Classics a "useless" major?

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Classics a "useless" major?
By Elizabeth22 (Elizabeth22) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:36 pm: Edit

After 5 years of highschool Latin, membership in Latin Honor Society, and a great trip to Rome, I'm seriously considering majoring in Classics (I know I'll need to learn Greek), then going to Law School. My dad thinks it's a great idea- not only will I be well-prepared for Law School, but my major will mean something a bit more specific than "pre-law" and I'll be studying subjects I enjoy and understand. My mom thinks it's a horrible idea. She says that it leaves me with "absolutely no marketable skills", and is entirely useless in the work world. She doesn't think I'll be able to find a decent job while I'm in Law School, and can't see the point of in-depth study in a dead language. I don't know what to think. Do you agree with my mom? What would you advise your child?

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:44 pm: Edit

Take your mom to this site - or download some of the information from it to show her - it's all about what you can do with a classics major and why majoring in classics offers a terrific education.

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:45 pm: Edit

Definitely classics. (Maybe you can be a tour guide in Rome during your vacations!)

(Majors don't you a lot anyway: at my alma mater, a higher percentage of music majors go on to medical school than biology majors.)

Do what you love now -- who knows what tomorrow may bring?

By Elizabeth22 (Elizabeth22) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:46 pm: Edit

Do you think I'll be able to find a job while I'm in law school?

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:49 pm: Edit

If you are in major metropolitan area, you might make $40-$50 an hour tutoring in Latin.

Or maybe a table dancer. Who knows?

(Costco night shelvers make $15 an hour plus health insurance.)

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 03:50 pm: Edit


Here's something from Bucknell's Classics Department that might interest your Mom:

Why a Classics Major?
Bucknell University

The major in Classics is broad and flexible. A 1990 survey of business recruitment officers found that "studying the classics developed 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 Law to Medicine, Business to Politics, Arts to Software Development, you will find former classics majors in all sorts of fields. Some of our alumni do continue on to graduate school and beyond as classicists, but most either pursue careers after college or go on into professional schools. Recent Bucknell Classics alumni/ae work in the law, journalism, teaching, geology, publishing, banking, or government. Others have gone on to seminary or to graduate school in anthropology, history, law, and (of course) classics. See below for more on post-graduate opportunities.

Our programs aim to familiarize our students with the texts and objects that survive from ancient civilizations, to provide them with the tools to analyze and interpret those remains for themselves, to help them develop the ability and confidence to criticize the interpretations of those remains that scholars have given, and to apply these techniques to contemporary concerns.

Familiarity with the historical periods, the full range of literature, the intellectual achievements of Greek and Roman thinkers, or the material objects of antiquity permits students to integrate an understanding of one or more aspects of ancient civilization with analogous features of our own or of another culture.

The programs of the department of Classics share features with other language programs. Like them, we do not just teach the formal features of languages, Latin and Greek in our case, but we stress an understanding of the cultural and historical contexts in which those languages were used.

Courses in archaeology and material culture enable students to apply a background in the natural sciences and in engineering to the understanding of ancient cultures and thereby of their own too. Study of the ways myths were used in ancient literatures and art forms helps students to become conscious of the pervasive influence of symbolic expression in our own civilization.

This interdisciplinary approach offers students their choice of a remarkably wide range of careers after they leave Bucknell. By drawing upon the varied experiences of an undergraduate curriculum in which Classics has played a significant role, students are well prepared for the rapid pace of change in life. They have developed a skill with language that helps their written and oral expression and have acquired an ability to pick up the skills needed for a particular task, a breadth of understanding that goes beyond narrow specializing, a curiosity that suggests the questions which critique basic assumptions.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 04:06 pm: Edit

And one other interesting page:

By Elizabeth22 (Elizabeth22) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 04:09 pm: Edit

Carolyn- Thank you for the article- I'll print it out for my mom.

Mini- I have to say, tutoring sounds just a bit better than table dancing or Costco shelving :).

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 04:11 pm: Edit

Hey, I know there must employers out there somewhere who are just beating down the doors to find someone who can quote Theopompus in the original.

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 04:49 pm: Edit

Xiggi posted a long list of Latinisms some time ago. Many of these are part of legalese. Alas, no one has posted a list of Greek terms or phrases.

Sic transit gloria hellenica.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 05:44 pm: Edit

Elizabeth -- I think you should major in whatever you want to. My personal view is that unless you major in something like Engineering or Computer Science, it doesn't matter that much what you major in.

