Information for Prospective Applicants for Graduate Study in Classics or Classical Archaeology

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The University of California, Berkeley, is regarded by many as the premier public university in the world, and its Department of Classics has been for some time recognized as one of the outstanding departments in the field. This brochure is intended to provide detailed introductory information for those considering graduate study in Classics or Classical Archaeology. For other related programs, such as “The Group” (Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology), “Comparative Literature,” etc., see the section entitled “Related Programs” below.



Two graduate programs are available in the Department: Classics and Classical Archaeology.

The Graduate Program in Classics is designed to give a thorough preparation in the fundamentals of classical scholarship and to encourage intellectual inquiry and the development of original research according to the capacity and interests of the individual student. The holder of a Berkeley Ph.D. in Classics should be able to teach any lower division course in Greek or Latin, any upper division course in the language of special emphasis, undergraduate courses in classical culture and literature in translation, and graduate courses in at least one area in the language of special emphasis and/or in an area common to both languages.

The Ph.D. program in Classics is designed to be completed in 6–7 years by a normally-prepared student: 2 years attaining the M.A., 2–3 years completing preliminary Ph.D. requirements, and 2–3 years writing a dissertation. Highly-motivated and well-prepared students may complete the M.A. more quickly and reduce the time to Ph.D., while students who require more time to solidify their mastery of the languages or who must support themselves by teaching for several years take somewhat longer. Students who enter with an M.A. normally need 2 or 2 1/2 years to complete preliminary requirements and a total of 4 or 5 years to complete the Ph.D.

The program requires coursework distributed over at least three of the six fields of ancient literature, philosophy, history, archaeology/art history, papyrology/epigraphy/palaeography, and linguistics. Every student normally takes a one-semester proseminar introducing such topics as bibliography, palaeography, papyrology, textual criticism and editorial technique, and the history of scholarship, along with introductions to sub–disciplines such as epigraphy and archaeology, and also a one-semester proseminar in literary and cultural theory entitled "Approaches to Classical Literature." At the Ph.D. level there are translation exams in both Greek and Latin, and a prose composition requirement in both languages (met by course-work or exam). A reading knowledge of German and French or Italian must also be demonstrated. Upon completion of these preliminary requirements, the student takes an oral qualifying exam; the writing of the dissertation follows.

Students who enter without the M.A. are required to obtain the Berkeley M.A. with an emphasis in either Latin or Greek. The emphasis determines the area of the M.A. exams in translation, literature, and history and the language in which competence in prose composition must be shown, but students will normally be doing some work in the other language as well, in preparation for the Ph.D. Coursework done at the M.A. level fulfills requirements for the Ph.D. as well.

The Graduate Program in Classical Archaeology is intended to ensure that its students are fully competent in Greek and Latin and have a good understanding of historical method as well as a thorough training, including experience in fieldwork, in Greek and Roman archaeology. The holder of a Ph.D. should be qualified either for a major museum post or for university teaching (up to senior undergraduate level in the ancient languages and in ancient history, and at all levels from elementary to graduate in large areas of ancient archaeology and art history).

The program is designed to be completed in 6-9 years (including time spent abroad): 2-3 years attaining the M.A., 2-3 years completing preliminary Ph.D. requirements, and 2-3 years writing a dissertation.

The Ph.D. program in Classical Archaeology requires coursework in Art History and Classical Archaeology, satisfaction of requirements in ancient languages and in ancient history by either coursework or examination, and a written general exam followed by the oral qualifying examination. A reading knowledge of German and French or Italian must also be demonstrated. The writing of the dissertation follows. Every student shall, if possible, spend at least one year as a regular student of either the American Academy in Rome or the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

Students who enter without the M.A. are required to obtain the Berkeley M.A. in Classical Archaeology. This degree requires coursework, demonstration of a reading knowledge of one modern foreign language, and the writing of a short M.A. dissertation. Coursework done at the M.A. level fulfills requirements for the Ph.D. as well.  Every student normally takes a one-semester proseminar introducing key topics and methods of the field.



The interdisciplinary Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology offers degrees with major and minor fields drawn from Near Eastern history, art and archaeology, Greek history, Roman history, classical art and archaeology, epigraphy, ancient law, and religion. Applicants are expected to have sufficient language training to undertake advanced work in at least one ancient language.

