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Lessons Learned: Thoughts and Advice for Future Applications


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Many of the good people of this forum have shared their application experiences, recommendations, and tips in various posts over the years, which have helped many, myself included.  So I thought we could use a dedicated thread that can serve as a repository of our collective wisdom, well, at least our collective experiences, for those who will be applying to Classics graduate programs in the future.

While it would be neither desirable nor necessary to require a uniform format for posts, it would nevertheless be helpful to keep a few things in mind as we post here:

  • You don't have to share every last bit of your experience.  Only post what you are comfortable sharing.
  • If you are concerned with remaining anonymous, check your post for anything that might help identify you before submitting.
  • Do not betray any confidence: if someone shared something with you in confidence, do not post it here.  If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
  • Please be civil and charitable.

And for those who will be reading these posts for tips, please don't take any advice offered here as infallible truth.  We all come from different backgrounds, educational or personal, and the circumstances under which we apply are far from uniform.  Nor do all the graduate programs operate in exactly the same manner when it comes to the admission process.  In short, what worked for one person might not work for another. 

With that having been said, I hope this thread will prove helpful to those who are interested in applying to Classics graduate programs.  So chime in, everyone!  Whether you have been successful with your applications or not, we will all appreciate what you can share with us!

Last, but not the least, a shoutout to our own indefatigable @ClassicsCandidate, whose charity, optimism, and perseverance have been a light for many of us going through the arduous and often times torturous application process.

PS: I will share my own experience later when I get a chance to organize my thoughts into something intelligible.  Meanwhile feel free to jump in and get it started!

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First of all, and I cannot stress this enough, please make sure that a graduate degree in the Classics is what you want.  Graduate programs are demanding and time consuming, and in the case of the Classics it's an understatement to say that the job market is not great.  Talk to your professors.  Contact current graduate students.  Discuss it with your family and/or friends.  At the end of the day, however, you are the only one who can make that decision and you are the only one who is responsible for that decision.  So make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.


Now, whatever your reason might be, whether professional, intellectual, or personal, if you are still determined to pursue graduate studies in the Classics, I applaud you and your determination.  ?  And here's what I have learned from two rounds of applications.  Hopefully it will be of some use to you.




How To Find Classics Graduate Programs


The Society for Classical Studies (SCS) has on its website a list of all the Classics graduate programs in North America.  The list includes PhD, terminal MA, MAT/ML, and post-baccalaureate programs.  It's a pretty good starting point for deciding what programs to apply to.  However, be aware that while the list is mostly up-to-date, I did find two significant omissions: the Pre-doctoral Fellowship at Princeton and the Bridge MA program at Cornell, both fully funded one-year programs.  To be fair, those two programs are relatively new.


The SCS list does not include any information on funding, but my understanding is that most, if not all, Classics PhD programs are funded (though please do correct me if I'm wrong on that point).  Funded MA programs, especially fully funded ones, on the other hand, are much rarer.  Luckily, Prof. Liv Yarrow of Brooklyn College has a very informative blog post on funded MA programs and pre-doctoral fellowships (mostly American, but some Canadian and one German).  The blog post is from November last year (2020), and as far as I can tell, is quite comprehensive and up-to-date.


As for graduate programs outside of North America, I will defer to others with more experience.  The only thing I will add is that the Classics Department at Notre Dame has a handy list of classics departments around the world, conveniently sorted by geographic locations.  Unlike the SCS list and Prof. Yarrow's list, the Notre Dame list is for Classics departments, whether a department has a graduate program or not (also, some Classics "departments" might not be their own departments, but rather a program inside a department that includes other tangentially related fields).  But if you are interested in graduate programs outside of North America, it's a good starting point.  Just follow the link for a department and check out their website to see if they have a gradate program.


Narrow Down Your Choices


So now you have a long list (or lists) of graduate programs in front of you.  How do you know which programs to apply to?  I'm not sure if this is intuitive or counter-intuitive, but before you start thinking about "fit" - which I will talk a bit more in another section - narrow down your choices first by asking yourself if there are schools you do not want to go or cannot go, no matter how good the "fit" or how generous the funding is. 


For instance, if you loathe living on the East Coast, cross those programs on the East Coast off your list first.  Or if you are undocumented and not covered by DACA, then you want to focus only on those programs that can actually fund you, i.e. those that offer funding packages without TA or RA requirement (I happen to know people in such a situation, i.e. undocumented and DACA-less, who applied and were admitted into Classics graduate programs, so if you have any questions, please feel free to PM me). 


By doing this, you might be able to narrow down your choices significantly, saving yourself a lot of research time down the road.  And spoiler alert: there will be a lot more research to do down the road! 


