Humanities departments at colleges across the U.S. have seen their budgets shrinking and the number of students who major in the humanities falling. As a result, many humanities courses have been cut and faculties of these departments reduced. For those interested in a classics major, things look even worse. In today’s technological age, does majoring in the classics make sense?
Classics majors study the languages, literatures and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Students explore the beliefs and achievements of these worlds, and discover just how much they still affect contemporary civilization. Besides learning Greek or Latin (or both), you’ll also read the great literary and philosophical works written in these languages. Classics majors study ancient art, architecture and technology, and learn about Greco-Roman legal systems, social institutions, religious practices and class distinctions. Typical courses, in addition to Greek and Latin, include ancient philosophy, classical art and archeology, classical mythology, tragedy and comedy, lyric poetry, Athenian democracy, and classes that focus on such figures as Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, Horace, Livy and Tacitus. Many classics students double-major or take an additional concentration in history, philosophy or comparative literature.
Looking at this, you might assume that people who major in classics want to prepare for careers as college professors or language teachers. While classics is an appropriate choice for those career paths, it is also an excellent choice to prepare for a wide variety of occupations. Classics majors commonly go on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and administrators, members of the diplomatic service, engineers, computer programmers, clergy, businesswomen and men and entrepreneurs of all types.
A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges found that students who major or double-major in classics have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely in one of the branches of science. According to Harvard Magazine, classics majors (along with math majors) have the highest success rates of any majors in law school. In addition, classics majors achieve some of the highest scores of all undergraduates on the GREs (Graduate Record Exam) and LSATs (Law School Admissions Test). What is it about the study of classics that prepares students so well for success in their chosen field?
One reason classics majors are so successful is that they completely master grammar. Medical terminology, legal terminology as well as all those challenging vocabulary words on the GRE (and the LSAT) have their roots in Greek and Latin. Ultimately, though, classics majors do well in life because they develop intellectual rigor, enhance their communication and analytical skills, hone their ability to handle complex information, and gain a breadth of view which few other disciplines can provide.
To learn more about how a classics major might suit your needs, check out the website of the Society for Classical Studies at www.apaclassics.org, that of the National Committee for Latin & Greek (NCLG) at www.promotelatin.org, and the American Classical League (ACL) at www.aclclassics.org.