American Studies Degree Program Summaries by Level

Oct 14, 2019

Essential Information

American studies students develop analytical and critical thinking skills that can apply to a variety of careers in academic and professional fields. Bachelor's programs introduce students to different American cultures and lay the groundwork for advanced study.

Master's programs, on the other hand, allow students more freedom to customize their programs according to their career aspirations, and include more emphasis on research components. A bachelor's degree is generally required as a prerequisite. These programs take around two years to complete, and require students to write a thesis.

A Ph.D. in American Studies program generally takes around seven years to meet candidacy and dissertation requirements. Bachelor's and master's degrees are required for admission to doctoral programs. Most doctoral students hold degrees in American studies; however, degrees from other disciplines may be acceptable. Some schools require language proficiency and a proposal for research upon application.

Online programs in American studies are rare and available at the bachelor's and master's program levels only.

Bachelor's Degree in American Studies

Bachelor's degree programs in American studies are designed to prepare students for further research study. American studies programs take a broad interdisciplinary approach to American history, combining elements of English, humanities, history and social science. Courses often are reading- and writing-intensive.

Common courses include:

  • American popular culture
  • American cultural identity and perspectives
  • Political science and foreign relations
  • American culture through literature, entertainment and the arts
  • Race and ethnicity in America

Master's Degree in American Studies

Master's degree programs in American studies further examine American societal themes through several contexts. Graduate programs are research-intensive, and the course of study is often individualized based on students' career goals and interests. Students take interdisciplinary courses that critically examine American lifestyle, society and roles in the modern world. Students may have to meet a language requirement for researching non-English primary source texts. Students also conduct independent research for writing publication-quality papers and graduate theses.

Common courses include:

  • American history through film
  • Early American literature
  • Capitalism and social classes
  • American historiography
  • American folklore and humor

Ph.D. in American Studies

Coursework as part of a doctoral program in American studies is determined with help from academic advisers and depends on a student's areas of interest and professional goals. Throughout their studies, students meet with advising boards, whose members evaluate their progress, administer oral and written examinations and accept or deny research proposals.

Common courses include:

  • Cultural, critical and literary theory
  • Research methods in cultural history
  • Foreign language
  • Ethnography
  • Advanced cultural analysis

Popular Career Options

According to the American Studies Association (ASA), a well-rounded education in American studies benefits careers in many fields; however, students are encouraged to take elective courses in specialized or technical skills to focus and shape their career aspirations. American studies majors might find jobs with government agencies and in the public sector, or they might go into fields such as teaching, law, journalism, social work or business. Careers in historic preservation, museum work and research also are common.

The knowledge and high-level research and writing skills acquired in post-baccalaureate study create unique career paths for graduates. Many go into academia, public policy, media and communications. Graduates also might contribute to the expanding field of American studies by publishing research in scholarly journals.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual wage for post-secondary teachers in the American studies-related subject of history was $74,590 as of May 2018. The BLS projected a faster-than-average job growth of 11% for all postsecondary teachers from 2018-2028 (, though many of these job opportunities will be for part-time or temporary positions.

American studies programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are research- and writing-intensive, and prepare individuals for careers requiring these skills.

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