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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Value of a Master’s Degree in History?
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
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.
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.”
need to Consider in Choosing a Graduate Program
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
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?
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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