St. John’s College: How the nation’s third-oldest school became a pioneer of modern liberal arts

St. John’s College: How the nation’s third-oldest school became a pioneer of modern liberal arts
mage courtesy of St. John's College

Established in 1696, St John’s College is the third-oldest college in the United States. It’s liberal arts curriculum and teaching strategies are famous worldwide, placing the school among the most highly-respected places of study in the US. Over the years, the school has developed and innovated a unique educational experience for all attendees; one which immerses students in a world of active involvement and thought-provoking insight.

The school champions the study of original texts, with the likes of Homer, Plato, Euclid, Nietzsche and Einstein regularly featuring in teaching. Classes explore the fundamental works of Western philosophy, literature, history, theology, politics, economics, psychology, music, mathematics and the laboratory sciences being presented with fundamental questions and theories, while students are encouraged to formulate and develop their own unique ideas to discuss with their peers.

Stimulating creative thought is of paramount importance to teachers at St John’s, with pupils learning to speak articulately, read attentively and reason effectively through a curriculum based on discussion, conducting experiments and analysing musical compositions. Faculty at St John’s regard themselves as mentors to help nurture students into critical thinkers, exploring personal insights in their own written work.

Image courtesy of St. John’s College

Taught in smaller classes of 13-19, students are exposed to a personal learning experience which focuses on their needs and skills as an individual. The overall faculty-student ratio remains at one to eight. Here, pupils learn about human nature and the importance of working together as collaborators and colleagues to achieve a common goal.

The school is split into two spectacular campuses – one in Annapolis, Maryland, and one in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Despite a great distance between the sites, students at either campus are able to easily transfer from one straight to the other, with many students choosing to spend a year at either campus. The two locations share a common interdisciplinary academic programme, while each presents its students with a vast array of opportunities to get involved in the life of the local community.

The picturesque 36-acre Annapolis campus is situated in the historic capital of Maryland, overlooking College Creek and close to the Chesapeake Bay. With the local area offering a harbor with luxury yachts and racing sailboats, coffee shops, art galleries, and historic Colonial architecture, students have plenty to explore when they need a break from class or want to continue the conversation in a different setting. Nearby cities of Baltimore and Washington. DC are also accessible to St John’s students, presenting the opportunity to experience two of the most historic cities in the United States at short notice.

Sport plays an integral role in life at St John’s, with an intramural program that is one of the most distinctive and loved aspects of social life at the St John’s. Intercollegiate sports include crew, croquet, fencing and sailing, while students at the Annapolis campus can also take advantage of College Creek, the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay to join the sailing or crew team and compete in regattas with other schools in the region.

Image courtesy of St. John’s College

The Santa Fe campus sits among the beautiful foothills of the southern Rocky Mountains, providing students with a panoramic view of the world-famous landscape. A short bike ride away, students will find downtown Santa Fe – an eclectic community of local businesses, galleries, shops and restaurants for pupils to explore and enjoy.

Those that enjoy the outdoors are spoilt for choice in Santa Fe, with hiking trails that start from the college campus, skiing in the Santa Fe Ski Basin and the Taos Ski Valley, camping in the nearby Santa Fe National Forest, as well as the many cultural attractions of the Santa Fe town. The Santa Fe campus also boasts a 26,000 square foot Student Activities Center (SAC); home to a full-size gymnasium, two racquetball/squash courts, and an extensive exercise and weight training room.

The extracurricular programme at St John’s is specifically-designed to help students pursue the activities they are passionate about outside the classroom setting. The college has a lively theatrical tradition, a variety of musical groups, art and photography clubs, and language study groups on offer. In Santa Fe, there is also a Search and Rescue team to encourage the development of backcountry skills and responsibility, as well as to contribute to an important regional service.

Image courtesy of St. John’s College

St John’s prides itself on its academic brilliance and high rates of student achievement. Almost seven in 10 St John’s graduates pursue advanced degrees, with many entering some of the world’s leading humanities, science, business, law and medical programmes. The school is in the top two percent of all colleges in the United States for alumni earning PhDs in the humanities, as well as the top four percent for gaining science or engineering PhDs.

Preparing students for later life is the key purpose of St John’s, helping instill habits of mental flexibility and focus, while empowering intellect and imagination. Graduates from St John’s pursue all manner of career, with recent alumni becoming authors, winemakers, musicians, filmmakers, teachers and astrophysicists.

President of St John’s College, Mark Roosevelt, concludes: “There is no other college like ours in the world, and no faculty or student body more dedicated to and passionate about learning. The program demands extraordinary commitment, and St. John’s challenges students to widen their horizons, overcome their fears, and even – in an era of hyper-partisan contentious discourse – change their minds. When a student comes to terms with nuance, ambiguity, and intellectual uncertainty – not to mention Ptolemy and Apollonius — she leaves college ready to navigate the challenges of modern life.”

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