Graduate School?


General Considerations

CANES Majors have gone on to pursue graduate-level study of Classics in recent years at the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2004, Latin Major Amanda Kimura was admitted to the American Academy's Classical Summer School and for study toward the Ph.D. at UT Austin with a full fellowship. In 2003, our Latin Major Thinh T. Ho was accepted to the University of Iowa to pursue a Masters Degree in Latin with the award of a generous scholarship; in 2002, Greek (and Theology) Major Rebecca Stephens went to study Theology at the University of Notre Dame with an impressive scholarship. Competitive admission to the best schools is within the grasp of students prepared at Creighton, but there are some important things you ought to consider if and when you think about a CANES Major with the intention of pursuing graduate study in order to maximize your chances for success.

The chief hurdles you face are a hierarchy of three:

  1. You are applying from the provinces and need to distinguish yourself because
  2. you need to go to the best graduate school possible because
  3. jobs in Classics are scarce and highly sought-after.

The good news is that CANES has a good, professionally active faculty, and you will emerge as well trained as your peers elsewhere. Further good news is that CANES faculty will bend over backward to help you succeed. The bad news is that in comparison with the great-name schools Creighton falls behind in name recognition and accordingly you must make every effort to distinguish yourself by propelling yourself onto the national stage. You must also work hard to make your language preparation bulletproof (another form of distinction), because an admissions committee is unlikely to give a Creighton student the same benefit of the doubt they might give to a student from a top-tier school.

The Classical Journal, published by The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, provides a 2008 Graduate Study in the Classics webpage, which includes:

  • answers to a set of Frequently Asked Questions about the graduate school admission process
  • a complete list of North American MA, PhD, and post-baccalaureate programs in Classics, with links to those programs' websites
  • supplementary information from a large number of programs based on a 2008 survey (including basic admission statistics, self-identified areas of program strengths and specializations, information about graduate student support, and a precis of likely hires and other program changes in the next few years)
  • links and information about select overseas graduate programs in Classics
  • a link to /Diadochoi/, the new /CJ/ wiki-style searchable database, offering information about the number of PhDs produced by given departments and advisers, their titles, and job-placement information
  • for current graduate students, advice on giving a conference paper and attending CAMWS for the first time, along with a list of upcoming graduate student conferences with calls for papers.

The url is:

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Language Skills

Without a doubt the most important skill you must develop for graduate study in Classics or Near Eastern Studies is a facility with the ancient languages, followed by at least basic familiarity with one of the modern scholarly languages. This is the bar you will have to pass in seeking competitive admission to top graduate schools. Start early with your language preparation and push yourself to the limit in Latin and Greek. As for the modern languages, few apply to graduate school with preparation in more than one, and a fine portfolio in the ancient languages can compensate for inadequate preparation in the modern ones. Remember always, however, that you will be competing with students from institutions with every possible resource at their disposal, and that you must seek to distinguish yourself in every way. Try to take at least a year of one of the three modern languages required for graduation by all graduate programs in Classics: German, French, or Italian (German above all).

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Study Abroad

The next important thing to think about as a distinguishing mark on one's resume is study abroad. Creighton's extensive core curriculum puts many demands upon a student's time, and you must think proactively in order to satisfy the core and to achieve enough to get into graduate school. The formal requirements of the CANES Major programs, like the formal requirements of all classics undergraduate programs in the country, represent a minimum, not a competitive maximum of preparation. They are reduced to serve the broad constituency of students who are not going on to graduate study in Classics and of whom it would be unreasonable and unfair to demand (e.g.) professional preparation in modern languages. To be competitive, you must go well beyond the formal requirements! The easiest way to do this, once you have gotten seriously to work on your languages, is to study abroad. Students at top-tier institutions regularly apply for, and practically take for granted, acceptance to the chief study abroad programs in Classics. You, too, must think in terms of applying for programs abroad and especially for the prestigious and distinction-laden awards which are available for such study.

For undergraduates, the brass ring is admission to the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome (ICCS, "The Centro"). There is no undergraduate program in Classics which is as rigorous, nor any as well respected: a veritable who's who of the Profession went to the Centro. You can succeed in Classics without going (none of Creighton's Classicists were Centristi), but participation in the program would do much to level the playing field for you. Other programs are also available, but carry less clout; whatever you choose, you must arrange your core requirements to leave yourself free in your 5th, 6th, or 7th semester, which is when students normally go abroad. The good news is that the Centro curriculum, at any rate, matches the needs of CANES majors admirably, offering both Greek and Latin at both the intermediate and advanced levels.

