Ask the "Great Books College" student

So, I don’t know if there’s any particular amount of interest in this, but there seems to be at least one person who’s vaguely interested. So, here it is.

I’m a freshman at St. John’s College, a very small school which very few people have heard of (note: it’s NOT St. John’s University). There are two independent campuses, one in Annapolis, and one in Santa Fe, where I am. At the end of any year, you can transfer between the campuses if you’d like. There are about 400 students on each campus, so I’m not joking when I say that it’s a tiny school.

Classes are not typical college classes, either. All students take the same ones: Math, seminar, lab, Greek, and chorus freshman year. Sophomore year you take music theory instead of chorus and science. There are no electives. Tutorials (everything but chorus and seminar) are capped at 15 students. Seminar is capped at 20, and chorus is the entire freshman class.

Seminar is the core of the program, in which we read the bulk of the great books. We just finished “The Iliad” and are moving into “The Odyssey”. By senior year, you reach vaguely modern times (I believe the most modern thing on the reading list is “Heart of Darkness”). The structure is similar to that of all classes: for homework, you read. Then in class, you discuss.

Our lab (science) ‘text’ is a manual of various essays and excerpts from philosophers and observers; we started off with Aristotle’s “Parts of Animals”. Our math textbook is Euclid’s “Elements”. We do use a typical text for Greek, but eventually will spend most of our time just translating various plays and essays.

So: questions? Comments? People giving me odd looks and asking what’s wrong with me? (I get a lot of that last one).

Okay, I’ll ask the obvious. There have been one or two advances in, say, biology since Aristotle’s time. Do you think you are getting a good grounding in science this way?

I remember getting information about St John’s when I was in high school. I found it very intriguing, but I never seriously considered it for a whole host of reasons, and went to the local cummuter’s college. Mostly cause my goals post- college were to get a job and buy a “cool” car. You’re the getting the classic “Classical Education” at St john’s. What are your plans after college? I remember reading about the over night camping trips and the lively discussions and what not, and that St Johns’ graduates were accepted to all manner of graduate schools, so I assume grad school is in your future.

I definately think so. We don’t linger on the ancients; we reach a first brush with atomic theory by the end of sophomore year.

The theory behind the entire curriculum is twofold. First of all, it teaches you to read critically, ask questions, discuss, and understand: IMO, important skills. Also, the theory at work, I believe, is that if you start at the beginning, and work forward (eventually we’ll be reading Einstein such), you’ll understand the why’s and how’s of the ideas, not simply the what. It forces you to make the same logical conclusions that the original discoverers and investigators did.

I will say that thus far, it’s very hard, especially in math. We just finally proved that, indeed, an isoscles triangle does have two equal angles…It’s very hard to functionally forget what you’ve been doing in school for the past twelve years or so.

Indeed. Generally speaking, a Johnny can get into whatever matter of post-undergrad school or training they want. Very high acceptance rates.

Personally, I’m not entirely sure where I want to end up. I’d like to either go into politically-oriented journalism, or be a political speech writer - somehow involved in politics. I’m thinking right now law school, but a lot of people end up in something utterly different than what they expected after St. John’s.

Additionally, a LOT of St. John’s grads end up teaching at some level. Or working for St. John’s.

It sounds to me like a fantastic *high school * curriculum. In my opinion, university ought to be about specialization (this is assuming that high school has done its job–which it usually hasn’t.)

I almost went to St. John’s, NinjaChick. In many ways, it sounds like a fantastic school. I knew I wanted to specialize in history, though, so I went to a college where I could major in that.

How’s chorus? Is it frustrating if you don’t have an especially lovely voice? I love to sing, but I’m under no illusions about my ability to do so well.

Chorus is…intimidating, for me. Last time I willingly sang in front of anyone was when I was 13, and I’ve got a bit of performance anxiety. It’s not that bad, since it’s all 100 freshman, and some people are awesome, some not so much. My only irritation is that they make you take it so that you learn about music, so you can take music theory sophomore year. I personally wish I could get out of it - I’ve been playing violin for about 13 years and have dabbled in guitar and piano, so it’s all really basic to me.

