College review: St. Mary’s College of California

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St. Mary’s is a small (4257) Catholic college tucked into lush, rolling hills (with deer and bunnies all around) about 20 minutes east of San Francisco. In the Lasallian tradition, St. Mary’s is focused on “leading an examined life” and looking outward into the world. Their motto: Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve.

The Collegiate Seminar is a four semester requirement at St. Mary’s, leading all students through a Great Books experience, and St. Mary’s prides themselves on this program, a shared experience for everyone on campus. Grades for the Great Books program are based solely on participation in discussion, and there are no exams. Two semesters of religion classes are also required, the first being Catholic-based.

Another unique program at St. Mary’s is their January Term, which is a 4 week long, single subject term, where students are encouraged to explore a subject “just because.” January term classes are eclectic, ranging from The History of the Bicycle, Creating True Peace, Ethnic Differences in America, Mandarin Chinese, travel experience classes such as Sundance Film Festival, going to New Orleans for hurricane relief, or traveling to Italy to study art. The point is, St. Mary’s wants students to have one term each year where they just explore subjects to satisfy their own interests.


St. Mary’s is a huge (Division 1) “sports” school (except football) with enthusiastic participation among the entire student body, either as players or fans. Everyone is issued the red Celtic Warrior shirt, and they have an exciting noisy arena, competing against rivals like Santa Clara and Gonzaga. They field a very competitive rugby team, crew, volleyball, baseball, soccer and many others. Club sports and intramurals are competitive and popular on campus too.

The theatre program is growing, and they now stage three shows per year, with one musical every other year. Theatre students can have concentrations in dance or music, and they learn all technical aspects of theatre, in addition to acting. In recent years they’ve staged Spring Awakening, Angels In America, Fiddler on the Roof and Lorca in a Green Dress in their 350 seat theatre.

Nursing (2+2) and Engineering (2+3) students benefit from programs whereby they spend 2 years at St. Mary’s and are (practically) guaranteed admission at partner schools, and they end up with two bachelor’s degrees. For Engineering: USC and Washington University at St. Louis. Nursing students finish up at Samuel Merritt, a prestigious nursing school in Oakland. Pre-med students at St. Mary’s are encouraged to major in anything they love….and last year’s students had a 100% acceptance rate at their first choice medical schools.

Communications is their most popular department, and they have a radio and TV station in addition to a student-run newspaper. Business Administration and Psychology are next in popularity, and proximity to San Francisco, Oakland and Walnut Creek make internships attainable, with the help of St. Mary’s business connections in the community. Classes in all departments are easy to get and academic advising is strong, which helps students fully investigate what they want to major in by the end of sophomore year.

St. Mary’s prides themselves on creating community, and one way they implement this is by having a free BBQ every Wednesday afternoon, open to everyone on campus, and no classes are scheduled during this time. Of course, everyone goes, it’s free food, and provides a great opportunity for conversation!

There are 2-3 events scheduled in the social hall every week including concerts, comedians, speakers, casino nights, karaoke, Monday Night Football, etc. and all are well attended. Transportation is easy for students without a car, as the buses stop regularly right in front of school and go directly to BART (to get into SF or Oakland), and neighboring cities. They also have a “We Car” which is a rental car that can be rented by the hour or day to run errands. Usually students get together and share the expense.

Merit scholarships are available for academics and performing arts (for students who major or minor in performing arts), and are stackable. Gorgeous little college gem!

Call us at (818) 207-0263 to learn more about what’s offered at St. Mary’s College of California.