Compare & Contrast: English Major vs. History Major

Language arts and history are two of the oldest academic disciplines. Well before they studied cyber security or bioengineering, students focused on the development and use of language and the lessons of those who came before them.

An English major edits an essay.

Though modern-day colleges and universities offer a vast array of concentrations, English and history remain popular. Those who earn bachelor’s degrees in English and history receive a well-rounded liberal arts education, which they can use to step into a job right after graduation or build upon through master’s or PhD level studies. Each degree can offer rewarding learning experiences that open new doors. Many students interested in human stories find themselves weighing an English major vs. a history major, trying to decide which to pursue.

Here, you can explore some of the important distinctions and commonalities between these two classic liberal arts degrees.

English Major Overview

Studying English as an undergraduate involves multifaceted coursework about the English language, literature, and theory. Most degree programs, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in English, include a comprehensive study of how the English language has evolved through literature, music, mythology, and rhetoric.

Coursework may include topics such as English literature, world literature, classic works like Shakespeare, and women’s literature. These courses illustrate how the English language has changed over time, reflects cultural value systems, and even serves as a catalyst for historical events. All the while, students learn how to master the use of language in their own writing.

What Do English Degree Graduates Do?

Any career that relies heavily on communication can be a good fit for English graduates. They can earn entry-level positions in marketing, public relations, journalism, or editing. With an English degree, graduates can also extend their academic careers by going to graduate school, either to specialize in a field related to English (for example, a master’s in journalism or a law degree) or to teach the craft as a teacher or professor. Even outside of work, lovers of writing find their education and talents are well used in writing articles, poetry, or maybe even the next great American novel.

Types of careers:

  • Journalist
  • Author
  • Copywriter
  • Technical writer
  • Editor

History Major Overview

At its core, the study of history is about developing an understanding of past events and then evaluating and sharing those lessons, especially in the context of current events.

Undergraduate history programs, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in History, focus on giving students the skills to research, interpret, and offer analysis on history to the public. The degree program includes courses designed to help students embrace their curiosity about the past. This happens through courses in world and American history as well as in research methods. Increasingly, curricula also include courses on recent history and foreign policy and its effects.

What Do History Degree Graduates Do?

With a degree in history, it’s possible to work in a career directly related to one’s course of study. That can include a job in a museum or gallery or as a researcher for a federal or nonprofit institution. Job duties can include conducting historical research in the field, archiving important historical documents, or sharing stories with the public. History majors may also become teachers or lawyers, though they usually need additional certification or education.

History graduates can also choose to continue their education, earning a master’s or PhD. With an advanced degree, graduates can become college professors or lead a research study in their area of expertise.

Types of careers:

  • Historian
  • Researcher
  • Curator
  • Educator

Similarities Between English and History Majors

Bachelor’s degree programs in English and history do have some commonalities in their core curricula. And as liberal arts degrees, both involve writing-intensive courses, so students should prepare to author essays, conduct research, and spend many hours reading. While some English and history degree programs prioritize the American experience, most students in these disciplines find they get a well-rounded worldview.

Differences Between English and History Majors

Though their courses both fall on the liberal arts side of academia, English and history majors differ in areas such as their core focuses, key skill set requirements, curriculums, and potential job paths.

Area of Study

English majors are sure to take some history courses, and history majors likewise must put strong English skills to use when writing research papers. Both subjects inform one another, but coursework and objectives tend to differ.

English majors focus on language and literature, while history majors are more interested in political and cultural events. History majors focus on theory and connecting the dots across historical periods. Students who pursue an English degree, on the other hand, focus on the themes and structure of literature and its effects on culture. Through English study, students gain a nuanced understanding of words and their interplay and how to effectively communicate complex ideas in a variety of formats.

Job Differentiation

A key difference between English and history majors is the divergent paths graduates can take after earning a degree. While some crossover exists — for example, both paths can lead to careers in teaching — the different degrees also lead to different opportunities.

English majors may pursue careers in journalism or marketing, where they can leverage their communication skills. Their in-depth understanding of how to convey ideas serves English graduates well in positions such as grant writing, public relations, and advertising. Many industries value effective communication. As such, an English degree is quite versatile, offering job opportunities in technical fields, nonprofits, business, and media.

History majors, on the other hand, may lean on their ability to interpret and convey the importance of past events. This can lead to work in government offices, history museums, or for nonprofit organizations that require an understanding of historical context.

Skills and Knowledge

History goes far deeper than remembering dates and names. It relies on an understanding of events and their cultural, political, and social significance. The ability to analyze the past and draw conclusions helps us understand where we are today. This, in turn, allows us to make better decisions moving forward.

English majors focus on developing strong communication skills. This includes the technical aspects, such as grammar and usage, as well as creative expression, such as styles of writing. Literature and language are foundational to how we express ourselves, and English majors can break complex topics down to their simplest forms. From verbal expression to crafting concise and compelling messages in written form, English can powerfully influence how we understand each other and gather information.

English vs. History Majors: Which Is Right for You?

If you’re passionate about writing or studying the past, then a liberal arts degree in English or history could be right for you. Explore how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in English or online Bachelor of Arts in History can help you turn your passion into a career, developing the skills you need to enter the workforce in a way that is fulfilling and profitable.

American Historical Association, “What Can You Do with That History Degree?”

Business Insider, “You Actually Learn Some Valuable Skills as an English Major”

CBS News, “History Majors, Rejoice: Employers Want You More Than Business Majors”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor of Arts in English

Maryville University, Online Bachelor of Arts in History

Perspectives on History, “How a Major in History Gives You the Intangible Edge”

U.S. News & World Report, “Great Jobs for English Majors”

U.S. News & World Report, “What Can You Do with a History Degree?”

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