Chair's Message to Parents
“Help! My kid wants to be a History Major!”
I get it. I may be the chair of the Department of History at Loyola University Chicago, but I’m also the parent of college age children. Like me, you love your children. Like me, you work hard all of your adult life, you scrimp, you save, you do everything you can to protect them and coach them and get them to a really good school like Loyola. Now they’re in, and the opportunities before them seem unlimited—but so do the choices and the pitfalls. You can’t rest easy just yet. You want to help them to launch themselves into the world in such a way that they will be happy and safe. But what a world it is. Setting politics, crime and global warming aside, whether you get your economic news from the television, the internet or the newspaper, you know one thing: It’s tough out there. Sure you want your college graduate to find him or herself, to become inspired and knowledgeable and wise. That’s why you sent them to a Jesuit university. But you also want them to find a job—respectable, well paying, secure.
That’s what we want too.
Still, you might prefer that your offspring pick a seemingly more lucrative major that will train them for a specific job, like pre-med, nursing, marketing or accounting. These are fine choices, in all of which Loyola is a recognized leader. But what do you do if your son or daughter shows little interest in those fields; or if, having tried them, his or her grades don’t measure up? What do you do if, one day, your child tells you that he or she wants to be a History major?
This website exists, in part, to tell you that it’s OK. They will do just fine.
First, don’t panic. Each of our parents got the same message, and they all got over it. Your child has chosen to study History with one of the best departments in the country, nationally ranked on several occasions within the last decade (For more on the History Department at Loyola, see http://www.luc.edu/history/welcome.shtml). More importantly, they have chosen a discipline and a department with a proven track record in training our majors for fulfilling and often lucrative employment, as I hope to demonstrate later in this message.
But how can that be? I mean, what can you do with a History major, besides teach History? It’s not like there’s a recognized job category like “historian” in the real world? (Well, actually, there is: nearly every major institution or corporation in our society has at least one and often many historians and/or archivists to record that institution’s past and progress, archive its records, etc, including Congress, all branches of the military, IBM, General Motors, Baxter Labs).
The mass media is doing its part to scare parents with stories like:
- “A Decline That Makes Economic Sense”—but read all the responses
But there are also stories like these:
- “The Humanities in Crisis? Not at Most Schools”
- The Humanities, Declining? Not According to the Numbers.
- “30 People With 'Soft' College Majors Who Became Extremely Successful”
- “11 Reasons To Ignore The Haters And Major In The Humanities”
- “Humanities Degree Provides Excellent Investment Returns”
- “We Need More Humanities Majors”
- "Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities”
- "Study Correlates Liberal Arts Education with Lifelong Success"
In fact, Humanities enrollments, like the job market, go in cycles. Study after study and lots of individual real-world experience (including that of alumni of this university), all tell us that people often land jobs in fields other than the one in which they majored; that even when they do find a job in their major field, they have to re-train and, often, within a few years, find themselves doing something else (see: “Does Your Major Matter”: here). That’s just the way a modern economy works. Often, those who do best and have the most fulfilling lives, are not people who have narrowed in on a particular set of knowledge or skills; but whose range of knowledge and skills is both broad and fundamental: that is, people who know how to think (critically and creatively), people who know how to speak, how to write, how to debate, how to do research and how to make decisions on the basis of a dispassionate evaluation of the facts before them. Thus, according to the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Illinois,
“Recently, 113 corporations were asked what skills were needed by recent grads to forge a successful career in business. They stated that the most important skill to have was good verbal communication, followed by the ability to identify and formulate problems, being able to assume responsibility, to be able to reason, and to possess the ability to function independently. These skills are best gained from the broad knowledge of human interaction, of society, of culture, and of the arts.” (see here)
According to a study conducted by Debra Humphreys and Patrick Kelly of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Association for Higher Education Management Systems 93% of employers report that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
It is our experience and that of our graduates that History imparts these capacities to students par excellence. In short, History’s great advantage is that it prepares you to do a wide variety of things well. What could be more practical than that?
