It's a ticket back to civilisation

Our series designed to help you pick the right degree. This week: Classics, Ancient and Byzantine studies
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What do you come out with? BA in England and Wales; MA in Scotland.

Why do it? For love. You have a passion for antiquity. And you want to learn to lead the good life. But you know that that won't pay the bills, so you hope you'll learn useful things about history, literature, language and philosophy, as well as all those transferable skills. You want to learn to communicate? Try Latin. You want teamwork? Try ancient history.

What's it about? The ancient world. Previous knowledge of Latin and ancient Greek are no longer needed. Universities now offer a menu of degrees depending on your interests. Neither Bristol nor Newcastle have single-honours degrees in Latin or Greek. At Bristol you can do classics, classical studies or ancient history. Classics is the language and literature of Greek and Latin; classical studies contains less language and you study more material in translation but Bristol, unlike other universities, insists you take one of the languages. Newcastle does classics, Latin with Greek, classical studies and ancient history. Royal Holloway has a new degree in classical archaeology and ancient history.

How long is a degree? Three years in England normally. Four years in Scotland. Greats at Oxford is still four years. At Bristol, classics or classical studies can be studied with an extra year which is spent on the Continent.

What are the students like? Like other humanities students, they range from the fearsomely academic to real party animals.

How is it packaged? At Royal Holloway 80 per cent is examined and the other 20 per cent is coursework.

How cool is it? Cooler than you think. Classics is undergoing a renaissance. Departments were cut back in the Eighties. The subject fell out of favour in state schools, but is now gaining in popularity. It's sufficiently exotic to be interesting and it is, after all, the civilisation whence we came.

What A-levels do you need? If you're doing Latin single honours you'll need Latin A-level. At Bristol you'll need either Latin or Greek A-level for classics, and for classical studies A-level classical civilisation is preferred. At St Andrews you can start Latin and Greek from scratch at undergraduate level. At Newcastle you'll need Latin and Greek A-level for classics and Latin A-level for Latin with Greek. For the non-language classical subjects, anything goes.

What grades? BBC at Royal Holloway and Bristol; BCC at Exeter and Newcastle.

Will it keep you off the dole? Yes. Degrees in classics carry cachet. Graduates enter commerce, journalism, management, insurance, IT, the armed forces, security firms, museums, the prison service, teaching and some stay on for postgraduate degrees.

Will you be interviewed? Yes, at Royal Holloway but no at either Exeter or St Andrews. Some are interviewed at Bristol but not all. Newcastle uses its open days to interview students. They have already been made offers via UCAS.

What do students say?"I really enjoy it. It has given me plenty of opportunity to specialise in Roman history and I have a place to study a MA next year." (Claire Wood, 21, third year, ancient history, Royal Holloway.) "It was a good degree because it combined history, language, literary criticism, philosophy and archaeology. And I liked St Andrews because it was a small department." (Craig Galbraith, 24, ancient history, graduated in 1998.)

Where's best for teaching? Classics has not been assessed yet in England. In Wales, Lampeter and Swansea were rated as excellent.

Where's the best for research? Cambridge, King's College London, Oxford and University College London scored tip-top 5*. Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, Reading, Royal Holloway and St Andrews scored 5. Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Warwick, Glasgow and Swansea scored 4.

Where's the cutting edge? At Royal Holloway it's gender, drama, the Roman army, Roman Egypt, Greek law and democracy; at Exeter Roman history, history of the Black Sea area, ancient concepts of personality and self, ancient food and money; at St Andrews late Roman history, Hellenisation of the Roman world; at Bristol interdisciplinary studies and how the classics are interpreted and reinterpreted; at Newcastle ancient medicine, and social and economic history. Lampeter has been given funds to teach ancient Greek on the internet.

Who are the stars? Professor Harry Hine, expert on Seneca, and Jill Harries, expert on Roman law, both at St Andrews; Professor Robert Fowler, expert on Heroditus, at Bristol; Professor Philip van der Eijk, Greek medicine, and Professor Jeremy Patterson, for research on wine, both at Newcastle; Professor Chris Carey, Greek lyric and Greek oratory, Royal Holloway; Professor Peter Wiseman, Roman history and Professor Christopher Gill, psychology, both at Exeter.

Related courses: At Exeter you can combine it with English, history, French and archaeology; at St Andrews you can also combine it with arts subjects and you can do it with IT.

Added value: Lampeter has an annual field trip to Naples.

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