Studying Classics at Oxford

Anna Zanetti, Oxford Classics 2011-2015
21 Jun 2016

Classics at Oxford

Studying Classics at Oxford is a highly stimulating, challenging, and enriching experience. A four-year course, Classics offers students the chance to (sometimes literally) dig deep into the classical world, in a wide range of subject areas – languages, history, literature, philosophy, archaeology. There are three main things that are unique to the Classics undergraduate course at Oxford.

Firstly, the wide choice of papers that students can choose for their Finals. The number of options offered is in the region of eighty. This allows students to customise their curriculum, specialising and going really in depth in the areas they feel most passionate about. In addition, the options are not limited to the ancient world, but branch out to modern material as well – there is room for Post-Kantian Philosophy, Theory of Politics, and Modern Greek, as well as Athenian Democracy and Roman Comedy.

The second reason that makes Classics at Oxford so special is the great focus on primary sources. In all subject areas, a huge importance is given to the study and close analysis of the material, whether it be a poem, a philosophical argument, or an ancient vase. The teaching ethos of Classics at Oxford is to give you the tools to examine such material, and then come up with your own assessment of it. You might enjoy the poem, disagree with the argument, or think the vase is a fake, but you can only come to such conclusions once you’ve looked at them accurately and critically.

Finally, this would not be possible without the tutoring of world-experts in their subjects. At Oxford, undergraduates are taught by leading academics in their fields, which makes it both a privilege and a challenge to study here. In the case of Classics in particular, Oxford is famous for the quality and rigour of its academic figures, which make it the best place to learn about the ancient world.

All this allows Classics at Oxford to contribute significantly to the formation of every student. During the course of the four years, undergraduates learn how to work independently and meeting tight deadlines. They build intellectual confidence, which allows them to deal with challenging problems, both within and without their studies. They develop the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, expressing their views in essays and defending them in tutorials. In order to succeed, they learn how to be organised and how to manage their time in the most productive way.

In terms of career perspective, Classics is perhaps the degree which allows the most diversified choice of employment. The two main sectors Classics undergraduates go into are education, academia, cultural professions (e.g. publishing, museums, entertainment), but also finance, consulting, retail, charities. Classicists from Oxford are equipped with the mental agility to excel in both.

My experience of Classics

My experience as a Classics undergraduate has been demanding, but rewarding. I come from an Italian background, and reading, writing, and translating in English has proven something I had to get used to fairly quickly. However, I always felt I had all the support I needed to push myself to improve, to learn more, and to think around problems. The main thing I take away from this degree is the ability to develop and express my own opinions on any issue; over the past few years I have acquired confidence to argue my case and to look at the world in a critical and curious way.

One of the most famous things about Classics at Oxford are Mods, the ten exams spread across two weeks Classics undergraduates take in their second year. The notorious set of exams includes papers in translation, literature, philosophy, and one special subject. The material to learn may seem vast, but on the other hand having two years to prepare for it allows people who mature at different speeds to acquire their own study method and to apply it. The key to succeed in Mods are, perhaps unsurprisingly, continuity and resilience. The best students tend to be those who have been working throughout the entirety of their first two years, and have been able to pace themselves and learn methodically. Taking the weekly assignments seriously and listening to the tutors’ feedback may sound like obvious advice, but both are crucial in order to do well. The challenge is undeniable, but at the same time all students are admitted with the confidence that they will be able to do Mods, and to do them well.