Student | CANES

CANES graduates, like graduates in Classics and related fields nationally, are highly sought after in the commercial sector and have an advantage over majors in most other fields when it comes to applications to professional schools, such as medical, dental, business, and law schools. This is for two reasons.

First, it is no secret that Greek and Latin require dedication and intelligence to master, and that the process of learning dead languages by its very nature requires mental discipline somewhat greater than that required by many modern languages. Thus, successful students of the ancient languages have what almost amounts to an extra credential when they graduate.

In the second place, and with special reference to students bound for health-professional schools, it need hardly be said that droves of students emerge at the end of their four years with that stereotypical mark of the premed, a biology or other science degree. Students interested in the sciences ought to major in them; but you should know that a science degree is not a requisite for admission to the health-professional school of your choice, and may even be a hindrance. An admissions officer may be faced with hundreds of applications from (say) biology majors, which form a great gray mass distinguished by perhaps a few tenths of a grade point from top to bottom of the applicant pool.

A Classics major stands out like a star in a black sky against the mass of science majors applying, and medical school admissions officers know this and know that classics is a hard, rigorous discipline. Let's look at some testimonials and interesting data:

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent. -- Dorothy Sayers, from the National Review.

But more important is the fact that traditional study of Latin starts out with a grammatical framework.... As American students begin Latin, they become acquainted with the "Latin grammar" system, which they can indirectly transfer to their work in English. What it gives them is a standardized set of terms in which to describe words in relation to other words in sentences, and it is this grammatical awareness which makes their English writing good. -- Professor William V. Harris, NYU.

"Having a strong background in Classics has, in my opinion, proved beneficial in my studies of medicine. Doctors don't have to major in Biology to learn how to think and become good physicians. I believe Classical Studies provides that ability as well as any major offered in the college curriculum." -- Thomas Turner, MD (For the full letter follow this link.)

"In high school, I was privileged to take two years of Latin. At that time, I was intrigued by the subject but did not realize that I would ever utilize this material later in life. Of course, when studying vocabulary lists for the SAT and later for my medical college admissions test, knowing Latin was invaluable in trying to determine the meaning of many of the more difficult vocabulary lists." -- Austin King, M.D. (Full text.)

"So much of medical terminology is rooted in the Classics that studying Greek can facilitate study of anatomy for instance. But studying the Classics opens other doors that physicians tend to have closed just by the focused interest of their studies. Classics can be a vehicle for staying in touch with life - spiritual growth by reading the New Testament in its original language or cultural growth by reading the Iliad." -- Dr. Eric Dahl, Director, The University of Mississippi Student Health Service

". . . I was educated more formally than has since been common. . . . From the age of ten or so, along with millions of my schoolfellows, I was taught Latin and, less formally, French. From the age of twelve I was educated in these two languages and in classical Greek. Although the writing of Latin and Greek proses and verses was part of every classical scholar's curriculum, the practice of doing so was far less an exercise of any literary imagination than a means of acquiring proficiency in those tongues and grammars. Nevertheless, for reasons that may emerge in later parts of the book, I regard these exercises as excellent training for composition in one's own language, whether verse or prose, and for any closer investigation of that language."
--Kingsley Amis, The King's English ix-x.

See the high praise for Classics (especially with a view to premedical study) in the Princeton Review. Here is a juicy excerpt: "We can't overestimate the value of a Classics major. Check this out: according to Association of American Medical Colleges, students who major or double-major in Classics have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of science."

The Optimates, a tradition-oriented group, offer this as their number one recommendation for getting into "elite and top-tier medical schools": "Have at least 2 years of college Latin, preferably 4 years. This is the most important element." See their full complement of recommendations here.

Pope John XXIII issued this Apostolic Constitution promoting the study of Latin (Veterum Sapientia). Though it has apparently been sidelined since the time it was issued, it makes interesting reading and forcefully argues not only the general benefits and advantages of studying Latin and Greek, but also makes strong arguments for the absolute necessity of Latin and Greek education among prospective clergy. (The Constitutio was issued 22 February 1962.)

Law students! See these sentences from the recent e-book Real Property by Robert G. Natelson of the University of Montana Law School which reveal the omnipresence of Latin in important older precedent cases and its importance generally in the study of law.

See the sturdy defense of Classical education by Tracy Lee Simmons, Director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College in an interview by Kathryn Jean Lopez in the National Review Online, 4 Sept. 2002.

From the Jesuit Constitutions of 1548, § 447: "Moreover, since both the learning of theology and the use of it require (especially in these times) knowledge of humane letters [footnote: Under the heading of humane letters is understood, in addition to grammar, what pertains to rhetoric, poetry, and history.] and of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, there should be capable professors of these languages, and in sufficient number."

See this interesting passage from Lewis Thomas' The Medusa and the Snail (1979).

The MCAT is the single most frightening and difficult hurdle for prospective medical professionals. Classics Majors can therefore take comfort from the following statistics collected on the 1997 applicants to allopathic (MD) medical schools in North America tabulated by acceptance rate to medical school and sub-tabulated alphabetically by major (NB: not all majors for which data is available are tabulated):

Total number of applicants
Number and percent accepted

Average MCAT score
Verbal Reasoning

Average MCAT score
Physical Sciences
Average MCAT score
Biological Sciences
27 (50%)
205 (47%)
243 (47%)
Poly Sci
150 (47%)
56 (47%)
275 (45%)
1057 (42%)
38 (40%)
6219 (38%)
845 (38%)
17 (20%)

Data collected by Prof. Charles Austerberry, Ph.D., of Creighton University Department of Biology.

