Overview

Princeton has been offering graduate study in the classics since 1869. The achievements of the many remarkable scholars who received their advanced training here stand collectively as one of our department’s most significant contributions to the field.

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Student studying papyrus

Two features particularly characterize our graduate program. The first is a longstanding recognition that an intellectual concentration on any aspect of the Greek and Roman world—its literature, philosophy, or history—must be founded on a broad and complex knowledge of their civilization as a whole. Not only do our faculty work across the spectrum of the discipline, from historical linguistics to reception studies, but the size of our scholarly community insures that all of us are continually exposed to different perspectives and approaches even within the various fields that make up classics.

The second distinguishing feature of Princeton’s graduate program is its scale. We can provide a set of human and material resources equal to any research university in the country: an excellent, open stack, library, a varied program of lectures, opportunities for foreign travel and research, and proximity to the cultural and intellectual riches of New York and Philadelphia. The smaller size of the University’s graduate population fosters close intellectual ties between and among students and faculty. Close interdisciplinary links among the different humanities departments are another especially valuable consequence of Princeton’s scale.

Admissions

τὸ σοφὸν δ᾽ οὐ σοφία τό τε μὴ θνητὰ φρονεῖν.
“The wise is not wisdom, nor to think non-mortal things.”
Euripides - Bacchae 394-95

The process of selection is complex, and no single factor outweighs any other. Letters, writing sample, personal statement, transcripts, and GRE scores are all considered, and one sour letter or one poor GRE component need not be fatal. All applications are read carefully by a departmental committee, and other faculty members are asked to read those relevant to their own interests. There is no particular profile for which we are looking, nor do some areas of Classics dominate: we simply want students who promise to be disciplined and original scholars and lively, effective, and sympathetic teachers.

  • Good language preparation is essential. Everyone admitted must show proficiency in Greek and Latin on arrival. Evidence of ability in German, French, or Italian is very helpful since every student must show a reading knowledge of one of these languages by the end of the first year here and of a second by the end of the second year.
     
  • Letters of recommendation from your teachers or others qualified to judge your academic work are essential: three at a minimum, but there is no maximum.
     
  • Transcripts and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are essential.  Be sure to take the GRE in time for scores to reach the department in January.
     
  • A sample of scholarly writing is required and may be the deciding factor. Choose something you think best represents your talent and will bear up under scrutiny by experts. We are especially interested in knowledge, judgment, originality, and style. If you indicate an area of specialization on your application, such as history or philosophy, try to submit a relevant sample. Papers should be no more than 20 pages, please.
     
  • In your personal statement avoid both exaggeration and false modesty. Simply tell us who you are, what you are interested in, and what you hope to achieve.

Admitted students will be invited to an on-campus visit in March, during which you will meet the Director of Graduate Studies and faculty whom you share mutual interests with, talk with current graduate students, attend a seminar, assess the library, and explore the general quality of life.

Apply: https://gradschool.princeton.edu/admission/applying-princeton/apply.

More information about graduate study at Princeton can be found on the The Graduate School website.

Program of Study

The most important elements in your choice of a graduate school should be the program and the faculty. The basic rules and procedures of our program are outlined here as well as in the Graduate School Announcement. A more complete statement of these and of departmental custom — the so-called “Twelve Tables” — is sent to all admitted applicants.   

The Princeton Classics Ph.D. Program fully recognizes the importance of the diverse aspects of the discipline and aims to offer all students an opportunity to develop a comprehensive and varied course of study. The Department currently offers four curricular options:

  • Literature and Philology
  • History (Program in the Ancient World)
  • Classical Philosophy
  • Classical and Hellenic Studies

Students select their curricular option at the beginning of the program, though later changes are possible in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Committee. 

Financial Support

Finances are a major concern for most applicants. Fellowships at Princeton are awarded by the Graduate School at large, not by the Department, and they are based on ability and promise. A fellowship normally includes full tuition plus a stipend; all stipends are now paid out over 12 months, guaranteeing support over the summer. All students receive essentially the same fellowship support, and we are financially competitive with all major graduate programs.  Students are also urged to apply for certain outside funding. Unlike most other programs, Princeton tacitly guarantees support at the original level for all fellowship holders for the full five years of their enrollment, assuming they demonstrate satisfactory academic progress.

Students who pass the general examination are regularly asked to teach as part-time assistants in instruction (see the Teaching section, below); while acting as AIs (normally for two or three semesters), they are paid at a rate somewhat higher than the stipend rate.

Teaching

Under normal circumstances, all students who have passed their general examinations are required to teach as Assistants in Instruction (AI) sometime during their last five semesters, normally in the fourth year of enrollment. Most students act as AI’s in two courses in that period, some in three, but rarely in more, since at the same time they are encouraged to continue attending seminars and they must choose and pursue a dissertation subject, and prepare for the job market.

Teaching is normally of two kinds. Most students will act as section leaders (preceptors) in large undergraduate lecture courses in translation, particularly in the survey courses in Greek and Roman history; in the introductory literary courses titled Homer and the Tragic Vision, The Ancient Comic Tradition, or Classical Mythology; and often in slightly smaller courses such as Sex and Gender in the Ancient World, Ancient Philosophy, Roman Law, or Greek Drama. Such teaching typically might involve two one-hour precepts (discussion groups) per week with 10 to 15 undergraduates in each, reading of student papers and conferences with their authors, and working with the faculty member in setting and grading assignments and examinations.  Each year some students are also asked to teach beginning-level Latin and Greek courses, under the general supervision of a faculty member with whom they work closely.

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