St. John's College

The students at St. John's College study a literature-intense curriculum. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

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  • Fast Facts: St. John's at a glance

  • Address:
    Box 2800, Annapolis, Md., 21404
  • Phone:
    410-263-2371, 800-727-9238
  • Web site:
  • Student enrollment:
    Limited to 450-475 per campus.
  • Student/faculty ratio: 8 to 1
  • Demographics:
    Freshmen usually represent 30 to 35 states and a few foreign countries. About 8 percent represent minorities, and men outnumber women slightly, about 10 to 9.
  • Libraries:
    The libraries at the Annapolis and Santa Fe campuses contain more than 100,000 and 60,000 volumes, respectively. Each campus has a music library.
  • Housing:
    About 60 percent of students live on campus. Freshman are guaranteed campus housing.
  • Admissions:
    Requirements include a short set of personal essays. SAT is optional. No minimum GPA, but students are expected to have pursued a college preparatory course of study.
  • Costs: 2004-2005
    Tuition: $30,570
    Room and board: $7,610
    Fees: $200
  • St. John's College through the years
Want to know what the finest minds in history had to say about things like politics, science, love, death, art, philosophy and war? Go straight to the source.

At St. John's College "Where Great Books Are The Teachers," the idea is that a thinking mind can evolve under the guidance of these learned tomes. Thus, you'll find no "professors" here. Faculty members are called "tutors," and their principle job is not to lecture in their respective fields of expertise, but rather to guide students through a course of study. Grades? Someone writes them down someplace, but students don't get report cards as such. Instead, they meet with their tutors for twice-yearly discussions intended to gauge each student's intellectual performance.

With a student/faculty ratio of 8 to 1, class size is intimate. "Tutorials" may draw only a handful of students, while "seminars" and laboratory classes max out at about 20 people.

The seminar is far from the typical notion of a lecture. Two tutors preside, but the format depends on student discussions. Based on their readings from among the original texts that make up the core curriculum, students are encouraged to offer their own thoughts and analyses in order to explore the issues at hand. Thus, the diverse skills needed for reasoning and communicating can develop hand-in-hand.

This participatory learning style is not for the weak-willed. With just 450 students, there's really no place to hide. Anyone coming here had better be prepared to speak up.

The school is not entirely without formal pedagogy. Each Friday evening the entire student body gets together to hear a formal lecture by a faculty member or visiting scholar. It's the only regular lecture forum in the curriculum, and even in this setting students are expected to subject the speaker to a lengthy post-lecture grilling.

As for admissions criteria, the school looks first for strong academic and intellectual achievement -- "though any accomplishment showing initiative and drive may strengthen an application," according to information put out by the admissions office. There are no minimum grades needed, and the SAT is optional. The heart of the application is a series of personal essays, and candidates with weak grades can make up for it with strong essays.

The campus in downtown Annapolis practically oozes collegiate charm. Nineteenth-century brick buildings back up against a contemporary facility that houses an art museum, as well as an auditorium named after the school's most famous graduate, national anthem author Francis Scott Key. By night, students gather in a subterranean coffee house. By day some linger on the spacious green lawns beside College Creek, while others assemble under ancient trees to prepare for the big croquet tournament -- an annual athletic contest held in April and enacted with their arch-rivals from the nearby U.S. Naval Academy.

When all that charm gets stale, students have the option of heading out west. At its campus in Santa Fe, N.M., the college offers a curriculum identical to the Annapolis program. Each campus handles its own admissions process, but students from Annapolis can transfer to the Santa Fe facility.