But fear not and read on!  ?




There's a welcoming trend of graduate programs either completely dropping the GRE requirement or making it optional.  Over the last two application cycles, as part of my research I have collected information on 95 graduate programs in a spreadsheet.  GRE is no longer required at about half of those programs.  Out of those that still require GRE as a matter of policy, a few waived the requirement for the last application cycle due to the pandemic, which they might or might not continue for the next application cycle.


[Note: The 95 graduate programs I researched are all located in the US.  They include both PhD and MA programs as well as a few post-bac and pre-doc fellowships.  Most of them are in the Classics, but a few are history programs with an ancient history track.]


Degree Requirement


As far as I can tell, most graduate programs do not require you to have a BA or an MA in Classics as a prerequisite (according to their websites anyway).  In other words, even if your undergraduate degree is in a completely different field, that does not in itself preclude you from applying to graduate programs in Classics, nor does it put you at a disadvantage (but see language requirement in the next section).


There are, however, a few programs that do require a degree in the Classics or a related field.  For instance, the MA programs at both NYU and Indiana require a BA.  The PhD program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, on the other hand, requires an MA. 


Language Requirement


MA programs usually require proficiency in either Latin or Greek as a minimum for admission.  Some, such as Notre Dame and University of Florida, require proficiency in both languages though not necessarily at the same level, e.g. Florida State requires 2-3 years of course work in one language and 1-2 years in the other. 


PhD programs usually require proficiency in both Latin and Greek (2-3 years each if not more) as a minimum for admission.  Some programs, such as Harvard and UC Berkeley, require proficiency in one modern language (German, French, or Italian) in addition to Latin and Greek.


Whatever your undergraduate background, there's no escaping the language requirement.  So if you are lacking in Latin and/or Greek preparation, you must find a way to remedy your deficiency before applying.  There are several ways of going about it: doing a post-bac, taking courses at a local college, enrolling in an intensive summer language program such as the one at CUNY Graduate Center, etc. 


Self study is also an option and is most definitely a viable one.  It is not, however, a walk in the park; it requires dedication and self-discipline.  Also note that, if you do choose the self study route, you will still need some concrete proof of your language proficiency other than your own words.  For instance, after you have learned the first two years of Latin or Greek on your own, you can take a few advanced courses at a local college, and if you do well in those classes, the grades on your transcript should be sufficient evidence of your proficiency.  


[To be continued in Part 2 . . . hopefully ?]

Edited by JMAurelius
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Before we get to the actual application, please allow me to use my own experience in the last two application cycles as a more concrete example for how you can go about applying the advice in Part 1, where we talked about how you should shorten your list of graduate programs by first eliminating those that you know you would not attend no matter what or cannot attend for whatever reasons:


Using the SCS list as a starting point, I first compiled a master list of graduate programs and filled in all the relevant information I could find for each program (a spreadsheet is very handy for this and allows you to sort the list by different variables such as degree type, GRE requirement, etc.).  I did not, however, look at all the programs on the SCS list.  My list only included American programs since I did not want to go abroad for graduate school.


With that master list in hand, I first eliminated those programs that had a GRE requirement because I could not afford the $200 fee for the test so I didn't take it.  I also crossed out programs that explicitly required an undergraduate degree in the Classics or a related field since my BA was in a completely different discipline. 


I then looked at the language requirement.  By the time I applied to graduate programs, I had remedied my deficiency in Latin and Greek through a combination of self study, undergraduate courses at a local college, and an intensive summer language program.  I had also further strengthened my Latin qualification by being placed first in my state and fourth nationally in various sight translation contests.  As a result, the only programs I had to cross off my list on account of language requirement were those that explicitly required proficiency in a modern language (German, French, or Italian) in addition to Latin and Greek.  Fortunately those were a small minority: only 8 out of the 54 PhD programs on my list explicitly required a modern language as a prerequisite, and none of the 41 MA/Pre-Doc/Post-Bacc programs did.


Make no mistake, having German, French, or Italian under your belt will most definitely be an advantage even if a program does not require it for admission, and you should work on acquiring reading proficiency in one of them (ideally German) if you have the chance.  However, you should not let a lack of modern language preparation deter you from applying if it's not required.  Despite not having studied any of the three modern languages, I was accepted into a fully and very well funded MA Classics program.  Of course, I have no idea how many people applied to that program in the last cycle when I applied, but given the rarity of fully funded MAs, the extremely small number of admits, and the reputation of the school and Department, not to mention the havoc the pandemic wreaked on the last application cycle, I think it's safe to assume that admission to that program was quite competitive.


