"I want to get an MA in classics first, and then decide my career path."
You are not alone! Many students earning BAs in classics, or in the humanities in general, know that they would like to spend more time studying the ancient world, but do not yet have distinct career preferences for the years ahead. The good news is that the very process of earning an MA can help you determine what you would like to do afterwards.
You can start by learning about the graduate school admissions process in classics, if you like, and then return here to read on. Whether you are planning to use your MA years as a productive transition forward in classics or out into another field, there are some recommendations we can provide to help you.
1. Invest yourself in your MA--and finish it.
Even if you decide at some point during the degree that you will be shifting into another field, it is most likely in your general interest (unless you are in your first semester and know that you want to leave immediately) to complete the MA and produce the best work that you can during it. In addition to the advanced intellectual training that you will receive (your writing, presentation, public speaking, and research skills, for example, will inevitably improve), you will have a genuine credential to show for your work--and you will be acquainted with faculty members who will likely be far more willing to write recommendations to help you make your transition.
2. Notice carefully what academic activities you enjoy--and do not enjoy--in graduate school.
Perhaps you are energized by your role as a TA but are less thrilled by library research, or you enjoy reading and writing in general but find current events more fascinating, as time goes by, than ancient ones. You now have enough academic experience to be able to separate your reactions to people (for example, an especially gifted--or difficult--teacher) from your reactions to activities and ideas. Observing how you feel about the different kinds of work expected of you can provide important clues as to where your ideal career path might lie.
3. Experiment with different projects and new areas of study.
If you ultimately decide to continue on in the field, a wider range of experiences will only help to make you a better classicist. If you move into another profession, you will have a broader palette of skills upon which to draw. For example, joining an archaeological excavation can provide evidence that you are capable of working as a member of a team to accomplish tasks and solve problems, a mode of operation which is very common in the business world. Serving as a research assistant for a faculty member may help you develop new skills in computing, or even encourage you to begin learning another modern language.
4. Consider earning a teaching certificate, or at least gaining teaching experience.
It is very common for MA students to find themselves at the front of the classroom for the very first time and discover that they love teaching. An MA provides a strong background for work as a high school, prep school, or grammar school teacher. If you are able to earn some credits towards teaching certification while you are working on your MA, you will be in a position to finish the requirements quickly if you decide that a teaching certificate is right for you.
Many private schools will also consider hiring new teachers who have the requisite academic training but have yet to complete certification. You may want to make yourself as attractive as possible to such institutions not only by working as a TA, but also by taking on private tutoring or even serving as a substitute teacher in your local school district, if possible.
5. If you are planning to transition out of classics, use the summer(s) to explore career options.
Many professions outside of academia truly value the skills that trained classicists can bring to them. Apply for internships or short-term positions that will give you insight into other fields, and that will also allow you to build work experience and accumulate good recommendations from employers. Try to stay in touch with your contacts even once the academic year is back in session.
6. If you do decide to go on for a PhD in classics, inform your professors and begin planning as soon as possible.
You will want to begin learning as much as you can about the application process to doctoral programs, to join your local (in the DC region, this is the Classical Association of the Atlantic States) and national (Society for Classical Studies and/or Archaeological Institute of America) professional organizations, and to begin engaging in scholarly activities (e.g. applying to present at graduate student conferences), in addition to continuing your work on your MA.
Interested in exploring still more options? Read about careers for classicists outside of academia.