Preparation for graduate studies

Students who are considering graduate work in Classics should be aware that because our Classics major is not a pre-professional degree, simply fulfilling the normal major requirements will not guarantee admission to a graduate program. By far the most important element in preparation for graduate school admission is a good command of both the Latin and the Greek languages, so students who wish to go to graduate school should attempt to reach the advanced level in both languages. The two courses at the intermediate level required in the secondary language for the Classics major are not enough for admission to most graduate programs, and the language requirements of both Classical Studies and Ancient Studies are well below the level normally necessary for graduate school admission. The importance of languages holds not only for students wishing to study ancient literature, but also for those interested primarily in other aspects of the ancient world (history, art, philosophy, religion, etc.), because it is not possible to pursue advanced research successfully unless one can make use of the primary sources. Students who have not done the requisite amount of language work and wish to go to graduate school can enroll in a post-baccalaureate program (either at Columbia or at another institution) to do one or two years of intensive language work before starting graduate school.

While knowledge of Latin and Greek is the most important factor in graduate school admission, it is by no means the only one. Students considering graduate work are also advised to write a senior thesis (and not to substitute the thesis for any of the other advanced courses). If possible, it is a good idea to use some of your summers (especially the one between junior and senior year) on a relevant activity such as archaeological fieldwork experience, travel and/or study in Greece or Italy, learning French or German, improving your Latin or Greek, or working as a research assistant for a Classicist. It is also useful to get high scores on the GRE test, and these are best achieved by obtaining and studying information on the types of questions asked on the test and taking practice tests.

The array of graduate degrees on offer in the US and abroad can be bewildering—including master’s and doctoral programs in Classics and a variety of related subjects—and the character and quality of graduate programs differs widely.  It is therefore important to gather information and seek advice.  If you are considering graduate work, you should discuss your plans with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and other faculty members no later than the beginning of the fall semester before you hope to apply (i.e., typically the fall of your senior year).