Now I did not mention all of that to brag about how great I am.  There are many people out there, including on this very forum, who are far better than I, and that's not to mention the more I talk about this particular program - in fact, the more I talk about my experience - the easier it is for others to identify me, and frankly that thought scares me, but what I would hate even more is for someone to not apply to a program because they don't think they will stand a chance without knowing German, French, or Italian.  So if talking about my experience could convince even just one person that a lack of modern language preparation does not by itself shut the door to Classics graduate programs, then it's all worth it.


I do not, however, want to leave anyone with unreasonable - or worse, false - expectations, either.  As a matter of fact, there are a few caveats to my experience getting into that MA program.  For starters, it is, well, an MA program, not PhD.  And out of the dozen or so programs I applied to in the last two cycles, it's also the only one that offered me admission.  I was rejected by all the others (including both PhD and MA/Pre-Doc programs).  Of course, one cannot logically conclude from this that my lack of modern language preparation was what tanked all my other applications.  There are simply too many other factors in the admissions process (I definitely screwed up some of those and could have done better with the others).  In fact, the two Classics professors who wrote my LoRs repeatedly assured me that it could not have been the reason even for all the PhD rejections I received since modern language preparation is not one of the most important factors admissions committees consider.  Nevertheless, please do keep these caveats in mind as you evaluate this particular aspect of my experience.


[To be continued in Part 3]


Darn it, another part that turned out longer than planned (I only meant for this to be a quick recap).  Oh, well.  ?  But worry not, I promise I will get to the actual application in the next part!  . . .  Maybe . . . ?

Edited by JMAurelius
typos, wording, phrasing, clarification
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Ugh, just realized Part 2 could have been written much better.  Oh well, at least all the important points are there.  But seriously, posts should remain editable for a much longer period than the few hours we have now.  ?

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  • 2 weeks later...



By eliminating those programs you know you will not attend no matter what, you now have (hopefully) a much shorter list of potential programs.  Now it's time to decide which of those you will actually apply to.  And that brings us to the all important question of "fit".


Know Thy Self


There are different ways of looking at "fit".  The first and arguably the most important thing to consider is how well your own research interest matches the expertise of the faculty at a particular program.  This, of course, requires that you actually know what your own research interest is.  You need to know what question (or questions) that you want to answer through graduate study.  And you need something a lot more specific than, say, "Byzantine history" or "Latin orations".  


You can narrow down your research interest by time periods, geography, themes, approaches, or any combination of those and others, e.g. Athenian democracy during the Hellenistic period.  Then try to formulate a question or two, e.g. how did Macedonian rule affect domestic politics in Athens?  I'm using history as an example since my interest is more on the historical side of things, so I'm a little more familiar with it.  If your interest is in literature, linguistics, or archaeology, then you might need to do it a little differently (or not).  The point is, narrow down your interest so that you can formulate a research question or two.  Also, another disclaimer: Hellenistic Athens is not actually where my own research interest is (not at this point anyway) and I haven't read much on the topic, so the research question I used as an example might nor might not actually be a good one.  But you get the idea.


Please also note that this does not mean your research interest and question will never or can never change during your time in a graduate program.  Far from it.  But this will ensure that you have something concrete to organize your application around, which is critically important.


Potential Advisors


Once you know what questions you want to answer, you need to look at the other side of the "fitness" equation: your potential advisors.  If you already know whom you would like to work with, then great!  But if not, you can start with department websites, all of which should have a dedicated page with a description of each faculty member's field(s) of expertise.  The descriptions might be no more than a series of keywords, or it might be a few paragraphs long.  Either way, don't just skim through it, but read it carefully.  This is a chance for you to further shorten your list of programs before diving deeper into more research work.  For instance, if your interest is in Greek history, but a department does not have any Greek historians on its faculty, then cross it off your list.


If you are still not sure if a faculty member's expertise matches your own interest, read some of their previous works.  It could be a book, an article, etc.  Of course, you don't need to read a book or article in its entirety, but read enough to have a sense of what the faculty's research interest and approaches are.  Who knows, you might even discover a question or approach you have not considered before.  Depending on your situation, all of this might take a while, so start as soon as you can.


Once you are clear about your own research interest/question and have done your homework on potential advisors, you should have a final list of programs that are a good fit for your, i.e. those that you will actually apply do. 


[To be continued in Part 4]


Ok, so I didn't actually get into the application itself as promised, though to be fair, I did say "maybe".  ?  Will I finally get to it in the next part?  Will I ever learn how to dance gracefully?  Stay tuned! 

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