When Looking At Colleges Don’t Forget to Look at the Curriculum- A Visit to St. John’s College

When students visit a college, they are often quick to judge the campus. Students may judge the physical beauty, the residence halls, the food, and sometimes even the people. However, students may sometimes forget to judge one of the most important factors of a college, the academics and curriculum.

It is important to remember that some colleges out there, like St. John’s College, have a unique curriculum and learning style.

For example, during a recent visit to St. John’s College I learned that you will experience a curriculum that emphasizes:

– Use of primary sources. You are not encouraged inside the classroom, or in your papers, to utilize secondary sources.

Open and natural discussion. Discussion is encouraged and developed. You don’t find any “hand raising” here.

Learning how to explain yourself. You need to be prepared to explain, defend, and be questioned on various math proofs and theories and not just “how do they exist” but “why they exist.”

– Use of study groups

– A culture that discourages checking grades.

– Writing and presenting a thesis based on your own thoughts.

– Using exploratory writing. Demonstrating the ability to have rigor of thought and sincere interest in the subject matter.

– Increased complexity each year. The curriculum and learning progresses with you.

– Students who all move through the same curriculum with few elective offerings. These courses include courses in ancient Greek, English Composition, Quantum Mechanics, Music Theory, and other seminars.

So, the next time you visit a campus, don’t forget to ask about the learning style and curriculum that is emphasized on the campus.

P.S. A visit to St. John’s College wouldn’t be complete without seeing their unique mascot, the Axolotl (picture below). I didn’t even know what one was until the tour!


Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. Cara,

    Thanks for this advice on encouraging students to look deep into what universities are teaching. There are so many factors that prospective students are keeping track of when applying to colleges that one of the most important factors like curriculum can get overlooked by things like campus size and the overall flashiness of the school. Here are some take-aways that you gave me from your article.

    1) It would be a great idea for students to make a list like you did of the different points of each schools’ curriculum so that they can easily compare different schools.

    2) Prospective students should try to attend a class if they can to get even more of a feel of the academic atmosphere of the college.

    3) Prospective students should seek out current students to ask them about the classes they are taking and what their academic experience is like. Students at a school will have a more genuine outlook than any college website.

    Thanks again for your this insightful piece. I look forward to reading more in the future.


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