The unique program at St. John’s is more famous than you might be aware. I’d be willing to bet that most high school seniors who looked at prestigious private liberal arts colleges have seen information about the school. But it has to take a special, maybe peculiar, personality to enroll there. (Personally, the thought of studying classical Greek was the most intimidating part of the program.) What are the students like in terms of their interests, backgrounds, outlooks, plans, etc? What kinds of extracurricular activities can such a small student body–much smaller than most high schools-- support? And you’re a freshperson, so everthing is new. But what’s it going to be like to spend the next four years getting intimately–in all senses–acquainted with a tiny number of people that you can’t get away from? I have also heard that the school has a comparatively high transfer rate. Do many students find that the experience is different from what they expected, or that as they get older they just want more choices?

Wow, what a surprise to see this thread. My husband and I were just talking about St. John’s last night.

I applied to the school and was accepted back in '96, but chose to go to a school that offered me more money. I used to think I’d regret making such an important decision on this basis, but getting my undergrad degree without any loans or other debt allowed me then to go to an excellent grad program (not that I was considering grad school back in '96; it just worked out nicely).

Anyway, one of the other deciding factors against St. John’s was that I thought a freaky, multi-colored hair girl like myself wouldn’t fit into their curriculum of the ancients; I knew I could do the work, I just thought I wouldn’t fit in.

I recently met a fellah who went to St. John’s a number of years ago, and he said I was way off in my expectations of the student body. So, since you’re much closer to my generation of students than he was…what are the students there like? What are you like? Do you feel like you fit in there?

Additionally, what are you best at as a student? I was a very strong writer and good at bringing together ideas from different areas. I took high-level math and science classes, but never felt it was my strong suit and wondered how I would fare in their curriculum?

Thanks for a strangely timely thread, NinjaChick. I hope you don’t feel like I’m entirely trying to relive my college decision through you! :slight_smile:

Very diverse. It’s really hard to sum up the student body: we’ve got a hugely diverse population for such a small school. I think the generalizations that *can be made are as such: interested in philosophy, book geeks, somewhat offbeat, generally were unhappy with their high schools careers.

Pottery classes, various study groups (for fun, because we ARE geeks), bridge club, various martial arts, intramural sports, pick-up basketball, a huge search-and-rescue team, orchestra, an a capella group…it’s not as dismal as you may expect.

For me, somewhat like my high school experience: From eighth-twelfth grade I mostly saw the same people every day all day because of the program I was in. There’s an incredible sense of community and identity as Johnnies. It is, of course, a pain at times: you get sick of people, so you wander off and…more people you’re sick of! But there are plenty of ways to escape here, it seems. Also - apparently almost the entire junior class has herpes, because it’s such a small school. In addition, one of the first things we were all told by almost all upperclassmen: Don’t date first semester, and Core Group Love is Bad.

Yes, to both. We’ve already lost 3 freshmen, because they suddenly, for whatever reasons, saw it wasn’t for them. Also, a lot of people find something that they suddenly love, and decide that they do want to specialize in that. It’s a very general education but sort of specific for a certain type of student, if that makes sense.

As I said above, very diverse. You’d have likely fit in fine: I think just about everyone does if they’re into the academic scene. Me? I’m a geek, a martial arts obsessor, a closeted (IRL) bisexual, with anti-social tendencies. I’ve met someone who practically fits that exact description exactly. There’s huge diversity here.

I’m very much a writer myself, have always been good at the humanities and languages. Math and science, not so much. I actually had an incredibly hard time with geometry, which is why math is currently so incredibly hard (I have a very hard time doing anything mentally with printed figures). A lot of Johnnies are also math-phobic as well; most people manage to do quite well with it.

My pleasure - I spent the entire spring, once I decided on St. John’s, trying to come up with a concise 2-minute explanation of the school for various friends and relatives and whatnot; this is wonderful to be able to give honest answers to all the questions.