Are you thinking of studying Classics?

Image shows the ruins of a Roman temple.
Today’s study guide introduces you to Classics, a notoriously tricky degree that concentrates on the study of the ancient world – that is, the Ancient Greeks and the Romans.
Though the main focus of this degree is on ancient languages, it’s a degree that covers a number of disciplines, which will see you combining the development of linguistic skills with the study of archaeology, ancient history and literature. The ultimate goal of approaching the ancient world from these different angles is to piece together a deeper understanding of how people lived, thought and wrote in the ancient world. In doing so, you’ll develop skills that will be just as relevant to the modern world as they are to the study of ancient cultures.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Classics is about a lot more than just languages, though these will naturally occupy a lot of your time. Here are some of the areas you can expect to cover as part of this degree.

Latin and/or Greek

Image shows a Latin engraving.
The most important part of your degree will be language-learning.

The best part of your time on a Classics degree will be taken up with the study of an ancient language or two; you can usually choose between Latin, Greek or both. Such study is, as with any language, sometimes laborious, involving a lot of rote learning. However, it rewards you with strong linguistic and communication skills, a deeper understanding of the ancient world, and knowledge of the languages that underpin many modern European languages.

Ancient History

Ancient History explores the cultures, politics, literature, philosophy and history of the ancient world through contemporary texts and modern scholarship. Examples of texts you might study include Homer’s The Iliad, Tacitus’ Annals and the works of Cicero, the Roman orator, philosopher, lawyer and politician.

Classical Archaeology

While Ancient History focuses on the written texts, Classical Archaeology builds up a picture of life in the ancient world via its material remains. Its focus ranges from small, everyday items such as fragments of pot, to ancient art, right up to large-scale structures such as Rome’s Colosseum or the Parthenon in Athens.

Other possible areas of focus

You may have the option to study an additional language on some courses. You may also be able to study other aspects of the ancient world, such as Egypt, Byzantium or ancient philosophy.

What do I need for a Classics degree?

Image shows a painting of Alexander the Great at the founding of Alexandria.
Learning about history will help give you context for your degree.

Universities usually offer several options for those wishing to pursue a Classics degree, so that you can choose one suited to your prior knowledge (including ab initio). Not all schools offer Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisations at A-level, so these are not normally mandatory subjects.
Some universities may ask you to attend a Latin or Greek summer school in the summer before university if you’ve never studied these languages before. Latin and/or Greek A-levels are therefore advantageous but not essential. A Modern Language is likely to be helpful if not essential. Other useful A-levels include History, Classical Civilisations and any other essay-based subjects.

What skills will I acquire?

A Classics degree develops superior linguistic ability, but there are plenty of other transferable skills that will benefit your future career, such as the ability to create rational arguments, think for yourself and communicate effectively. Attributes such as attention to detail, time and project management and analytical thinking are also developed by this degree. You may be required to write a dissertation as part of your course, which be an extensive piece of writing that will hone your research skills.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Image shows the Palatine in Rome.
You will probably get to visit Greece or Rome.

Many universities will organise field trips to Greece or Rome as part of the degree course. This might encompass important sites such as Delphi, Olympia and Ancient Athens for those studying Ancient Greek, or Rome, Pompeii or Herculaneum for those focusing on Latin. Museums such as the British Museum are also good destinations for Classics students, and there may be an organised trip you can go on. Some courses may offer you the opportunity to get involved in an archaeological dig. If there are no formally arranged trips, you may be able to apply for university funding to make the trips on your own.

What careers are possible with a Classics degree?

Because many of the skills you’ll pick up through studying a Classics degree will be transferrable, you’ll be very employable in jobs for which any undergraduate degree is a requirement, such as law, the Civil Service, management and so on. Of those who continue in a related field, many students with Classics degrees go into teaching, while others work in heritage management, museums, and such like.

Related degrees

Image shows an Italian flag on a square in Rome.
You may want to study a modern language instead.

If you’re intrigued by Classics, the following degrees are also worth considering.

  • Modern Languages – if you’d rather focus your linguistic skills on languages that will be more directly useful in the real world, you might consider Modern Languages rather than Classics.
  • Classical Archaeology and/or Ancient History – this focuses on the texts and archaeology of the ancient world, with Latin and Greek usually only optional.
  • Ancient and Modern History – this combines the study of the history of Greece and Rome with modules on more recent history.
  • Classical Civilisations/Studies – this is ideal if you’re interested in the ancient world, but you don’t want to take the language elements of a Classics degree.
  • Egyptology – if your interest in the ancient world is focused more on Egypt than on Greece or Italy, many universities offer an undergraduate course that focuses exclusively on the ancient Egyptians.

A final thought on Classics

Classics is a rigorous and highly respected degree, but some prospective students may worry that there’s not much point in studying “dead” languages such as Latin and Greek. However, irrelevant though they may at first seem to the modern world, the study of these languages has long been seen as a fundamental facet of a good education, particularly as they underpin the languages we speak today. Learning Latin and Greek therefore helps you understand and pick up modern languages more easily. You’ll also be able to read ancient wisdom in its original language, and this philosophy stretches your brain and is just as relevant to life today as it was to the ancient world.


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Image credits: banner; Latin; Alexander; Palatine; Italian.