The Catholic University of America

"I like the ancient world.  But is studying classics really for me?"

We are anxious to help you find out! Here, we offer responses to some questions that you might have if you are a high school student or an undergraduate who is considering joining our department. If you do not see your concerns represented, please feel free to contact us!


Do I have to know Latin?

Inlet view from Lindos, Rhodes  
Looking down from the acropolis of Lindos, Rhodes
NO--at least, not to study the ancient world through English translation, in a program like our major in Classical Civilization. A student pursuing a BA in Classical Civilization in this department can study literature read in English, history, mythology, and art.  A BA in Classical Civilization is a strong liberal arts degree with training in reading, writing, and critical thinking. Our recent Classical Civilization graduates are working in or studying for careers in such diverse fields as law, secondary education (history), and museum studies. We enthusiastically support our students no matter where their goals may take them.  A classical background can enhance a wide variety of careers.

But what if I want to go to graduate school in classics?

If you want to go to graduate school in this field, you will need to learn both Greek and Latin. Our department specializes in teaching the ancient languages especially well, and graduates from our two-language major in Classics have entered graduate school in the field at Harvard, Virginia, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Vermont, Fordham, and Florida State, in such diverse areas of the discipline as literature, Byzantine studies, and archaeology.  There are exciting careers available in the discipline, and our faculty are ready to help you progress as far as you want to go.

  The town of Fira, Santorini, Greece
  The town of Fira on the island of Santorini, Greece

Can I study abroad?

YES!  Not only can you study abroad, but as a major in Classics, Classical Humanities, or Classical Civilization, whether or not you study the ancient languages, you should study abroad if at all possible. The civilizations of ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and medieval Europe come alive when you can actually visit the sites, walk the streets, climb the hills, and experience the art works firsthand.

The study abroad programs with which CUA is affiliated offer opportunities for majors in our department to spend a semester in Rome or in Athens (with additional travel built into both programs): students who have highly competitive GPAs can also apply for a semester in Oxford.

The Department of Greek and Latin also sponsored its own spring break abroad program with a highly successful journey to Greece in spring 2008, and it is hoped that additional trips may be scheduled in future years.

Seaside path in Nauplion  
The path from the Old Town to the beach in Nauplion, Greece

What are college classics courses like when they are taught in English?

Imagine an entire class that focused on (for example) mythology, or Roman art and architecture, or the history of the ancient Near East and ancient Greece. These are just a few of the exciting courses that are regularly offered in our department, and they are also required for some of our degree programs.

In our department, we label these courses with numbers and the prefix "CLAS." For us, this means that these courses use readings only in English, with no Latin or Greek expected or required.

These kinds of courses are open to students at all levels, even freshmen. (We recommend that most students wait until they are sophomores or juniors, however, to take the Greek and Roman literature in translation courses, CLAS 312 and CLAS 313, since they require more intensive reading and writing.) 

Our CLAS courses meet either three days per week for 50 minutes or two days per week for 75 minutes. They are usually taught by full or adjunct members of our departmental faculty, which means they are an excellent opportunity to get to know our professors. To prepare for these classes, students usually complete homework in the form of readings in English, and then come to class to listen to lectures, view images, and participate in discussions about the material. At various points during the semester, short papers are often assigned, and there may be a longer paper due at the end of the course. There are sometimes quizzes, along with (generally) midterm and final exams.

  Dome of St. Peter's, Rome
  The dome of St. Peter's, Rome

What are college Latin (and Greek) language courses like?

It depends upon how long you have been studying the language! We will talk about Latin here, since that is the ancient language that is more frequently offered in high schools.

The first year of college Latin

During the first college year of Latin study at CUA (for us, this year consists of two one-semester courses, called LAT 101 in the fall and LAT 102 in the spring), students come to class for 50 minutes, four days per week. Class meetings focus on the study of Latin "morphology and syntax," which are really just technical terms for Latin word forms and the kinds of constructions those word forms use to build sentences. (So for those of you who have already studied some Latin, an example of "morphology" would be the noun forms of the first declension; an example of "syntax" would be purpose clauses.)