Study abroad is not limited to CANES Majors interested in graduate school. All CANES Majors with sufficient preparation are eligible for the Centro and other programs and will be fully and enthusiastically supported by CANES faculty should they choose to apply for study abroad.

There are many other opportunities to study abroad, especially in the summer. Sometimes admission for undergraduates is hard; other times, if you have the money, it's relatively easy. Scholarship money is available on a competitive basis for many, if not all, of these programs. See the extensive links to programs and scholarship opportunities here.

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The last way in which you can distinguish yourself significantly, and which is becoming more common over time, is to work hard on your research papers with a view to producing one good enough to present at a conference or even to publish it professionally. There are limits on how much one can do with an undergraduate preparation, but this is understood, and there are venues for high-quality undergraduate work. It is not worth sacrificing the quality of your language preparation to publish something; but if you have time, and have found an interesting, original point (it needn't be long), it will certainly teach you a lot to prepare a paper for publication, even should it be rejected (the majority of submissions by professionals at all levels are, by the way); and publication will be a strong distinguishing mark on your resume. CANES majors who have published in the past are Brian Barrett and Michael Dawson

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Additional Advice

  1. Manage your application timeline for applying to graduate school carefully. Applications normally go in late in the autumn of your senior year, with a few schools accepting applications as late as January. Graduate school admissions committees are going to be more impressed by what you have done at the time you apply than they are going to be by the prospect of what you will have completed when you arrive: don't put off too much to your senior year, if you can avoid it (but don't agonize over it if the core forces you to delay a class or two to the end).
  2. Seek to place yourself professionally on the national stage by applying for scholarships, attending conferences (if possible) and joining professional bodies such as the APA, CAMWS, or the Eta Sigma Phi Honor Society. It is worth noting that some scholarships require an applicant to have been a member of the granting organization or honor society for some span of time, usually a year. Membership costs for undergraduates are usually nominal. Ask the faculty about it.
  3. Get to know your Faculty! They will be the ones writing letters of recommendation for you when you want to apply to graduate school (most graduate programs require 3 letters of recommendation), and the most persuasive letters offer direct, personal, sometimes anecdotal information based upon frequent contact with the student. Ask faculty members if they know anyone at any of the graduate schools you want to apply to; a letter of recommendation to a friend or close acquaintance has more strength than a letter to a distant colleague. Also, choose the faculty members you want to write for you carefully: it goes without saying that you want to ask those teachers with whom you got the best grades and got along with best. ALWAYS ASK A FACULTY MEMBER IF SHE OR HE WILL BE ABLE TO WRITE A POSITIVE LETTER FOR YOU! Do not assume that a willingness to write implies a favorable assessment of you. The only letters that are worth anything are confidential, and you will, under ordinary circumstances, never be permitted to inspect a faculty member's letter written on your behalf. Faculty members may also be able to give you some guidance in your selection of graduate schools by telling you something about the faculty at those schools, or the reputation of those programs. That is extremely important, because the market for new PhDs is very small, and competition is fierce.
  4. When applying for graduate school in Classics, the chief consideration should be to get into the best program you can. You will be able find a program at the level suited to your skills and abilities (and personality, which is also important) in any of the major geographical sections of the country. Ask the faculty for guidance; look at the web sites of the programs; Reinert Library ought to have college catalogues in the stacks. Do not hesitate to apply to half a dozen schools; it is not unusual for an applicant to apply to ten schools (there are sometimes fees, which can curtail one's enthusiasm). Choose one or two schools in the top tier to which you think you can aspire and which seem to meet your personal needs most; and choose one or two you like at a level you think you are likely to get into ("safety schools"), and be creative in thinking of others. Remember, it is possible to transfer from one graduate school to another without prejudice if your performance has been good.
  5. Suppose you discovered Classics late in your career, but are dead sure you want to go on in it professionally (this is a common state of affairs). Do what you can while at Creighton (and you can do a lot in even a year), but think of applying for a Postbaccalaureate program which will offer a chance to firm up your languages and generally offer you further practice in research and writing. There are also summer programs in Greek and Latin offered in a number of schools across the country (we offer a year's worth of Latin in Summer Session I each year). Then, after a year or perhaps two, you can apply for a full graduate program with some assurance that you will be competitively prepared.

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