The Department of Comparative Literature has a strong classical component. Students of literature and literary theory may study Greek and/or Latin literature as a major or minor element of their program.

For information about either of the above, please write to the Graduate Advisor of the relevant program.

For specialization in Ancient Philosophy, there is a joint program involving faculty and courses in the Departments of Classics and Philosophy. Students who may wish to pursue this option should apply to either Classics or Philosophy, as appropriate, and will receive a Ph.D. in Classics or a Ph.D. in Philosophy.



Applications are submitted electronically through the Graduate Division's online application website at The online application is available in early Fall.

The deadline for all applications is December 9, 2016.

Competition for admission to graduate study at Berkeley is extremely keen. In recent years there have been from 60-80 applicants per year, and the Department’s admission quota has been around 12 to 16 admits, with the expectation that 5 to 7 new students will enroll each fall. While some applicants are denied admission for lack of adequate preparation or for undistinguished academic records, a substantial number each year who are judged capable of doing good graduate work at Berkeley are denied admission through a process of competitive ranking.  The Department's policy is to try to limit enrollment to the number of students who can be fully supported through a normal graduate career.

Applicants are judged by an Admissions Committee of 5 to 7 faculty members, including the Graduate Advisor. The Committee represents a variety of specialties and interests, and different members assign somewhat different weights to the various criteria for admission, which include the following:

1. Preparation.

(a) in Greek and Latin. Whether the applicant has a major in Greek or Latin or Classical Languages or some other subject, the committee is looking for, as a minimum, language preparation more or less equivalent to what is received in the undergraduate major at Berkeley itself. This includes a full year of introductory language study, three additional semesters in central authors or texts of each language (e.g., Homer [3-4 books], Plato [a short dialogue], Greek drama [1 complete play], Vergil [3-4 books], Republican prose [40-50 pages], Horace [30 poems]) plus two additional semesters of more advanced reading in either Greek or Latin. In practice, a student with two years of study in the weaker language is usually considered marginally prepared. Applicants in Classical Archaeology are expected to meet the same minimum standards of preparation as those in Classics.

An applicant with an M.A. is expected to offer substantially stronger preparation in at least one of the two languages, since the Committee will be judging such an applicant against a real or notional pool of other M.A. students and not against students with only a B.A.

(b) general preparation. Elements of additional preparation which reflect favorably on an applicant include: courses in Greek or Latin composition; especially extensive reading in one or both languages; reading knowledge of modern languages (particularly German and/or French or Italian); courses in ancient history, classical civilization, ancient and world literature in translation, philosophy, art history, archaeology, anthropology, and other disciplines that are helpful to the broad range of Classical Studies.

2. Academic distinction. The Committee considers overall GPA, GPA in junior and senior years, and GPA in Classics courses, with emphasis on the last two and especially on the last. Successful applicants in recent years have usually offered a junior/senior GPA in the range of 3.6 to 4.0, with many above 3.8. A student who has floundered in other fields earlier in his or her undergraduate education and then performed well upon discovering Classics is not necessarily at a disadvantage because of the earlier record, although the Committee is duly impressed by candidates who have been able to achieve excellence in many disciplines.

The Department has had many students from overseas and in evaluating academic distinction makes every effort to make appropriate allowances for the differences in grading and examination systems. Successful applicants from Great Britain usually have a first class or a high second class degree.

3. Letters of recommendation. A minimum of three letters of recommendation is required. The Committee values letters that are frank and specific as to the applicant’s achievement and promise. If possible, recommenders should make comparisons with other students they know have applied to or enrolled at Berkeley. The contacts for letters of recommendation will be entered by you during the online application process. Recommenders will be contacted via email to submit their recommendation online.

4. GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores. GRE scores are normally required by the Classics Department of all students receiving a B.A. in North America and of those overseas students whose native language is English or who have studied for one or more years at a university at which classes are conducted in English. Applicants are strongly advised to take the October GRE, since results of later exams may not arrive in time to be given due consideration in the admission and fellowship competition. There is disagreement on most committees about how important and relevant the GRE scores are, and some members do not attend to the quantitative score.  GRE scores older than 5 years old will not be accepted.  Code 2609 (Classical Languages) should be used to have GRE scores reported to the department by ETS.