In the GRE examinations which applicants bound for graduate schools take, the average scores of graduating seniors, tabulated by intended field of study (data collected 1996-1999) reveal that Classics majors have by far the highest verbal average (605) out of the 270 fields tabulated.


Verbal Quantitative Analytical
Classics 604 594 622
Classical Languages 605 590 614
History of Science 595 631 649
Semitic Languages 587 572 590
Comparative Literature 586 580 604
Philosophy 583 605 624
Russian Language 567 586 620
European History 564 550 600
English 561 533 583
Planetary Science 559 699 651
Paleontology 551 620 629
American Literature 551 536 580


It is worth adding that not only did Classics rank first out of the 270 fields in the Verbal portion, but it ranked fourth in Quantitative and fifth in the Analytical!
(See the ACL Newsletter 24.2 (2002) p. 5)

But the data collected for the SAT college entrance exams plotted against eventual choice of language majors also tells a story familiar to admissions officers:


MAJOR 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Latin 648 647 654 662 665 665 666
All Students 504 505 505 505 505 506 504
French 625 623 627 632 636 633 637
German 625 624 617 623 621 625 622
Spanish 576 581 583 590 589 583 581
Hebrew 622 629 634 636 623 628 629


But the advantages do not end with health-related studies. Here are two testimonia interesting to pre-law students:

“My scores on the SAT and the LSAT were dramatically improved by my knowledge of Latin. As you know, much of the vocabulary on those tests is rooted in Latin. Unfamiliar vocabulary on those tests became easily decipherable because I was able to identify and translate the Latin roots.” W.C. Chaney, JD, UT Austin. (Full text.)

"Law schools report that by yardsticks of law review and grades, their top students come from math, the Classics, and literature - with political science, economics, "pre - law," and "legal studies" ranking lower" (Harvard Magazine, May-June, 1998, p. 50)

From the e-book Real Property by Prof. Robert G. Natelson of the University of Montana Law School:

§ 1.3.4 Why all the Latin?
Pierson v. Post, like many other Anglo-American legal writings of the time, is filled with extensive use of Latin. Why?
The judges were not showing off. Writing Latin was as natural to them as driving a car is to you today. (Skills natural in one era may seem exotic in others!) At the time Pierson v. Post was decided, Latin had been the international medium of ideas for 1800 years. It was known to all educated Europeans and Americans, and spoken easily by many.

Latin had been the official language of the western half of the Roman Empire. As the western empire became less cohesive in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., among the common people Latin evolved into the modern Romance languages -- French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, Catalan, and others. Among the educated, it continued to be spoken and written (in somewhat modified form) as an international medium of communication.

It is difficult for us to understand today the inestimable advantages of Latin as an international tongue. Latin enabled people in places as alien from each other as Poland, England, Italy, Sweden, and South America (including South American Indians!) to communicate freely across national boundaries without the expense and problems of translation.(19) Because virtually all historical writings were composed in Latin or had been translated into that tongue, any literate person with access to books enjoyed access to the entire European heritage. The language was equally useful for diplomacy, religion, law, medicine, and scholarship. It enabled Europe to create a truly international university system, for all lectures were in Latin. (To ensure fluency, university students were forbidden from speaking any other language.) Among those whose works were composed in Latin were Augustine, Galileo, Grotius, Newton, Pascal, Aquinas, and Mercator.

Beginning around 1600, writers began to use their own national tongues more and Latin less. School history textbooks sometimes seem to applaud this development, but in fact it was a tragedy of the first magnitude. Fragmenting ideas along linguistic boundaries certainly contributed to ignorance and misunderstanding. This erosion of humankind's first and only truly international tongue probably was not a wholly natural development; it seems to be have been promoted by rulers of newly powerful nation-states -- all of whom had incentives to promote "standard" national languages, disconnect their subjects from inconvenient historical writings, and discourage the free flow of ideas across national borders. The resultant damage was great, and is being partially repaired only now with the rise of the Internet and of English as the new international language.

In sum, Latin terms appear in legal texts for the same reason as in books on medicine, biology and other fields of learning. In the case of law, moreover, the use of Latin was reinforced by extensive Anglo-American borrowing from Roman law.

Some legal scholars have observed the fact that because today Latin is not commonly spoken outside the Vatican has the effect of increasing its value as a source of technical vocabulary because meanings do not change as quickly from generation to generation. Stability enhances precision.

For those interested in teaching Latin, there is this interesting datum: "...the sharpest appetite is for Latin majors...Recruiters are eager to find college graduates who majored in Latin because high school students in significant numbers continue to want to study it." ( LA Times , 5 October 1999 )

In fact, if there were ever a time to enter the profession of teaching Latin at the Secondary School Level, this is it. There is a national crunch in the number of Latin teachers while the numbers of students desiring to take Latin goes up year by year.