Is a History Degree Worth It?Answered
Hi, I was wondering if it is worth it to become a history major? I know salary shouldn't matter, and I will most likely choose a different major if I discover something better, but viewing all these salaries (even in the top schools) it's quite depressing. I like history and would probably become a Curator, but I also want to think realistically for my future. I'm a junior in highschool.
One thing that's important to remember when you look at average salaries is that they're exactly that: averages. People can end up making a lot more (or less) than them depending on the career path they choose out of that major. When I was in college I knew multiple history major pre-meds, as well as people who went into consulting from a history major (which pays super well). In contrast, a lot of history majors go into teaching, which doesn't traditionally pay super well. A lot of them also go to graduate school, where their salaries won't show up in the statistics you're looking up because they're still in school. A lot of them work for nonprofits, which don't pay super well. So the average is going to be lower than something like a hard science or engineering, where most people immediately go into high-paying jobs. Most majors, but especially ones in the humanities, open people up for a multitude of possible career paths (in other words, the popular perception that liberal arts majors are unemployable is really the opposite of reality), and it's up to them to decide what's the right path for them. A lot of people who study those subjects really want to go into things like teaching, nonprofits, etc., which don't pay very highly, so that brings the average down.
What you should look at instead is the salary for the actual CAREER you want to go into—like if you do want to become a curator, that job seems to have a pretty big range based on experience, wherever you end up living, and which museums you end up working for. You'd probably start fairly low, but could end up making six figures eventually. In any case, the base pay for it on sites like Glassdoor looks to be squarely above the median income for US individuals, which means you're still making well more than 50% of people in the country even at the start (for reference, the median income in the US is about $30,000/year).
So, when you say you want to think realistically, what is it you want from your future? A curator job would give you the kind of salary where you'd have stability and a decent level of comfort, but you wouldn't be able to own a million dollar house or drive an expensive car everywhere or go on vacations every three months or buy every new gadget that comes out. If having a lot of money is really important to you, it might not be the best idea. But if you just want to make sure you can live a comfortable life, doing a history major wouldn't make that impossible for you.
And if that weren't enough, you could always change your mind and try to go into consulting, marketing, communications, media, or another field that really doesn't care about your undergraduate major as much as the skills you developed during it. Majors really aren't this thing that locks you into a specific life path, salary future, and career from the start—they're just something you can use to show employers that you committed to something for a substantial period of time, put a lot of work into it, and ultimately succeeded in your studies.
Hope that helps!
To be honest with you, I personally think that this shift towards judging certain degrees as "worthwhile investments" because of how socially acceptable they are or the salaries they are associated with is pretty ridiculous. However, I do think it is fair to kind of judge what majors you are interested in based on how 'practical' they are and how passionate you are about them. It's always best to kind of shoot for a balance of both. If you have a strong interest in history, and it is evident through your classes or extracurricular activities, I would say that your early dedication indicates that you strongly want to pursue history as your major and you should go for it. If you are simply someone who is quite interested in history but could picture yourself in a different career, consider maybe minoring in history or having a double major with history as one of them. The worth of a degree is mostly up to the beholder, and if you can see yourself as someone that is very happy with their choice, interested in their field of work while employed, and can come to terms with the salary or any financial setbacks, then I think a history degree would be worthwhile. I know one individual that got a degree in history and went to the service industry from employment after graduating. While they studied something they were interested in, they didn't pursue it. I think it is important to then consider if your studies and academic passions directly correlate with your career choices or aspirations. You can always consider teaching history as well! I know that my AP World History teacher would have been a Museum Curator if she wasn't teaching, and you could see her passion for history every day when she taught. Ultimately, it is up to you to kind of figure out if it is worth it based on your mindset and preferences, and if you research a bit more on careers or ask for input from a lot of individuals you'll be able to decide. And as you said in your question, you can always consider changing majors during college! You don't have to put too much pressure on yourself to decide for the future, and you'll be able to make the best decisions while you're in college itself. (I apologize for writing such a dense back-and-forth answer, but it's a complex topic haha) My answer would be: Go for it! If it makes you happy, do it.