Colleges That Change Lives

Changing Lives. One Student at a Time.

St. John's College

"It should be clear that [St. John's] is a place only for those who read and who are interested in ideas and fundamental questions."
-Colleges That Change Lives

  • St. John's College has one purpose, one curriculum, and one distinctive identity. The college is centered on reading and discussing the great books of Western civilization, across the spectrum of human thought. Alongside names such as Plato, Shakespeare, Euclid, Nietzsche, Einstein, and Austen, Johnnies wrestle with ideas in interdisciplinary classes with fewer than 19 students. Johnnies are original and unconventional, love big questions and discussion, and debate the thinkers, authors, scientists, philosophers, musicians, mathematicians, politicians, and more who changed our world.
  • The college is a single institution on two campuses, one in Annapolis, Maryland, and the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Students are free to transfer between the two campuses from year to year, and about 25% of them take advantage of this opportunity.
  • The college has a single academic program, which all students follow in its entirety. 
  • Despite its name, St. John's has no religious affiliation or nature. It was chartered in Annapolis in 1784; the current academic program was introduced there in 1937. The Santa Fe campus opened in 1964.
  • Students at St. John’s—"Johnnies"—are curious, thoughtful, imaginative, intense, dedicated to learning, and lovers of good talk. The latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives notes, "You won't find a college cafeteria anywhere where eavesdropping is more fun."
top ^
W O R T H   N O T I N G
  • "Books, books, and more books is what you'll get at St. John's," notes The Fiske Guide, which also observes that the college "attracts smart, intellectual, and nonconformist students who like to talk (and argue) about books."
  • A study by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, adjusting for institutional size and number of degrees granted, found that St. John's is among the most productive sources of future PhDs. About 70% of St. John's alumni pursue their formal education beyond the baccalaureate degree at some point in their careers.
  • St. John’s College is a member of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, a consortium of 88 US colleges and universities that are committed to building cross-cultural understanding across their campuses and around the globe by enrolling graduates from the United World Colleges.
  • The Princeton Review reports that "St. John's has one of the most personal admissions processes in the country."
top ^
F A C U L T Y   &   A C A D E M I C S
  • All faculty members are called "tutors"—there are no professorial ranks, and the title "professor" is not used. All classes are taught by the tutors, and there are no graduate teaching assistants; 100% of the faculty teaches undergraduate classes.
  • All classrooms have a large wooden table around which the students and tutors sit, and all classes are conducted as conversations, whether the work at hand is mathematics or philosophy, music or political theory, literature or science.
  • The student/faculty ratio is 8:1, and the largest classes have no more than 19 students. Students have conversations with tutors before class, after class, over coffee, at lunch or dinner—the tutors do not hold "hours" because they meet with their students all the time without making formal arrangements to do so.
  • The hallmark of the St. John's classroom is the collaborative style of learning. Instead of lecturing, the tutors ask questions, provoke thinking, guide conversations, and support the students as they wrestle with ideas.
  • The all-required curriculum is curiously liberating. There are no majors; every year students take classes in mathematics, language (Ancient Greek and French), music, and science, and the hallmark of the program is the interdisciplinary seminar, where students discuss the great books. While most of the curriculum is a shared academic experience among the students, juniors and seniors take electives called preceptorials, where they examine a book, topic, or idea in greater detail.
  • The all-required curriculum is curiously liberating. Students follow a cohesive, time-tested course of study, and focus on developing their skills and abilities, becoming precise and effective speakers, listeners, readers, and writers.
  • Students are evaluated based upon their classroom participation and essays in a discussion with their tutors called a don rag. Grades aren't part of the culture at St. John's; while students are graded, they don't receive the grades unless they ask for them (typically when applying to graduate school).
top ^
C A M P U S   L I F E
  • The life of the classroom permeates the life of the campus. Johnnies are wholeheartedly invested in community, and although they pursue non-academic interests with gusto, you can still hear them having conversations about what they're reading, everywhere from the gym during basketball games to the dorms in the middle of the night.
  • Both campuses are small tightly-knit communities, with the majority of students living on campus and centering their lives on their studies and their campus lives.
  • The Annapolis campus is at the center of the historic capital of Maryland—a quintessential college town along the Chesapeake Bay. Founded in 1696, it has a colonial feel with brick buildings and green quads. It is only 30 miles from Washington, DC. The Santa Fe campus is nestled among the mountains of the southwest, where Johnnies live on 250 acres, reveling in the outdoors. Santa Fe is a cultural fusion of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo traditions among adobe buildings, famous as an artist colony.
  • The two campuses offer a wide variety of on-campus activities (athletics, music, arts, dance, publications, theater, etc.) and each has an array of opportunities specific to its location.
top ^
L I F E   A F T E R   C O L L E G E

What makes for a successful college graduate? According to most conventional measures, St. John's alumni excel in their careers, from law to medicine, from academia to Wall Street, from politics to the military, from information technology to fashion design, from manufacture to farming, from nuclear physics to film making. Having all followed the same curriculum at the college, they fan out after graduation into virtually all fields, attending top graduate and professional schools, racking up achievements, pursuing their goals. 70% go to graduate school. St. John’s is in the top two percent of all colleges and universities in the nation for percent of alumni who go on to earn PhDs; in the top one percent for degrees in the humanities and the top four percent for those in science and engineering. Since 1990, St. John's has graduated 13 Fulbright Scholars, 6 Rhodes Scholars, 6 Goldwater Scholars, and 5 Truman Scholars.

Despite their success, however, St. John's alumni do not tend to talk primarily about their specific careers when they're asked about the effect of their education on their lives:

  • "St. John's prepared me to become a quick learner, to think on my feet, and, most importantly, to know when I didn't know something. Every day, I rely on the foundation in philosophical inquiry that I found at St. John's."—Senior Manager of Strategic Planning and Research, American Honda Motor Company (class of 1980).
  • "There are days when having been to St. John's almost seems like an unfair advantage compared to my colleagues. I mean, if I can figure out the Maxwell Equations, or muddle through the Principia Mathematica, how hard can it be to have the confidence that I can figure out some policy issue?"—Diplomat, US Department of State, Iraq (class of 1988)
  • "It's extraordinary that ideas I encountered over 40 years ago at St. John's are still so vital to my life and work. Perhaps that's the promise of Great Books and a Great Books education: that its value to you will increase, rather than decrease, over time."—Screenwriter and Director (class of 1964)
top ^
A C A D E M I C   P R O F I L E   O F   E N T E R I N G   C L A S S
  • Middle 50% of SAT scores: Critical Reading 640-730; Math 570-680
  • St. John’s does not require standardized test scores from most applicants. Nor does the college track GPA in the admission process. The essays are the primary focus for the admission decision, supported by the secondary school record and recommendations.