St. John’s College: Traditional, yet completely original
If you’re looking for a college that’s steeped in American college tradition, St. John’s College is an inspired choice for two reasons.
It’s the third oldest college in the nation, with a long history dating back to its Annapolis, Maryland campus opening in 1696. And though its Santa Fe, New Mexico campus got its start some time later, admitting its first students in 1964, both campuses ascribe to the Great Books tradition that American colleges originally utilized.
According to Caroline Randall, director of admissions at St. John’s College, their approach holds that “it is essential to study all of the liberal arts subjects throughout 3000 years of written history directly from the original authors. This study of human nature, human thought, and human condition become the foundation of this curriculum.”
She adds, “Another important aspect of the program is learning to ask questions. We challenge our students to ask questions and to dig deeper at every single level, to question what they think, what other people think, and to not automatically believe what they read. It’s amazing how few educations teach students to ask questions, rather than to find answers.”
The curriculum is anchored in a series of books foundational to various disciplines, or are otherwise important, throughout society’s development. For example, the freshman reading list includes works by Aristotle, Euclid, Virginia Woolf, and Antonie Lavoisier.
Randall notes it’s an approach that uniquely equips students to meet 21st-century concerns while drawing from as far back as the origins of Western thought. “Our students today are going to have so many different careers, and interact with so many different people and different viewpoints, that it’s essential that they are trained to do just about anything and everything.”
“This type of undergraduate degree leads into many of the best graduate programs and careers,” she adds. “We’re teaching them to problem solve, to question everything, to speak and write with precision, at a very deep level, with very diverse individuals and diverse ideas.”
Randall sees St. John’s, being a liberal arts college in the capital of New Mexico, as a particularly appealing choice for Latino/a/x students.
“I think we are in a unique position, by being in New Mexico. We are in a state with a long, proud, and deeply established Latino/a/x culture. We are also one of the two or three premier liberal arts colleges in the entire Southwest.”
She notes, while students in the Southwest part of the country might gravitate toward a Santa Fe college, that their students are driven to come to St. John’s for its approach.
“We absolutely attract a unique mix of students. We’re very self-selecting in our application process. The types of students that are going to come into this program are the students who like to question everything. They’re the students who want to keep their teacher after class to ask one more question. They’re the students who always have a book in their hands.”
St. John’s is also a great place for those who are intellectually curious. “We actually have the students recreate science experiments from the greatest scientists, to see if they can prove them wrong.”
It’s also a small, dedicated community of scholars, with about 400 students at the Santa Fe campus. Randall notes that more than 30 percent of St. John’s students are students of color, with a large number of Latino/a/x students among them—and she’d like to expand that.
Randall wanted St. John’s to be part of College Register because of the different approach it offers.
“I know one of NHI’s primary focuses is introducing students to things that are different,” Randall remarks. “And I would say St. John’s is fairly different. We don’t look like all of the other colleges in the College Register. I think if you look through that list of different college partners, you see great diversity with unique ideas on how they’re teaching students. And St. John’s wanted to add to that, so the students have a broader mix of colleges to consider.”
This article is part of a series featuring NHI College Register members. To learn more about St. John’s College, visit its website. To learn more about College Register, visit its page on the NHI website.