I don't think Classics will help you substantively in law school, although certainly having analytical skills, etc., will (but that can be gained through other majors as well). The knowledge of Latin will not matter that much for law school.

Classics is one of my D's majors, btw, also after years of Latin in HS (including two years of AP Latin, NLE awards, etc). I have no idea what she plans to do, and I don't think she needs to know that now -- it'll all work itself out.

Also, most colleges do have Latin-only classics majors, so if you really don't want to do Greek, you may not have to (or you may just have to do a little, intro level). If you want to pursue grad studies in Classics, I think Greek in addition to Latin is highly recommended, and possibly required by some grad schools.

BTW, we took a trip to Rome with D during her junior year in HS -- I have to say, it's great being in Rome with someone who can actually translate the Latin -- did you manage to go to Pompeii (near Naples)? If you didn't, you should go sometime -- my D was translating the Latin graffiti for us!

By Backhandgrip (Backhandgrip) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 05:59 pm: Edit

I say go for it if that is what you like.So many universities will need your talents!

By Tubby (Tubby) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 06:19 pm: Edit

What majors does your mom consider valuable? Classics has got to be better tthan many they offer these days!

By Elizabeth22 (Elizabeth22) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 06:58 pm: Edit

I think she'd be happiest if I wanted to do pre-med. I love math- but hate science, so I don't think I'd enjoy it much. The funny thing is that Classics majors have higher admit rates to Medical school than Biology (and every other science) major. And along with math majors, they have the highest rates of success in law school.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 10:56 pm: Edit

Classics majors, philosophy majors, and engineers perform the best in law school.

By Over30 (Over30) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 12:37 am: Edit

You're not going to have a lot of time to work in law school, unless you're talking about a summer job. Most law schools severely limit the hours you can work during the school year. Also, most law students work in law firms for part-time and summer work.

I know someone who is an associate dean at a not very competitive law school and she says even they limit working hours, and that you should work in the legal field to increase your chances of finding work after graduation.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 08:51 am: Edit

Over30 -- there are law students who go to school at night and hold down full time jobs. It usually takes 4 years that way, I think, but a lot of people do it.

If you really want your mother's support and are willing to compromise, could you and she agree for you to major in Classics but also take the required pre-med courses? There are plenty of pre-meds who are not bio or chem majors. Is that something you would be willing to do? As a former pre-med, I can certainly understand if you wouldn't want to!

If Classics majors do in fact have a high rate of success at law school (not sure if you mean success getting in, or grades once they're there), I don't think it is knowledge of Latin that helps, but lots of reading and writing and perhaps the analytical skills used in interpreting Latin prose and poetry (I assume the same goes for Greek, don't really know). Personally, I think engineering/math is a great major for law school -- when you're looking for a job, I can guarantee the lawyers interviewing you will be impressed, since many of them went to law school to escape math/sci!

By Texdad (Texdad) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 09:43 am: Edit

All majors including PE, the classics, art, and engineering will get you into law school, provided you have good grades. That is where studying what you want helps. If it is the classics, possibly go for it. I agree courses where you do a lot of writing and analyzing help with law school grades. I had an undergrad in engineering prior to going to law school and my ability to write was not up to par with many of the English undergrads for example.

A tip. Consider studying Spanish and taking a lot of literature and history courses in English about Rome and Greece. It is fun to speak languages as well as read them. Fluency in Spanish will help you beat out many a law grad with better grades or from a more prestigious schools when it comes time for a job. Don't be fooled by the unknowledgeable who will claim that in a month or two you can become fluent in Spanish if you've studied Latin. IMHO Latin is inevitably a reading type thing which uses a different part of the brain.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 10:41 am: Edit

Texdad -- my D was a star Latin student in HS (and loved the language), but absolutely HATED taking Spanish, so I agree with your last point.

By Elizabeth22 (Elizabeth22) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 12:29 pm: Edit

I've taken a couple years of Spanish- and I can honestly say that it's a breeze after Latin. I had to drop it this year to fit in my second Latin class (I'm taking AP Latin IV: Vergil and also Latin V Prose Composition), but I'd love to pick it up again.

By Idler (Idler) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 01:22 pm: Edit

An old friend told me this story: At Princeton, in the 50s, he was inclined to major in art history, until his father, an old-school Philadelphia lawyer, sat him down and tol him that art history was an unsuitable preparation for law school, but that the best preparation was a classics major, and if he didn't switch to a major that prepared him for a legal career, he (the father) would cut off the funds. So my friend switched to a classics major. His legal career? He just retired as a distinguished Professor of Classics at a major university.

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