This helps to explain why History and Humanities majors often do quite well in business and government. A recent edition of Business Insider (see here) identifies a significant number of CEOs whose majors were in the Humanities, including
- Ken Chenault, of American Express (History)
- Michael Eisner of Disney (English and Theater)
- Carly Fiorina, Ex-HP CEO (Medieval History and Philosophy)
- Robert Gates, ex-Secretary of Defense (History)
- Carl Icahn (Philosophy)
- A.G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble (French and History)
- Brian Moynihan, Bank of America's CEO (History)
- Mitt Romney former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential nominee (English)
- George Soros (Philosophy)
- Peter Thiel of Paypal (Philosophy)
- Ted Turner of CNN (History)
- Former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano (History)
Other prominent History majors in business include Joshua Marshall, founder and owner, Talking Points Memo and TPMMuckracker, Steve Sanger, CEO, General Mills, John J. Mack, Chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley, and Loyola’s own Jennifer Pritzker, financier and philanthropist. (For distinguished Loyola History majors, see below; for more information see here, which cites the studies noted above)
It is true that, according to the study quoted above, Humanities graduates do earn less than those with degrees in pre-professional fields immediately upon graduation, but they earn several thousand dollars more, on average, by the time both groups hit their peak earning years in their 50s and 60s. In short, persistence pays off for Humanities graduates.
How does History do this? History teaches its students to evaluate issues and societies in chronological perspective on the basis of the evidence left behind by human beings. History majors learn to evaluate that evidence critically, argue from it logically and speak and write about it clearly. This provides a deeper understanding of our own and other cultures, which, in turn, helps us to avoid oversimplification and stereotypes. Thus, History enriches us as human beings and makes us better citizens of the world. But it also provides skills and tools that make us eminently employable in a wide variety of fields. In short, the History major is well-trained for life, for citizenship and for any career involving the analysis of data and its clear and persuasive presentation.
In each of our courses, we try to give our students practical skills by teaching them how to read a document, perform complicated research, weigh evidence, contribute to and decide complex debates. These are skills that all professionals need. In short, History at Loyola will teach your child to:
- Speak persuasively
- Write effectively
- Think clearly and critically
- Construct compelling arguments
- Grounded in solid evidence
- Advanced with sound logic
- And which aspire to be true
OK, that sounds good, but do we really do this? Well, every decade or so the History Department polls its alumni dating back to the 1940s. The most recent survey of all our graduates, in 2009, found that among 435 respondents, nearly 72% rated their history education as modestly relevant (23.6%), relevant (24.1%) or very relevant (24.1%) to their current occupation. Moreover:
- 64% attributed much of their current speaking ability to their History education at Loyola
- 83% attributed much of their current writing ability to that education
- 87% attributed much of their ability to think critically to their education at Loyola University
- 79.9% attributed much of their ability to do research to their History education
Our graduates tell us that, armed with these skills, they have been eminently employable in a wide variety of fields, including:
- Teaching at all levels, from kindergarten to university (25.1%)
- Law (18.2%)
- Government work (7.6%) (foreign service, the military, etc.)
- Politics and community activism
- Computers, information archiving and analysis (3.5%)
- Museum and archival work (3.5%)
- Business and finance (7.1%); management (4.1%) sales (4.1%)
- Healthcare (5.7%)
(For more careers and how to pursue them, see this chart: Careers for Graduates in History )
Though education and law are the most common destinations for Loyola History majors, the list of job titles among our responding alumni ranges from President, Vice President, Director and Senior Associate to Editor, Curator, and Correspondent to Graduate Student and Artist to Bicycle Salesman and Barista. A number of our graduates have also become MDs, psychologists and engineers. People who pursue these career paths report that their Humanities background often helps them in making judgments, relating to patients, and being aware of how public policy affects their profession (see wisdom for Loyola History major alumni, under my Letter to the Student). Often, History can be combined quite successfully with STEM majors and History majors can increase their “marketability” on the job market by taking an accounting or marketing course.
Among Loyola’s most distinguished History alumni are:
- Amanda Adams, Attorney
- Megan Baumann, Social Media Consultant at Chicago Wilderness
- Mattias Baumberger, President, Schweizer Stiftung Farbe; Managing Director at Verband der Schweizerischen Lack-und Farbenindustrie (Swiss Coatings Federation)
- Greg A. Benbrook, Executive Director of Investigations, CME Group Market Regulation
- Prof. Alexander Bielakowski, US Army War College, Leavenworth Kansas
- Jerry Black, Attorney, Former Assistant Attorney General, State of Illinois, now CEO of Client Focus Inc.
