Earning a Master's in History Online

FIND PROGRAMS
Sponsored Schools

Graduate students in history study the past through primary source documents, material artifacts, and secondary sources. They build strong research, writing, and analytical skills while completing their master's degrees. These skills help graduates pursue careers in education, museums, and government. Many of these fields report growing demand. Archivists and museum curators, for example, are projected to see 13% growth by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). An online history master's degree offers a flexible and accessible route to a graduate degree. This article explains how to earn a master's in history, including the application process, career paths, and funding opportunities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in History?

Online master's programs in history appeal to professionals seeking to advance their careers as historians, museum curators, archivists, and social scientists. Additionally, educators qualify for college-level teaching positions or pay raises by completing a master's degree. Prospective students can apply directly after their bachelor's program or earn a history master's degree as part of a career change.

Why Get a Master's Degree in History?

Pursuing Specialization

During a master's in history program, students specialize in a history subfield, such as 20th-century U.S. history, public history, Tudor England, or pre-modern military history. Students conduct research, read historical monographs, and use primary sources to expand their knowledge. This training helps graduates pursue jobs as teachers, museum curators, or archivists.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning a graduate degree in history provides intensive training in research, analysis, and writing. These skills help graduates advance their careers, taking on higher-level positions with more responsibility. In many fields, a graduate degree helps professionals earn higher salaries as well. Educators, for instance, often receive a raise once they complete a master's degree. The degree also allows graduates to pursue specialized career paths, such as community college teacher.

Online Learning Technology

Online programs rely on the latest communication technology to deliver coursework, interact with students, and provide training. This technology helps professionals in many fields after they earn their degree. For example, graduate students considering teaching online courses benefit from using online learning technologies during their graduate education. Using digital sources can also prepare students for careers in archival or museum work.

Prerequisites for Online History Programs

Students considering a master's degree in history online must meet the program's prerequisites to gain admission. Below are common prerequisites found in these programs, but prospective students should carefully review the prerequisites at each school because they vary by program.

    • Work Experience: History master's programs typically do not require prospective students to hold work experience, but experience may improve a student's chances of admission. Most programs require a bachelor's degree in history or a related field.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Most master's programs in history require GRE scores. Many programs set a minimum score, though some provisionally admit students who do not meet the minimum score. GRE scores remain valid for five years. Some programs no longer require GRE scores.
    • Coursework: History programs often set a minimum number of undergraduate history credits for admission. Most programs do not set specific prerequisite courses. However, many programs set a minimum undergraduate GPA or a minimum GPA in history credits. Students who do not meet the minimum GPA can receive provisional admission at some schools.
    • Recommendations: Applicants typically submit 1-3 letters of recommendation. These letters should speak to the applicant's academic abilities, background, and likelihood to succeed in a graduate program. Applicants should give writers at least three weeks' notice to complete the letters.
    • Essays: Many history programs require an essay, personal statement, or writing sample. In a personal statement, applicants typically explain their career goals and showcase their readiness for graduate study. Applicants may also need to submit a writing sample to demonstrate their research and writing skills.
    • Interviews: Some programs conduct interviews as part of the application process. During an interview, prospective students describe their career goals and preparation for a graduate degree. Online programs use interviews to determine an applicant's fit with the program and the student's likelihood to succeed in an online format.
    • International Students International students typically need to provide additional materials during the application process. For example, most programs require proof of English language proficiency, which applicants demonstrate with TOEFL scores and writing samples. International students may also need to submit translations of foreign language transcripts.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in History?

Professionals with a master's degree in history pursue a variety of career paths. Some go into education, working as high school teachers or college professors. Others work as archivists, curators, and museum workers, preserving important artifacts. Many of these fields draw on the research, writing, and communication skills honed during a history graduate degree. The BLS reports that the top 10% of historians make more than $107,000 a year, on average, while the bottom 10% make $28,540 a year.

Traditional Careers for Master's in History Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Historians

Median Salary: $59,120

Job Growth: 6%

Historians conduct research on the past using historical documents and other sources. They analyze and interpret historical material and write reports, articles, or books based on their findings. Historians work for governments, businesses, nonprofits, historical societies, and other organizations. Most positions require a master's degree in history.

