Language Requirements – Upper Level Universities

My interest in languages, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and the history of ancient and medieval times leads me down one general path in the arts degrees. The easiest universal degree would be history, linquistics, anthropology, or a combination of one of those with another being a minor or a specialization.

Yes, I realize that it is probably a touch odd for a techie to be so interested in subjects that are ages old. Likely it is even more odd that I would be perfectly content to train to be a college Professor on those subjects and would relish being a curator in a art museum or library catering to that time period. Regardless, I was doing a bit of research yesterday, mostly out of curiousity to see what the requirements are in those degrees for very upper level U.S. universities.

Essentially, my ‘plan’ has always been to go back to college locally and finish a BA degree in one of these subjects, then try to get into a much more prestigious university and get my MA. In an ideal world, and assuming I didn’t kill my GPA standing along the way, I’d like to end up getting a PhD from a top 5 school in the U.S. The reason for that is two fold. First, I want the access to the best teachers in those subjects. Second, by getting a graduate degree from a top school, I can pretty much be guaranteed the ability to be able to teach at my choice of colleges across the country (and perhaps even outside of it). I definitely see that as possible because before I had to take a break from my courses (and dropped several during pregnancies with my children), I was being heavily recruited by those universities. So, mentally, I have the ability… somewhere floating around in my head… it’s a question of whether or not having two children has muddled my brain to the point where I can no longer use it as much 😉 Alas, I digress.

I decided that if I wanted to look up the requirements for graduate degrees (Masters and PhD level) in upper level Universities, I might as well start at the very top of the U.S. ladder and look at Harvards requirements. I came across a bit of surprising information when looking up history MA degrees on the Harvard website – language requirements by history specialty. From that page is this quote:

Incoming first-year graduate students are required to show a satisfactory reading knowledge, met by a performance judged proficient or satisfactory on a departmental language examination, of at least two foreign languages.

Okay, it says “at least two” foreign languages. Allright, well that’s the general statement for all the history specialties but on that page it displays a chart showing the required languages by topic. Here are the ones pertinent to my interests:

Field Language Requirements
Ancient French, German, Ancient Greek, and Latin
Byzantine French, German, Byzantine Greek, and Latin
Medieval French, German, and Latin

I was quite shocked to see that. Truly, I was. Of course, I immediately realized a new reason to justify my interest in learning German – in fact, I easily joked about it being ‘fate’ or some sort of ‘6th sense’ that lead me to want to learn it. Unsurprisingly, I found similar requirements of Greek, Latin and German (though Harvard did have the most with their additional requirement of French) on the websites of several other high up Universities in the U.S. By the way, I did find one very interesting history degree plan at Notre Dame – a Masters of Medieval Studies (and subsequent PhD) from their Medieval Institute. Fascinating.

I’m actually quite pleased to see such rigorous requirements for History – the kind of requirements I’d have expected of a linguistics degree (of course, linguistics and history go hand-in-hand at so many levels it makes sense). When I saw the list, I did let out a sigh of relief that I formally studied Latin for several years (my language of choice in high school). Granted, I am a bit rusty, but at least I have learned that one to fluency. I have a rudimentary understanding of Ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Sanskrit that I have needed for translation purposes over the years… but no where near a fluency level needed in any of them – so gaining fluency in Ancient Greek has to go on my list of things to work on.

Now on the German and French… I’m perfectly content to learn those. I’ve been trying to learn German for some time. When I am able to go back and get that BA in history or linguistics locally, I do plan to do it at the only college here that has a decent amount of German courses. The French… well, French has always been one of those languages that I seem to remember with ease. I’ve not formally studied it, but it is the only of the Romance languages that I have that ability with. I don’t know why that is, particularly since I live in a city with an overwhelming amount of native Spanish speakers … but I’ve always been able to remember French better than Spanish. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I think Spanish sounds very unpleasant to the ear (I have a similar view of Italian), but that French has a more pleasing sing-songy rhythm to it (as does Latin). As they say, What you enjoy, you remember.

Regardless, while there wasn’t a particular point to this post, I think that you might be able to assume that what I was getting at is It never hurts to check into requirements many many years ahead of time. I would hate to think of how frustrating it would be to have an interest in studying History, and find out shortly before applying that you needed to pass comprehension tests in four languages. It never hurts to plan ahead.


One Reply to “Language Requirements – Upper Level Universities”

  1. […] A very accosting layout and a interesting discussion topic, do you provide any Web-based services to universities or students. […] – Sorry for the stupid question 🙂

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