What To Do With a Classics Degree

The incipit and a bit of an item in the Guardian:

As experts warn the ongoing cuts in the public sector could result in record levels of graduate unemployment; despondent graduate jobseekers may find comfort in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Of course, Nietzsche was a great philosopher, but not many people know he originally studied classics; it was only after a book he authored on the subject was rubbished by a rival that he switched disciplines.

For today’s classics graduates, Nietzsche’s famous quote may be particularly relevant. Six months after leaving university, only 51.6% of 2008 classics graduates were in employment compared with 61.5% of graduates in other subjects. However, the subject is held in high regard by employers, and graduates in the subject often acknowledge its indirect importance; as London mayor (and classics graduate) Boris Johnson, has said: “I’m hugely grateful to my degree. The mere possession has been of no assistance at all – what’s invaluable has been the philosophy.”

So if you do initially struggle to find a niche, you should at least, like Johnson, be able to remain philosophical about life’s hardships.

What skills have you gained?

Studying classics will highlight your ability to learn and comprehend challenging subjects. You will also develop your ability to research, collate and analyse materials and learn to critically evaluate resources in order to formulate arguments, which you can present competently. You will be able to work alone or within a team and to think imaginatively, a talent Harry Potter creator and classics graduate JK Rowling (pictured) has in abundance. Perhaps she also found studying different societies, cultures and civilisations helped her create a completely new fictitious one. Classics graduates therefore enter the jobs market with specific, practical, intellectual and theoretical skills.

What jobs can you do?

“Careers can vary from those that use historical knowledge, in roles such as museum education or exhibitions officer or archivist, historic buildings inspector or conservation officer to those that use the classics graduate’s understanding of language in roles within advertising, editorial work or public relations,” says Margaret Holbrough, a careers adviser at Graduate Prospects.

About 11% of classics graduates entering full-time work found professional roles as private and public-sector managers, while almost 15% entered retail, catering and bar work. Other clerical occupations accounted for the most number of classics graduates (22.2%) who entered employment, possibly a reflection that administrative roles tend to be the entry-level route for graduates wanting to work in creative, cultural and heritage-related positions. Teaching is an option – there is currently a shortage of classics teachers in the UK. As a classics graduate, you are attractive to recruiters from all sectors, including law, finance and consultancy.


The article goes on to mention ‘graduate’ opportunities. Not sure the exempla provided are useful or encouraging. I have created a delicious link (which I update as I find examples) to a pile of bios etc of famous folks who had/have Classics degrees which are probably more encouraging than the somewhat ‘sketchy’ connection of JK Rowling, but the variety of fields folks end up in after taking a Classics degree is incredibly interesting. We have, e.g., recently mentioned the anonymous ‘Hedge Fund Manager’ … not long before that, the Psychology Today blog was also listing a pile of things available for those with Classics training.  A followup piece in the same source had some useful advice on how to sell yourself as a Classicist in a non-Classical job market. One of the great things about the existence of the web is that it does allow you to find plenty of examples of folks who have ‘survived’ getting a Classics degree, should you have to convince your parents …

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