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Graduate Study in History

Graduate Student Profile

Sean Varner, a 2008 graduate of GCC, is attending Missouri State University's graduate program in Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS).  The DSS program is structured to provide students with backgrounds in defense policy, intelligence, and strategic decision-making.  The professors are drawn from a variety of background, both from the government (current and former) and the private sector (defense contractors, think tanks, etc.).  The 36 credit-hour degree concludes with a thesis or non-thesis option (oral/written examination).  Graduates earns a Master's of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies.  Recent graduates are working with defense contractors, military intelligence services, and government positions on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the State Department, among others.

Missouri State University has a variety of connections for internships with various government and defense-related organizations.  Students have interned at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Defense University, Northrop Grumman, the State Department, the Missile Defense Agency, and many other agencies and companies.  Sean has interned at Lockheed Martin, where he has been a research assistant for the Missile Defense and Strategic Systems division of the company's Washington location.  The internship has provided him with an expanded knowledge of defense industry issues, practical experience in writing policy memoranda, and networking opportunities with key members of the arms control and defense community.

So you want to be a professor?

1.  Are you patient? On average it takes seven to eight years beyond the bachelor’s degree to get a PhD in history.

2.  Are you independent?  Most of your work will be done alone.  Collaborative learning gets lip service, but scholarship is an individual rather than team effort.

3.  Are you self-sufficient?  If you require a lot of approval from peers, stay out of academics.  Your harshest and least gracious critics will be your professors in graduate school (if they do their jobs) and colleagues in your particular field once you enter the profession. 

4.  Do you love learning? If you think you know everything now, you are not equipped to be a history professor.  Being a good history professor requires life-long learning

5.  Are you teachable?  Scholarship is dynamic and the shoreline of knowledge expands constantly.  The best teachers know they must keep learning

6.  Are you consumed with what you research?  When you are doing research, you should want to get as much evidence as possible, even if your thesis is challenged by that evidence.

7.  Are you consumed with what you will teach?  Are you always trying to communicate better, to make it more interesting?  Wanting to be good at teaching is not enough.  You have to want to do the things that will make you a better teacher: prepare, organize, innovate 

8.  Are you structured?  In graduate school you will be assigned lots of reading and writing assignments beyond anything you have experienced at the undergraduate level.  Seminars may meet infrequently.  You will often be on your own.  Failure or success will depend on how you structure your work. 

9.  Are you insatiably curious?  Study something in which you have a passionate interest

10.  Are you flexible and open to new areas of interest?  Keep in mind, hundreds of scholars trained in Soviet Studies in the 1960s and 1970s now are writing books on terrorism.  New fields open as social emphasis shifts.  While some scholars thrive in one area, many find it necessary—even useful—to expand into new areas of scholarship.

11.  Are you hopelessly idealistic and impractical?  After seven or eight years of hard work and living in near poverty, you are likely to discover “Harvard isn’t interested.”  Can you find happiness at Southwest Arkansas State University or Calhoun County Community College? 


Considering Graduate School?

 Do I need a Graduate Degree in History?

There are many good reasons to study history.  First, studying the past offers insights for understanding and approaching the future.  Second, the study of history teaches you to think critically about how things happened, to evaluate the sources and documentation that help us determine how events occurred.  You can pursue careers in many areas based on a baccalaureate degree in history.  The study of history is an excellent preparation for law school and seminary.  Many companies, including the media, rather than hiring business or journalism majors, hire recent college graduates for career track positions who are broadly educated.  You will find your bachelor’s degree in history an excellent preparation for careers in military or public service.  The short answer is that not everyone who studies history at the undergraduate level needs to go on to graduate school in history. Many students in graduate school are studying fields different from their undergraduate major.

 What’s the Value of a Master’s Degree in History?

 There are rewarding reasons for “going to the next level.”  Currently, people with a master’s degree have a slightly higher employment rate than those whose academic preparation stopped at the bachelor’s level: 91.1 % compared with 96.7.  Moreover, on average the master’s degree means about $8,000 more in annual income. 

There are fields in which an MA in history is both required and quite sufficient.  An MA in history is good preparation for careers with public and private museums and for government service, especially in the rapidly expanding fields of national security and intelligence.  If a bachelor’s degree in history provides a good preparation for careers in journalism, the MA may prepare you even better.  You may also want to better prepare yourself for law school or seminary by doing additional work in history.

Who Needs a Doctorate?

 The PhD in history is essential if you want to pursue a career in academia.  Certainly, you can do other things with a doctorate in history.  For instance, a surprising number of people in public service and business have advanced degrees in history.  For the most part, the doctorate is an absolutely essential credential for anyone interested in teaching and research at the post-secondary level.

