An historical artifact and the human mind pictured beside each other.

When a history and psychology double major makes sense

History and psychology both get made fun of for being purely academic majors, but there is actually quite a lot of opportunity for people who can make use of both disciplines in the working world.

That’s why it’s not a bad idea to graduate with a history and psychology double major if you’ve taken an interest in both fields. You just need to understand how to leverage the strengths of each one.

 

What can I expect from a history and psychology double major?

History is widely considered part of the humanities and psychology is a social science. One is literary and the other is rooted in statistical probability. Learning both side by side will be more difficult than just one, but it will be a powerful combination later in life.

 

ALSO READ: Should I major in history?

 

Being able to understand or manipulate data and communicate it is an effective base skill set—particularly among the many generalists these disciplines tend to produce. Like most other liberal arts and humanities grads, however, there’s a good chance you’ll graduate without the “job-ready” hard skills that give you a foot in the door.

The good news is that those hard skills can be acquired with practice, and what you learn from these two majors will provide an excellent foundation to start learning.

Here’s why:

  1. History will give you skills in writing, argumentation, qualitative research and information literacy (rapid learning and information synthesis).
  2. Psychology provides a background in quantitative research, statistical analysis, and understanding the human mind.

Your communication and interpersonal skills will work at a high level. There are obvious places for those skills in sales, marketing, HR, and leadership positions. You’ll probably gain subtle advantages while networking and interviewing, too. Most people struggle with those.

Psychology and history are among the more popular programs within the humanities and social sciences, but even those are eclipsed by more popular fields like business and health. This means your skills will set you apart from the many business majors, health majors, and one-major graduates on the job market.

 

Bar graph showing the number of bachelor degrees conferred in 2019 for 11 disciplines. Source: National Center for Education Statistics.

 

Should I do grad school after my bachelor’s degree?

Grad school is a fairly big commitment, so no one can answer that for you. However, you should know some key things before you make a decision.

You’ll see diminishing returns

Graduate degrees are more likely to help your career if they’re actually geared toward a professional field—but academic grad programs don’t do much for your resume, considering how much time, money and effort you need to put into them. Having a master’s degree in history or psychology won’t provide a substantial advantage in most job hunts.

Take it from someone who actually did a master’s degree.

 

ALSO READ: The scope of an MA in history

 

Grad school probably won’t provide direction

A lot of people pursue a master’s degree because they simply don’t know what to do after earning a bachelor’s degree. That’s not a great reason to spend 1-2 years of your life doing something.

An academic master’s program only exposes you to more of the same ideas, too—you won’t find a new path treading the same ground as your undergrad program. Finding your next step means stepping out of your academic comfort zone and trying new things.

 

 

Landing a job in academia is highly unlikely

This is the best-kept secret in grad school. Academia doesn’t need more historians or more psychologists. There simply isn’t room for any more people.

It is (generously) estimated that less than half of successful PhDs ever get a tenure-track role, never mind earning tenure itself.

That’s why people spend years—sometimes decades—chasing tenure and scraping by with low-paid fellowships and postdoc positions. They fight tooth and nail for these positions even though their level of commitment, tenacity, and hard work would take them so much further outside of academia.

 

Choose a professional program

If you think you still want to enter graduate school, then choose a professional program instead of an academic one in history or psychology. Academic programs aren’t likely to lead to a tenured job, and they almost certainly won’t lead you to employment in the real world.

I spent 1.5 years of my life earning a master’s degree in history because I thought it would help me land a PhD, and then eventually a tenured position at some institution.

I was dead wrong.

If I had to make the same decision again I would either dive right into the job market to earn experience, or choose a professional program like journalism.

 

What are my career prospects with a history and psychology double major?

Just because history and psychology don’t lead directly to specific career paths doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. They are. You’re going to need to acquire hard skills to get your foot in the door with an entry-level job, though.

Pro tip: Build up your portfolio without waiting for an opportunity. There are so many fresh graduates with bachelor’s degrees these days that employers get away with asking for several years of experience for entry-level roles.

 

ALSO READ: Entry-level jobs for history majors

 

Marketing

Marketing is all about communication and human tendencies, so if you’re interested in working in either of those areas then you can stop wondering if you should do a history and psychology double major—it’s a great match.

This background is ideal in marketing because the skills translate so well:

  • You’ll learn how to do qualitative persona research with a history background.
  • You’ll be comfortable with marketing analytics after a psychology degree.
  • Persuasive writing will come naturally after a history degree.
  • Familiarity with statistics from psychology will make A/B testing easy to pick up.
  • Combining skills from these degrees could make for killer market research (which is really important).

 

Average salaries of content writers, content managers, digital strategists, and account managers.

 

With these two degrees in hand you’d be particularly well positioned for advertising, conversion rate optimization, and marketing analytics. Take it from a digital marketer!

 

User Experience (UX)

UX (short for user experience) is a new field that has grown quickly in the tech sector. A textbook example of an interdisciplinary or cross-functional role, the UX professional touches on product design and marketing materials to make them as effective—and as cohesive—as possible.

Why would history and psychology work well here? Empathy. Being able to simplify and streamline how customers interact with a product (or the marketing funnels built to sell those products) is a big part of what makes them effective.

Tech companies pay good money for UX, too.

