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Opposites Attract (Students) in New Mexico

Uploaded: Jan 30, 2020
Written by John Raftrey

I was in New Mexico a few weeks ago and came back with some interesting ideas after visiting two schools on the opposite ends of the higher education spectrum: the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and St John’s College in Santa Fe.
The University of Mexico (UNM), Albuquerque, New Mexico. 17,800 undergraduates.

If your GPA is below 3.5, it is difficult to get into a California college or university to study engineering or computer science. Many of these students go out of state to the Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State, or the University of Nevada at Reno. If you fall into this category, then I suggest taking a look at the UNM. 35% of their recent class had below a 3.5 GPA. Their largest number of out-of-state students come from California.

In addition to Computer Science and the traditional engineering disciplines, UNM is one of only a handful of schools that offers a nuclear engineering major. Regardless of major, students have abundant research opportunities at the Sandia National Laboratories and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. While these labs are noted for their nuclear weapons research, that’s not all they do. They are charged with national security including cybersecurity. These are the similar to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. So, you can have the same national lab experience as your friends who got into Berkeley. If your summer internship is working on keeping the Russians from hacking the next election, I think you’d be able to find a great job upon graduation.

I recommend you visit UNM if you are thinking of applying there, especially if you’ve never been to New Mexico. New Mexico is like nowhere else I’ve been in the United States. The endless desert and nearly 100 percent brown adobe buildings remind me of Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. People there love it. You will see people stuck in the ‘60’s, both the 1960’s and the 1860’s! A lot of famous people have moved to New Mexico, including Julia Roberts and George Martin, whose book A Song of Ice and Fire, inspired Game of Thrones.

Recommendation: This probably won’t be on the top of anyone’s list from the Bay Area, but it should be on your match or safety list, especially if you want to get out of the Bay Area Bubble.

St. Johns College, (SJC) Santa Fe, New Mexico. (non-religious). 320 undergraduates. Founded 1696. No class size greater than 20.

Are you the type of student who asks interesting questions in class and then the teacher says, “Good question, let’s get to that later,” and later never comes? When you’re bored out of your mind in sophomore geometry class, you think, “I’ll bet Euclid never thought his ideas would come to this.” St. Johns College, Santa Fe might be for you. (Also, a campus in Annapolis, Maryland).

At SJC, you will actually read and discuss Euclid’s seminal work, Elements (in English). If E=MC(2) is just a funny t-shirt, you might change your mind after reading and discussing Einstein’s actual papers. I got the sense that if you wish you could have been educated during the Renaissance along with the Medicis, here is your chance.

At SJC, you read the classics of Western Civilization. Literature classics, philosophy classics, science classics and math classics. (Yes, this is the now-controversial “dead white guys” curriculum, but that debate is for another day). And you have to write long-form papers exploring the ideas of the writings. No trivia questions to see if you’ve read the book. I started to tune-out junior year English when one of the test questions on Beowulf asked what was the name of Hrothgar’s mead hall. Instead, at SJC my tour guide told me, the first question for a class discussion might be something like, “What does Romeo and Juliet tell us about the concept of family.”

SJC does not have majors. Everybody takes the same courses all four years. That include learning to read ancient Greek!

Yes, St. John’s College graduates have great careers. On LinkedIn, search St. John’s College (nm) and click on alumni and you will see teachers, lawyers, CEO’s, software engineers, et.al. There is even a current U.S. Senator among the famous graduates. (Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska)

You don’t have to be a genius student to get into St. John’s, but you might be by the time you get out. You do have to believe in yourself and be an intellectual risk taker. They have plenty of students below 3.0 who get in. But it’s not grades and test scores that get you in. It’s your essay which is carefully read many times by the admissions staff and even a few professors (called tutors). This is a very small campus which is somewhat isolated. It is a 10-minute drive to downtown Santa Fe, but there is not much in between.

Recommendation: Most college counselors I know would love to go to St. John’s. Most parents I know would think I was crazy to put St. John’s on their students’ lists. But this is a perfect place for the truly intellectually curious student. If you go there, you will still get into Med School, Law School, Grad School. You will still find a job. The highly successful St. John’s alumni will make sure of that.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Steve, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:00 am

Great insight about what kids can discover if they are open to going to schools not in California, Massachusetts, or any other state that has "brand name" colleges. As for New Mexico, kids can attend for a fraction of the cost of a UC as New Mexico is very generous with merit money. In addition, St. John's is part of the consortium of schools "Colleges That Change Lives" which every parent and kid should investigate.

Posted by Enchantment, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 1, 2020 at 9:32 pm

New Mexico is my favorite state that I have ever lived in. Santa Fe is sublime. You have desert, mountains -- skiing at Taos -- relatively near all kinds of gorgeous outdoor activities.

UNM is laid back, the local food is great, it's relatively inexpensive. The culture is fantastic. Oh, and there is the annual balloon festival in Albuquerque.

Thanks for bringing these great places up!

Posted by yup, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Feb 2, 2020 at 12:01 pm

great thread

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