High School Teacher

Median Salary: $59,170

Job Growth: 8%

High school teachers instruct students in various subjects. They create lesson plans, assess student learning, and supervise students. History graduates can teach social studies, U.S. history, world history, or a related course. High school teachers typically need a teaching license to work in a public school; a master's in history may meet the qualifications for licensure.

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

Median Salary: $47,360

Job Growth: 13%

Archivists process, catalog, and preserve records and documents with historical value. Curators manage collections of artworks and artifacts and design exhibitions. Museum workers preserve items in a collection and educate visitors about artifacts. A background in public history may help archivists, curators, and museum workers excel in their careers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for History Graduates

A master's degree in history prepares graduates for multiple career paths, including many that rely on research, writing, and analytical skills. Historians thrive in many social science and writing occupations. Professionals with a master's degree also qualify for some college-level teaching positions.
Career Stats Description

Geographers

Median Salary: $61,820

Job Growth: 8%

Geographers study political and cultural structures on Earth. They also study physical and human geography using field observations, maps, censuses, and other data. Geographers conduct research, analyze the geographic distribution of cultural characteristics, and present findings based on their research. While a bachelor's degree qualifies geographers for entry-level positions, advanced roles may require a master's degree.

Skills Overlapped: Analytical and critical-thinking skills, research abilities.

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Salary: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers, also known as professors, teach classes in various subjects. They design syllabi, create course material, and evaluate student learning. Some professors also conduct research and publish their work in scholarly journals. Postsecondary teachers work at community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.

Skills Overlapped: Research, communication, and critical-thinking skills.

Sociologists

Median Salary: $79,650

Job Growth: 1%

Sociologists study social behavior. They examine groups, cultures, and social institutions to understand society. They also design research projects, collect and analyze data, and create reports or publications based on their findings. Sociologists may also work with policymakers or nonprofit organizations to conduct research. Most sociologists need a master's degree.

Skills Overlapped: Research, analytical, and critical-thinking skills.

Writers and Authors

Median Salary: $61,820

Job Growth: 8%

Writers and authors create content for books, magazines, advertisements, movies, and online platforms. They specialize in areas such as technical writing, copywriting, content writing, and journalism. Authors may write fiction or nonfiction in any genre. Writers and authors often work with an editor to improve their writing.

Skills Overlapped: Research and writing skills

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for an Online Master's in History

Students pursuing an online history master's degree qualify for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal aid includes loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Students may also qualify for funding support through their university. Several scholarship opportunities fund graduate students in history.

Scholarships for Online History Master's Students

Students pursuing an online history master's degree qualify for numerous scholarships and fellowships. Many opportunities depend on the student's research area, such as U.S. history, or ask students to write an essay as part of their application. Students can research more funding opportunities through their university.

What to Expect from a Master's-Level Online History Program

During an online master's degree in history, graduate students complete coursework, conduct research under the direction of a faculty adviser, and complete a master's thesis or pass a master's examination. Students choose a focus area and research topic for their graduate study and build strong research, writing, and analytical skills. Most programs require two years of full-time study, while part-time students take longer to earn the degree.

Major Milestones

  1. Orientation

    Many programs begin with an orientation, including online programs. During the orientation, students may choose a faculty adviser, meet other graduate students, and learn about the program's policies.

  2. Coursework

    History programs often require 27-33 credits of coursework, which can include a methodology course, survey courses, and specialized classes in the student's research area.

  3. Independent Research

    Most graduate programs include 3-6 credits of independent research under the direction of a faculty adviser. Students conduct research for their thesis or master's exam.

  4. Master's Exam

    Students who choose the master's exam option complete the exam during their final semester. The exam may involve written essay responses to questions, an oral defense, or both, depending on the program.

  5. Thesis Defense

    Students who choose the thesis option typically defend their finished thesis during their final semester. After successfully defending the thesis before a faculty committee, the student can file to graduate.

  6. Graduation

    Students may need to file an intent to graduate with signatures from their faculty adviser, department chair, and other committee members. Online students can typically participate in on-campus graduation activities.

Coursework

Students earning an online history master's degree take specialized classes depending on their focus area. The following list covers common classes in a graduate history program.

Methodology

Most graduate programs in history incorporate a methodology course where graduate students learn about changing approaches to history. The course may focus on a specific field, such as American history, or cover a particular methodology in depth.

