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Classics major

AgathaAgatha Posts: 11Registered User New Member
edited September 2009 in Harvard University
I am a rising High School senior who is looking to major in the Classics. I have taken Latin for 7 years ( currently taking AP Latin:Literature). I will be taking AP Latin:Virgil and first year college level Greek next year. I have a strong A average and have won several National Latin exam awards the past 4 years.

Does anyone know how Harvard views prospective Classics majors?
Post edited by Agatha on
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Replies to: Classics major

  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Posts: 24,853Registered User Senior Member
    It's probably a plus as not many applicants want to major in the humanities.
  • JHSJHS Posts: 14,160Registered User Senior Member
    1. It's probably an exaggeration to say "not many" applicants want to major in the humanities. I bet Harvard gets enough humanities-oriented applications to fill its class several times over . . . just not as many times as it could with science/math or social science types. The acceptance rate for humanities people may be a tad higher, but I think it would still be in single digits, or very close.

    2. I think a strong Classics background is also something of an advantage, but not as much as you might hope. On the one hand, there just aren't that many students out there with a really strong Classics background, and Harvard has a great Classics program that everyone wants to have students for. On the other hand, Classics kids aren't THAT rare, and the type of kid who is likely to develop a strong Classics focus also happens to be the type of kid who is likely to apply to Harvard. Lots of them do, anyway. In my kids' world, Classics Focus + Decent Grades = Harvard Application, unless the student got into Yale SCEA or successfully applied ED somewhere. So . . . it remains very competitive.
  • kwukwu Posts: 4,759Registered User Senior Member
    I spent all four years of my HS career studying Latin, Summa cum Laude'd the NLE all four years, had the highest Latin grades among my peers upon graduating, and scored perfectly on the Subject Test. I volunteered to tutor Latin to my underclassmen and to elementary school children three hours a week for three years.

    I applied as a Classics major to Harvard and Princeton. Didn't work out so well.
    The benefit is negligible, really.

    Many young men and women are passionate about the Classics. You cannot depend on it as a "hook."
  • JHSJHS Posts: 14,160Registered User Senior Member
    The good news, by the way, is that if you have a strong Classics background and focus, and grades/scores that make you a legitimate Harvard candidate, you are virtually assured of admission to some universities with wonderful Classics programs, such as Michigan (but apply as early as you can), McGill, Toronto, and Bryn Mawr. I know very happy Classics kids at Chicago and Penn, too. Chicago and Penn aren't in the "virtually assured" category, of course, but the odds are a lot better than Harvard, Yale, etc. Chicago is another place to which lots of Classics fans find their way, and wind up taking Akkadian and stuff like that, too.
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Posts: 24,853Registered User Senior Member
    " It's probably an exaggeration to say "not many" applicants want to major in the humanities. I bet Harvard gets enough humanities-oriented applications to fill its class several times over . . . just not as many times as it could with science/math or social science types. The acceptance rate for humanities people may be a tad higher, but I think it would still be in single digits, or very close."

    I've interviewed for Harvard, and have personally talked with admissions officers.

    The overwhelming majority of people who apply are planning on going into the sciences, particularly eventually going to medical school.

    Prospective humanities majors are rare. Classics majors are rarer. Not many people now are planning to major in the classics. Students in general aren't interested in Latin or Greek, and prefer majors that are more likely to lead to high paying jobs.

    This doesn't mean that all of the Harvard wannabees here will get ahead by putting on their application "classics" as their planned major. To have this taken seriously, one would need to have a classics background, not just appear to be pulling a major out of a hat. The OP does sound like a serious prospective classics major.
  • AgathaAgatha Posts: 11Registered User New Member
    Thanks so much to everyone for your insights and advice. Northstarmom - I am definitely serious about being a Classics major and hope they will be able to see that. Do you have any advice as to how I can present myself in the best light to the admissions committee?
  • saucesauce Posts: 49Registered User Junior Member
    '11 Classics concentrator here, although I am definitely not going to grad school or pursuing it in academia. I had the usual Latin classes and awards in high school. There are so many other factors involved in admissions that it is impossible to tell how it influenced my college decision. I'm not sure if Harvard is actively trying admit more potential Classics concentrators, but they sure are trying to generate more interest in the field for those who are already here. For instance, they have majorly revised and eased up the requirements to attract prospective concentrators this year. Wish you the best of luck!
  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Posts: 24,853Registered User Senior Member
    Agatha,
    If you're serious about classics, and do your application to reflect your passions, the admissions officers will understand where your interests lie. That doesn't mean that the entire app needs to be based around classics, just that somewhere in the app -- possibly in one of your essays, you have some info reflecting your interest in that area of study.
  • orangutanorangutan Posts: 61Registered User Junior Member
    I was recently admitted to the class of 2013 as a Classics major. Have you heard of/participated in the National Junior Classical League? Doing well in the academic tests at the national convention (in combination with other strong credentials in Classics) really helps with getting in. Unfortunately, a lot of New York prep schools don't participate in it. Also, if you have a strong background/passion for the Classics, I would suggest writing an essay on it. I did.

