Graduate Institute Academic Policies and Related Matters

Curriculum of the Graduate Institute

The Graduate Institute curriculum in Liberal Arts is divided into five segments: Literature, Mathematics and Natural Science, Philosophy and Theology, Politics and Society, and History. Each segment consists of a seminar and a tutorial. Two or three segments are offered each of the three semesters - fall, spring, and summer. Reading lists can be found on here.

The Master of Arts in Liberal Arts

The aim of the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts is to help students formulate and respond to fundamental questions about themselves and their world by reading and discussing with others the great books of the Western tradition. Students in the MALA complete four segments and four preceptorials in any order that is compatible with both their interests and the availability of course offerings, except that the History segment may never be taken as the first segment. The MALA is a 36 credit hour degree.

Certificate in Liberal Arts Education

The Certificate in Liberal Arts Education is available to those seeking a great books qualification in just two summers. Teachers enrolled in the Liberal Arts Education Certificate Program will participate in classes along with other St. John’s graduate students, reading and discussing foundational texts of the western tradition, and studying pedagogy to bring back to their classrooms. Topic areas offered include: Philosophy and Theology, Politics and Society, Literature, Mathematics and Natural Science, Latin, and Pedagogy and Education. Teachers completing the two-summer Liberal Arts Education Certificate degree will receive 18 hours of transferable graduate-level credit. They may also return to finish the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts degree by completing two additional semesters of study any time within eight years of enrolling in the program.

Office of the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs

The Graduate Institute Office is comprised of two administrators: the Associate Dean and the Graduate Student Services Coordinator. The Associate Dean oversees the academic, recruitment, enrollment, and administrative functions of the Graduate Institute. Questions concerning curriculum and pedagogy, classroom relationships between tutors and students, and policies governing campus life should be addressed to the Associate Dean who serves as the graduate student advisor. Students are encouraged to introduce themselves and to meet with the Associate Dean. The Associate Dean is often available at student social events, where casual conversations concerning the academic program and student life are welcome. All graduate students are advised to bring problems or disputes to the attention of the Associate Dean before they approach the Dean or the President. Some problems may be resolved by the Associate Dean; others may be more easily or quickly dealt with through the Associate Dean’s collaboration with other college administrators.

The Graduate Student Services Coordinator is responsible for executing and organizing academic, administrative, and student life components of the program as well as planning and coordinating special events. The Graduate Student Services Coordinator is the liaison between the Graduate Institute and the offices of the Registrar, Student Accounts and the Business Office, Financial Aid, Information Technology, Career Services, the Health Center, Public Safety, the Library, and the Assistant Dean. In the absence of the Associate Dean, the Graduate Student Services Coordinator is available to answer questions concerning academic issues and student life. Both the Associate Dean and the Graduate Student Services Coordinator serve unofficially as ombudspersons and advocates for students in their dealings with other campus offices.

Both the Associate Dean and Graduate Student Services Coordinator’s offices are located on the first level of the Barr-Buchanan Center which houses the majority of the Graduate Institute events, classes, and offices. They can be reached via email or telephone at their respective addresses located in the College’s directory.

Getting Started


Fall and Spring Semesters

The fall and spring semesters of the Graduate Institute operate in conjunction with the standard academic year calendar, running 16 weeks each. In-person classes meet twice per week, on Monday and Thursday evenings.

  • Seminars meet Mondays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • Tutorials meet Mondays and Thursdays from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Preceptorials* meet Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

*The Ancient Greek Language preceptorial meets on both Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Low-residency classes meet three times per week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.

  • Seminars meet Mondays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Tutorials meet Mondays and Thursdays from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Preceptorials meet Wednesdays from 8 to 10 p.m.

In-Person Summer Semester

The in-person summer semester is offered in a modular format in order to accommodate busy schedules. Seminars and tutorials are offered together in a five-week session midsummer. Preceptorials are offered in three-week sessions both before and after the seminar/tutorial. Students may enroll in any combination of offered sessions. Taking the seminar and tutorial segment (6 credits) along with one preceptorial (3 credits) is considered “full time.”

  • Seminars meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for two hours.
  • Tutorials meet Monday through Thursday for 75 minutes, with additional 75-minute session on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Preceptorials meet for two hours per day, Mondays-Fridays.

