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Salvete Omnes!  I'm currently a senior at a small liberal arts college, and recently, have made the decision to pursue my lifelong love of classics.  Currently, I have four years of Latin and one of Attic Greek, along with a year of German.  I've also applied to, and have received some acceptances, from MA programs in classics.  I was considering a postbac to remedy my deficiencies in Greek, looking mainly at Georgetown and U Penn's programs.  During the summer I plan on finishing my second year of Greek, and hopefully the first regiment of intermediate German, so as to have the requisite preparation upon entering grad school. I've talked with different professors regarding PhD programs and was told that, to have a realistic chance of attaining a job, it is necessary to attend a "top 10" program, of course any rankings are highly subjective, depending on reputation and the faculty within the various departments.  In addition, my GPA is currently a 3.45, although my classics gpa and last two years have been around a 3.8, and my GRE is a 165 verbal, 152 quant, and 5 analytic writing.  My question is thus, to crack the "top 10" should I attend an MA program (let's say money isn't an issue for the sake of things) or spend a year at a postbac?  Additionally, what measures should I take to best assist my chances of acceptance to a top PhD program?  


My current thought process is that an MA is the much better route.  My reasoning is that it would give me time, during the school year and summer, to significantly strengthen my Greek and German, while perhaps having the opportunity to pick up Italian.  Also, the MA route would give me access to graduate level Latin courses and some of the more advanced topics, such as paleography, that normally aren't offered to undergraduates.  An MA would also give me 3 semesters of new grades to show any PhD program, dulling the blow that a 3.45 would have in the eyes of a PhD committee.  Plus, I would also have essentially two years to try and find a means by which to publish a piece and further stand out from the PhD "crowd."  Also, I take it that I should most likely retake the GRE.  Is there a particular score that is regarded as the "cutoff" for top PhD programs?  Anyways, thank you for the reply, and I apologize for the rather cumbersome stream of consciousness! 

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Χαῖρε, ὦ Τραιάνε,


1) Provided you can get in to a solid MA program, I don't see why you would choose a post-bac over it. The key reason for taking time off before applying to a classics PhD is cultivating your languages skills. You should be able to do that really well in an MA program. (You'll also probably get a solid writing sample out of it if you don't already have something lying around.)


2) No "hard" cut-offs for the GRE, but I do think that a 165+ verbal and 5+ writing are par for the course for most serious top-10 applicants. These numbers will ensure that your scores don't stand out as particularly low in comparison to the rest of your application (which should be strong if geared to a top-10).


The #1 one thing you can do at this point is read more Latin and Greek (esp. Greek if you've already done a fair bit more Latin). You need to be at the "advanced" level (whatever you take that to mean) by the time you're looking at PhD programs. Continue with a modern language (e.g., German as you're doing). Pick up a second if you've got the time, but it probably won't make or break your application. Write something that will showcase your ability to interpret ancient texts in their original languages and deal with relevant classical scholarship (in English is fine). And get strong grades in your MA to show your continued upward trend. A 3.9+ in your MA should get you in the running.


Oh, and congratulations on the choice.

Edited by Starbuck
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I'd also say do the MA. If after a couple of years you decide you don't want to get a PhD, you'll have an MA. That will make you attractive to private schools that teach Latin; it sets up a great basis if you decide to do English, Comp. Lit. whatever else as a PhD. In my (completely subjective) mind, a post-bac looks like you're clearing up deficiencies; an MA looks like you mastered the material.

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Hi Traianus,


I think your instincts about taking the MA path are right, and I agree with the advice that hellenist and heliogabalus have given above.  I would only add the following few points:


(1) the writing sample is absolutely key to a successful application, and there is no doubt the MA will help you produce something much stronger than what you might have already, esp. if it requires a dissertation/thesis.  So in addition to shoring up your Greek, focus on your writing.  You did mention wanting to try to publish something -- that's a commendable ambition, but by no means necessary to guarantee admission to a top 10.  (Publishing is also extraordinarily time-consuming as well as difficult: the referee process takes anywhere up to 2 years, depending on the journal, and that is assuming your paper is accepted in the first round -- which many ultimately publishable papers aren't!)  A more realistic way to stand out in the pool is to aim for presenting at a professional conference like the APA or any of the regional classical association meetings -- check the APA website's blog for a listing of calls for papers.


(2) if you do not have strong research interests already, take the opportunity of the MA to develop a few.  Having a research interest that is demonstrated through coursework or the writing sample is key to making a strong application; you cannot just say you want to do Latin or Greek or history broadly.  That being said, what many departments really want to see is an applicant with a variety of interests, not just one narrowly focused interest; they want someone who shows a clear potential for intellectual growth and change, and who can make use of all the resources they might have to offer.  So read widely and do some exploring in your MA, or on your own, if you can!


Basically the rest is straightforward: aim for strong grades, keep working on your languages.  I'd say that for your GRE it's really up to you whether to retake it or not; a score such as yours won't break (even though it might not make) your application.  But keep in mind, there are quite a few applicants out there with strong language preparation and strong grades/scores, so the number one way to stand out is to develop your intellectual interests, and work on your written research, to a point where they will make you unique.  Good luck!

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