A Closer Look at the Master’s Essay

By Scott Hannan


Master’s essays and graduate school are two things our graduate students at St. John’s ask about the most. Some students find it compelling to write an extended essay on a text that caught their attention and apply to write a master’s essay. Other students, inspired by classroom conversations, choose to pursue a PhD or other graduate school study. To address these questions and introduce our students to the available resources, the Graduate Institute and the Office of Personal and Professional Development (OPPD) in Santa Fe held a joint informational session on the master’s essay and graduate school applications. 

Associate Director for Graduate Programs Ned Walpin began by describing the master’s essay as a longer version of a standard St. John’s essay. Essays at St. John’s College are direct engagements between the student and a text. Just like class, students begin their papers with a question provoked by the text, and they spend the duration of the paper exploring possible answers. As Ned Walpin said in the meeting, “The master’s essay is a more sustained look at a text or question, a way to reflect in a serious and thoughtful and extended way on a text you found provocative or maddening. They’re not research papers. They’re not an attempt to get the state of scholarship on these texts. At St. John’s we’re really interested in yourconfrontation with these texts.” 

For the second half of the session, Jay Woodward of the Office of Personal and Professional Development described his department’s role in helping St. John’s graduate students continue their education. Many of our Graduate Institute students go on to receive a degree after St. John’s College. The OPPD is prepared to help graduate students identify programs they find compelling and appropriate to their interests. Mr. Woodward encouraged graduate students to use the OPPD’s resources, “we are glad to meet with you to discuss what your long-term goals are and how those can be best achieved through a PhD program and if there are alternatives that can be considered in light of what you’re hoping for.”

As a bonus, with so many St. John’s graduates pursuing PhDs, the OPPD is often able to connect current student with alumni who have attended the school or even the program in question. Jay Woodward and entire OPPD staff are here to help our graduate students. “we want to be a partner for every element of that process.”

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