Career options for a Classics major?
June 6, 2010 5:46 PM   Subscribe

Close to finishing a BA in Classics, utterly clueless (and feeling hopeless) about career options, and looking for guidance.

I'm a Canadian one year short of getting my BA in Classics. I've really enjoyed my program and university in general; however, I went in without much of a life plan, and I have no idea what I want to do after I graduate. In light of the miserable economy and my less-than-super-useful degree, I'm starting to feel a bit gloomy as well, so I'm looking for guidance. Here's the outline:

1. I love Latin and history. I work hard, I've gotten quite high marks and my professors like me. Some have suggested I go into academia, and while I love the subject I don't know if I'm really prof material, and I'm scared of the huge debt involved for a relatively risky career path.

2. I've considered getting my Master's in library or archival studies. I'm hard-working, organized, and I also have some fairly decent computer skills, so I think it would be a career that I would be good at. However, everything I read about librarians and archivists suggests that it's a flooded field that is nigh-impossible to break into, so I am also scared about this.

3. I went to my school's career counselor, who pretty much just gave me a half-hour speech and why I should go to law school because I have high enough marks. I know I have no interest in being a lawyer.

4. Some people have also mentioned teaching. I deal terribly with teenagers, but I could see myself doing something at a community college level. I have no idea if I would be good at this or how I would find out since I have no teaching experience.

5. Some people have also suggested the Canadian public service since I do speak French, but I don't know if they'd hire someone with a Classics degree or how I would even start to look for a job like that.

6. I'm an INTP. I'm better at working alone then in groups. I work hard, I have a much longer attention span than most of my peers, I'm organized and I have a good attention to detail. While I'm a bit shy/introverted, in general I think I'm pretty employable and adaptable.

7. I think I have fairly realistic career expectations. I don't demand anything fun or "intellectually stimulating" since a job is a job, and I can stimulate my intellect on my own time. To be honest, I was perfectly happy with my past "crappy" jobs washing dishes, alphabetizing in a bookstore, and doing data entry. I'm not aiming for a career with a huge salary, either - all I need is to support myself, and I'm not a big spender.

8. I am going to graduate debt-free, but not with a massive amount of savings. I will have to take a student loan for any more schooling, so I want to make sure I'm making a reasonable decision before I jump into this.

I'm started to feel progressively more and more desperate and wondering why I majored in something I loved instead of something useful. The economy and my utterly useless career counselor didn't help. Can anyone offer guidance, advice, or similar experiences? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
At least in the US, getting a law degree does NOT mean you have to be a lawyer. If you can go to law school for free or heavily subsidized (with a scholarship for those excellent marks), so as to accrue minimal debt, it's a good degree to have in your back pocket. One of my law school professors always said it was the last generalist liberal arts degree at the graduate level. It opens doors to management, banking, HR, politics, government service, etc. -- not just law.

If you're graduating from a good school, especially a "name" school, a BA -- in anything -- is a degree that opens doors to entry-level positions in business, consulting, and public service. Anything that doesn't require specialized credentials, you can apply for and do. I know it's daunting because you don't have a specific path lined up, and up until now you've always had a list of "do X, Y, and Z and you can go to school A, major in thing B, etc." ... but now you've got a credential that will let you do almost anything.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:54 PM on June 6, 2010

Congratulations! You can do whatever you want.

Seriously, unless it specifically requires you to have a certain post-grad degree or a ridiculous amount of experience, you can do whatever you want. Your BA is just proof you can successfully navigate bureaucracy (not to belittle your work). If library work sounds neat to you, try working as a clerk or technician. If there are any non-profits or causes you feel strongly about, why not seek a job with them in administration or field work?

You're in a great position to really consider what sort of work you want to do with your young life—you don't have to necessarily be thinking about a career at this point. With your finances in order (no debt!) and a degree the world is your oyster. All you need to do is pick a direction, and it doesn't even have to be the right one. What's important now is taking what you learned about life in college (that is, not the stuff from books) and work on applying it to life beyond college, and then learning from your experience. Rinse, repeat.
posted by carsonb at 6:04 PM on June 6, 2010

I'm a former Classics major who is now a librarian (with detours through nonprofit work, an MFA program with a teaching gig, tutoring, temp work, unemployment, and dog-walking). Librarianship has been by far the best fit for me, and from what you describe of your skills and personality, I think archives work would be right up your alley. It's not the world's most wide-open field, but it's not the most closed one, either. At the very least, I'd see if you could get a job or an internship or something in a library or archive and see how you like it, and then you can decide whether to make the plunge into a graduate degree. Good luck!
posted by newrambler at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2010

What about museum work? Since you don't seem to have any issues with basic entry-level work (and good for you, by the way), there are a lot of ways to start working at a museum -- bookstore, data entry, curatorial administrative assistant, archival work, etc. -- that might be a good fit for you in terms of both your personality and education, and (as a bonus) might lead to some interesting doors opening down the road to other types of positions.
posted by scody at 8:09 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a BA in Classics. I got great grades and was being "steered" toward law school. I worked for a law firm for a year and hated it. SO, I got a MSLIS and am now a college librarian. Best thing I ever did in my entire life. If you choose librarianship, I suggest that you try to get a job in an academic library.
posted by fifilaru at 9:57 PM on June 6, 2010

Classics and Latin major here. A degree in Classics, like most college degrees, is just a prerequisite to get you in the door of a decent job. Unless you're a lawyer, doctor, engineer or accountant no one really cares what your major was (or what your GPA was). They just care that you graduated from college.