 

Bar graph showing the average salaries of five jobs in the User Experience (UX) field: UX Designer, UX Researcher, Senior UX Designer, UX Manager, UX Director.

 

Why does this matter? Software from the 1990s and 2000s was pretty awful compared to what we have today. It overwhelmed users with cluttered interfaces and hid away important settings in complicated sub-menus with nonsensically named options.

That causes people to stop buying products pretty quickly.

UX is what makes today’s technology easier to use. It’s the reason why Netflix and Spotify are so easy to navigate, regardless of device. It’s about people putting themselves into the customer’s shoes and pushing the rest of the company to design their products and marketing around what people need, not what’s easiest for the company.

Doing that requires two skills in particular:

  • Understanding human tendencies at an intuitive level, which you get from psychology.
  • Excellent communication skills to convey your ideas through the product and to other employees, which you get from history.

 

ALSO READ: Internships for history majors

 

Social work

Like UX, empathy exists at the heart of social work. Unlike UX, it’s about helping people thrive in the face of challenges that most of society never needs to face.

Having a background in psychology would give you the professional framework to understand human tendencies and behaviours in a way that most people never could. You can also come into the field with an intuitive sense of mindsets and misconceptions of people from different walks of life.

 

Bar graph showing the average salaries of four jobs in the social work industry, including: social worker, clinical social worker, clinical supervisor, and social services director.

 

You’ll also have an excellent understanding of internal and external factors contributing to your cases.

Just be warned that social work doesn’t pay too well, on average.

Accompanying that is your background in history, which lets you understand the larger forces at work that define socioeconomic classes. Combined with your psychology degree, you’ll be able to develop clear sight lines on the relationships between factors in your cases. This could make you highly effective at coaching people to make positive life decisions.

And with a history program under your belt you’ll be able to organize that information into a structured argument to convince others of your ideas—whether patients or supervisors.

 

Human resources and recruiting

There’s always work for human resources. That’s because hiring is a necessary skill set for growing and maintaining companies (obviously).

There are two main ways to work in this field:

  1. Agency recruiting
  2. Corporate HR

 

Bar graph showing the average salaries of seven jobs in the human resources industry, including: HR coordinator, HR Specialist, Office Manager, Recruiter, HR Generalist, HR Manager, and HR Business Partner.

 

A background in psychology will help you sift through the all-too common biases of most hiring managers. You’ll know better than to judge candidates by their resume styles or performative interview skills, and you won’t be fooled by things like overconfidence, charm, or extraversion.

The research skills from history will help you find candidates and understand the patterns in their career trajectories. You’ll be able to convey to employers or clients why certain candidates work better than the rest, or why a certain HR policy needs to change.

Building professional teams and creating a psychologically safe environment is a fantastic mission for someone with a history and psychology double major.

 

ALSO READ: Can you get an MBA with a history degree?

 

Trends analyst

Many industries make decisions based on the  research and analysis of current and developing trends. Outside of data science, what background is better suited to capitalize on that a history and psychology double major?

A history degree gives you a sense of long-term trends as well as the training to find and identify similar case studies from the past. It also gives you a much-needed eye for pattern recognition.

 

Blue bar graph showing the weighted average salary of trends analysts in the United States. The average is $64,318.

 

Your psychology background can be layered on top of that for insights into how—and why—people support certain trends but not others.

Not bad for an average of $64,000 USD per year.

You’d be able to do a wide range of work, including:

  • Understanding the nuances of focus group feedback
  • Translate academic findings from data studies
  • Synthesize data with qualitative research
  • Communicate findings in succinct writing for executive and client review


Your history background will give you the writing skills needed to put all of that into coherent, well-structured reports.

 

Therapist or counselor

The obvious choice is to work directly in the field of psychology. It’s common for therapists to have a PhD. in psychology or a Psy D. (based on more practical work than a dissertation), but some counselling roles require just a master’s degree.

This is one of those career paths where graduate school is either required for licensing purposes or a necessary competitive advantage. However, instead of committing years of your life to a doctoral program, consider a shorter master’s program first—and then work in that role for a while to make sure it’s actually what you want to do.

 

Bar graph showing the average salaries for six jobs in the psychology field: addiction counselor, substance abuse counselor, case manager, mental health counselor, licensed counselor, and school counselor.

 

The American Board of Professional Psychology can bestow certification for 15 different areas of specialization, so you’ll have plenty of options.

This line of work is much more geared toward the psychology major for obvious reasons, but don’t discount what the history degree brings to the table here, too.

  • Pattern recognition will help spot behavioral and environmental trends contributing to patients’ personal challenges.
  • Strong writing skills will let you communicate your professional recommendations more effectively in reports.
  • Argumentation skills will enable you to help patients examine their own decisions, behaviors, and lives more effectively.

 

Graduating with a history and psychology double major actually gives you a pretty wide range of interesting career options. You may need to build up hard skills to get your foot in the door, but don’t let that stop you from landing the job you want.

Happy hunting out there!

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb

Andrew Webb is on a mission to show humanities graduates how to land jobs and build careers. He turned a 9-month stretch of unemployment with a history degree into a fulfilling career in digital marketing and technology—and he founded the Employed Historian blog to show you how to do it for yourself, too.

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