History involves the analysis of significant world events such as revolutions, wars and political shifts, and includes the study of various sources (these could be anything from articles and texts to images and objects), with the idea being to build up a clearer picture of an event, and the mood of society around the time it took place. Historians often apply their findings to the wider history of an area or a group of areas, making links between events and shaping an overall idea of how and why a country, society, or culture has changed over time.
What A-Levels do you need?
The only A-level most universities will ask specifically for is – you guessed it – history. Apart from that, it’s pretty much anything goes (although other humanities subjects might give you a bit of an edge, as they’ll go even further in showing off your no-doubt splendid essay-writing and communication skills). There’s a big range in the exact entry requirements you’ll encounter – from 280 UCAS points and a grade C in History to get into
De Montford University to A*AA if you want to blag a prestigious place at the University of Cambridge.
What are your study options?
Most history courses will offer a wide range of modules, so you will be able to tailor your course to suit your specific area of interest (although you’ll probably find you study a broad range of areas in your first year, in order to give you an overview of the subject).
History courses will usually be the standard three years in length, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take a sandwich year (although there may be the possibility of doing a year abroad, especially if you’re studying history combined with a language). In fact if you’re interested in joint or combined honours courses, it’s worth noting that history overlaps with a number of other subjects, meaning some unis will offer the option of studying it alongside the likes of politics, philosophy or English.
As a subject, history is not only about memorising facts, but also interpreting information to understand its overall impact. As such, as well as attending lectures you will also be required to go along to seminars and tutorials to engage in discussion with staff members and peers. Your analytical skills will then be honed through the submission of written essays and, in your final year, an in-depth dissertation that focuses on one particular area.
Why study History?
Our present attitudes and social structure are defined by past events and beliefs, and having a thorough understanding of these events can give us an insight into things that are taking place in the present (you’ve probably heard that quote about the need to understand history in order to avoid repeating it, right?)
Studying history not only allows you to delve into a variety of different cultures and eras, but it also equips you with a range of handy (and transferable) skills. You’ll learn how to analyse and interpret information, how to formulate a solid argument, and how to communicate your views both verbally and through a well-constructed essay.
All employers value good writing, analytical and communication skills, so studying history should also stand you in good stead when it comes to looking for a graduate job.
After your degree...
So where do the majority of history graduates end up? Well in short, they end up in all sorts of different places. Although the skills you’ll learn on your degree will make you especially well suited to careers in the likes of journalism, marketing, PR, advertising, and publishing, you could also just as easily go into business and finance.
If you’re looking for a job that’s particularly relevant to what you’ve studied, you could also consider finding work in a museum, or even going in to research and academia (you’d need to get your master’s degree and your PhD first, though).
Q & A with a History graduate
Asher Baker studied a History BA at Royal Holloway, University of London...
Why did you choose to study history at university?
I love history; it was my favourite subject at school. I’m a big fan of debating things with people, and challenging the idea of ‘facts’ – arguably, all historical facts are synthetic to some degree; you start to question who wrote that book, who took that photo or drew that map, and the idea of ‘factual evidence’ being completely unquestionable goes out of the window!
Whenever you choose to study a subject at university, you always begin by studying the history of the subject. I thought, why not just go straight to the source? Studying history allows you to get your head around so many different subjects, people and eras – in my second year, I studied fascism and economics in the same year. In my final year, I studied both modern politics and classical antiquity. The possibilities at a university with a good history department are virtually endless!
What was the most enjoyable aspect?
Being able to study subjects in great depth, some of which I’d never even considered before. You soon realise just how deep the rabbit hole goes with otherwise ‘obvious’ subjects like World War II, for example. Doing your own research and coming to your own conclusions, which often contradict famous or established historians, gives you a very accomplished feeling — you learn to become as good as your contemporaries, as well as those teaching you.
What was the least?
The history department at my university was very disorganised, and often favoured students that lived on campus. I couldn’t afford to live on campus, so I was completely discriminated against when it came to second year course selection — as first come, first served meant my two hour commute to uni left me with unpopular course choices. I think that’s quite unusual though.
How do you think a history degree might help graduates seeking employment?
There’s a plethora of transferable skills you can develop through studying history. Gone are the days when all history graduates were expected to become teachers, librarians or politicians! That’s not to say you can’t do that, but there are plenty of other things you could do. For example the research and analysis skills you develop through finding and working with primary and secondary source materials are perfectly transferrable into industries including law, marketing, finance, lobbying and politics, to name a few. There is a very wide scope for research and analytics jobs in the UK alone, and your history degree has set you up perfectly with the skills required.
Your skills of argument, persuasion and essay writing also make history graduates perfect for jobs in politics, journalism, counselling, the police force, talent management and copywriting. If you could talk your peers under the table when it came to debates and seminars at university, you’ll be pleased to know that many employers prefer – or even require – that skill.
A working knowledge of historical events, humanities, ideologies, historical military tactics and current affairs can set you up for thriving careers in the armed forces, politics, the judiciary, international relations and foreign affairs. Knowing where we came from and how we ended up here – particularly with an extensive knowledge of cultural differences – is vital when understanding ordinary people and how mindsets differ between them.
How did the course prepare you for your job?
I went into campaigns and communications once I’d graduated, and essentially became a glorified spin doctor, researcher and head of market research for a company working for the Labour Party, the Unite union, UNISON, the WWF and other charities and political organisations. Research and analysis skills, unsurprisingly, came in handy when looking into specific demographics and how to appeal to majorities; however, it was my writing, argument and reasoning skills that landed me the job in the first place, as I was initially taken on to write scripts for market researchers, press releases for unions and communications emails to third parties.
I found my feet and cut my teeth in digital marketing at a marketing agency called render positive, where my research and analysis skills allow me to manage research as well as search engine optimisation (SEO).
I have also employed these skills when managing musical projects and bands in my spare time. Researching and contacting industry bodies, managers, record producers and live music promoters has taken up the last three years of my life’s extracurricular time, and I actually managed to take a relatively unknown band in a niche genre from general obscurity to main support act for 70s two tone ska legends The Selecter within a year. It’s fun — very, very hard work, but worth it!
What would you like to go on to do in your career in the future?
Ideally, I would love to become a professional musician — one that can support themselves solely through music and revenue streams associated with that (endorsements, royalties, awards and public appearances, etc). The only way to get there is through hard work, and while talent is the main aspect, the ability to research your target market and appeal to them first and foremost is a very close second. You need to be able to create good music, as well as run your musical career like a business, manoeuvring yourself in front of influential people, finding ways to expose your craft to more and more people, and market yourself both extensively and affordably. I play under the stage name Chapter Eleven, I have an album coming soon and will be touring it shortly after release — I’ll let you know how it goes!