Twentieth Century U.S. History

Classes on 20th-century U.S. history cover major social, cultural, military, and diplomatic events of American history. Students specializing in modern U.S. history may start with a survey course on this topic.

Military History

Graduate students may take classes on military history, including pre-modern warfare, modern warfare, military technology, and military tactics. Courses often cover specific conflicts, like World War II, or broadly address military history.

Historiography

In historiography classes, master's students study scholarship in one field, such as medieval European history, gender studies, or environmental history. Students often conduct research and write an essay at the end of the course.

Masters Thesis

History graduate students often take a course under the direction of a faculty supervisor to conduct research and write an original paper on a historical topic. Many programs include 3-6 credits of thesis work.

Degree Timelines

Earning a master's degree in history online typically requires completing 30-36 credits of graduate-level coursework. Graduate programs offer different timelines for students to earn those credits.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description

Part-Time

3-5 years

Students earning a history master's degree on a part-time track often take one or two classes per semester. On this schedule, students complete their degree in 3-5 years. Working students may benefit from a part-time option.

Full-Time

2 years

Most full-time history programs require two years of study to complete a master's degree. During that time, students complete coursework and write a master's thesis or pass a master's exam. Online programs offer the flexibility for professionals to enroll full time while continuing to work.

Accelerated

12-18 months

In an accelerated history graduate program, students typically take multiple courses each term. Programs that offer shorter terms may require two classes per term, while those on a semester schedule might suggest four classes per term to finish on an accelerated path. This option does not typically appeal to students working while earning their degree.

Licenses and Certifications

Most career paths for graduates with an online history master's degree do not require licenses and certifications. However, certain fields may require or prefer candidates with credentials. For example, history students who want to teach at the K-12 level often need a teaching license. A master's degree in history meets the requirements for licensure in many states. Certifications can also help historians stand out in the job market.

    • Teaching License: History graduate students pursuing careers in education can pursue a teaching license. In some states, candidates may need educator preparation training in addition to their degree. Because requirements vary, prospective teachers should research the licensure process in their state.
    • Certified Archivist: Offered by the Academy of Certified Archivists, graduate students interested in historic preservation and archival work can pursue this credential. Candidates qualify with a master's degree and archival work experience, and must pass a 100-question examination to earn the credential.
    • Certified Genealogist: Historians interested in genealogical research can pursue this credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Candidates submit a portfolio highlighting their genealogical research experience, which qualified genealogists then evaluate.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations help graduate students conduct research and plan their careers after graduation. Organizations like the American Historical Association offer career guidance and job boards. Organizations may also host annual conferences, publish research, and provide professional development resources. Students considering careers in public history, museum studies, or education can use professional organizations to connect with job opportunities and meet professionals in their field.

  • American Historical Association: The country's largest professional organization for historians, the AHA provides career resources, publishes scholarly works, and holds an annual conference. The AHA also runs a career center for historians seeking academic and nonacademic jobs.
  • Organization of American Historians: Historians specializing in U.S. history join the OAH for its publications, internship opportunities, and teaching resources for high school and college history teachers. The OAH also posts job openings and offers career coaching.
  • National Council on Public History: NCPH represents public historians and other professionals who work in historical fields, like museum curators. The council offers professional development resources and job listings in historical societies, museums, government agencies, and archives.
  • American Alliance of Museums: Members gain access to AAM conferences and events, job boards, and research. The organization also provides salary information for different career paths.
  • American Association of State and Local History: AASLH helps history professionals find job openings for state and local historians. The association also offers resume reviews, professional resources, and information for genealogists and educators.
  • H-Net: H-Net offers online resources for historians and students. The site hosts networks on dozens of history topics and offers a career center that posts academic job openings and fellowships.
  • Resources for Grad Students: The AHA provides resources, guides, and data for graduate students on its specialized page. These resources include job market research for professionals with a master's degree in history.
  • Teaching Resources for Historians: Master's students planning careers in education benefit from this AHA resource, which includes advice on teaching history at different levels and curated classroom materials.
  • Teaching History: Students planning careers in K-12 teaching rely on this site for historical primary sources, lesson plans, and other resources for teachers.
  • Library of Congress: History students conducting research use the Library of Congress for its historical newspaper database, online sources, and library of images.