Learning about our past brings us closer to understanding our present. It may sound cliche, but it’s a widely accepted truism that motivates people to pursue a Master’s Degree in History.
A Master’s Degree in History is an opportunity to become a trained historian and specialize in a particular area. Graduate students in history go on to be teachers, museum curators, and workers in educational and non-profit organizations. Many of them go on to pursue a doctorate in history so they can become a professor at the college level.
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What Is a Master’s in History?
A Master’s Degree in History is typically a Master of Arts in History that can be followed up with a PhD. In the social sciences, graduate schools typically offer master’s degrees and PhD degrees separately, though sometimes PhD students decide to discontinue their studies after completing the equivalent of a master’s degree.
History master’s degree programs require two years of full-time study. Students should expect to embark on intensive historical research in their coursework. Programs typically have a thesis option or even a thesis requirement, meaning students take on an in-depth research project as part of their studies.
Students should expect to take survey courses and then specialize in a particular area, whether it’s choosing a time period, geographical location, or a certain historical perspective.
Master’s Degree in History Explained
Prospective history students should start their research by finding the right program. Programs vary and may have different expectations from applicants, like GPA requirements from a bachelor’s degree and/or foreign language requirements.
It’s also important to know what area of history you are interested in exploring. For example, if you are interested in early American history from the revolutionary war period, consider looking at programs located in historically significant locations like Boston or Philadelphia. Or, if you want to focus on post-World War II European history, you might search for a program with a professor who focuses on this very particular European period.
Master’s in History Curriculum
A foundational history curriculum will look similar in most master’s degree programs. That said, curricula will vary based on whether or not the program has a particular specialization, concentration options, and thesis requirements.
Below are some of the core courses you can expect in a master’s degree history program:
- Historical Methods: This is a foundational course for students to examine the study of history itself. As a historical methods student, you will examine the methods that historians use to study the past.
- Introduction to Historiography: Historiography examines the study and the writing of history. Historiography students question the way history has been studied in the past and trace how that study has changed over time. You should expect to read philosophical writings about how the study of history has changed and where the study of history is going.
- Seminar in American History: Most history programs include at least one American history course. This course may be a lecture course but may also be a seminar, in which the class size and format provide for more class discussion and a closer reading of assigned texts. This seminar format gives students important foundational skills for how to read and write history at the graduate level.
- Seminar in History (non-Western geographical area): Most master’s degree programs in history require an upper-level history seminar in a non-western area, i.e. Latin America, Asia, or Africa. Many universities started adding these requirements to make sure their graduates were well-rounded and had gone beyond the familiar areas of North America and Europe.
- Foreign Language: Some graduate programs in history require a foreign language. Usually, students can apply foreign language credits from undergraduate degree programs. However, students who did not take any foreign language courses as an undergraduate and cannot prove proficiency in a foreign language may have to take on foreign language classes at the graduate level.
Master’s in History Thesis Options
Many master’s degree programs in history have a thesis built-in. Others offer a thesis option but do not require all graduates to complete a thesis.
A thesis is an original piece of writing based on academic research that makes an argument or adds to the body of knowledge on a particular subject. For a field like history, completing a thesis can add depth to a student’s overall graduate school experience. It is a capstone project that gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their scholarly abilities while becoming experts on a niche historical subject.
For students who intend to pursue a PhD program in the field, a master’s program with a thesis is highly recommended. The master’s thesis will show potential doctoral programs that you have what it takes to complete rigorous academic research.
How Much Does a Master’s in History Cost?
The cost of a Master’s Degree in History will vary by program and by university. Some online programs may be less expensive than traditional classroom programs, though that’s not necessarily the case for every department.
According to US News, the cost of an online Master’s Degree in History per credit hour ranges from $250 to $715. If a program is 45 to 60-credits in length, online programs can cost $28,000 or more.
Financing your education is one of the most important things you should be thinking about as you research grad school. Understanding costs is the first step. Then, you should look at what financial aid you are eligible for with each program.
In addition to federal aid, which you can apply to separately, you may also be eligible for school-specific or program-specific scholarships. Do your research and make sure you are doing what you can to responsibly finance your degree.