First-year college Latin uses a textbook and concentrates on learning to read Latin sentences of all kinds. By the end of the year, students have studied all of the major concepts in Latin grammar and started translating short passages from real Latin literature. Homework to prepare for first-year Latin classes usually consists of sentences to translate into and out of Latin, as well as the memorizing of forms and vocabulary for quizzes and tests.
What is now studied outside of Latin class
When you were in high school, you probably covered Roman culture in your Latin class, and you may even have participated in festivals, competitions, and national examinations that embraced the larger Roman world.  Our department offers courses in these areas as well, like Roman history (which we call CLAS 206, History of the Ancient Mediterranean II), mythology (CLAS 211), and Roman art and architecture (CLAS 318), so that everything can be covered in much greater detail than it would if it had to share time with language study,

McMahon from the Shrine at sunset  
The dome of the Shrine at sunset, looking towards McMahon Hall, home of our department (credit: CUA)
The second year of college Latin

The second year of college Latin at CUA (consisting of LAT 103 in the fall and LAT 104 in the spring) focuses on helping students learn to read Latin literature in the original. Second-year Latin courses meet for 50 minutes, three days per week, and students usually prepare for class by translating an excerpt from a Latin author and rereading it as often as they can. At class, they take turns translating again, directly from the Latin text, and ask and answer questions about the grammar of the passage. About one day per week in LAT 103, in the fall semester, is spent on review of Latin grammar and syntax. But by LAT 104, in the spring semester, our students are studying Vergil's Aeneid and beginning to learn about Latin literary style.

Advanced placement

For comparison, a student who receives a 5 on any Latin AP exam or a 700 or above on the Latin SAT II test will place out of LAT 101-102-103-104 and go right into the higher-level courses we are about to describe.

The third year of college Latin and beyond
After LAT 104, our students are ready for courses in Latin prose composition (where they learn to write in Latin, as well as to read it even more deeply!) and for courses on various Roman authors or time periods. Some recent and upcoming courses have focused on Livy, Horace, and Roman literature from the age of Nero. In "author-level" courses, students prepare for class by reading assigned passages of text, along with (often) selected commentaries and analyses by modern scholars. In class, they translate, discuss the text, and sometimes give presentations or write papers.
As a department, we are very proud of the way we study and teach the ancient languages. Our students are encouraged to master Latin (and, depending on their degree programs, Greek) to the very best of their abilities.

  Trevi Fountain, Rome
  The Trevi fountain, Rome
Who will teach me? Do students at CUA work closely with the faculty?

Absolutely! CUA is, in many ways, a "best of both worlds" institution, where intensive research is balanced with careful mentoring and great teaching.

But what does this really mean for you? In the Department of Greek and Latin, it means, above all else, that you will be part of a community of explorers. All of us, from freshmen to faculty, are working constantly to know more about the ancient and medieval worlds, and we share our discoveries both inside and outside the classroom, from professional conference presentations to office hours.

Studying with our faculty

Our faculty are highly accessible: the full-time faculty keep office hours every semester that they are in residence, and all are located in the same office suite. Our suite also contains the departmental library, a space much used by faculty and students alike, and so all the members of our department tend to see one another very frequently. Informal consultation is common, and our students know they can make an appointment with any faculty member they wish to ask for advice.

No matter which one of our majors you pursue, your curriculum will probably include courses that are taught by members of our full-time faculty, our adjunct faculty, and even our graduate students. You will get to know as many of our scholars and teachers as possible during your time at CUA, and by the end of your junior year, you will select one of our departmental faculty members to supervise your senior project, a special yearlong research effort that you will design and complete under your professor's individual direction.

Parthenon, Athens, Greece  
The Parthenon, Athens, Greece
Studying with our graduate students

Incoming university freshmen often wonder how many courses they will take that are taught by graduate students. Sometimes this question arises because of concerns over how "good" a teacher a graduate student may be, or because of concerns that one will not "get to" study with members of the full departmental faculty.

