There are only a handful of truly unique colleges—schools so exceptional in their curriculum and approach to education that there is no comparison. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California is one of these schools. I was truly impressed with my visit.
Thomas Aquinas is located 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles and is home to 350 students. It is a Roman Catholic college and Christian faith plays a major role in campus activities. Not all students are Catholic, but all students must be open to reading and discussing philosophical and theological works. Mass is offered several times a day in the chapel and most students attend mass multiple times each week.
What makes Thomas Aquinas College so unique is the curriculum based on great books. There are no department, majors, or electives. All students take the same classes and read the same works. There are no lectures. Instead of professors, “tutors” lead the classes, which are discussion based small-group seminars.
(typical classroom – all classes are seminar style)
Thomas Aquinas College seeks to help students learn and grow in their discovery of the truth about reality. By reading great works dating from the ancient world through the present, students are exposed to a true liberal arts education. No textbooks can be found on campus. Students read original works in language, mathematics, laboratory (science), philosophy, theology, and music.
Freshman year all students read classical works of western civilization in their seminar, including authors such as Homer, Plato, Aristotle, and Sophocles. Freshman math focuses on “Elements” by Euclid and for theology everyone reads “The Holy Bible.” Students learn to read, write, discuss, analyze, and think.
With fewer than 100 graduates each year and no intercollegiate sports program, Thomas Aquinas isn’t one of those colleges that everyone has heard of. However, in academic circles, its graduates are regarded as bright and capable students who have developed academic skills that will serve them well in any setting. Almost 40% of students enter graduate or professional school upon graduation and Thomas Aquinas has its share of notable alumni awards and fellowships. Most graduates site their experience at Thomas Aquinas as foundational to their success in professional fields.
In my visit the beauty of the campus and the dedication of the students struck me. Clearly this college is not for everyone. Prospective students must embrace the philosophy the great books curriculum supports. If Thomas Aquinas College sounds like a school you’d like to consider, I’d encourage you to participate in their two-week summer program for rising seniors. It is very affordable compared to other college camps and you will either fall in love with the campus and curriculum or decide it isn’t a good fit for you.
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