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Jobs and Careers:
Graduate School

Graduate school is meant to prepare you to think, write, and read like a professional historian. Your analysis skills in particular will be sharpened. To get into a good graduate school, you will need excellent grades in your history courses, high GRE scores, and evidence of your ability to write historical scholarship. There are two main kinds of post-baccalaureate degrees in history: an MA (Master of Arts) and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy).

An M.A. program involves one or two years of coursework. Graduate history courses are typically research seminars lead by a professor on a specific focused subject: “Medieval Religious Women,” for example, or “The Politics of the Progressive Era.” Many M.A. programs also require students to complete a thesis in addition to coursework. An M.A. thesis is usually 50-100 pages long and involves original research on a subject of interest to the student. People pursue M.A. degrees in history for a variety of reasons, such as improving their credentials as high school teachers or preparing for a career in museums, libraries or archives (see also the History Department’s pages for Public History and Library Science). An M.A. in history may also prepare you to teach at the community college level.

A Ph.D. program is designed to guide you through the transition from student to professional historian, and those who want to teach at the four-year college or university level must have a Ph.D. in history. A Ph.D. program differs from the undergraduate experience in key ways, most specifically in that it is a much more focused education. PhD programs usually take five to eight years and involve in-depth coursework and the development of expertise in a specialized historical eras and regions (such as 19th Century American environmental history). Different graduate programs are strong in different areas; you will choose the schools to which you apply based on their strength in the area of your interest. Your graduate school applications, unlike your undergraduate college applications, need to provide a clear sense of what kind of history you want to study and why (see: Writing Personal Statements). Most programs require students to demonstrate reading competency in at least one foreign language; if you focus on an area outside the United States, you will generally need to have mastery of two or more languages. PhD students also have to complete a dissertation, an original, book-length research and writing project on a specific historical subject. While you will work with many professors at your graduate institution, your key relationship will be with an advisor, who has experience in your area of interest and will guide you through the dissertation process. Thus, when you apply to graduate schools, you will need to research the scholars in their history departments and make sure there are ones there who do research in your areas of interest.

The best way to prepare for graduate school as an undergraduate is to take several upper-level history classes, particularly ones where you do extensive reading of primary and secondary sources and write long research papers. By early in your Senior year, you will want to have a ten- to twenty-page paper which you can refine for a writing sample for your graduate application. You should also consider taking three or more years of a foreign language. If you want to study ancient history, knowledge of Latin, and possibly Greek, will be very important. If you want to focus on an area in which Hope does not offer an extensive language programs (such as China or the Middle East), explore summer intensive language programs.

The following websites offer insight into Graduate Programs in history:

This is the website of the American Historical Association, and offers excellent advice about the process of applying to graduate schools. It includes information about different programs across the country, including the specialties they offer. It also explains what to look for in a graduate program in order to best serve your needs and interests.

H-Net is a website created by and for professional historians. I t provides good insights into how historians think about history, their research and their jobs. This website also has a jobs page, and you can look at it to see the kinds of jobs advertised to historians.

The Princeton Review website provides an overview of the major graduate programs, and you can specifically search for programs in history.



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