5. Statement of Purpose. The Committee appreciates clearly-written and cogent statements of purpose explaining why applicants are interested in graduate work in Classics, what they hope to accomplish, and where their eventual specialization may lie. The statement of purpose is also the appropriate place for the applicant to address and explain any particular weaknesses in the dossier.

6. Writing sample. The Committee finds it helpful for candidates to submit a sample of scholarly writing, such as a paper written for a course or a portion of a senior honors thesis. (A candidate who wishes to submit an entire honors thesis should submit a summary with the application and indicate its most representative sections.) Writing samples are submitted as part of the online application. Members of committees differ in their treatment of writing samples. Some refer to them only if they judge the previous five criteria insufficiently indicative.



The Department itself is usually able to offer initial support to the top four to six entering students each year, in various three- or four-year packages. In practice, the recipients of such packages are regularly supported by additional fellowships and teaching assistantships right through to the Ph.D., if they make good progress. If any of the highest-ranked candidates win external funding or choose to study elsewhere, support is offered to other candidates in ranked order. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply to external programs, such as the Mellon Fellowship Program and Javits Fellowship Program (your undergraduate institution and department should be able to provide you with information about such programs).

Support comes in various forms. The Department has restricted endowed funds for which it can directly name the recipients: the Hesperian Fellowship, the Blumberg Fellowship in Latin, John K. Anderson Fellowship (primarily for students in Classical Archaeology); and the Sather Research Assistantship. The Department is also entitled to nominate a small number of excellent candidates each year for the campus’ fellowship competition, which includes multi-year awards such as the Berkeley Fellowship and the Pre-doctoral Humanities Fellowship. Multi-year packages include a promise of a year of Teaching Assistantship (usually in the third year of enrollment, conditional on normal progress through the program). The Berkeley Graduate Division has instituted a program whereby every student who advances to candidacy within “Normative Time” (5 years for Classics and Classical Archaeology students) is guaranteed a full year of fellowship support on advancement to candidacy (“The Dean’s Normative Time Fellowship”).  The Department will also provide two summer stipends, one after the student’s first year, and the second after passing at least half of the Ph.D. translation exams.

A scholarship for room-and-board at the campus' International House is often available to students of classical antiquity. This grant was generously endowed by Berkeley alumnus Dietrich von Bothmer.

All students are required (and thus guaranteed) to hold one year of teaching assistantship, which normally falls in the third year of enrollment. After required positions are assigned, the remaining openings are filled in a merit-based competition. In recent years virtually all continuing post-M.A. Classics students who have applied for teaching have received positions. Since the Department believes that new students need to devote full time to their beginning studies and that it needs personal knowledge of a student before placing her or him before a class, teaching assistantships are very rarely awarded to entering students.

Students who decide to enroll at Berkeley without any initial support should plan to support themselves for the first two years. There is some possibility of obtaining a teaching assistantship in the second year, but students who have not completed the M.A. have a lower priority, and teaching may be an undesirable distraction when the student is preparing for M.A. examinations.

For students relying on their own resources, part-time employment is sometimes available. Research assistants, projectionists, and readers (of exams and papers of large lecture courses) are employed at hourly rates. Jobs of this nature cannot usually be arranged or guaranteed in advance of enrollment, and wages for them are sufficient only as a supplement to other income, not as sole support.



The Berkeley campus has a commitment to increasing the diversity of its graduate student population. The Department of Classics strongly encourages applications from members of underrepresented groups (such as U.S. citizens or residents of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, or Native American descent) who are qualified to pursue graduate work in Classics.



The Berkeley undergraduate body (about 23,000 students) is characterized by diversity of ethnic background: there is no majority group. Most of the undergraduates are from California, but most other states and many nations of the world are also represented. The University of California is the highest tier in the state’s system of public higher education, and undergraduate admission to the Berkeley campus is extremely competitive. The experience of teaching an undergraduate class at Berkeley is apt to be quite different, in positive and invigorating ways, from that at many other institutions.

