As a history major, you have many resources available to you as you search for an internship or job. The information below offers some general guidance for starting your job search and preparing application materials, including tips for writing résumés and cover letters and some samples (both positive and negative). The advice in these sections will apply to most applications that you prepare, but remember that the better you can tailor your job search and your application, the better your results will be. With that in mind, consider meeting with Christina Matta, 3211F Mosse Humanities Building, to discuss your interests, outline and review your cover letters and résumés, and learn about other job-related resources and opportunities.
The written portions of graduate school applications differ from job letters in ways that are subtle and important. Students who are interested in exploring options for graduate school or who have questions about the process should consult with Scott Burkhardt, 3211A Mosse Humanities Building.
What can I do with a degree in History?
Anything you want!
There is no single post-graduation path for our majors. Indeed, our more than 17,000 alumni have been successful in areas both expected, such as academia and law, and those less expected, such as sports management, chocolate-making, and screenwriting. We have graduated U.S. Senators, museum curators, engineers, and even a veterinary pathologist. The Director of Player Engagement for the Chicago Bears, a Chief Business Officer of Conde Nast, and the founder and executive director of a non-profit that supports women’s higher education in Southeast Asia were all History majors at UW-Madison.
Any career that values critical thinking, the ability to balance a broad perspective with an understanding of nuance, and good storytelling will be open to History majors. You are limited only by your creativity, flexibility, and willingness to continue learning!
What makes the History major so valuable?
In recent years, employers have shown interest in hiring History majors and other students with degrees in the humanities precisely because they excel in areas like communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicate that the very skills that define humanities majors are in high demand across all sectors, and popular media in business news often emphasize the importance of “soft skills” in workplace success as well. Even employers in STEM fields – that’s science, technology, engineering, and medicine – see these skills as critical, and an education in the humanities can be beneficial.
History majors are well positioned to take advantage of employers’ interest. Consider a few skills that are perennially highly ranked:
- Communication. History majors are storytellers. We examine a time, place, or experience that is not our own, then write and talk about it in a way that engages and enlightens others. Many individual courses nurture students’ storytelling abilities – some through novel routes such as digital history projects or using family ancestry to understand immigration patterns. We know that communication skills flourish when used often, so our major is constructed to give students repeated practice and focused, constructive criticism.
- Critical and analytical thinking. Studying history teaches us to examine and explain past events in all their contexts and complexities. Searching for patterns to help understand the past can help us see patterns in our present; historians specialize in viewing and explaining change over time, and learning to see themes and patterns in historical contexts enhances our ability to see them in current events as well. Everything we do is shaped by our past, and understanding political, cultural, and social change can help us improve our present and shape our future.In addition, history majors work with a wide range of sources – everything from 19th-century census data to samurai codes of ethics are fair game for historical interpretation. Our students learn to evaluate sources as a product of a particular time and place, and to synthesize multiple (often conflicting!) arguments. These skills help us make sense of a world in which we are constantly bombarded with information and competing perspectives.
- Problem-solving. History students excel at asking difficult questions and then pursuing their answers. We don’t only seek to know “who” and “when” – history is also about understanding “how” and “why,” and those questions take flexibility, creativity, and persistence to answer. Anyone who has written a research paper will know well the experience of revising a question mid-project, identifying alternate sources, and making sense of unexpected forms of information; often historical questions do not have conclusive answers. History teaches us to be comfortable with the imprecision and nuances that flavor our daily lives even as we work towards our best possible understanding of the world around us.
These are just a few of the areas in which our majors excel. But don’t just take it from us – check out what our alumni say about how their History skills have translated to the workforce!
Ready to get started? Contact Christina Matta, the History Department Career Advisor, or see our basic tips for preparing cover letters and resumes!