My advice is just find something you like and do it (easier said than done I know). I encourage you to make a list of all the careers that interest you and research the hell out of them. Figure out if the pay will allow the lifestyle you crave. Find out what the long-term outlook is. Look into whether the field is saturated or ultra competitive where you want to live and if that's something you want to deal with. And most important, make sure the job fits your comfort zone.

Also, you should understand now that you may very well choose the wrong profession and have to do something new at some point. This is not failure. People change. You might want more money. Your job might be replaced by a robot or someone in a third world country. It's very rare these days for people to stay at the same job for their entire careers.

Lastly, remember that your job is not you (at least it doesn't have to be). Many a people lose sight of who they are because they let jobs they hate consume their lives. So it's best to not base your happiness on your job unless you really love it. The only real way to guarantee happiness is to stay true to yourself. Good luck!
posted by wherever, whatever at 10:03 PM on June 6, 2010

You could go to law school and then become a law librarian. Many positions require a J.D. along with the MLS.
posted by funfetti at 6:13 AM on June 7, 2010

Some have suggested I go into academia, and while I love the subject I don't know if I'm really prof material, and I'm scared of the huge debt involved for a relatively risky career path.

It sounds like academia isn't the path for you anyway (you'd know if it was), but I just wanted to say that (rough as the field may be) there's no reason to go into debt if you're going into academia. Any PhD program worth 5-8 years of your life will fund you, and a stand-alone, unfunded MA is usually unnecessary if you're aiming for a professorship.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:25 AM on June 7, 2010

Hi. I have an undergraduate degree in Medieval & Ren. history and a love for the field but like you did not see want ads for "Wanted: One historian. Must type >50 wpm & have knowledge of medieval papacy" so I can empathize. Also like you, many people told me I'd be great in law school though I had zero desire to be a lawyer. I did go & get a MSc and worked as a librarian for a few years. I loved being in libraries but then I got an offer I could not refuse which led me to my current job. I am a policy analyst of sorts now (my actual job title isn't very descriptive). My job has many things I love about being in the library & at university - research, a little teaching/training, organizing & managing information, the chance to develop subject matter expertise. Would that kind of thing interest you?
I work for the government now but did the same work, really, for a consulting firm. A lot of businesses like having smart, well read & good comminicator types on staff so maybe that is an avenue? Memail me if you want more info & I'll stop blathering here.
posted by pointystick at 7:46 AM on June 7, 2010

Special Collection librarian here! We just completed a national search and screen for a Special Collections position - only 1 applicant listed Latin - in 70+ applicants. The materials are primarily in Latin.

If you are interested in using your degree in an academic setting I would encourage you to strongly consider an MLS with a concentration in Rare Books and Special Collections. An MLS is likely 1 year of additional work - but there are credentialed programs with all-online classes.
posted by mfoight at 9:54 AM on June 7, 2010

while I love the subject I don't know if I'm really prof material

I have a relative like that. The upshot was writing. Articles for general history magazines and eventually even books. Not that this is a great career move, financially, but if it's the sort of thing you might do anyway, you might as well take it up as a sideline now. Fill up the nights and weekends and distracts you from your gloom.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2010

Welcome to the field, future Librarian! - from a practicing Librarian. :)
posted by davismbagpiper at 11:40 AM on June 7, 2010

I would not suggest working at a community college. I currently teach English at a local community college, and it has been very disappointing. Most of my students are underprepared and often apathetic. Like me, you're probably thinking that you wouldn't have to deal with the discipline problems that high school students present, but I'm afraid those problems are still there. If you're uncomfortable with managing people, don't go into teaching.
posted by alspeigh at 12:11 PM on June 7, 2010

Classics major. INTP. Went to law school. But you don't have to and probably shouldn't! I think the value of a humanities BA is that it shows people you know how to communicate. Look for entry-level jobs that are writing-heavy (or even writing-at-all). I got a job like that in the back-office of a law firm after I graduated from college. It was totally fine, I was working for a for-profit enterprise with great benefits (don't knock it!), I spent at least some of my time talking to very smart people and a lot of my time working quietly by myself, I didn't have to have any expensive post-college qualifications to get it, and I could have stayed there for a long time if I had wanted to. You won't be one of those people whose personal identity is tied up with their jobs, but that's fine and you seem to have the right attitude about that. More time for books at home!

Really, the worst thing you can do is to give yourself a hard time for not having had a career-focused college experience. You're incredibly lucky to have been able to do that, and it will be with you for the rest of your life. Read The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.

Also, carsonb is spot on.
posted by rustcellar at 6:17 PM on June 8, 2010

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