Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Choosing a college major is stressful: you’re usually eighteen years old and not entirely sure what you want to spend the next four years studying. I am currently a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder and have spent the past three years studying history, so I want to offer some insight into what the major is really like.


Sometimes assigned readings will look like this, while others it will be a certain section of a textbook.

This major requires a lot of reading. You do not have to love reading, but I would not advise studying history if you despise it. The amount of reading obviously depends on the course and professor. As a junior taking two history classes this semester, I have anywhere from 100 to 200 pages of reading each week. In the weeks nearing the due date for a large paper due, I will have about 250 to 300 pages (since history papers rely heavily on evidence from texts). This load will obviously be lighter for freshmen. 

These numbers are not fixed and vary greatly, so do not get too overwhelmed. Your professors will also teach tips on how to properly skim your assigned reading, which will significantly decrease the amount of time you spend on them.


In my experience, history courses usually have very few assignments. You may only have to turn in two or three assignments during the entire semester. However, this work usually takes the form of papers (usually 3 to 4 pages for lower-division classes and up to 15 for upper-division). Some professors may prefer to require only one paper and mix in some presentations, quizzes, reenactments (these are really fun), or less traditional assignments–it depends on a variety of factors and will look different for every class.


Volumes of the Diary of Samuel Pepys (an MP during the reign of King Charles II)

History is probably the best major for people who love gossip and getting into others’ business. You read a ton of diaries and personal correspondence. It’s essentially gossip with a higher purpose!


Why does this matter? What does this say versus mean? What underlying factors recontextualize this? Who was impacted by this and how?   

These questions and many more are at the core of historical analysis. As a historian, you are always asking yourself questions and then trying to answer them. This happens through reading a mixture of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and then comparing them.

Emotionally Taxing

This is an example of a primary source I had to analyze last semester. It’s essentially how many people died each month in London and from what. Not the happiest read.

History deals with some very heavy topics: war, genocide, oppression and discrimination, and much more. It’s not easy to learn about these things, especially if you are part of a historically oppressed demographic.  

There are times when I’ve had to stop reading and take a minute for myself because of the heavy nature of the subject matter. I have also definitely cried while doing my homework. This stuff is no joke, but that’s why it’s important to study it. Luckily, my professors have been very understanding and will preface emotionally intense lectures, noting that it’s okay if you need to step out.

Less Talked About Reality Of History

History was always my favorite subject in school. It was simple, I read about something that happened in the past and then summarized it. The events were usually interesting, full of shifting loyalties, romance, violence, and lots of cool clothes. This was history…or so I thought.

When I selected my major, I didn’t think much of it. My scholarship didn’t apply to international affairs–my first choice–but it did cover history. I loved the subject as a kid, so why not? Surely studying the past was straightforward, read a primary source, maybe a secondary one too, and summarize. While this view isn’t incorrect, it misses some important aspects of the field. 

Texts are deceitful! Not always intentionally so, although sometimes very intentionally. A major aspect of history is analyzing what was written about a certain event and/or person and considering what is on the page may be inaccurate or purposefully misleading. A lot of times, there is not a clear answer–there is no one “correct” narrative of events. 

This is what upset me most about my major: I didn’t realize how inaccurate, or blatantly wrong, most history was. Sometimes the truth was never recorded, or maybe it once was but minor changes in each updated retelling have made it unrecognizable. Essentially, we have no unbiased accounts of any event or person. We may get close to the truth–whatever truth means–by comparing multiple accounts and analyses of the past and coming to a conclusion, but it is inevitable that we will miss something. 

This may make history seem pointless and depressing; however, it is why we must continue to study history. Contrary to what younger me believed, there is so much more to the field than knowing exactly what occurred and when. Studying history provides an amazing opportunity to reflect on our present. It offers an idea of where we came from, and provides lessons and guidance for where we are going.


I hope this cleared up some of the mystic and misconceptions surrounding studying history at a university level. Whether this discourages or encourages you to major in history, follow your interests. Don’t go into a field of study just for money or perceived cultural capital. At the end of the day, you are the one who will have to study this for four years (or more or less). The best thing you can do is major in something you find meaningful and interesting! History is both of these things to me, which is  why I study it. Your feelings on the matter will impact whether you do or don’t. At least now you have a clearer picture of what an undergraduate degree looks like!

Kailynn Renfro

CU Boulder '24

Kailynn is a contributing writer for CU Boulder's Her Campus chapter. She enjoys writing about entertainment, academics, fashion, and more. This is her fifth semester writing for Her Campus. She is a senior history major with minors in both Spanish and education. She is also learning Russian. Kailynn is currently working on an honors thesis, focusing on American perceptions of Soviet women between 1953 and 1964. In addition to Cold War studies, she has worked on late medieval and early modern England. Outside of school and Her Campus, she is an avid fan of film and TV. If she is not on campus or at a cafe, she is at home with a cup of tea working her way through her Letterboxd watchlist. Kailynn also loves to read, cook, and spend time with loved ones.