Why Classics?

Department of Classics

What is classics?

Classics is the study of the ancient world in its many facets. Classics majors study the languages, literatures, history, philosophy, theater, art, and archaeology of the Greco-Roman world. Many study abroad in Italy and Greece, on programs such as the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome or the College Year in Athens. On average, we have around 25 classics majors; they appreciate the rigor and breadth of the major and the camaraderie of the classics community at Gustavus, which offers a vibrant calendar of extracurricular activities: everything from excursions to theaters and museums, lectures and afternoon teas, to the legendary annual broomball and kickball matches and biennial Festival of Dionysus.

What can you do with a classics major?

But what can you do with a classics major, prospective students and their parents may ask? The answer is pretty much anything. Classics is a quintessentially interdisciplinary subject foundational to the liberal arts. Unlike vocational subjects that provide a specific training, classics equips students with a broad range of transferable skills. Students develop an understanding of context that comes through engaging with other cultures and their values, customs and mindsets. They come to understand themselves and their environment within a historical framework, perceive complexity, and develop the mental versatility that will prepare them to embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. Studying classics builds skills in analysis, critical thinking, writing, and verbal mastery, transferrable skills that are so highly sought after in professional careers. On average, classics majors score significantly higher than most other students on standardized tests for medical school, law school and graduate school:

  • MCAT (medical school exam): Classics majors scored the 2nd highest overall on the MCAT and had a 50% acceptance rate to medical school.
  • LSAT (law school exam): Classics majors scored an average of 159.5, 3rd highest score of the 173 different majors that had at least 75 people apply to law school.
  • GRE (graduate school exam): those applying to study Classics in graduate school (and who therefore most likely had been Classics majors as undergraduates) had the highest average GRE Verbal score out of 286 intended graduate tracks.

Not surprisingly, many classics majors go on to become physicians, attorneys, architects, management consultants, journalists, business analysts, even computer programmers. Some apply their knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin and history in Christian ministry. Still others continue their academic interests as professors, teachers, librarians, or museum curators. The careers that our majors choose are as diverse as our graduates themselves.

As part of the college’s Sesquicentennial celebrations we have created a series of video profiles of recent classics graduates. The editing and much of the videography was done by Evan Taylor '12. We hope that these videos will offer interesting snapshots of the different ways that our alumni/ae go on to use their classics major.

Michael Adkins '02 played goalie on the Gustavus soccer team, which won the MIAC title in 2000. He went on to teach Latin at Trinity School and is now the Academic Dean at Saint Agnes School in St. Paul. He was recently nominated for the college’s First Decade Award.

John Albertson '06 is a scientific diver researching the archaeology of shipwrecks, a passion that began in his junior year at Gustavus when he joined a team of nautical archaeologists diving in the Black Sea. He has two projects this summer. First, searching for the wrecked flotilla of the pirate lord Bartholomew Roberts off Port Royal, Jamaica, sunk in a hurricane in 1722. Secondly, he will return to the Crimean coast to continue research on a 13th century Pisan merchant ship lost in battle. Read John’s blogs on the website of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, or take a look at the video in which John gives us a behind-the-scenes look into nautical archaeology, including the latest in technology (3-D visualization, haptic arm) and Louis XIV's ship La Belle, sunk as it searched for the mouth of the Mississippi.

Tasha Genck Morton '04 went on to earn an M. Div. at Luther Theological Seminary after graduating from Gustavus, and is now Teaching Pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. She reflects on what is special about Gustavus and its classics department, how she uses her classical training as a pastor, and how a broad education has set her up for a life of discovery.

Lauren Guzniczak '10 studied art business at the world renowned Sotheby’s Art Institute in London. Eric Dugdale caught up with her in the leafy environs of Bedford Square in London’s trendy West End to explore the intriguing world of international art. She has recently been appointed Gallery Directory at The Wells Gallery in Charleston, and in September will be working at the American Art Museum in the Smithsonian.

Kathryn Webster '11 did it all as a classics and biology double major: pursuing cutting edge research in neuroscience, studying in Italy, learning multiple languages, and indulging her love of the arts. During senior week she pauses to reflect on her time at Gustavus and on the value of classics and the liberal arts, and discusses her study of Ciceronian rhetoric and Augustan propaganda as effective emotional primes for defaming Mark Antony's character and activating fear pathways.