Classical Studies Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a classical studies degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
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Studying Classical Studies: Degrees at a Glance

Classical studies is an interdisciplinary field that draws on language study, archaeology, history, art history, religious studies and philosophy to understand the Greco-Roman world of antiquity. At its heart is philology and the study of Latin and ancient Greek through surviving texts. If you have already studied these ancient languages and want to delve deeper into the classics, then a graduate degree in classical studies could be an excellent choice.

These degrees are designed for very specific purposes. A master's degree prepares you to teach Latin and classical studies in secondary schools or to pursue a PhD. A PhD qualifies you for an academic career in the field. If you have different career goals, you may want to think twice before committing to the hard work of graduate study in ancient languages and civilizations. You should also know that landing secure positions in the competitive world of academia can be difficult.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Classical studies bachelor's degree holders who plan to teach secondary school or pursue a PhD Classical studies bachelor's or master's degree holders planning on an academic career
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Secondary school teacher ($57,000 - a state license is required for public school employment)*
- Curator ($54,000 - work experience may be required)*
- College or university teacher ($68,000)*
- College or university administrator ($97,000 - several years of experience as a professor is normally a prerequisite)*
Time to Completion Normally two years of full-time study Three or more years of full-time study (post-master's)
Common Graduation Requirements - Knowledge of Latin and ancient Greek, with proficiency in at least one of the two
- Proficiency in reading French, German or Italian
- Exams or thesis
- Proficiency in Latin and ancient Greek
- Proficiency in reading German and French or Italian
- Comprehensive and/or special field exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Prior study of Latin and ancient Greek
- Bachelor's or master's degree
- Prior study of Latin and ancient Greek
Online Availability Some courses, but few degree options Some courses, but few degree options

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Classical Studies

Master's degrees in classical studies come in two forms. One is the MA, which is designed as preparation for pursuing a PhD or teaching Latin in secondary schools. Some graduate programs treat the MA as the first stage of their PhD program, while others offer it independently. The other master's option is the MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching), which is focused solely on training Latin teachers. Whichever master's option you choose, the core of your training will be in classical philology; that is, studying the original works of ancient authors. You will also learn about the Greco-Roman world through coursework in related fields, such as archaeology, history, philosophy and religion.

In addition, you may need to study a modern romance language or German. French and German are considered especially important because they are the primary languages, along with English, of classical studies scholarship in modern times. Italian and sometimes Spanish are considered valuable as well. As a result, master's programs in classical studies normally require students to show that they can read French, German or Italian (or, less often, Spanish).

Pros and Cons


  • Qualifies you to teach Latin and classical studies in secondary schools
  • Can normally be counted toward the coursework requirements of a PhD program if you continue your studies
  • Makes you an expert in ancient cultures and ideas that continue to shape our world
  • Some programs allow part-time study


  • If you decide against transferring to a PhD program or becoming a teacher, your master's degree will not offer much advantage over a bachelor's degree on the job market
  • In many graduate programs, students in the master's track are eligible for fewer forms of financial aid than PhD students
  • If you do pursue a PhD and switch universities, you may end up with more coursework or exam requirements than if you earned both degrees in the same department

Courses and Requirements

MA programs in classical studies include offerings in both Latin and ancient Greek, but students normally concentrate on one of the two languages and its literature. MA students also take classes in other areas (such as history, philosophy, religion and mythology) to better understand the ancient world. At least one class in archaeology or art history is often required. Before graduating from many programs, you will need to pass exams in either Latin or Greek (or both) that cover translation skills and literary knowledge. Some programs instead require substantial essays or a thesis. In addition, you will also need to demonstrate reading proficiency in a modern romance language or German by passing an exam or completing a specified class.

MAT programs differ from MA programs in two major ways. First, they emphasize Latin, so major exams are in Latin translation and literature. Second, since they are expressly designed as teacher training, MAT programs generally require some courses in education theory and practice and a set amount of practice teaching. In addition, some MAT programs are more flexible about requiring language skills beyond Latin.

Examples of classes you may be able to choose from:

  • Composing Latin prose
  • Plato's works
  • Orators of ancient Greece
  • Virgil's Aeneid and other works
  • Greek poetry
  • The Roman Republic's historians
  • Greek and Roman mythology

Online Course Info

Online graduate courses in classical studies do exist, although they are not as abundant as undergraduate offerings. You may even find hybrid or fully online degree programs, especially if you are looking for advanced training as a Latin teacher and will be taking a mix of classics and education coursework. Online courses and programs generally require the same intensive language study as on-campus programs.

