As we made our way to the first stop, I couldn’t help myself and told this random teenage boy how cool I thought it was that he was considering history. We humanities geeks have to stick together. He responded with enthusiasm, telling me how he’d gotten really into it over the last two years, and how excited he was for the vast array of history classes he’d be able to take in college. And then he said the same thing people always say about humanities degrees: “I don’t know what I’m going to do with that though.” To which I replied, “Anything you want!”
Yes, that is a bit of an exaggeration. You’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of rocket scientists or CPAs that have history degrees. But it would not be shocking to find a brain surgeon who majored in history, let alone the scores of writers, lawyers, politicians, and teachers who hold history degrees. See the CVs of comedian Larry David, writer Salman Rushdie, and business mogul Martha Stewart, not to mention three pretty diverse US presidents (FDR, Nixon, and Bush the younger).
So it’s clear that you can do practically anything with a degree in history. But what makes it challenging is that, aside from teaching, there’s no obvious thing you should do with a degree in history. STEM degrees tend to have pretty straight paths from major to career, giving these students a clarity and confidence that humanities majors might envy. But if your field shifts significantly, or heaven forbid - your career interests, the linearity of a STEM degree can leave you with fewer ways to pivot if you need to make a change.
Anyone who tells you that a humanities degree is impractical is wrong. That is a hill I will die on. But the ambiguous nature of building a career from a degree in history or English or classics is not for everyone. Like anything, it’s a choice, between the clarity of knowing exactly what you’re going to do next, and the flexibility of getting to take great opportunities as they come along. So if you’re a budding engineer, great! Your job prospects and earning potential are better than ever. But if you’re considering a degree in something that makes people furrow their brows in confusion, don’t be discouraged. You can pretty much do whatever you want – you just have to figure out what that is.