I was wondering how the skills from a history major could be applied to other careers. Based on my experience with history classes, I think history develops critical reading/analyzing, critical thinking, and writing. I’ve heard these skills help especially in law, but I’m also wondering how they could be applied in business (especially management). At the moment, I’m trying to decide between majoring in history or business, and I would appreciate any advice y’all have. Thanks! John C., Junior, Business/History
Stephen L. (BA Political Philosophy), Chief Executive Officer at Dominus Commercial, Inc.
1st, UD teaches people to think regardless of your major. That is one of the most important lessons from UD in business. I was political philosophy and I own a commercial real estate brokerage company. My ability to think through complex transactions, relationships and business concerns is my strongest business quality. I would suspect the same would be true in history. My second thought would be don’t get to tied up in what direction the major will push you in. Go with what you love and are passionate about – that ultimately will put you in a business or position where you find purpose and that is the ultimate goal is finding your purpose.
John P. (BA Politics, 1987), Senior Analyst at Legislative Budget Board, State of Texas
I would major in history if I were you, just because it’s probably more interesting and fun! You are correct that majoring in history will help you develop critical thinking analytical and writing skills, and these things are in short supply. My manager has a history degree and our task is to analyze criminal justice data for the legislative budget board. So she has an undergraduate degree in history and basically run statistics for living, and she manages the team that analyzes data. If you have a graduate degree in a relevant field, your undergraduate degree in liberal arts will not hurt you in the least bit. Take the time as an undergraduate to study what is the most interesting and fun to you. In the working world you will miss those days immensely, and as I said as long as you have a relevant graduate degree it’s OK. I have an undergraduate degree in political philosophy from UD as well as a masters degree in political philosophy from UD. Eventually I got a masters degree of public affairs from UT Austin. I have been analyzing criminal justice data since 1994. The degrees in political philosophy help me learn how to write and think and analyze, and they were just incredibly interesting to me. The graduate degree got me the job. Studying political philosophy was much more interesting to me and it certainly didn’t prevent me from getting where I am now. Please contact me if you need more information.
Victoria S. (BA Psychology, 2013), Scrum Master at Southwest Airlines
Hi John, You’re absolutely correct, a history major (or any liberal arts major) will develop those critical thinking and writing skills. If you go this route, however, I would strongly recommend you have solid internships under your belt. If you know you want to go into business, consider taking business classes or getting a business minor. Work experience will be especially important when you’re looking for entry-level positions. Some employers, unfortunately, do have a bias towards certain majors (like business). However, if you have excellent work experience/internships, it really makes you stand out.
Joseph H. (BA English, 2000), Leadership Program Officer at Southern Methodist University
So, my general advice for anyone considering a major is to zero on two things: 1. Do you think the work will be worthwhile? 2. Do you feel you will be supported in doing that work? You definitely want to pick the major that will give you motivation that will work for you and that will give you the strongest individual support, particularly for life crises and for transitioning to post-graduation life. History majors do make good law students, but I know history majors in many walks of life and I don’t know of any kind of medium scale organization or larger that doesn’t need both formal historians and people who can do historical work. That cuts both ways, though, in that some of the best historians I know are people with training in business. Apart from looking at what is going to motivate you individually as a student I would add two pieces of advice: 1. Look at what potential for cross-over study either major may offer. Will history give you the space to take a business concentration? Will your business major let you take lots of courses focusing on case studies and other historically modes of understanding business and management? 2. What secondary skills and experiences will either program support you in pursuing? I was able to pick up some training in oral history work through one of my programs and every job I have ever had was interested in my experience with that sort of work. Similarly, many successful history programs across the nation have been lauded for training people in skills such as coding, for the digital humanities, or even accounting, which can be very useful for a lot of archival work as well as business. Business majors are often more explicit about what sub-skills they can help you develop, but that’s often because a generic business degree can be something of a trap. When my sister was at UD she faced a similar choice (between history and economics) and she chose economics because the advisor in history seemed to imply that she was only willing to support teachers who were going to be teachers or lawyers where the economics faculty seemed to be willing to support her in pursuing a variety of internships or even graduate options. That ties back to my first point about support, but if it’s still true at UD I would at least make certain that you have a strong advisor for a business concentration to go along with History so that you don’t feel trapped in either option.
