sometimes such arguments come from history graduates themselves! Not everybody is a “winner”, the world is full of stories, both positive and negative.
However, I truly believe we can make our own luck if we really want to. You are the only one who decides where to end up, in the positive or negative side.
My friend’s successful story as a history graduate
I had a similar discussion with a history and art student I met during my “history of financial markets”. He did not have an interest for that course at all!
Unsurprisingly, he was struggling a lot with assignments and looking for help. You might be wondering why he picked that module then, let me tell you.
I mentioned this in another post “What to study for future jobs in the UK”, you might find that useful too.
Basically, he genuinely loved his degree and he was among the best students in the entire course. However, he was too scared of not finding a job afterwards with a history degree.
So, he started to pick modules that, in his mind, would give him more employability skills; this obviously despite not having an interest for financial markets at all.
We spent a lot of time studying together, we were also part of the same group project. I was telling him to stop being worried because he was a top student and he would find a job with his degree for sure.
In few words, he found an entry level job in a national museum. After few months he went to HR explaining his ambitions; the company put him in trainings for areas such as leadership and business management.
He then became assistant manager first and now he is the general manager of a national museum; his dream job! Still unsure if a history degree is worth it?
Yes, in my opinion a history degree is worth it and makes you very employable! My advice is to forget about future trends, employment stats and so on.
You can make it worth it despite all that! If you truly love the subject, then go for it.
Let me disclaim the obvious as usual, everything you read on my blog is based on my personal opinion, research and experience.
Therefore, it does not intent to represent what everybody should do, always do your research and take your own decisions! Thank you for reading!
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