From 2009 to 2011, I went to graduate school to study American history. My plan at the time was to learn as much as I could about museums so that one day I could be a curator or a historian who helped people learn more about their past.

What Can You Do With a History Degree? My Lifelong Lessons | Catherine Alford with six of her fellow park rangers working at a museum in Richmond, Virginia.
Catherine Alford with fellow park rangers working at a museum in Richmond, Virginia.

While in graduate school, I took countless courses on gender studies, public history, the Civil War, material culture, the history of medicine, and more. I spent hours doing internships at museums, and I eventually landed a coveted job as a historian and interpreter for the National Park Service.

Of course, as you might have noticed, these days I make a living as a financial writer. My entire career path has shifted, and I spend every day thinking about budgets, bookkeeping, clients, and running a successful business. Because of this, I haven’t thought about the Civil War in a long time, despite my years of training — both in undergraduate and graduate school — to do just that.

The Skills I Learned From My History Degree

Do I regret going to graduate school and racking up $39,000 of student debt in the process? Truthfully, I don’t, though it’s been a process to get to this point. It’s taught me a lot that I can still use in my current career.

1. Reading and Writing Experience

If there’s one thing that a liberal arts program prepares you to do, it’s to write. While in graduate school, I wrote thousands upon thousands of words each week. It was also typical to read a book each week, digesting difficult articles on historical theory.

My time in grad school trained me well to be the type of writer that I am today.

The deadlines for school papers prepared me well to meet deadlines for clients. Plus, the fact that I had to constantly push through the night to finish papers on a multitude of topics helped me learn how to balance demands from different clients.

2. Research Experience

There is a huge problem with online content in that people often just copy and paste whatever they feel like without properly referencing sources. This leads to a ton of misinformation that is made worse by social media.

My history background has allowed me to avoid writing posts that aren’t up to par with journalistic standards. I learned how to research properly, how to delve into studies to find the correct stats and information, and how to present it in such a way as to convey accurate information to my readers.

3. Curiosity About the World

This is perhaps the biggest and most important take away from my studies. The word “history” comes from the Greek word historia, which means “finding out.”

Historians, by nature, question everything. We can’t help but delve deeper into even the most banal things.

Sometimes the historian in me takes over when I’m writing personal finance posts. I might write about how to use credit cards, only to wonder when the first credit card was issued.

What Can You Do With a History Degree? The Bottom Line

In short, I don’t regret getting that degree — expensive as it was — because I believe it makes me better at my job today.

Studying business or finance might have helped me to understand the more difficult topics that I sometimes have to write about, but my history background gives me the ability to find the answers and write about them in a way that somebody else will actually understand and want to read.

Although I’m still paying back my student loans, it’s easier to do now that I make four times as much money as I did when I worked at the Park Service. Sometimes I miss studying and learning about history, but in many ways, I know it never really left me.