History Professor Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A history professor's median salary is around $67,000, but is it worth the lengthy education requirement? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a History Professor

History professors are generally responsible for teaching several courses each academic semester or quarter. They may teach courses in specific facets of history, such as American or European history. Check out the pros and cons below to see if this career is a good fit for you.

PROS of a Career as a History Professor
Flexible schedule*
Stimulating environment*
Summers off*
Faster than average job growth (14% from 2012-2022)*

CONS of a Career as a History Professor
Pressure to publish*
Competition for tenure track positions*
Lengthy education requirements (10+ years)*
Low pay and benefits for adjunct professors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Teaching involves preparing lectures, devising and grading assignments, advising students, performing research and overseeing graduate student-teaching assistants. Professors must remain up-to-date with developments in the field, which requires significant time and research, and they need to be able to organize this information and communicate it effectively to their students. Professors often set their own schedules, aside from assigned class hours, and they typically do not work during summer.

Academic research and publication are required for full-time professors by most universities in addition to teaching duties. Balancing the requirements of research and teaching is frequently noted as a source of stress for newer instructors. Professors also work with colleagues to provide continuity within degree programs, and they may also serve on academic boards and administrative committees within their college. Those who serve as heads of academic boards tend to have a heavier administrative load and may have less time for teaching.

Some professors also work at 2-year colleges, where there is generally more direct student contact and less time spent on research. Courses are often offered during evening or weekend hours, which might give you less control over your schedule. Teaching online courses, which may provide great scheduling flexibility, is an increasingly available option through online and community colleges as well as some universities.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professors earned a median salary of $67,000 as of 2014 (www.bls.gov). Postsecondary teachers in all subjects were projected to see employment growth of 19% from 2012 to 2022. This growth projection is an effect of an increase in student enrollment in colleges, which is expected to continue; however, decreases in state and federal funding for colleges may limit some job availability. Jobs in for-profit colleges, in particular, will grow at an excellent rate.

Colleges and universities are beginning to move away from tenured positions, which protect a professor from being fired without due process. Limited-term contracts that need to be re-negotiated at the end of the contract term are becoming more common. Additionally, many teachers work as adjunct, or part-time, faculty. Adjunct faculty members often do not receive benefits and earn lower salaries, and many work at more than one college or at another job.

Requirements

Education and Experience

History professors who work at 4-year colleges or universities typically hold doctoral degrees in history or a specialization of the subject. These programs often take six years to complete with four years spent on coursework and another two devoted to researching and writing your dissertation. Between undergraduate and graduate instruction, you can expect to spend about 10 years in school.

Community colleges frequently hire professors with master's degrees, but many prefer that you have a doctoral degree. Master's degrees in social sciences, such as history, generally take two years to finish. Either of these options requires a significant commitment in terms of time and tuition.

Top Skills for History Professors

Professors need to have excellent communication skills in order to efficiently teach about and discuss historical topics. You must be organized in order to develop curricula and balance instruction and research duties. Self-motivation is also important, since you'll often work on your own schedule.

What Are Employers Seeking?

Recent job postings for history professors sought candidates who would share department assignments, work with diverse student populations and add to the positive reputation of the institution. Colleges often looked for professors with specific interests or expertise in particular aspects of history. Here is a sampling of positions that were open in March 2012 and posted on job boards:

  • A university in Pennsylvania sought a candidate for a tenure-track position in the history of technology with an interest in 20th century technology as it intersected with areas such as environmental and scientific history.
  • A New York City university sought an assistant professor with a specialization in Islamic history. A Ph.D. and chapter-length writing sample were required.
  • A 2-year college in Minneapolis advertised for a history faculty member to teach courses in American, European and World history. A master's degree with at least 16 graduate semester hours in history as well as experience teaching in a 2-year college was required.
  • A South Carolina university requested applications for a full professor specializing in American/U.S. history from 1607 to 1865. The ideal candidate would help bolster the department's strength in the subject.

How Can I Stand Out?

Attending a school that is known for research in a specific field and having a dissertation that is well received is important in making a name for yourself in this profession. You will also need to produce scholarly references when applying for positions, so developing relationships with teachers or mentors who are known scholars in the field can strengthen your application.

Specialize

Schools tend to look for professors who will help fulfill or strengthen their course offerings. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the most commonly taken history course by undergraduates is U.S. history, which is required by many colleges for graduation. As such, this might be a good area to focus on, though you might want to couple it with a less typical sub-specialty in order to stand out in the field.

Get Teaching Experience

Most colleges request teaching experience along with academic credentials, and this can be gained by working as a teaching assistant while you are earning your degree. Stipends are often available for teaching assistants, since universities rely upon them to teach portions of the classes they offer.

Additionally, working as a graduate teaching assistant may not be limited to the university you are attending. The Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools have a program called Preparing Future Faculty, which offer opportunities to work at a variety of institutions and to work with mentors who will help you learn to teach.

Alternate Career Paths

High School History Teacher

If the education requirements aren't workable for you at this point, teaching history at the high school level may be a good option. You'll generally need a bachelor's degree in history and a teaching certificate. You would gain teaching experience and could continue your education while working. According to the BLS, high school teachers in general earned a median salary of about $54,000 as of 2011, and job growth in the field was expected to grow by seven percent from 2010-2020.

Writer

The research skills that are inherent to studying and analyzing history are also applicable to writing. Writing travel articles about the history of popular tourist spots, writing history books or checking the factual content of pieces written about history are a few possible options. The BLS reported a median salary of $56,000 for writers as of 2011 and projected a 6% growth rate in the field from 2010-2020, which is slower than average.

Historian

If you'd prefer to work in a museum or historical center, you might look at becoming an historian. This field has similar education requirements, however, you'd likely work for a government agency, non-profit or historical institution and perform analysis and interpretation of the past based on research. The field has a projected 18% growth rate from 2010-2020 and a median wage of about $52,000, according to the BLS.

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Kaplan University

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The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning

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Grand Canyon University

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  • M.S. in Sociology with an Emphasis in Education
  • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education

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American InterContinental University

  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

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Colorado Technical University

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Colorado Christian University

  • Elementary Education, B.A. without Licensure
  • Early Childhood Education, B.A. without Licensure

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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