As represented by the popularity of The Well Trained Mind, classical education has been one of the hottest trends in homeschooling. Some classical homeschoolers seek to continue their study of the classics through Great Books college programs.
Great Books programs are based on the idea that students benefit from a strong foundation in the Western intellectual tradition. Students enrolled in Great Books programs can expect to intensively read and discuss classical works from authors such as Homer, Plato, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, John Locke, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Great Books programs have their detractors as well. Some students are put off by the “dead white guy” focus and the lack of emphasis on practical or pre-professional skills. That said, many intellectual students continue to be drawn to the intensive challenge and seminar style format of Great Books-focused college programs.
While there are a number of colleges that boast about their Great Books programs, it is important to carefully research offerings. Sometimes college programs that are listed as Great Books may actually amount to nothing more than a couple of semester long introductory freshman seminars. This may be a nice complement to a broader liberal arts education but will likely be inadequate to meet the interests of students who would like this type of education to be their primary focus. Here are a few Great Books style programs that homeschoolers may wish to consider:
St. John’s College, Annapolis and Santa Fe
Great Books aren’t a side-dish at St. John’s College – they are THE dish – and that’s why St. John’s is the best known college for students wishing to have a college experience completely focused on an immersion in the Western Intellectual tradition. St. John’s College has two campuses. The larger of the two is in Annapolis, Maryland and the smaller in Santa Fe. Students are allowed to switch back and forth between the two campuses. St. John’s College website explains the philosophy “The college’s coeducational community, free of religious affiliation, takes an open-minded approach to ideas of all kinds. Rather than being told how and what to think about what they’re reading, St. John’s students are asked to reach their own conclusions through deep thinking, critical analysis, and intense discussion.”
To get a better sense of the offerings at St. John’s prospective applicants should take a look at the college’s reading list which outlines the curriculum which proceeds in chronological order. While St. John’s may appear to be “less selective” as 82% of students are accepted applicants should recognize this occurs because it is a self-selecting applicant pool where non-intellectual or weak students tend not to apply. That said, students who are very bright and good readers may be reassured that St. John’s average ACT and SAT scores are in the mid-high range and this score will be within reach of many homeschoolers.
St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga California
St. Mary’s College near Oakland and San Francisco, is known for its Great Books program as well as programs in business and nursing. St. Mary’s is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college with a beautiful campus. Great Books is offered through a major called the Integral Program. This program is modeled after the St. John’s program. Students not enrolled in Integral Studies are all required to take a four semester series of seminars based on a chronological exploration of the Western tradition. In addition to the Integral studies major, classical homeschoolers may be interested to know St. Mary’s offers majors in Latin and Greek. Applicants to St. Mary’s will want to know that 69% of students are admitted with average SAT section scores in the 500 to 600 range.
Baylor University, Waco Texas
Baylor University is a popular option with many homeschoolers. Baylor is a private Baptist college with about 12,000 undergraduate students. While Baylor’s overall program is not focused on Great Books, students interested in pursuing this field should look at Baylor’s Great Texts of the Western Tradition. Baylor offers both a major and a minor in Great Texts where students “will find a sustained curriculum in the greatest works of human intellectual and creative achievement which will be a profound asset in any profession or graduate study.” Great Texts is also offered as a secondary major to students who wish to add liberal arts to a more pre-professional type of major.
Pepperdine University, Malibu California
Pepperdine University offers a four semester series in Great Books. Pepperdine is affiliated with the Church of Christ. The Great Books program is a smaller liberal arts program housed within the university. The Great Books program is a four semester chronological based program for students interested in teaching and service. Applicants considering the Pepperdine program should understand this is a highly selective program which accepts just 35% of applicants. The average SAT scores are in the 550 to 650 range on the old SAT. The beautiful location of the college certainly contributes to the size of the applicant pool.
University of Notre Dame, Indiana:
Notre Dame offers a three year Program of Liberal studies based on Great Books in Western and Catholic history. Students meet in small seminars for intensive discussion. This Program of Liberal Studies is intended to provide a foundation in intellectual history and it is combined with other major programs. Notre Dame is a very selective school admitting about 20% of candidates with average SAT scores in the mid 600 to 700s.
Mercer University, Macon Georgia
Mercer University is a liberal arts college with Baptist affiliations. Mercer offers an eight course Great Books program students can use to meet general education requirements. No textbooks are used. Students read classic books and participate in small seminar style courses with fewer than twenty students. Applicants should know Mercer is a “moderately selective” college which accepts about 60% of applicants who typically have scores in the high 500 to low 600 SAT range.
Smaller Great Books Programs
Thomas Aquinas College, located in Santa Paula, California offers a full Great Books curriculum. According their website, “The College’s syllabus is composed exclusively of the seminal texts that have, for good or for ill, animated Western civilization. Each one speaks to the reality at the core of human experience, a reality that transcends time or place.” Thomas Aquinas has fewer than 400 students and is affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Shimer College of Chicago is a small, well-respected program centered around the Great Books. An independent college with just around 150 students, Shimer College is housed on the campus of Illinois Tech. Shimer College’s curriculum is entirely constructed around seminar style courses studying the Great Books with Socratic questioning. Homeschoolers may also be interested to know that Shimer offers a Homeschool and NonTraditional Student scholarship worth up to $6,000 a year.
Putting in a good word for the Shimer College program here, as a satisfied alum. Shimer has a lot of experience working with students from “nontraditional” backgrounds, including homeschoolers and early entrants (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_entrance_at_Shimer_College ), to an extent that AFAIK no other Great Books program can match.
Those looking for more information might be interested in this recent Shimer video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WWxrK4Uzfc
Thanks Sam – it is great to hear you were so happy at Shimer. I’m glad you shared the information about the early entrance program also. Best wishes.
For some reason I thought that the Great Books curriculum was first launched at the University of Chicago many, many years ago. Has the U of C abandoned that tradition?
You are correct about the University of Chicago origins of the Great Books movement.
One University of Chicago connected alternative remains for students who are interested in pursuing the four year Great Books curriculum and that’s study through Graham – U of C’s extension school. This is different than a traditional college degree but may be of interest to some adults who would like to get a better grounding in the Great Books. https://grahamschool.uchicago.edu/content/basic-program-liberal-education-adults