Robert Z. (BA History, 1994), Associate Professor of History at Le Moyne College
Dear John, I graduated from UD with a BA in history, went on for a PhD, and now teach history at a Catholic liberal arts college. My own students and advisees ask me this question all the time. The skills you learn as a history major that you mentioned in your question (critical reading/analyzing, critical thinking, and writing), in addition to research and good oral skills, are all applicable in any field you would choose to pursue. Having spoken with many people in the business world, these are the skills they seek in their employees (unless you are looking to go into a technical field like accounting). They constantly repeat that they can and will teach their employees about the business, but they cannot teach them how to read, analyze data, write, and communicate effectively. I may be a bit biased, but a history degree paired with good foreign language skills and a few business classes (if I remember correctly, the UD history major allows for some free electives) would make you a superb candidate for a career in business. I would also strongly encourage you to seek out an internship or two. My history students here in NY who have gone onto successful business careers all benefitted from internship experiences. Good luck!
Todd S. (MBA Organizational Development 2012), Self-employed Talent Development Consultant
Hi John, My first suggestion is to follow your passion. You will do best with your classes and grades if you study something you really care about. Good grades will help you as you look for a job and talk with recruiters. Don’t limit yourself by listing your major area of study, but include your extracurricular activities, hobbies, volunteerism, etc. If you really want to get into business/management, look for internships, find a mentor that has a job you admire in a company or industry you are interested in. Also, join any professional organizations that align with what you are looking to do. Have a positive attitude and network! Have a positive online presence (LinkedIn, Facebook, Degreed, etc) and connect with your parents’ friends, professors, etc. Good luck and happy holidays! Todd
Bethany L. (BA Sculpture, 2003), Self-employed visual artist
John, I was a sculpture major and am currently a studio artist, so my advice may mean very little given your particular situation. My advice to you would be to try to get a clearer understanding of what it is specifically that you would like to do. “Business management” covers a lot of territory. There are lots and lots of different kinds of business managers, and they need lots of different kinds of skills. There may or may not be any overlap. For instance, for myself, it took a long time for me to get from “I want to make things.” to “I want to run my own fine and decorative art stone carving studio.” I did a lot of running around doing random stuff while I was in the “I want to make stuff” phase. Now, I have a pretty clear idea of what skills I need to acquire. All the best, Bethany
Killian B. (BA History, 2015), Independent Consultant
John, As a history alumnus of UD, here is my recommendation: Major in History, but make sure to take the basic 101 marketing, management, and sales classes the Business department offers. As a junior, you may have already taken these classes…great! Additionally, use much of your spring semester to find a worthwhile and impressive summer internship in an area of business that intrigues you…maybe even something in Dallas that you could continue doing Senior year. If you need help finding one, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or connect at linkedin.com/in/killianbeeler. Sabre, Fidelity, and Southwest Airlines are all local DFW companies that will often invest in UDers. Lastly, if you’ve already begun taking business classes, also consider combining your undergrad history degree with UD’s MBA or MS (Business Analytics, Cyber security, etc.) through the 4+1 program (https://udallas.edu/constantin/4_plus_1/index.php). Here’s my rationale: The undergrad business degree from UD is just fine, but doesn’t particularly stand out among the thousands of undergrad business programs across the nation. The history degree from UD however is truly special and unique and shouldn’t be discarded in favor of a generic business degree that you could get for free or nearly free online through youtube, Khan academy, and Udemy.com. Additionally, having a History degree with solid business internship experience (while possibly pursuing a business masters) will make your resume stand out against the thousands of recent business graduates. By just taking the basic the mgmt, marketing, and sales classes, you’ll have the lingo and concepts to hold your own in your first job. The History degree will give you the critical thinking skills, imagination, and emotional intelligence to stand out and thrive far into the future. Finally, I think the most important skill the History major gives you is through the thesis project process. That process will indirectly give you great intuitive project management and qualitative/quantitative data analysis skills. If you want to further harness those skills, consider taking self-paced Project Management Institute (PMI) Best Practices or Business/Data Analytics classes on udemy for $10 each. Best of luck. Killian Beeler, MBA Class of 2015
