How to Write a St. John’s Paper

Maybe it’s been only a few months since your last academic paper; maybe it’s been a few decades; either way, every graduate student finds something they haven’t encountered before in writing their first essay at St. John’s.

How is it different? I’ll let Geoffrey Young, AGI’19 and current Graduate Writing Assitant, explain it all for you:


Okay, to explain just a bit more of what Mr. Young alluded to at the end, students have these resources at their disposal:

  • Graduate Writing Assistants not only hold office hours each week for paper conferences but also respond with edits and helpful tips via email at all hours.
  • The libraries on both campuses keep copies of past prize-winning essays for you to see what makes a successful St. John’s paper. (As regards prize winning, tutors gather at the end of the semester to select winners whose names are announced at commencement. The prize? Bragging rights and the chance to be immortalized on the respective campus you attend — a constant guide to each new flock of Johnnies.)
  • Tutors do their darnedest to make themselves available outside of class, and St. John’s incentivizes this by offering free meals on campus for both you and the tutor you bring to the dining hall!

If writing a St. John’s essay still seems difficult, you’re right!
If writing a St. John’s essay now seems intriguing, you’re right!
By writing in this fashion, aren’t we engaging in a similar process to what many philosophers enshrined on the syllabus did themselves, asking better and better questions, pushing further and further into uncertainty until arriving at the clearest and most distinct opinion that presents itself?

Oh! Don’t steal that — that’s MY next opening question…


    1. It’s not a personal essay in the sense of an autobiographical essay. If you want to explore Socrates’ definition of justice, but then proceed to write only on how you’ve uniquely interpreted justice throughout your life, that is not a St. John’s essay.

      It’s personal in that each student should be writing about a subject that ignites her, that touches her so profoundly she can’t write about anything else, but the passion is harnessed to the ideas of the text and author. Each student probes a topic by seeking to understand and critique the ways a great mind has probed them. We think through the thoughts of others so that we may arrive at thinking for ourselves.

      The personal passion is uniform throughout the student body, though. If by robots, you mean students that can only write about topics which interest them and thus mechanically and constantly express this passion for inquiry into the greatest ideas of humanity — then yes, St. John’s College does turn out robots.


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