    I think lots of schools need kids who are very good at Classics. I applied to Harvard, Princeton, Yale (EA), Brown, Dartmouth, Oxford, Berkeley, LA, Penn, and Michigan, and I was only rejected at Yale (rejected early, not deferred). Harvard, specifically, seems to value doing well at NJCL more than Yale (from the experience of several others I know who got into Harvard and not Yale). That might be a product of the fact that Harvard seems more willing to let in "well-lopsided" kids than Yale.

    It might be too late for OP, but here are good ways to show passion/achievement in the Classics:

    1) Do the Junior Classical League. State conventions and national conventions with academic tests, Certamen (Latin buzzer game), creative and graphic arts, etc. The winners of the big awards at national convention usually get into Harvard. To give you an idea, doing that requires anywhere from 200-300 hours of preparation in a summer. If your Latin teacher does not do JCL, bug them. Also, there are positions of national and state leadership (president, etc.). These are serious jobs and big responsibilities, and though I don't know as well that they lead so overwhelmingly to Harvard, I think they do help when combined with a Classics academic background. The president this year, for example, was accepted at HYP and everywhere else.

    2) Take the Medusa Mythology Exam and the National Latin Exam.

    3) Get your teacher to sign you up for the Classical Association of the Midwest and South's High School Latin Translation Contest, if you live in that area.

    4) Take Ancient Greek. If a class is not offered, see if you can attend a local college, or do an independent study.

    5) Needless to say, take the AP exam and SAT in Latin. If your school does not offer AP Latin (mine does not), teach yourself the syllabus. The Vergil syllabus, in my experience, lends itself well to self study. Then write about that in your essay.

    6) A word of advice: in my experience, doing well enough in Classics to have a really good shot at getting into Harvard takes a crapload of effort, time, and energy. Putting in this energy is near impossible unless you really love the Classics. Most of the people I know who got in through JCL, for example, are now Classics majors.
  • orangutanorangutan Posts: 61Registered User Junior Member
    Oh yeah, to address the high-paying jobs thing. In the most recent graduating Princeton class, Classics majors had the second highest starting salary out of all the majors (like 65,000 dollars), second only to Computer Science. Classics is not a vocational degree for most who do it.
  • RenaissanceRenaissance Posts: 60Registered User Junior Member
    Like orangutan, I was admitted into the Class of 2013 with a declared Classics major (I also put down my secondary interests, which included some sciences and math). I didn't write my essay on my interest in Classics, but I incorporated it into my essay, as well as many other topics. I would definitely agree with orangutan's point that you should have some tangible measures of your Latin aptitude, such as competitions and prizes. I disagree with the suggestion that you have to know Greek as well, because Harvard has a Classics-Latin track in addition to its general Classics track. It may help to have some extracurriculars related to Classics. For example, I was president of the Classics Club in my school, which was really active and held many events relating to classical works and culture.
  • orangutanorangutan Posts: 61Registered User Junior Member
    Greek is most definitely not a necessity, I agree. It can show interest, however, especially if you don't have access to other means of showing interest like competitions. I didn't take Greek, and I was fine (though I studied it independently, and put that on my Common App extracurriculars sheet).
  • saucesauce Posts: 49Registered User Junior Member
    Renaissance (and other people interested in the concentration), FYI the classics department went through a massive requirements revision this spring. It will be reflected in the new student handbook by the end of the summer. Basically there are only two tracks now: language and literature + classical civilization. Both are considerably more flexible (more room for electives and freedom of choosing your own area of interest, especially for the junior tutorial) and require less language-intensive courses. Just thought you'd like to know.
  • AgathaAgatha Posts: 11Registered User New Member
    I wanted to wait until I had more information to report before replying. First of all-many thanks to everyone for his/her input.
    As a rising senior now, I'm 100% positive I want to be a Classics major. I scored an 800 on my SATll Latin exam, a 5 on my AP: Literature, an A in my AP class and mcl on the National Latin exam. OUr school doesn't have Greek but I spoke with my Latin teacher, and she and I created a Greek Independent study for this year ( in addition to AP Latin). My school does not have any Latin clubs and I haven't participated in any National competitions ( with the exception of the National Latin Exam). My background is more varied than specific - I have a lot of ecs and community service work in several areas, all of which show a commitment over the years ( ie. I have a lot of magazine/newspaper/writing work).
    My question is, how will this fare at Harvard. From these posts, it seems like they are looking for Classics 24/7. While I am a 4.0 student, Harvard will see I am not that applicant. Does my "well-rounded" background help or hurt. Northstarmom, are you out there?!
    Thanks!
  • maritemarite Posts: 21,586Registered User Senior Member
    You won't get in if you don't apply. Being well-rounded is a good thing. You seem to have a very strong record, so you do have a chance at Harvard, but as so many have pointed out, the admission rate is very low.

    I believe that Harvard and many other liberal arts schools try to maintain a balance of 1/3 humanities, 1/3 social sciences and 1/3 math/science. Within this distribution, things can get extremely lop-sided. In the social sciences, for instance, the majority of students can be found in government and economics. In the humanities, they are distributed among more departments.

    Besides the universities mentioned above, a number of LACs have good classics departments.
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