 Selecting a Graduate School

If, as an undergraduate, you think you want to pursue the doctorate, a number of factors must be considered.  Competition to get into the top graduate schools is intense.  Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania are very selective as are the top “public Ivies” which include the universities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Virginia.  There also are excellent and very competitive programs at Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Texas at Austin.  To get into those programs you will need at least a 3.8 GPA and excellent scores on your Graduate Records Exam.  If you think you are qualified, apply but also apply to “second” and even “third” tier programs where your chances for admission are better. 

For most students, those with a 3.0 to 3.5 GPA, we recommend you start with a master’s degree program at a second or third-tier university.  These programs admit larger numbers of students and you can always move up.  How you perform in your MA program will determine where (and if) you can go for the doctorate.  Your professor in a graduate program at most “directional state universities” probably was trained at one of the better graduate programs.  If that professor is impressed with your work, the recommendations provided for that next step may be key. 

At the beginning of your senior year obtain catalogues from ten graduate programs.  In consultation with your advisor or other faculty members, select four or five.  If your grades and GRE scores warrant, apply to a top level program but also apply to a range of second or third tier programs.  If your grades are not at least 3.5, focus on second or third tier programs and go for the MA first.  You can always move up.  Let us know when you are accepted to graduate school.  More importantly, inform us when you are rejected so we can help formulate a “backup plan.”

 Factors you need to Consider in Choosing a Graduate Program


 While programs at top universities are strong in many fields, most are known for strengths in certain areas.  Talk with a member of the department whose field closely approximates your interests.  American history, European, Asian, Russian history, Latin American history, and African are distinct areas.  The period and subfields are also important.  For instance, if you are interested in American social history in the twentieth century you would want to consider the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  If your interest is American political history in the South, Louisiana State University makes good sense.  If your interest is intellectual history, with a specialization in the history of technology, Auburn University is particularly strong in that area.


 Graduate education can easily run more than $25,000 a year for tuition, books and other costs.  Location is also important.  It will cost far more to live in New York City while attending Columbia University than it will for someone attending the University of Arkansas and living in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  Graduate assistantships are available for most students pursuing a doctorate. 

What do you want to do with your degree?

 College and university professors generally need to seek a comfortable accommodation between research and writing for publication and teaching.  Others will focus their careers toward administration.  The doctorate signifies that the student has a general understanding of history, has a higher level of mastery of one or more specific fields, and can produce a scholarly monograph. 

Major universities typically hire professors with doctorates from top tier schools.  Tenure and advancement, in some cases, depends more on publication than teaching.  Other institutions value teaching and service more than publication.  What’s right for you is a matter of your own interests, talents, and career objectives.

If your “first love” is the classroom, rather than research and writing, the graduate program you select will differ from someone whose primary interest focuses on scholarship.  Additionally, if you are seeking a career in a Christian college or university, you may be better off with a doctorate from a second tier program to avoid concern on the part of the search committee that you may view their institution as a “stepping stone” or temporary job.  Keep in mind, search committees in many Christian colleges will be more interested in your religious views than where you obtained your degree.  In short, it may be more to your advantage to have written a dissertation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville  titled, “Blue Laws, Religious Revivals and Populist Politics in Post-depression Era Tennessee” than one at Harvard titled, “Women of Courage: Suffragettes in Rural New England, 1900 to 1919.” 

 Preparing at Grove City College

A high grade point average is important.  Do not, however, sacrifice a solid preparation for a high GPA.  Take two languages.  If your general field of interest is American history, Spanish and French are useful.  If it is European history, German and French will provide the best preparation.  If ancient or medieval history is your area, then make one of your languages Greek and the other French or German.

 Minors in English, philosophy, economics, political science or sociology may also be useful, again depending on your overall interest.  English is especially valuable because writing clearly will be essential to your graduate success.

 Talk to your professors.  The advisor assigned you by the registrar’s office may not be as well acquainted with your areas of interest as another professor.  Ask your advisor for advice and direction and he will gladly direct you to a colleague who is more familiar with your field. 

 Improve upon and keep your best undergraduate research paper.  Seek a detailed critique then revise the paper accordingly to submit as part of your applications package.  If you can publish a paper as an undergraduate, this will be helpful in gaining admittance to a good program. 

Get acquainted with the profession.  Join the history academic honorary, Phi Alpha Theta and attend regional meetings and try to attend at least one national meeting held bi-annually.  If possible, present a paper.  This will acquaint you with the larger profession.  During the summer between your junior and senior year, contact graduate schools in which you have an interest.  Visit one or two.  Meet the professors.  Remember, graduate programs need top quality students and most will welcome serious inquiries.  

GCC graduates are currently earning or have recently earned graduate degrees at:

Grove City College |100 Campus Drive | Grove City, PA 16127

Phone: (724) 458-2000 | Fax: (724) 458-2979 | admissions@gcc.edu

Last Updated: 7/29/2009 | Site Maintained by: Dr. Gary Smith

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