Stand Out with this Degree

Even though you will have your hands full with a long list of ancient authors to read, make time during your master's program to acquire some hi-tech skills. With technology's increasing importance in the classroom, you can only add to your value as a teacher by knowing your way around a computer and what the latest tech trends are among educators. If you decide not to teach, computer skills can help you transition into business, non-profit management or some other field. Take advantage of the classes, workshops and other resources your university offers to gain online research skills, learn different software packages and pick up some web design know-how. You can also use your own academic work to become comfortable with databases, digitized texts and other computer-based tools.

Alternative Degrees

If the intensive language study in the classics is too much or you want a broader range of career options, then consider earning a master's degree in history or archaeology instead. Master's degree holders in history teach at the secondary level, but also work at museums, archives, historical associations, government agencies and consulting firms. Archaeologists with a master's degree are employed by cultural resource management firms, museums, historic sites and government offices. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that from 2010-2020, employment of archaeologists and anthropologists will grow by 21% and employment of historians will increase by 18%. Employment of secondary school teachers was only expected to grow by 7%. In 2011, the average salary for archaeologists and anthropologists was $59,000, for historians it was $58,000 and for secondary school teachers it was $57,000.

PhD in Classical Studies

In doctoral programs in classical studies, students must master both Latin and ancient Greek. They gain broad knowledge of the field, so they can teach at the collegiate level, while becoming specialists in their chosen area. After coursework and exams, they tackle the dissertation, a book-length work of original scholarship. Along the way, doctoral candidates acquire some teaching experience and learn to engage in scholarly debate at seminars and conferences. A PhD program will mold you into an academic, ready to join the professoriate.

Unfortunately, the professoriate may not be ready for you. Tenure-track assistant professorships, the entry-level jobs that PhD programs should lead to, are currently harder to get. Universities are employing more PhD graduates as lecturers, who are hired on a course-per-course basis, paid less than professors and not offered benefits. Many PhD holders start off as lecturers and eventually find tenure-track jobs. Some especially strong candidates may even have multiple tenure-track offers at graduation. Nonetheless, many in academia worry that universities are producing many more PhD graduates than there are tenure-track positions. When comparing PhD programs, be sure to consider how successful each department's graduates have been in recent years in finding academic positions.

Pros and Cons


  • Prepares you for an academic career
  • Provides advanced research, writing and critical thinking skills that can be valuable in many other professional fields
  • Graduate assistantships, scholarships and other forms of funding are widely available
  • Normally offers the chance to gain teaching experience, which can be important to finding a permanent teaching position


  • The time to earn a PhD varies, but in 2003 the average in the humanities was nine years (including time spent on the master's)*
  • Getting a tenure-track professorship is increasingly difficult
  • If you decide not to become an academic, you may need to be creative and persistent in establishing an alternative career
  • Even with funding, graduate students typically must live on a shoestring budget for several years

Source: *National Science Foundation (March 2006 study).

Common Courses and Requirements

The classes in the first few years of a doctoral program are basically the same as in master's programs, as described above. For a PhD, however, you will be expected to become an expert in both Latin and ancient Greek - the languages, literatures and modern interpretations of them. Programs may structure their exams differently, but most have a comprehensive exam and a special field exam. The former tests students' breadth of knowledge in philology and the latter covers the particular area in which students will do research for their dissertation. PhD programs also typically require students to pass reading proficiency exams in two modern languages (French, German and Italian are the normal choices).

After courses and exams are completed, you will focus on your dissertation under the guidance of an advisor. You will research, write and edit the equivalent of a first draft of a book. Once all the i's are dotted and t's crossed on the text, notes and bibliography, you must successfully defend your work before a faculty committee. It is possible to complete a dissertation in 2-3 years, but it takes many students longer.

Online Degree & Course Info

At the doctoral level, classical studies offers few online options. You may find individual courses and even a few hybrid programs. Any entirely online options should be researched thoroughly and checked for accreditation. In any case, distance learning is of limited value in advanced academic training. To take full advantage of a doctoral program you need to spend time on campus attending seminars, talking with other students and professors and being a part of their ongoing academic discussions. Academic success comes not only from impressing colleagues with written scholarship, but also from the communication skills learned by example in graduate school.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

As a classical studies doctoral student, you will probably get to know brick-and-mortar libraries well and spend a lot of time with old-fashioned printed books. But becoming comfortable with newer media is a good idea, too. Many universities are keen to establish or expand distance learning programs and to take advantage of web-based tools and other digital resources in on-campus courses. Technologically savvy faculty members are in demand. If you decide that you don't want to become a professor after all, some hi-tech skills could help you retool for the non-academic job market. Chances are good that you will do considerable online research and work with digitized texts and databases in the course of completing your dissertation. But you could also experiment with using multimedia formats as you begin teaching and give your first academic presentations at seminars and conferences. It may be wise, too, to look for opportunities to help with a web-based project run by a faculty member in your department, your library or one of the professional organizations in classical studies.

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