Tomorrow is my last class of an undergraduate history degree. It’s been four adventurous years, where I’ve changed majors, had doubts and explored my interests. Yet no matter what occurred, I always came back to history. In my degree, I studied 20th Century European History, American foreign policy, cultural history, and even the history of football. (Yes, I got a lovely distinction!)
In this post, you’ll read the five pros and cons to studying a history degree. Note that post slants towards modern history, as that was the department I studied in.
Pro #1: History Matters
History is important. We can use it to better understand civilisations, cultures and societies. More than that, history prepares us for disasters and complex situations. When I study history, I am empathising with the people who came before me. You could argue that we have a duty to previous generations to study the past.
Whilst not everyone should do a history degree, we should all engage in history, whether that’s by reading, going to library events, visiting foreign places or engaging in historical debates.
Con #1: The Cost Of A Degree
History degrees are not cheap! In Australia, I paid well over $20,000 for mine (and fees are increasing next year). That is a lot of money, and eventually, you have to pay off your loans plus any interest.
I suggest applying for scholarships, even if they are a small amount during your study. I did, and I got one! That money went towards books and a new laptop. Am I a remarkable student? No. But I applied regardless, and the enjoyment of my degree increased.
My siblings, who have finished undergraduate and are now in the workforce, comment that student loans impact your finances in ways you aren’t used to. I understand that in the United States, some universities have ridiculous fees. Although I can’t make the decision for anyone whether that cost is worth it, you should consider your financial situation.
Also, I studied history as a mature student. Beginning my degree in my early twenties as opposed to when I was 18 made a difference. Remember: it’s your money. You should never feel pressured to go and spend it. It’s okay to wait a few years.
Pro #2: Postgraduate Opportunities
Want to eventually do a Juris Doctor? Or an M.A in International Relations? A history degree can give you significant footing in academia. This is helpful when you specialise, and because history degrees have existed for a long time, they have earned their respect.
I’m planning to do a Masters of Arts in Medieval Studies, with the aim to use my increased knowledge to writing novels and improving my business. My history degree has well-prepared me, and has put me in a good position with graduate applications.
Note: I’ve been warned against P.hD’s in the humanities for a while now. If you plan to do one, make sure you research carefully and have a back-up plan. The job market in academia is tough, and sadly, not everyone gets to become a professor.
Con #2: Expect A lot Of ‘Do you want to become a teacher?’
When people hear that I’m doing a history degree, they’ll assume that I’m becoming a teacher. This is annoying, but not offensive. I understand that most associate history degrees with high school education, but there is so much you can do with your history degree, professionally. Here are some jobs that history majors can get into:
- Writing & Editing
Some of these require postgraduate work or experience. Not once while studying my history degree did I believe it was ‘useless.’ On the contrary, I understand that studying the past is crucial to become an engaged citizen. Whilst most in my class were interested in teaching, history majors are not limited to it.
When people ask ‘what are you doing with that?’ I tell them the truth. That I’m currently working on my own business and writing novels.
Pro #3: Your Debating And Arguing Skills Will Improve
Thanks to my history degree, I’m better at presenting an argument. History degrees require essay writing, and that will sharpen your writing skills. As writing is crucial to critical thinking and debating, you must write in order to argue your position. A history degree will force you to strengthen your arguments, and appeal to logic and reason.
Will a history degree always be like this? No. There were times in my degree where poor arguments were the loudest, and the tutors jumped to unfair conclusions. But a history degree should give you an ear for these occurrences, and help you confront them.
Con #3: Prepare For Bias And Unfortunate Politics
Oh boy, do I have to mention ‘the great march through the institutions’? It’s ignorant to pretend that most humanities departments aren’t overwhelmingly left-wing and progressive. Considering the crisis of free speech on university campuses, and the resort to censorship when it’s convenient, it’s absolutely shameful that the modern university often felt like the meeting ground for Early Modern Witch-burners.
Not every class had this, and some promoted an intellectually diverse environment. Remember: there’s nothing wrong with having a certain political position. But when it’s used to suppress other voices, I have a problem.
Regardless of whether you are a student or a professor, it’s not okay to demean other students for being conservative. It makes you unprofessional and weak.
A vast majority of the course readings were left-wing, and all the media sources were as well. Professors had no problem expressing their hatred for the Liberal Party in Australia or those who are nationalists.
This puts students in an unfortunate position, where they must readjust their essays and assignments because they are scared of getting penalised for having the wrong views.
For those who want to understand more about academic censorship, I suggest reading the story of Bruce Gilley on Quillette. I’ve also made a video on historical scholarship in general:
Pro #4: You’ll Be Motivated To Learn Other Skills
During my history degree, I started to learn Russian. That’s because I saw the importance of languages in our world, and I wanted to acknowledge that. There’s something inspiring about a history degree, because it urges you to engage with the world on a deep level.
That’s why during my degree, I signed up for various co-curricular, and did an internship with an NGO. Because of those actions, I ended up starting Snowy Fictions, and haven’t looked back since.
Con #4: No History Degree Can Cover Every Topic That Interests You
Your certificate will say ‘Bachelor of Arts in History’ but the truth is, you won’t learn everything there is about history. It’s impossible for any department to cover everything historical. However, in your degree, you will develop interests and curiosities of certain time periods and themes.
Hopefully, your history degree puts you in a good position to engage and develop those interests, even if you don’t have an essay due for marking.
Pro #5: It Compliments Other Subjects (Especially English)
History compliments business studies, drama, languages, politics, philosophy and economics. But a subject that pairs particularly well with history is English. I took many English and creative writing electives, and whilst it ultimately wasn’t for me, I did enjoy them.
There’s a fascinating intersection between literature and history that is worth exploring. This is certainly true for Early Modern history. When you study Shakespeare alongside Tudor rivalries and Elizabethan woes, you’ll gain a nuanced and complex view of both subjects.
Con #5: Job Opportunities Aren’t As Clear-Cut
Yes, history as job opportunities. But they aren’t as clear-cut or straightforward as other degrees, like medicine and law. That’s both a blessing and a curse. For one, you won’t feel trapped by your history degree or pushed towards a singular field. However, you may feel directionless, and at university, there is no one to tell you where you need to go.
My advice is to go into your history degree with a plan for a career, but also allow some flexibility. You don’t need all the answers when you are young, but it helps to have a direction and an understanding of your strengths and interests.
What are your thoughts on history degrees? Have you done one? Comment below!