Wait a year or two. Before doing that, investigate grants, fellowships, assistantships, and loans. Gaining field experience abroad may be beneficial and help you get into a more competitive program.
Go to school part-time. Some programs require that you go full-time, and it may be difficult to impossible to get financial aid without being a full-time student. On the other hand, attending school part-time allows you to work in the field and earn money. Some organizations or companies are willing to send you to graduate school as a part of your training. If you teach high school Social Studies you will be able to pursue a M.S. in Education or a M.A. in History part-time. Online degrees are making this increasingly easy, especially in History-related fields such as Library Science, Museum Studies, Native American Studies, and Military History. Usually, those programs are sponsored by large, established universities with a solid academic reputation. Nonetheless, you should do your homework before choosing such a program. Will it really save you money? Is the program accredited? By what accrediting agencies? Who are the faculty? Can you get in touch with their graduates? How easy is it to use the program's resources?
The "fast track" programs. The M.A. and Ph.D. programs are taken jointly in order to shorten the Ph.D.'s coursework. All this is great news considering that earning the M.A. takes two years and that the average Ph.D. student remains in graduate school for 4 - 6 years, even longer if holding part-time teaching or research appointments. The average age of a Ph.D. holder is early to mid-thirties. On the other hand, this allows you to accumulate an impressive teaching, publications, and presentations record.
Set your career goals. An M.A. in Education or a Ed.D. will open administrative or counseling positions in the K-12 school system. To teach at a Junior College (Survey courses of U.S. or World History) you must earn 18 graduate hours in history. To teach at a 4-year university level, you need the Ph.D. in history and a solid scholarly publications record. Academic employment opportunities vary from year to year. Right now is a very good time for women and minorities to enter the profession. The most popular disciplines are American history (40%), European history (22%), and Asian history (8%). Academic employment is exciting because of the new digital possibilities, the new emphasis on pedagogy, and the ever-broadening ways to practice history.
Interdisciplinary or joint programs. This is a growing trend that seeks to combine students' strengths in various areas and to enhance their employability. Secondary Education issues have led to the creation of special Ph.D. History Education programs seeking to ally students' interest in teaching and research. Library Science and Information Science, American Studies and other Area Studies, Diplomacy, and International Relations, to mention but these, are open to joint degrees or interdisciplinary studies.
Do You Have the Right Stuff? To be successful in graduate school, you must have:
Graduate school can be fun. Your professors and peers give you lots of attention. You meet all kinds of interesting people and find yourself in an intellectually and culturally challenging environment. Your class schedules are flexible. The key is to keep your life balanced. With all the pressures you are facing, it is very important to remember to nurture your physical, mental, and emotional health. Many graduate schools stress this point.
The most stressful part, however, is the transition to graduate school. The first semester is critical: the first impressions that you make and the relationships that you forge will be lasting ones. You need to earn a minimum 3.0 GPA. You want to make your mark, distinguish yourself from the crowd, and prepare to be remembered in a positive way long after you have graduated. But there are several adjustments in your way: a new town, a different climate, new friends in a new social environment, a new culture, may make you homesick. The rigors of graduate work, including heavy doses of reading, class participation, and group work, may take their toll. You have to compete with your peers in an atmosphere of intellectual rigor, hard work, initiative, leadership, responsibility, and excellent communication skills. Graduate schools recognize these challenges: many of them do not require you to TA or RA during your first graduate semester.
To learn more about the graduate path, consult the AHA’s excellent articles prepared by their Committee on Graduate Education.