St. John’s College is one of the oldest colleges in the U.S., founded in 1696. The College has two campuses, one in Annapolis and one in Santa Fe [Evelyn visited the Santa Fe campus in December, 2014 – review here], and most students spend some time on both campuses before they graduate. The curriculum is identical, and of course, as a Great Books school, there are no majors here – every student reads the same books, takes the same classes and participates in Seminar.
Don’t let the fact that the St. John’s education is based on the Great Books curriculum fool you into thinking that these students don’t take math or science. In fact, they read the works of great mathematicians and scientists – Galileo, Copernicus, Euclid – and recreate the breakthrough experiments that helped those great thinkers find their discoveries. Unlike most colleges that tell you about their brand-new 3D printer and their modern science labs, the labs at St. John’s are outfitted with seemingly archaic tools. Most students play a musical instrument before they arrive, and all take Music Theory and learn at least one instrument while they are here.
There are no lectures on this 350-student campus; classes are taught in the classic English way, through small seminars in which professors are called tutors, and students refer to each other by their title and last name. Respectful and thoughtful discussion are truly the norm here, in each class.
St. John’s has the highest percentage of students who complete graduate school, and the school pays students for summer internships between their sophomore and junior or junior and senior years.
The students here (and on the Santa Fe campus) all talk about the depth of their education. Johnnies seem so much more thoughtful than most college students I meet – they talk about reading deeply, as well as developing respect for their own, and other people’s, convictions. We had four students on a panel at the Annapolis campus, ranging from first to third year. When asked questions, each of them asked for time to think about a response, instead of just jumping in with an immediate reply. “Humility is something that we all have to learn here,” one of our panelists said. One of the students saw himself headed toward a career in investment banking, and one a career as a lawyer.
The Annapolis campus is small – about 32 acres with large swaths of green space. The boathouse sits at the rear of the campus, which borders the Severn River. The buildings are old and newer – the main building was the original Governor’s mansion, and Mellon Hall, designed by Richard Neutra, has an observatory, an art studio, a darkroom and a pottery studio, all of which are used by both students as well as Annapolis residents. Students at this campus take advantage of Washington, DC’s proximity, attending cultural events and doing internships in the capital city. The Naval Academy is literally down the street.
St. John’s is a place for the thoughtful student who is open to a different type of learning experience – one that they consider more meaningful. It’s not that St. John’s doesn’t prepare students for the working world – it’s just that it does it in a different way than most students – and parents – would consider traditional.
While St. John’s does not believe in rankings, and therefore does not participate in the annual U.S. News survey, they are consistently ranked highly for teacher accessibility, quality of class discussion, overall quality of life and happiness of students.
I visited St. John’s Annapolis campus in May, 2015. You can see all of my photos here.