Liberal Arts on an Accelerated Track

December 16, 2016 | By Tim Pratt

The Santa Fe campus hosts the Freshman Fast-Forward Program.
The Santa Fe campus hosts the Freshman Fast-Forward Program.

As Ann Hooper was finishing high school, she wanted to study everything.

The Texas native went on to a large, public university, and over the next four years changed her major numerous times. She says she obtained “tons” of credits in different subjects, but not enough to obtain a degree. So Hooper decided to take some time off.

“I spent nearly 10 years searching and trying to figure out where I could go back to school and study everything I wanted,” Hooper says.

Then she discovered St. John’s, with its liberal arts curriculum and study of the great books. She had found what she was seeking.

Hooper says she quit a job, sold a house and made other life changes before heading to the St. John’s campus in Santa Fe. She decided to become a “January Freshman,” enrolling in the college in January of 2011.

The Freshman Fast-Forward Program on the St. John’s Santa Fe campus—formerly known as the January Freshman program—gives students an opportunity to enroll in the college at the start of the spring semester. The students then complete the four-year curriculum over the next 3 ½ years, taking an accelerated track that includes classes over the summer.

The Johnnies, typically 30-40 of them, spend the spring semester taking classes together. They then get a couple weeks off before returning to campus for more classes in the summer. When the fall semester rolls around, the Johnnies have caught up to the rest of the sophomores at the college.

The spring and summer sessions together create strong bonds among the group, says Hooper, who now works in admissions on the Santa Fe campus.

“I know from our experience—and January freshmen from other years will tell you the same thing—we were extremely close because of that time together,” Hooper says. “On graduation day, some of my closest friends were other January freshmen, from other years, too. There’s a real bond and camaraderie among this group.”

The Annapolis campus used to offer the program, but now it is available only in Santa Fe.

Randall Hollensbe has a unique perspective on the program: He was a January freshman in 1985, and went on to run the program as an admissions counselor from 2001 until this year.

While participants develop strong bonds, so do other Johnnies, who go through their classes together in core groups. But the January freshmen get to experience summer in Santa Fe, a time filled with trips to the opera and other music and art events in town.

“The January freshmen get a lot of access that the fall freshmen don’t,” he says.

Natalie Blais, the admissions counselor for this Freshman Fast-Forward term, says students come from a variety of backgrounds to participate in the program. Some have completed high school early and wish to enroll right away, not wanting to wait until the following fall. Other students transfer in from other colleges. Still others have taken time off after high school and decided January was the right time to enroll. The application process is the same as it is for students who enroll in the fall.

“The (January freshmen) have this sort of awe-inspiring presence on campus, because they do the program in 3 ½ years,” Blais says.

It’s not an easy task, Hooper says, but it can be done.

“The St. John’s curriculum is difficult no matter what,” she says. “To try to do it faster makes it even more difficult, but if you’re willing to do a lot of work ... working out your brain and your vocal chords for that matter, it’s worth it.”