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moving into classics

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hi everyone,

 

so as the admissions season winds down i'm already starting to think of re-applying in a year or two and trying to switch (from philosophy) into a classics department.

 

i'm actually not an ancient philosophy specialist by training, but i've become increasingly interested in both ancient phil as well as classical philology more generally and given that i'm starting to feel an impulse to get out of philosophy, which i'm realizing can be a pretty toxic discipline, i'm starting to consider the possibility of switching disciplines entirely, although certainly with the intention of focussing primarily on philosophical texts and traditions.

 

so, with all that said, i'd love to hear people who have more experience with the ins and outs of applying give me a sense of what i'd need to do to make successful application.

 

- first languages: i'm finishing up a full year of greek and latin (the latter just audited unofficially, so with the disadvantage of not being on my transcript, but the content is there at least). from reading past threads, it seems like 2-3 years of each is standard -- would doing an intensive summer course of each greek and latin over the next two summers (at uchicago or cuny's programme, perhaps) and participating in greek/latin reading groups at the university i'll be attending for philosophy next fall possibly cut it?

 

another option would be to go back and start an m.a. from scratch, i suppose, although that's a little less appealing.

 

-second: what, besides languages (which is obviously far and away the most important) would be particularly helpful to get under my belt. regardless of what i end up doing i'll be taking a handful of courses in ancient phil topics, so i should have a good grasp of classical philosophy, but is it absolutely vital to have studied other literary texts *formally* to be competitive? i.e. would making an effort to read widely (in the original, ideally) and participate in reading groups etc. be any substitute at all for a solid background in classics coursework?

 

ok, that's all for now! thanks to anyone who made it through what ended up being a much longer than expected post!

looking forward to hearing your thoughts

 

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I was in a similar situation, and went from a history department to a classics department, although I had neither majored nor minored in classics, and I will tell you straight up:  it's difficult.  Not only are you competing for admission with classics majors, many of whom have had two to three times as many classes in Latin and Greek as you have had, but, once you gain admission, you're required to take reading classes on texts outside of your field of interest.  For example, I'm mostly interested in Roman history, but only two of my eight MA level reading classes have focused primarily on Roman history.  Then you have MA and PhD comps which you will have to take as a graduate student in a classics department, meaning that you will have to be able to read Homer, Virgil, and Sophocles with as much ease as you will need to be able to read Aristotle, Plato, and Seneca.  

 

Joining reading groups is, of course, a fantastic idea, BUT it is not as impressive or as indicative of your ability to read Latin and Greek as courses on a transcript would be.  Even if you're more interested in philosophy than philology, you will need to be a philologist to succeed in a classics department.  

 

I do apologize if I seem too harsh.  I certainly do not mean to be.  But, I know, from experience, that it's a rough field to break into, and most schools only accept and fund about 5-10% of applicants every year.  And the job market is such that, in order to find a job (let alone a tenure track job) you MUST graduate from a top tier school (assuming, of course, that your goal is to work in academia).  

 

I recommend entering a Post-Bac or certificate program.  Your writing sample should contain as much proof as possible that you can read Greek and Latin, and you should have at least two (if not three) letters of recommendation from professors who can vouch for your language skills.  Again, this is assuming that you want to move into a classics department.

 

You could also email a few professors who work in the departments which interest you, and ask them, frankly, what sort of an academic background a student would need in order to be successful in their programs.

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Have you looked into joint degree programs? Many universities offer joint Classics and philosophy PhDs now.  Yale has one that takes applications from Classics and Philosophy, so you could apply with your philosophy degree to a Philosophy department and still potentially transition to Classics.  I think some other places have similar systems.  And, no, you won't need to have Classics-major-level language experience.

 

I'd like to reiterate everything hanbran said; he is spot-on.  Consider Penn's post-bac, which is only a year (a little more palatable than a new MA) and supposed to be quite good and reasonably affordable.  I'm sure a funded MA would also suit your purposes, but remember that you'd still be competing against Classics majors.  (I do know someone who did a post-bac and a funded MA before starting their PhD program, though.  It all depends on your patience.)  To improve your application, consider learning to read French, German, or Italian.

 

I don't love your summers-only language training plan (I don't think it'll prepare you very well, to be honest), but you could probably make it work.

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Pittsburgh has a very highly respected Classics, Philosophy, and Ancient Science interdisciplinary program (http://www.classics.pitt.edu/classics-philosophy/), though you'd have to enter the philosophy department, since the classics department's graduate funding has been axed completely.  It did just hire a new Platonist though.  And, of course, if Aristotle is your man, it's one of the best philosophy departments in the country.

 

Sadly, the best schools are also the most competitive :( .

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I saw an advertisement for a new MA in Ancient Philosophy that might be just what you're looking for (if you don't mind moving to Canada, that is). There was a post over in the phil. forum a few months ago:

 

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Hmm thanks for the responses -- certainly daunting though pretty much exactly as expected. i'm curious why the idea of doing intensive formal language training during the summer seems inadequate (not that i don't believe it! just curious)

for what it's worth i already have fluent french and german, but that seems like a pretty marginal leg up...

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In my opinion,* learning a dead language isn't something you can do just over the summer and expect to maintain through independent reading without a formal class structure.  You won't gain nearly as much without a professor around to correct your mistakes and bad habits.  I learned Latin from a summer intensive course, and while it did prepare me very well, it took easily a year of coursework before I really felt comfortable with it at the advanced level.  The structure of summer programs is very different, and you'd be surprised how quickly those language skills fade if you don't use them constantly.  Good French and German will count for more than you'd think!

 

*in case it wasn't clear, this is my disclaimer.

Edited by kaloskagathos

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In my opinion,* learning a dead language isn't something you can do just over the summer and expect to maintain through independent reading without a formal class structure.  You won't gain nearly as much without a professor around to correct your mistakes and bad habits.  I learned Latin from a summer intensive course, and while it did prepare me very well, it took easily a year of coursework before I really felt comfortable with it at the advanced level.  The structure of summer programs is very different, and you'd be surprised how quickly those language skills fade if you don't use them constantly.  Good French and German will count for more than you'd think!

 

*in case it wasn't clear, this is my disclaimer.

Thanks for the response! That does make quite a bit of sense. I think I might have misrepresented (unintentionally) what I've been calling 'reading groups,' however -- they're in fact 'workshops' and it looks like they're formal courses on individual texts.

 

Not sure if I could swing taking them for credit/graded, but I imagine doing those in both Greek + Latin after taking intensive summer courses would probably go a ways...

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Thanks for the response! That does make quite a bit of sense. I think I might have misrepresented (unintentionally) what I've been calling 'reading groups,' however -- they're in fact 'workshops' and it looks like they're formal courses on individual texts.

 

Not sure if I could swing taking them for credit/graded, but I imagine doing those in both Greek + Latin after taking intensive summer courses would probably go a ways...

Yes, that sounds much more substantial!  Transcripts only from the summers might work if you can get to the level of taking CUNY courses, but I don't know what the grading on those is like.

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It basically comes down to time and money.  If you're willing to spend both, you can become very competitive.

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If you have good German, you should go to Germany to get a MA in classical philology. It is mostly free. You pay a registration fee of 1000+ euro per semester and that's it. The total cost of living is around 13500 dollars a year. You do not need to compete with others. You will be admitted as long as one professor agrees to advise you. Tell them that you lack language training and are willing to take more time to strengthen your language skills. Somebody will definitely say yes.

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