We want to put those concerns to rest. First, let us begin by stating that in our department, graduate students generally teach in our elementary- and intermediate-level language sequences (101-102 and 103-104), but full-time and adjunct departmental faculty also teach intermediate-level Greek and Latin on a regular basis. Language courses beyond the intermediate level and nearly all of our CLAS courses (classics courses taught in English) are offered by the full-time and adjunct faculty. 

The graduate students who teach for us in earlier language courses are carefully mentored, and they are assessed through both university course evaluations and departmental course evaluations every semester. The undergraduate adviser is available to them on a daily basis for consultation--and is available to their students, too.

If I study classics in college, what kind of job can I get when I finish school?

Many people think that studying classics in college automatically means pursuing a career as a professor or as a high school teacher. These are certainly possible, but there are many, many, MANY other options as well. It depends on how you want to use what you have learned.

Above all else, studying classics trains your mind for challenging, independent work. A student who holds a degree in Classics, Classical Humanities, or Classical Civilization from our department has learned to read critically, to argue logically, to write effectively, and to think independently. These skills are applicable in a wide variety of careers.

Let us start with students who graduate from our department and want to change fields. Law school remains a popular option (perhaps because our location in Washington, DC makes it possible for our students to study both ancient and modern politics at the same time!), but other recent graduates have pursued studies or careers in media, in writing, and in public policy.

If you know you want to stay in or near the field of classics, you might want to consider going to graduate school for an MA (or even a PhD), pursuing a career in library work or publishing, entering museum work, seeking a position in a high school, or training to become an archaeologist.

Can I double-major in something in this department along with something else?

Yes!  The most flexible degree program we offer, the major in Classical Civilization, can often be added as a second major even by students who have already made significant progress on a first major, especially since it does not require the study of any ancient languages.  With careful planning, the Classical Humanities major, with a language specialization either in Greek or in Latin, also makes a good double, since it includes a cognate field that can be adapted to complement your other interests.

It is not impossible to double-major in Classics (the degree program where you learn both Greek and Latin) and another field, but you will need to take some extra courses (perhaps in the summertime) and plan very carefully.

Can I combine one of this department's degrees with the CUA Honors Program?

Absolutely!  Many successful CUA classicists have also been Honors students, and some of them have chosen to pursue University Scholar status at graduation, too.  The best path towards success as an Honors classicist is frequent and thoughtful consultation with the departmental undergraduate adviser, since many Honors courses help to fulfill other degree requirements as well as counting towards your achievements in the Honors program, and so they need to be selected carefully.

Purely in terms of logistics, the easiest Honors tracks to fit in with our department's majors are those in humanities, philosophy, and theology, although the others are also possible.

What about minors?  What are they good for?

Minors are smaller areas of concentration (meaning groups of courses that you take in a certain subject) that can complement or contrast with your major.  They can be used to demonstrate special skill in something that might not be obvious from your major (for example, a chemistry major with a minor in German might qualify to work overseas one day), to deepen and expand the studies involved with your major (for example, a major in Classical Civilization in our department can go well with a minor in Art, or in Anthropology), or to add qualifications that will assist in creating your career profile (in our department, a common combination is Classical Humanities (Latin Emphasis) with a minor in Secondary Education for those who want to teach in a high school).  You can even use a minor to receive academic recognition for something that you simply love or enjoy.

But the good news is that you can also minor in classics, even if you are majoring in something else!  We offer minors in Greek, in Latin, and in Classical Civilization, all of which make great add-ons to strengthen your degree.

How can I get started on a minor in this department?

If you want to try one of the minors in the CUA Department of Greek and Latin, you can just start taking some of the courses and see how you like them.  But once you decide you would actually like to pursue and complete a minor, you should make an appointment with our undergraduate adviser to have your transcript checked and see what courses you still might need to take.

Just taking the courses for a minor is not enough to have it recognized and notated on your transcript upon graduation.  You also need to "declare" your minor by submitting a form to the appropriate dean's office, and our adviser can help you with that, too.

I am already minoring in something else.  Can I add another minor?

Absolutely!  Depending upon what other goals you have within your degree (study abroad, Honors, double majors, and the like), it may be possible for you to complete one, two, or even three minors if you choose your courses wisely, and our undergraduate adviser will be glad to offer help with that.