If you’re interested in a career in history, there are a lot of things you can do while you’re an undergraduate to help you prepare and to increase your chances of succeeding in your desired career after you graduate.
First, you might want to explore the types of careers historians typically pursue. You may, of course, decide to go into something unrelated to history or only slightly related—e.g., business or law school—which is fine. History will prepare you well with a good liberal education and excellent communication and analytical skills. If you’re interested specifically in working in the history profession, here’s a useful resource:
Careers for History Majors: A Miniguide from the American Historical Association, which is available free at the American Historical Association website. This organization also publishes an excellent booklet about careers, which can be purchased directly from them: Constance Schultz et. al., Careers for Students of History (American Historical Association, 2002). Information on this publication also is available on the AHA website.
Another good source of information is simply talking to people: your faculty here, high school history teachers, and professionals working in the field (e.g., in museums, historic sites, etc.). Most are more than willing to meet with you and discuss what’s involved in their career, how they got into the field, things you should consider doing while you’re an undergraduate, etc. Of course, there are published career guides in most bookstores—some of them good, some not, but they’re worth keeping in mind anyway. Some of the websites below also will give you an idea about various careers in the field, and their links can lead you to many other resources.
Any career involving history is a competitive field. That’s because it’s so interesting and lots of people like it. Do well academically while you’re at IUP to increase your chance of success. It’s important to do well not only in your major—i.e., to learn history well and get the grades to prove it—but in other courses. You’d be surprised how many skills are needed to succeed in a history career: excellent written and verbal communication skills, of course, but also analytical and organizational skills, a wide range of general knowledge, etc. No matter whether you teach, work in a museum or government agency, direct a historical society, or do any of the other countless careers historians pursue, all of these skills are essential.
Strongly consider getting involved an organization or two (e.g., the History Club, Phi Alpha Theta, The Endnote)—it will give you new experiences and allow you to get to know new people, and it shows you’re interested in more than just studying for class.
Strongly consider an appropriate minor and/or second major. There are lots of options at IUP, and regardless of your career plans there’s probably coursework outside the history department that would make you better prepared. Talk to your advisor about this.
Strongly consider volunteering with a historical organization. This shows your interest in the field, and you can learn a lot and meet some interesting people in the process.
Strongly consider doing an internship (or two) in a historical organization if you’re interested in a non-teaching career (and it couldn’t hurt even if you want to teach). You need to plan ahead for this, setting it up several months in advance. Most history internships aren’t paid, so that takes some planning, too. At IUP, a three-credit internship requires 120 hours of work at the internship site, along with some written assignments; a six-credit internship requires 240 hours plus written requirements.
Plan on more education. No matter what you do with your IUP degree—teaching in high school, working in a museum or historical society, teaching at the university level—you’ll end up needing more education, either to advance in the field or to break into it in the first place. Teachers need more academic work to advance professionally, college faculty members need PhDs to enter the field, museum professionals need at least an MA and/or specialized postgraduate training, and so on.