Justin L. (BA History, 2006), Chief Dispatcher at Southwest Airlines
Hi John, A history degree can be a fantastic baseline for a career in business, especially if you want to progress into leadership. I was a history major in the Class of 2006, and now I’m a Chief Dispatcher at Southwest Airlines. My advice: pick the major you enjoy the most, unless you need a degree in a certain business field to “check the box” for a specific job or career field you want to break into. In general the further you are in your career, the less a hiring manager looks at your degree. Instead of just generalities, here’s how my career has unfolded so far in light of your questions. Please holler back if you have any questions. There’s a general rule of thumb that applies across all career fields. Whether your first job is an internship or full-time job, you have to build career capital: the experience and know-how that goes on your resume and adds to your skill set. Your degree can open the door, but it’s not career capital until you start doing things that people will pay you to do. Your internships or college jobs may have a bigger impact than your degree. I was an RA for two years, managed the campus pool, and worked in Student Life. That meant I handled staffing, budgets, bids, and contracts, among other things. Working my way through college also meant I picked an “easier” major. At your first job you’ll learn the basics of the industry and the particulars of that company or industry niche. What software do we use? How many people does it take to accomplish this task? Learn what to do and why it’s done. I started a management trainee program with a trucking company the week after graduation. That taught me payroll, profit and loss, operations, customer service, operational communication, safety, and a few other general business skills within the first four weeks. I picked it up because I had to read so much as a history major; it was just easy. I managed a fleet of trucks, drivers, and trailers, and acquired scheduling and logistics skills at that first job. If you’re curious and ask questions like a history major, you’ll be able to pick up a significant amount of business education through on the job training. There was plenty of reading, critical thinking, and discussion with colleagues. After that, I used those newly acquired skills–my career capital–to land a job scheduling pilots at Southwest. Some jobs might require a specific degree, so if you want to go into something more technical you might need specialized coursework or degrees (like a CPA, for example). After a few years I added a professional certification: FAA Aircraft Dispatcher. Plenty of people add licenses or certifications a few years out of school. That moved me into our dispatch office, where we plan each flight’s route, required fuel, cargo, and passenger weight. The job is like being a real-time lawyer for the airline and flight crews. There are volumes of manuals, FAA regulations, and directions from air traffic control that we have to sort through, analyze, and communicate to flight crews to legally operate a flight. A history major can analyze and communicate this stuff very well. Eventually I took a position in dispatch management, and I help oversee the safe and efficient completion of our daily flight schedule. We have a few hundred people in our department and a very large annual budget. It’s large enough that managers need general business skills but not a degree, because there’s a dedicated payroll team, a dedicated financial staff, and a dedicated team of business consultants. A colleague who shares my position has an MBA. When we talk about his business background he shrugs and calls it something that’s nice to have but not required. The critical thinking and analysis that you practice in history class helps managers stay ahead of problems. We’re constantly faced with new puzzles to solve that rarely have clearly defined boundaries: read something, determine the impact, and communicate that to other groups. Our group has to be proficient on jet operations, stay up-to-date with employment regulations, work with our legal team on a host of issues, give tours to high ranking government officials, and provide written communication that can be seen by thousands of people. That’s a very wide range of skills; it sounds like a night of studying as a history major. They analyze, point out conflict, communicate, self-educate, and tell a story about the business. Hopefully that helps a little bit, John. If you have more questions or you ever want to meet up for lunch or coffee, it’s on me. My number is (contact OPCD) and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org . Best of luck to you! Justin
Mathew C. (BA English, 1992), Structures Technician at SpaceX
Military intelligence or intelligence analysis are very viable career options. In fact, it’s the career path I followed as an English major. As long as there is government, there is a need for people with critical thinking and data analysis skills – as most government officials seem to lack those skills (that’s why they have personal staffs and think tanks in their employ). If you want to learn business, start a business. If you want to understand history, make history.