Master’s in History Admission Requirements
So, what do you need to be admitted into a history master’s degree program? The main and most basic prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Though most students pursuing a Master’s Degree in History will have majored in history or a related field for their undergrad, others did not and this is usually fine as long as the applicant has a bachelor’s degree and can demonstrate a solid interest in history as an academic field.
In addition to the institutional application, most master’s degree programs in humanities and social sciences require GRE test results. Many online history programs do not have this requirement, making master’s degree programs more accessible. Always look into each program’s individual requirements to make sure you have all of the materials you need to apply.
History Master’s Programs Accreditation
Accreditation is one of the most important factors you should consider when thinking about any form of higher education. Without accreditation, your program does not have a widely-acknowledged stamp of approval so you may have a harder time getting a job, not to mention that the quality of the program may be below average.
Master’s Degree in History programs will be housed in a college or university’s history department and school of arts and sciences. You will want to make sure that the college or university itself is fully accredited.
Best Master’s Degree in History Programs
There are many excellent program options out there for a Master of Arts in History. Before just looking at the top-ranked programs, consider which factors are most important to you.
Are you interested in a traditional classroom program, an online program, or a hybrid? Though online students have more overall flexibility, in-person students may have more opportunities to use university resources like libraries and archives.
Check out our list of the top Master’s Degree in History programs below.
Harvard Extension School
Harvard University’s branch of continuing education, Harvard Extension School, offers a Master of Liberal Arts in History. The program focuses primarily on American history, enabling prospective students to pull from their surroundings in historic Cambridge, MA. Though the program is not entirely in-person, as it is a hybrid program, it does require students to take at least three of their 12 courses on Harvard’s Massachusetts campus.
Arizona State University
Arizona State, or ASU, is one of the top providers of remote learning in the country. Their fully online accelerated program gives students added flexibility, efficiency, and value. Because of their intensive 7.5-week courses, students can complete their program in as little as one year. It’s important to note that ASU offers two different tracks for its Master of Arts in History: thesis and non-thesis.
Florida International University
Florida’s state university in Miami has robust in-person graduate program offerings in its history department. Students can choose from three different Master of Arts in History degree options: report, thesis, and public history.
The report option is similar to the thesis option in that it still requires a two-semester research project. However, the approval and revision process is less intensive than in the thesis option, which requires a thesis committee of at least three faculty members. Finally, the public history track is intended for students interested in pursuing a career in museum curation and education. In addition to a two-semester research project, it requires an internship at a historical institution and courses in Public History, Museum Studies, and Art History.
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What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in History?
A Master’s Degree in History isn’t a professional graduate degree, nor is it straightforward. You can pursue a few different careers with this master’s degree. It all depends on your interests and on what you want to do long-term.
Career Prospects with a Master’s Degree in History
Here are just a few of the careers you will be qualified to pursue after obtaining your Master’s Degree in History.
Many states require teachers to get a master’s degree in their area of specialization. With a Master’s Degree in History, you can be a specialized history teacher at any level from K-12.
Curator or Guide at Museum or Historical Site
Think about your favorite historical sites: the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln Memorial, the Museum of African American History. All of these places have a team of curators and workers. As a Master’s Degree in History graduate, you could work at a site or a museum relevant to your studies.
Historian and History Professor (after completing your doctoral degree)
With a Master’s Degree in History, you can go on to pursue your PhD in History. With a PhD in History, you will be eligible to pursue a career in academia as a historian. Most working historians are also university professors and split their time between research and teaching.
Should You Get Your Master’s Degree in History?
Do you get excited when you learn something new about the past? Do you appreciate identifying change over time? If the answer to these questions is yes, you might just be a natural historian.
Getting your Master’s Degree in History will help you deepen your history practice and will open up professional opportunities in teaching and museum curatorship.
Job Outlook and Salaries for History Graduates
There is no shortage of teaching opportunities for history graduates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising student enrollment is motivating a rise in the demand for high school teachers. The mean annual salary for a high school teacher, nationally, is just over $61,000.
Meanwhile, the BLS states that Archivists, Curators, and Museum workers have even better job prospects, with opportunities expected to grow by 11 percent through 2029. The annual mean salary for these job titles is $49,850.
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