Classics and Ancient History Degrees: Courses Structure, Specializations & Career | Top Universities

Have you always been drawn to the Greco-Roman period? Have you read more Greek plays than you’d care to admit? Got a natural aptitude for languages, even those which are no longer in living usage?

If so, you should definitely think about studying classics and ancient history at university, to learn more about the topic while also developing transferrable skills of use in many graduate careers.

An opportunity to learn Greek, Latin and explore Greco-Roman literature, history and culture, undergraduate studies in classics and ancient history are often multidisciplinary. You will develop your writing, reading and analysis skills and learn the research methods needed to become a classics scholar. Whether or not you decide to compound your interest with a postgraduate degree, your undergraduate studies should equip you with a host of transferable skills valued by employers.

Course content tends to vary depending on the university. Some departments give students more leeway to specialize, while others follow a more fixed curriculum, and some schools place a stronger emphasis on languages, anthropology, history or archeology. Typically, you will be required to take an introductory course in ancient history in your first year, and be required to choose from a selection of optional courses as you progress. Assessments are usually essay-based, often taking the form of year-long piece of coursework and an extended and independent piece of writing usually of 10,000 words.

Entry requirements

Requirements for undergraduate courses will vary depending on the university and program, though previous study in history, classics or any essay-based subject or modern/classical language, may be useful. An interest in classics, of course, is essential.

Ancient Greek

You may be required to learn Ancient Greek, depending on your university and course, in order to directly explore the literature, politics, philosophy and history of Ancient Greece. You will have a chance to learn about early Greek philosophy, Greek art and architecture, the Hellenic age and Greek literature and poetry.

Latin

You will learn Latin as well as build a detailed knowledge of Greek and Roman history and culture as part of your coursework and end of year dissertation. From love in Augustan Rome to the place of classics in popular culture, you will explore very niche topics while also building a host of transferable skills, including writing, analysis and research.

Ancient history and archeology

Specializing in ancient history and archeology, you will have a chance to learn about applied archeological methods and approaches, as well as Greek and Roman history, artefacts and burial practices. Explore the fabulous histories of the Roman and Greek empires, covering topics ranging from Pompeii, to Pagan religions to Late Antiquity or the Roman Republic…

Classical studies and English literature

Study seminal texts in relation to their periods and various other contexts, and discover the amazing legacy of the Greco-Roman period on modern literature and pop culture. You may also have a chance to do some archive work and handle old manuscripts. Topics covered could include Homeric society, Greek and Roman drama, gender and sexuality in Greek tragedy and the Hellenistic world.

Studying classics and ancient history at university will prepare you to work in a number of sectors, including media and broadcasting, teaching and academia, museum and gallery work, and marketing. There are, in fact, quite a few areas where your transferrable skills would be valued, such as:

Archives and libraries

Working as an archivist, you would buy and maintain historical documents on behalf of individuals, organizations or countries – rendering information accessible to visitors and readers. You may be handling old manuscripts, films, records, maps, or photographs, working alongside researchers, academics and the general public. In the US, an archivist could expect to earn between US$30,100 and US$67,500, while Australian salaries range between AU$43,000 and AU$125,600 (~US$31,000-90,500).

Entry requirements for careers in archiving include an interest in history, good communication and research skills and attention to detail and accuracy. Competition for a place on a postgraduate training course can be fierce – you will often need some previous work experience in an archives environment.

As a librarian, you would be expected to manage budgets and stocks, organize resources, advise readers and deal with enquiries. In the US, a librarian could be expected to earn between US$28,470 and US$70,140; UK salaries range between £14,600 and £34,200 (~US$21,300-50,000).

Museums and galleries curation

Working in museum or gallery curation, you would be managing collections of paintings or artefacts and get involved in the acquisition and display of objects. Entry requirements to work in gallery curation include a bachelor’s degree in a related subject and, in most cases, a postgraduate qualification such as a PhD in your area of specialty or a master’s degree in museum studies. Pre-entry work experience is also essential, and internships are a common entry route. US salaries range from US$24,100 to US$67,100, while UK curators can expect to earn between £18,000 and £39,000 (~US$26,300-57,000).

Working as a museum or gallery exhibition officer, your job would be very similar to that of a curator, but slightly different. You would be expected to concentrate your efforts on event organization, PR and logistics. Entry requirements include a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, and in many cases a master’s degree in museum studies, as well as the right personality and motivations for the job. UK salaries for the role range from £19,000 to £40,000 for senior staff.

Another related option is to work as a museum education officer, a role focused ondelivering education programs to augment the visitor experience, acting as a link between the museum and the community. Museum education officers ensure that collections are accessible and engaging, by organizing talks, workshops and festivals, often working closely with schools. Entry requirements for the job include a bachelor’s degree in a subject relatively close to the type of collections you will be working with (such a degree in visual arts for art galleries), classroom teaching experience or a teaching qualification, and in some rare cases a master’s degree in museum studies. UK salaries for this role range from£17,000 to £40,000 (~US$25,000-59,000), depending on experience.

Heritage management  

Working as a heritage manager, you would be responsible for the conservation of heritage sites, buildings or landscapes, dabbling in a variety of areas ranging from budget-planning to writing reports to developing outreach activities in communities. Entry requirements for the role include a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, such as history of art or archeology, previous experience as a heritage officer, and in some cases even a postgraduate qualification in heritage or museum management.

Aside from these specialized career options, a degree in classics and ancient history will also provide you with a strong combination of analytical and communication skills valued across a wide range of sectors – from media and PR to market research and legal careers.

For entry into any of these careers, you should consider gaining relevant work experience during and/or immediately after your studies. Consider volunteering, work shadowing or a work placement with an organization or in a sector you are attracted to. Don’t forget to join student societies in relevant fields, and find out if you can get involved in related activities within your university department, library, or local museums and galleries.

Key Skills

Studying classics and ancient history at university,you will gain the following skills:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical evaluation and interpretation
  • Constructing a defense for an argument
  • Academic research skills
  • Ability to assess competing interpretations
  • Forming conclusions based on evidence
  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent written communication
  • Time management and self-discipline
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge of basic statistical techniques
  • Understanding of historical & cultural contexts
  • Understanding of the classical legacy
  • Nuanced appreciation of concepts such as “democracy”