What is a Major in Classics?

Classics is the study of Greek and Roman culture as revealed through its literary, historical, philosophical, and scientific writings from Homeric to Byzantine times. Classics is a broad and interdisciplinary field that includes the study of language, literature, religion, mythology, gender, society, medicine and law. Classicists study the achievements of the Greeks and Romans: their democratic ideals, their religious beliefs and their humanistic philosophy. Greater awareness of Greek and Roman culture gives classicists a better understanding of contemporary cultures.

At UCSB, the Department of Classics offers course studies in three emphases: Classic Language and Literature, Greek and Roman Culture, and Classic Archaeology. Students who wish to pursue graduate studies in Classics must take the Language and Literature emphasis. Coursework includes reading and translating texts, analyzing their syntax and style, discussing their historical context, and exploring their influence on their own and subsequent cultures.

The Greek and Roman Culture emphasis enables students to explore a broad range of subjects—literature, history, philosophy, art history, religion, social history—through courses about the ancient world with readings in English translation. This emphasis is ideal for the student with interdisciplinary interests seeking an undergraduate degree with a strong liberal arts major. The Classical Archaeology emphasis brings together classical art history, classical archaeology, anthropology, and ancient history into a coherent program of study. This emphasis is for students with an interest in archaeology looking for a strong liberal arts major, or for students planning to pursue graduate studies in Classical Archaeology.

Major, General, and Career Information





From the UCSB Classics Website: 

The field of Classics encompasses all aspects of Greek and Roman culture—the fountainhead of the Western experience. It is the original interdisciplinary subject, encompassing exploration of an enormous variety of human experience: poetry, myth, history, philosophy, religion, archaeology, art, and more. While individual teachers and students of Classics will normally focus their attention on some particular segment of the field, all of these studies are ultimately interrelated in a common project of elucidating a larger and richer picture of Greco-Roman culture and from this perspective deepening our understanding of our own. Students of Classics quickly recognize that among the intellectual, political and social currents swirling about them today there is very little that is really new under the sun: democracy, empire, freedom and autonomy, “colonialism,” “multiculturalism,” radical skepticism, debates about gender and racial difference, about theology or “just war” doctrine—all these and many more “modern” questions have their roots in Greek and Roman civilization.
What can you do with a Classics Major?
From the Princeton Review ( c. 2003):

“We can’t overestimate the value of a Classics major. Check this out: according to Association of American Medical Colleges, students who major or double-major in Classics have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of science. Crazy, huh? Furthermore, according to Harvard Magazine, Classics majors (and math majors) have the highest success rates of any majors in law school. Believe it or not: political science, economics, and pre-law majors lag fairly far behind. Furthermore, Classics majors consistently have some of the highest scores on GREs of all undergraduates.

“Shocked? Don’t be. One reason Classics majors are so successful is that they completely master grammar. Medical terminology, legal terminology, and all those ridiculously worthless vocabulary words on the GRE (and the SAT) have their roots in Greek and Latin. Ultimately, though, Classics majors get on well in life because they develop intellectual rigor, communications skills, analytical skills, the ability to handle complex information, and, above all, a breadth of view which few other disciplines can provide.”

From the website of the University of Puget Sound:

Princeton’s Survey of its Classics Graduates

“What can you do with a Classics Major?
Many students considering Classics as a major ask that question. Princeton University decided that best way to answer this question was to find out what their alumni had been doing. A survey was sent out asking the majors who had graduated since 1970 about their careers. 103 responses were received, and the results are presented below.

Current Professions:

Job Type Number
Law 17
Medicine 15
Business: Finance and Banking 8
Business: Marketing and Management 6
Business: College/University Professor 17
Business: High School Teacher 11

Other occupations, including newspaper editor, computer programmers, literary agent, TV producer, speechwriter for Clinton/Gore campaign, cultural affairs advisor to the governor of New Jersey 29

56% of all respondents went on to get post graduate degrees:

Post Graduate Degrees

Degree Type Number
JD (Law school) 18
MD (Medical school) 14
PhD (Various Fields) 21
MBA (Business School) 5

“These results demonstrate that far from closing professional doors, a major in Classics can lead to success in a variety of professions. While Classics departments are often proud of majors who go to graduate school in Classics and then on to an academic career, this is by no means the only path available.”

Some notable Classics majors:

Quite apart from many great names of the past such as Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, T. E. Lawrence(“Lawrence of Arabia”), and Willa Cather, contemporary Classics majors include:

• J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter series
• Lynn Sherr, ABC News Correspondent
• Toni Morrison (well, OK, Classics minor), author of Beloved, Nobel Prize Literature, 1993.
• Charles Geschke, software executive, founder of Adobe Systems
• David Packard, co-founder of first CEO of Hewlett Packard
• Ted Turner, founder, TBS and CNN, former Vice-Chairman Arial Warner
• Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense, President Texas A&M, Director of CIA, 1991-93
• Jerry Brown, Governor of California and Attorney-General.
• James Baker, Secretary of State under Pres. Bush Senior
• William S. Cohen, former Senator and secretary of Defense under Pres. Clinton
• Hunter S. Rawlings, III, President of Cornell University
• Robert Greene, hip-hop guru and author of The 48 Laws of Power
• Nathanial Fick, Afghanistan war veteran and author of One bullet Away
• Dr. Mary Ann Hopkins, Professor of Surgery NYU Medical Center & volunteer for Doctors Without Borders
• Joseph Spellman, master sommelier for Joseph Phelps Vineyards
  • Kayte Christensen, former Lady Gauchos basketball star, now forward with Phoenix Mercury (WNBA)!

UCSB Program Learning Outcomes Classics

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Resources and Professional Associations