- Kevin Blindauer, Client Service Manager—Vice President at FM Global
- Mary Botros, Proprietor, MB Classics Event Design
- Prof. John Boyer, Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History, and Dean of the College, University of Chicago
- Christopher Carmichael, Attorney (Partner, Holland and Knight)
- Patrick Coogan, Associate Manager, Stanford Alumni Association
- Richard A. Devine, former State’s Attorney, Cook County 1996–2008
- Sonja Dimitrijevic, Attorney (Judicial Clerk at Illinois Appellate Court, First District)
- Tom Dreilinger, State Project Director at eLearning for Educators-Alabama
- Prof. Carlos Eire, Yale, Winner of the National Book Award
- Ray W. Francis, President and CEO Ray W. Francis Leadership Coaching and Consulting.
- Clare M. Hajduk, Manager, Great Lakes Human Resources Management Service
- Carolyn E. Hartle, Attorney
- Thomas Jaconetty, Attorney; First Assistant Commissioner, Cook County Board of Review
- John Kloosterman, International Employment Attorney
- Travis Kluska, Program Officer at Community Investment Corporation
- Matthew Koch, Maritime Attorney
- Henry Kranz, Marketing Director, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation
- Timothy Leahy, Director of Government Affairs, Illinois American Water
- Beth D'Agostino Letscher, Assistant Vice President and South Sector Specialist, Real Estate and Community Development, St. Louis Economic Development Partnership
- Frank McAdams, Journalist, Film Critic, Author
- Anne McCuddon, Director, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; Historian of the Seminole Tribe
- Anthony McMahon, Director Coverage Oversight-Attorney, CNA Insurance
- Colleen S. McMahon, Vice President of Member and Volunteer Services, Council of Residential Specialists
- Prof. Peter McMenamin, Associate Chair of Clinical Practice, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
- Prof. Steven P. Millies, Chair, Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy, University of South Carolina, Aiken
- Meredith P. Murphy, Attorney
- Patrick T. Murphy, Judge, Cook County Circuit Court
- Patrick O’Connor, Alderman, 40th Ward, Chicago
- James Pranger, Attorney (Partner, Peter J. Latz & Associates LLC)
- Col. Jennifer Pritzker, US Army (ret.), Financier and Philanthropist
- Prof. David Ross, University of Tennessee; trial consultant
- Susan M. Ruddy, Corporate HR Manager, Klein Tools, Inc.
- Richard H. Sanders, Attorney (Health Law Practice Area Leader, Vedder Price, P.C.)
- Caryn Schnierle, Associate Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, Illinois Institute of Technology
- Barbara Schwabauer, Attorney (Civil Rights Division, US Department of Justice)
- Prof. Peter Steinfels, Co-Director, Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture
- George Van Susen, Mayor, Skokie Illinois
- Mijo Vodopic, Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation
- Sara Wigmore, Attorney
- Nora Zei, Senior Director, Rotary International
But haven’t things gotten tougher for History majors during the recession? We were wondering about that ourselves, so in spring 2014 we surveyed just the most recent graduates of the department, from 2004 to 2014. Of the 87 students who responded:
- 70 said that they had found a job within the first year.
- 3 said that it had taken them 1–2 years.
- 6 said that it had taken 2–5 years.
- 5 were still in graduate school (but four of those were employed).
Once again, as for the whole population of Loyola History Majors, our most recent graduates report a wide variety of career choices:
61 or 73% of those responding report that their Loyola History education prepared them or prepared them strongly for their current career:
What about our claim to provide skills? 50 or 58% of recent graduates who responded said that their Loyola history education contributed significantly or very significantly to their ability to speak effectively:
83 or 99% of respondents said that their Loyola history education had contributed significantly or very significantly to their ability to write effectively:
79 or 92% of the respondents to this question said that their Loyola history education had contributed significantly to their ability to weigh and use evidence:
Finally, we asked if their Loyola History Education had had a significant or very significant impact on their philosophy of life. For this group, 68 or 80% said that it had:
We believe that this survey of our most recent graduates reaffirms what has been true for over a century: the Loyola History degree prepares its graduates to compete successfully in the job market, pursue fulfilling professional careers and live rich lives. What more could a parent ask?
But if you do want to ask me more questions about this, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773.508.2594. Please feel free to contact me and ask how we in the department of History are going to help your daughter or son fulfill their life’s ambition.
Professor and Chair of History