“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein
Imagine being part of a community where your most eccentric thoughts are not only discussed, but also celebrated. Imagine a place where every class is a conversation that expands your mind. Imagine feeling inspired by the diversity and intellectual passion of your classmates.
From reading the great texts of Western civilization, to investigating the great compositions of Mozart and Bach, to finding the connections between mathematics and philosophy – the Undergraduate (UG) Program at St. John’s College is one that has it all.
Founded in 1696, St. John’s College provides a liberal arts-driven education, immersing students in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary learning experience focused on reading and discussing great books. There are no concentrations—every student studies every subject. And with a faculty-student ratio of one to eight, the UG program encourages thought-provoking discussions and genuine intellectual exploration.
“After coming to St. John’s and seeing how people interact in seminar, I saw that even though we all were reading the same things, the human mind creates endless interpretations and possibilities to discuss,” says St. John’s alumnus Fatma Nur Yorkus, acknowledging her mind’s potential.
Seminar, which includes the discussion of literature, philosophy, history, politics, and more, spans all four years of the St. John’s curriculum, with focuses on great texts that ignite powerful conversations. Students and faculty raise fascinating questions about the complex human condition in the classroom.
“Sometimes you feel like you are having a conversation with the text itself. The book comes to life,” says former Nepalese student Sagar Gaire on reading the most important books of Western civilization.
These seminars generally feature 17 to 19 students and require extensive reading in preparation for each class. Here, reading takes priority, but the bulk of the class experience is devoted to conversation among the students. This causes the class to run wild with their thoughts and touch on unfamiliar territories. In its purest form, students are urged to dig deep in their reading, allowing them to not just understand, but also deeply feel these important texts.
St. John’s College UG program also invites students to delve into language study. Intertwined with the seminar readings of literary and philosophical texts, the language tutorial explores the relation of language to thought and imagination: How does language articulate meaning? How does language convince, persuade and affect us as individuals? What does translation do to our understanding of a text originally authored in a language other than English?
Chinese native and St. John’s College alumni, Jiaying Yu, came into the degree with a deep-held love of Chinese literature.
“St. Johns didn’t only teach me about Western philosophy…it also taught me how to read books, how to talk to others and how to talk to myself,” she says.
The curriculum includes three years of laboratory science including biology, physics, and chemistry, plus four years of mathematics. Through the reading of texts from distinguished scientists and mathematicians ranging from Archimedes to Galileo, students recreate past experiments to gain a better understanding of the world around us.
The crossover between subjects like language, philosophy and mathematics are what sets the St. John’s UG program apart from the rest. Some look at these topics being on completely different ends of the spectrum, but students here are taught that, in fact, they all go hand-in-hand.
“Something that I like about St. John’s is how the program fits together with all its parts,” says Nano Liklikadze, former UG student at St. John’s College.
“To someone who doesn’t know about us, a combination of things like Math and Philosophy may not make sense, but I realized that all that we do here in different classes are parts of a whole we are trying to understand.”
St. John’s also promotes a two-year investigation into music where students study the musical genius of Bach, Mozart, Wagner, and more. Through learning about music theory and composition, they soon grow an appreciation to the true meaning of melody as well as what it is to be a thoughtful listener.
The students at St. John’s come from all different backgrounds and countries. Nearly 20 percent of students are international. There are about 450 students on each campus—one in Annapolis, Maryland and the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Empowered by both the diversity and tight-knit nature of this small community, students quickly form part of a safe space that encourages open and honest discussion about ideas.
There is no other college in the United States that has a curriculum like that at St. John’s. But while this interdisciplinary, book-focussed education is unusual, the culture at the college is even more uncommon. It’s a place where you will learn among truly rare and extraordinary individuals; where the idea of embracing and celebrating out-of-the-box thought is the sole ingredient to an impactful education.