Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

Classics Majors Find Their Future in the Past

What can you do with a Classics major?

AristotleHave you ever considered...

Why every aspiring screenwriter needs to understand the Hero's Journey?

How your knowledge of Greek tragedy could help you steer a better course in your career on Wall Street?

Why Antigone might have trouble working in pharmaceutical sales?

If you can answer these questions, then you're probably a Classics major and you'll do well in the job search.

Encompassing language (Latin/Greek), ancient history, mythology, literature, philosophy, and cultural studies, the life-enhancing knowledge of a Classics major is both rooted in history and timeless. The knowledge attained through studying ancient Greece and Rome, far from being obscure or irrelevant, is part of our everyday experience-- whether it's understanding the foundation of our government and constitution, translating the language on our currency, knowing what an "alibi" is on "Law & Order," or understanding that a Pyrrhic victory isn't much of a victory after all.

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Look no further than the web for examples of how successful people have benefitted from their knowledge of Classics: a special report in Forbes magazine entitled "How the Past Can Guide Your Future" presents an excerpt from Steve Forbes and John Prevas' book: Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today and the Lessons You Can Learn.  The authors consider that the "elements of what it takes to be a successful leader have not changed" in two thousand years. When they ask where we can turn for examples of strong leadership, ancient history is the answer.

In additional interviews online at Forbes.com, author Robert Greene explains how his study of Julius Caesar led him to select a course of action in his career that looked risky, but ultimately resulted in a best-selling book. Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly media, describes himself as deeply influenced by Aristotle.  Author Rita Mae Brown relied on lessons gleaned from Horatio to pull her through tough times. Adobe systems co-founder Charles Geschke drew from Leviticus for a guiding principle for the company.

Christopher Vogler was working as a story consultant for Walt Disney pictures when he discovered the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell. He wrote a 7-page memo applying the Hero's Journey to a variety of films which was quickly distributed throughout the industry and ultimately resulted in an excellent book which has become required reading for aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters. Vogler's recognition that an ancient narrative structure could be (profitably) applied to a current industry (film) provides the perfect example of the past influencing the future.

Need more persuasion on the value of studying Classics? Here's a YouTube from the National Committee for Latin and Greek on the value of studying an ancient language. Prefer to read? They also created this pdf on the value of studying Latin.

The bottom line: Classics majors are intelligent people. Colleges know this-- high school students who study Latin generally score higher on the SAT, and Classics majors score higher on the GRE. And intelligent people end up in all sorts of careers-- and usually as leaders. You will find doctors, lawyers, corporate CEO's, bankers, consultants, etc., with Classics degrees. Some Classics majors, of course, become teachers and professors. In fact, one impetus for this posting is that this week is Latin Teacher Recruitment Week.

Classics majors have taken on a rigorous course of study which requires mental discipline and hard work. Students must have strong attention to details and yet a worldly outlook, not to mention a fascination with history. Studying the Classics can produce stronger vocabulary skills, an understanding of phonetic principles, logical thinking, problem solving skills, critical analysis of complex information and situations, understanding and appreciating other perspectives, and critical listening skills. A Classics major provides a unique perspective on life, culture, the arts, philosophy, literature, and leadership.

Medical and legal terms are derived from Latin, and some Classics alumni report that knowing Latin gave them an edge in law or medical school-- they caught on to the terminology more quickly than their counterparts. Others said their knowledge of Latin didn't give them an edge in school, but they all agree that the discipline acquired through their Classics major prepared them for the rigors of law and medical school-- and that studying Classics helped them improve both their writing and speaking skills.

So that's the good stuff.

But how do you deal with THE QUESTION, that dreaded moment when someone learns you're a Classics major and asks: "What are you going to do with that?!?" 

Well, first of all, your major is not a hammer. You're not going to "do" anything with it. Your major is a body of knowledge, a way of thinking-- the mindsets and skills you have acquired. The more relevant question is: How are you going to apply your knowledge, mindsets and skills in the workplace? In other words, how will your Classics major help you THINK and ACT in whatever career you select? After all, you will have several careers and many jobs over a lifetime and that Classics major in your head will follow you everywhere.

So how do you market this wonderful education to potential employers? Read my next post: Branding and Marketing the Classics Major

Find me on Facebook.  Follow me on Twitter. Copyright Katharine Brooks.

Image Credit

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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