Low-Residency Summer Semester

The low-residency summer semester is offered in a ten-week session with class three nights each week. Seminar and Preceptorial meet alternating weeks of “Seminar, Preceptorial, Seminar” and “Preceptorial, Seminar Preceptorial.” This gives us space for 15 seminars, 15 preceptorials, and 30 tutorials.

  • Tutorials meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
  • Seminars meet Mondays and Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on odd-numbered weeks (1, 3, 5, 7, 9)
  • Seminars meet Wednesdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on even-numbered weeks (2, 4, 6, 8, 10)
  • Preceptorials meet on Wednesdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on odd-numbered weeks (1, 3, 5, 7, 9)
  • Preceptorials meet on Mondays and Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on even-numbered weeks (2, 4, 6, 8, 10)

The Seminar

The seminar is the heart of the St. John’s program. Classes meet to discuss a reading that is usually 20 to 100 pages long. The tutor opens by posing a question, then students and the tutor discuss the question and related problems based on the assigned text. Discussion is usually wide-ranging, exploratory, and characterized by openness and rigor. Toward the end of the semester, each student completes a one-on-one oral examination with his/her tutor based on a question posed and developed by the student. For more information about this component please refer to the Oral Examinations for Seminar Students heading under the Evaluation of Academic Performance section in this guide.

The Tutorial

The emphasis of a tutorial is on close reading and analysis of a short text. Students usually write two brief papers on readings discussed in the tutorial class.

The Preceptorial

Preceptorials are small classes that meet to study a single book, topic, or question in depth. Topics vary widely from semester to semester, depending on the interests of students and tutors. At the end of the preceptorial, students write a major essay on a topic of their choice related to the work of the preceptorial. Essays are expected to be of substantial length (usually 3000 to 4000 words; 12 to 16 pages) and to show evidence of serious thought and inquiry.

Enrollment Plans

Active and newly-admitted graduate students are required to submit, in writing, their enrollment timeline for all of the segments they plan to complete in the program. The Associate Director will request revised enrollment plans from students each semester through electronic submission of the Enrollment Plan form. The Enrollment Plan Form is available for download on current student information page. In order to pre-register for upcoming semesters, continuing students are expected to have met all previous financial obligations to the college.

Optional Focus

While the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts degree is designed to give students a broad exposure to foundational texts across four of five segments, students also have the flexibility to build a Focus in one of the five segment areas if they so choose. In order to construct a focus, a student enrolls in preceptorials (electives) that all fall within the subject-area designated by one of the segment titles. For instance, a student might have a Focus in Literature, or Politics and Society. While some students find it useful or rewarding to concentrate their studies in this way, the majority prefer to choose the elective that most appeals to them each semester without the constraint of a Focus.

Advance Deposit Requirement

Advance deposits of $300 are due in the Finance Office in order to secure a seat in upcoming semesters. All students, even those with financial aid grants or loans, are required to pay this advance deposit. Pre-registered students who pay the advance deposits by the published deadlines secure enrollment in the upcoming semester. Students who do not pay an advance deposit by the deadline risk losing the opportunity to enroll along with any financial aid (see also Financial Aid). Please note that College policy is that an advance deposit will not be rolled over to a subsequent semester nor refunded should a student decide not to enroll after the deposit deadline has passed.

Advance Deposit Due Dates

Fall – May 1
Spring – October 1
Summer – April 15

Orientation for New Students

All new students are required to participate in orientation and registration activities prior to the start of their first class. These activities include an opening seminar, a meal, and formal enrollment procedures.

A seminar for all new graduate students on Plato’s Meno (70-86d) and Stringfellow Barr’s “Notes on Dialogue,” followed by discussion about the seminar conversation format, is scheduled on the morning of the first day of the fall and spring semesters and, in the summer, on the afternoon of the day prior to the start of classes. Students should come prepared to discuss both texts.


Formal registration for new students, students transferring from the other campus, and students with outstanding balances is held prior to the start of classes. During registration, new students have their 1Card photo-identification cards made and register for computer accounts. On the first day of classes, students who paid tuition and fees in full may purchase parking permits from the Public Safety Office. Vehicles to be parked on campus must be registered with the Public Safety Office, and a parking fee must be paid each semester.

Late Registration

A student must obtain permission from the Graduate Institute Office to register late. It is the student’s responsibility to contact his or her tutors before the semester begins to find out the assignments for classes that will be missed and to notify them of his or her absence. A student given permission to register late, must make up any work he or she has missed in accordance with the deadlines established by the policy for grades of Incomplete. (See also Classroom Policies and Grading).