The graduate body (about 10,000 students) is also diverse, and represents a much wider range of national and international places of origin. Within the Department, the nominal size of the enrolled graduate student body is about 32, but when students studying abroad or working on dissertations while employed elsewhere or not enrolled are included, the community normally has a size of about 40 members. When students with classical specialties in Comparative Literature and Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology are taken into account, the classical community may be reckoned at 50-60 graduate students. In recent years new graduate students have come to Berkeley from Amherst, Austin, Brown, Chicago, Colgate, Columbia, Florida, Harvard, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Smith, Stanford, St. John’s College, Swarthmore, UCLA, UCSD, Vassar, Washington, Williams, Yale, as well as Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Australia and Sweden. At present the graduate body is almost evenly divided between women and men.



The Berkeley campus is a lovely park-like setting enhanced by glades, plazas, and a wide variety of architecture, including some graceful examples of the Beaux Arts style. The campus is surrounded on three sides by residential and commercial neighborhoods of the city of Berkeley, a lively part of the conurbation that stretches along the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. The fourth side rises into the Berkeley hills and a regional park. The climate is temperate year-round, with a pleasant alternation of cooling fog and bright sunny skies and an even level of moderate to low humidity. Severe smog is rare in the San Francisco Bay and especially rare near Berkeley, which lies directly exposed to the Pacific winds entering the Golden Gate.

Public transportation serving the campus area is good. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system operates trains that provide direct access to downtown Oakland (which is adjacent to Berkeley on the south) and under the bay to San Francisco. Buses provide access from the campus area to many intermediate destinations. Most of the cultural and recreational resources of the Bay Area are thus accessible by public transit. These include, apart from the museums, theaters, sports arenas, and concert halls of Oakland and San Francisco, the local resources of the campus, which offers a wide range of athletic and cultural events and facilities (many either free or discounted for students), and of the city, noted for its abundance of fine ethnic restaurants, its bookstores, cinemas, repertory theater, and its unparalleled range of musical offerings. There is an excellent network of hiking, bicycling and horseback-riding paths in the East Bay hills.

The housing market is tight and relatively expensive, but with adequate time and help from the campus housing service new students do find suitable lodgings to start with, and once established in the area many graduate students seek houses to share in small groups and otherwise take advantage of the graduate student network.

The local airports are Oakland International (which is slightly closer) and San Francisco International (which boasts more non-stop flights and more international flights). Both are well served by public transportation.



In addition to a variety of occasional lectures by distinguished visiting scholars from North America and Europe, the Berkeley department is proud to host each year the Visiting Sather Professor of Classical Literature. The Sather Lecture series is now over 90 years old and has produced a number of outstanding books. The Sather Professor is invited several years in advance and is in residence for one semester. She or he normally teaches a graduate seminar. The Professor’s lectures are given on six successive Thursday evenings and are the intellectual highlight of the semester. They also provide a major social event, as the reception after the first lecture is attended by faculty, students, and numerous friends of the classics. In addition, graduate students are regularly invited to subsequent post-lecture parties.



Students are required to act as Graduate Student Instructors (the formal title of a teaching assistant) for two semesters, usually after having passed the M.A. exams. Many also teach beyond the required year both for the sake of financial support and for the personal and intellectual stimulation that teaching can provide. Teaching experience is considered an essential part of the graduate education and is helpful in job placement. Typically, a beginning GSI will teach a first-year Latin section, taking responsibility for all presentation of the material, development of exams, and tutorial work outside of class, though with the guidance of a faculty member. Another common assignment is as teaching assistant for discussion-sections of one of the Department’s lower-division lecture courses such as “Introduction to Greek Civilization” or “The Classic Myths,” in which the GSI works closely with the students in reviewing course material, developing paper topics, etc. All first-time GSIs are required to take the department’s pedagogy seminar, which covers both language and section teaching. More advanced GSI’s may be able to teach introductory Greek, undergraduate prose composition courses, or intermediate language courses, and lower-division lecture courses in epic or tragedy.

The Department also offers summer courses, including introductory literature and culture courses and the Summer Language Workshops in both Greek and Latin. These are usually staffed entirely by graduate students.



