In terms of education, historians typically need an advanced degree to have a successful career in history. While it is possible to get a job in research with just a bachelor's degree, better opportunities exist for those with advanced degrees. Historians with a master's degree in history are regularly considered for some jobs in teaching, archiving, or researching. A doctoral degree is necessary for most teaching positions at colleges or universities. All together, earning a master's and then a doctoral degree could take anywhere between two and five years. It is also recommended that historians study the language and literature of the period and location of the world in which they wish to specialize.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the top graduate schools for earning advanced degrees in history are Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and University of California - Berkeley, which are all tied for first. Coming in at number five is Harvard. All of these elite schools offer top programs for aspiring historians with varying requirements. Links to these schools' graduate program pages with more detailed information can be found at the end of this page.
Beyond educational requirements, it takes a commitment and fascination with the past to become a successful historian. People interested in the field must be prepared to spend much of their careers studying, conducting research, writing, and probably teaching.
As important as writing and research is, communicating that information is just as important. Therefore, historians must be able to effectively communicate their findings to people who are not experts, be it in a college classroom full of students or in a government office among politicians. Historians need to be able to explain in detail what has happened in the past and why it should be taken into consideration now.
Lastly, it takes great determination in researching and analyzing lots of information to be a successful historian. As mentioned above, historians must go through all kinds of documents of the past to form the most complete possible picture of the past. These documents include maps, photographs, letters, diaries, election returns, city directory books, newspapers, and many other kinds.