History Professor: Career Info & Requirements

Sep 18, 2019

History professor positions require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and degree requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

History professors must earn a graduate degree, generally requiring significant research and writing in an area of specialization. They communicate findings with a variety of audiences and through a number of mediums. Job growth is good for professors as a whole.

Essential Information

History professors instruct college history students in broad and specialized topics. They typically hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, though a master's degree may qualify them for work at some junior colleges. Some doctoral programs require work as a teaching assistant and foreign language exams.

Required Education Master's for some 2-year colleges, Doctorate for universities and 4-year colleges
Other Requirements Teaching assistant experience and foreign language exams may be required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% for history teachers, postsecondary
Median Salary (2018)* $74,590 annually for history teachers, postsecondary

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

History Professor Career Information

History professors typically work in history departments of colleges and universities, although employment may be available with museums or historical societies. They can specialize in the history of an area or time period. History professors aren't just knowledgeable about the causes and effects of historic events; they know how to communicate the concepts to large groups. They divide their time between instructing history courses and writing for academic publications.

History professors are skilled investigators who must be able to work independently. Because their jobs require delivering lectures and publishing papers, they need strong communication and writing abilities. History professors often lend their expertise at speaking engagements and mentor graduate students who are pursuing their doctorates.

Requirements for Becoming a History Professor

While a master's degree can qualify an individual for employment at a junior college, most jobs for history professors at the university-level will require a doctorate (Ph.D.). To earn a Ph.D., students must complete a bachelor's program and extensive graduate study that includes publishing original research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average Ph.D. program takes six years of full-time study beyond a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov).

Undergraduate Study

Prospective history professors must complete a bachelor's degree program in history or a related field. These programs include coursework in different geographical areas and time periods. Many history programs allow students to select one or two concentration areas and several lower division requirements from outside their concentration areas. The concentration areas require a greater number of credit hours than the lower divisions.

Graduate Study

Students have the option of pursuing master's degrees or proceeding directly into Ph.D. programs after completing undergraduate studies. Since Ph.D. programs require applicants to have completed significant research, many students complete a master's degree before applying. Students in a master's program may use their thesis to focus on their concentration area and expand upon it during Ph.D. studies. Some programs only admit students with master's degrees but allow the credits earned to count towards the Ph.D. requirements.

Ph.D. candidates must meet foreign language and exam requirements. Some concentration areas may require students to pass multiple foreign language exams. Examinations are based on a student's concentration, but programs that require students to pass more than one exam include an outside area. The capstone requirement of a Ph.D. program is the doctoral dissertation and subsequent defense to an individual's graduate committee.

While working toward Ph.D.s, students may work as teaching assistants (TAs) to undergraduate students or as research assistants to professors in exchange for stipends and fellowships. Besides the financial incentives, these positions provide work experience. Some programs may require students to work as TAs for a semester or more.

Professional Advancement

The BLS states that many Ph.D.s begin their careers as instructors and move through the ranks that include assistant professor, associate professor and professor. New instructors are given a period to teach and conduct research before being reviewed. Those who earn favorable reviews are often given tenure, which makes firing them difficult. Many schools offer more non-tenure track positions, such as part-time and adjunct faculty, that typically do not pay as well.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, career opportunities for postsecondary history teachers are expected to increase by 6% from 2018 to 2028, which is slightly higher than the average for all careers in the nation. In May of 2018, the BLS also reported that postsecondary history professors earned a median salary of $74,590 per year.

Aspiring history professors can expect to earn a Ph.D., find some degree of specialization and work through a number of teaching ranks to earn professorship. The professor career is experiencing strong job growth, and history professors had a median salary of nearly $75,000 in 2018.

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