The Berkeley Library possesses one of the largest collections in North America and is old enough to have an excellent historical coverage of books and periodicals in the field of classical studies. An underground library extension containing the main stacks was opened in Fall 1994, and the area of campus above it has been re-landscaped into an open, central glade. The center of activity for most graduate students is the Art History/Classics Library, located on the third floor of the original Doe Library Building. This includes a seminar classroom, two rooms of bookshelves and study-tables, and a hallway study area with Macintosh computers and laser printer, all devoted to Classics and Classical Archaeology. The Classics rooms contain a reserve collection of the most commonly used Classics and Classical Archaeology texts, periodicals, and reference materials. Students also have access to numerous other library services and branches, such the Graduate Service and the Bancroft Library (rare books, manuscripts, some Tebtunis papyri, etc.). Students of Classical Archaeology also have access to an extensive slide library operated by the Department of History of Art.

In late 1997 the Department moved to the seventh floor of Dwinelle Hall and now enjoys expanded facilities, including a Nemea/Sardis research room, a departmental seminar room, GSI offices adjacent to the department, and a dedicated office for research equipment and computers accessible to graduate students. The departmental offices provide a focus for mail pick-up (every student has a mail slot), copying, advising and consulting, tutorials, and teaching.

Computer and database facilities for graduate students are excellent. Macintosh computers with network connections and laser printers are available in a graduate student loungee in the Department’s office suite, in the Art History/Classics Library, and in GSI offices. Wireless access points serve the Library suite and the Department’s offices. Site licenses make it possible to consult resources like the online TLG and L’Année Philologique from campus computers and from home. CD’s for  PHI Latin texts and Greek epigraphy are available for consultation.

Three research centers are now associated with the Department and provide many opportunities to graduate students.

The Sara Aleshire Center for the Study of Greek Epigraphy, established by a bequest of a loyal alumna, has a research collection and funding for graduate students and faculty to pursue studies in Greek epigraphy.

The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, established with campus and departmental support and gifts from foundations, offers opportunities for training in papyrology and publication opportunities, as well as graduate student research assistantships and financial support for attending conferences related to papyrology and for participating in excavations in Egypt.

The Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology has appointed its first Director and has been developing new programs as well as carrying on research and minor excavation activities at Nemea.

The Department also owns an extensive study collection of ancient coins, most of which are the gift of Henry Lindgren.



Opportunities for archaeological field-work and post-excavation study experience are readily available. The Department is a sponsor of the Nemea Center Research Program and Excavations, in addition to annual seasons of research, publication preparation, and small-scale test digs under the direction of Prof. Kim Shelton, of the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology. Prof. Shelton also directs excavation and study in Mycenae at Petsas House. Material from both sites are also available for dissertation research.

Prof. Ted Peña has ongoing projects in Italy, including Pompeii. The Center for Tebtunis Papyri has sent students to participate in digs at Umm-El-Breigat (Tebtunis) and Soknopaiou Nesos in Egypt. Students have also gained experience at Dhiban, Jordan (under Prof. Ben Porter of Near Eastern Studies), and at Morgantina (Sicily) and Butrint (Albania), and often gain positions in the year-long or summer programs at the American School of Classical Studies and the American Academy in Rome.



The job market for Ph.D.’s in Classics, as for Humanities in general, has its ups and downs from year to year, but recent years have been moderately good in general and excellent for Berkeley candidates. The Department has a very strong placement record. In recent years most Berkeley candidates who have been actively seeking employment have attained a position. Recent Berkeley Ph.Ds are teaching at Stanford University, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Princeton University, Reed College, University of Colorado (Boulder), Williams College, Boston University, Vassar College, the University of Washington, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Department has a placement officer and committee and provides a dossier service for its students. Each fall the placement officer holds meetings to provide general advice, especially to candidates who are entering the market for the first time, and mock interviews are given for any who wish to have practice. The Department provides a travel subvention for each candidate to attend one joint meeting of the American Philological Association and Archaeological Institute of America.


For more information, contact:

  • Professor Kathleen McCarthy, Graduate Advisor (tel. 510-642-0216; kmmcarth [at] berkeley [dot] edu),
  • Professor Ellen Oliensis, Department Chair (tel. 510-642-9207; eolien [at] berkeley [dot] edu),
  • Mr. Miguel Valencia, Student Services Adviser (tel. 510-643-8741; mvalencia [at] berkeley [dot] edu).

The Department's mailing address is University of California, Department of Classics, 7233 Dwinelle Hall, #2520, Berkeley, CA 94720-2520.