Soon after beginning, the Society of Jesus found itself running hundreds of schools for which they lacked an organized plan of studies or uniform practices concerning how best to administer them. Recognizing the importance of developing a set of principles for what constitutes a Jesuit education, the “Company of Jesus” began a fourteen year process to develop guidelines for use in its seminaries and institutes of higher learning.
The result was the Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Iesu, or in English: "The Official Plan for Jesuit Education." It is commonly shortened into Ratio Studiorum (“Plan of Studies”), or just referred to as The Ratio. For centuries it served as a highly-regarded system of education, one which made Jesuits schools famous and the preferred choice of instruction for the children of societal elites across the globe.
Though not in use today, vestiges of the original Ratio remain present at Georgetown mainly through the theology and philosophy course requirements for undergraduates. Along with concepts like “cura personalis,” (care for the whole person) and “men and women for others,” in addition to campus ministry programs, they serve as some of the few tangible reminders of the Jesuit educational tradition at Georgetown.
One might expect, considering the Society's history with The Ratio, that America’s first and most prominent Jesuit institution of higher learning would provide students sufficient guidance as to what constitutes an authentically liberal education and how to get the most out of their college career. After all, as Hoyas we spend four years of our lives on the Hilltop, and the full cost of tuition, fees and room & board is more than a quarter million dollars. It makes sense that serious consideration be given as to the reasons why students should even attend college, beyond simply acquiring a bachelor’s degree.
Yet aside from the program descriptions, graduation requirements, and info on academic standards in the undergraduate bulletin, there's not much instruction on planning one's tenure at Georgetown. If you’re a new student looking for some answers about the ultimate end of a college education and some direction about making the most optimal use of your time and money, setting yourself up for future success, and avoiding the pitfalls of modern academic life, then you’re going to have to search for it. If you’re lucky, you’ve had a parent or mentor give you some useful advice before arriving on-campus, though like most students, you’re probably stuck figuring things out on your own.
Helping you is the whole point of our own Ratio Studiorum, which we present here for anyone interested in maximizing their Georgetown experience. We don’t want you to leave campus disappointed, wondering what it was all for, and if it was worth the cost. We don't claim to have all the answers, but hope after reading our thoughts you’ll better understand the purpose behind why you're here and have some ideas for determining how you’ll spend whatever time you have remaining on the Hilltop. Our goal for this page is that it will serve as a long-term resource for all students, regardless of their political or philosophical leanings, as we think the information applies to everyone.
We begin by discussing what we believe are the two purposes of a college education, before moving on to some other considerations and ideas. Finally, we offer two readings to you help you on your journey.
Purposes: A Capable Mind & Vocation
At TGA, we believe there are two purposes to an education.
First, we think an education should be freeing in the sense it prepares one, both personally and professionally, to live life well. This is the hallmark of a liberal education. In practice, what this means is developing within you a certain mindset along with a set of specific skills and behavioral traits so that when you’re released out into the world you’re able to do just about anything you want to do. That's the "freeing" part. One’s character and perspective on life should be positively influenced through increased responsibility, greater interaction with different people and ideas, and instructive life experiences mostly unavailable to students while in high school. One should also have seriously examined themselves and grappled with questions about the nature of life and the purpose of human existence. Ultimately, you should leave with the ability to continue learning and improving on you own so you can achieve your dreams and be a net positive in the world.
The second purpose is functional, meaning that upon graduation you’re able to earn a higher wage for each hour of labor than you would have had you never attended Georgetown. The difference in earnings should be able to not only provide you a higher standard of living, but cover the costs associated with securing your degree, such as the student loans payments you’ll have to make and the money you did not receive by choosing instead to study for four years. Many people (particularly professors) might disagree with us on this one, arguing that education for education’s sake is a sufficient justification for going to college. It is, after all, better to be educated than to not be educated. We would have readily agreed with them fifty years ago when a B.A. didn't cost as much as the price of a couple houses. But considering the indebtedness your average student incurs, we think it’s foolish to not consider and plan for your how you’ll provide for yourself and avoid becoming a burden on society (or your parents) once you graduate.
Aristotle noted all of human life is directed towards some teleological end. This is another way of saying every action has a purpose. It behooves you to spend some time seriously considering what you think the “ends” of your Georgetown education are. If you don’t know, that’s okay, especially if you’re a freshman. A lot of people just go because it seems like the next step after high school and it’s expected of them. As time marches on figuring this out becomes more important. Start coming up with answers by asking yourself some questions like “Why am I here?” and “What do I expect to get out of my college experience?” Another good one is “What do I want to do when I leave?”
Start an internal conversation with yourself and write down some goals and expectations. Discuss the question with others, particularly your professors and any mentors you may have, and try to arrive at a few answers. Once you know where the journey is supposed to end, you can start mapping out how to get there.
It’s important to recognize the modern higher education system is a business, despite the “non-profit” status of many institutions. Georgetown is no different. Our University president, along with top administrators and tenured faculty, are hugely compensated. Administrators are constantly looking for ways to increase revenue while minimizing costs. All this is another way of saying it helps to understand you’re purchasing a few products when you choose to go to college.
The first thing you’re buying is an environment where one (ideally) finds the resources and opportunities needed to acquire the aforementioned liberal education and professional skills required to live life well and support oneself after graduation.
The second is a credential which signals to the world you are capable of finishing something which many assume qualifies you, rightly or wrongly, for entry into a variety of professions. Of course, it’s also a prerequisite for graduate school.
Because you’re at Georgetown, the third thing you’re purchasing is a well-known and highly-regarded brand, though the value of this may drop when a hiring manager delves into what you majored in (Pro-tip: avoid the grievance studies).
Finally, you’re buying a social network. There’s great truth to statement that it’s your college friends who will be with you for life. Though you may be extremely close with some of those you went to high school with, the fact is you’ll be living in closer proximity to and experiencing more important life events with those you befriend in college. You meet your high school friends because of where your parents chose to live. Everyone at Georgetown chooses to be here and the student population is more selective than in high school, so you’re likely to develop relationships with individuals whom you have lot more in common, especially when it comes to future plans. This social network may be the most important thing you get from your experience.
Coming out of Georgetown you want to be ready to engage with the world. This means having the courage to grapple with ideas you’re not familiar with or arrive on-campus opposing. If you’re very religious, it’s worth engaging campus atheists and learning why they’re not. If you’re a left-wing liberal socialist, you should talk to a few Ayn Rand fans. No matter your beliefs, approach the discussion fairly and in the spirit of the good will with the goal of understanding the other side’s argument. In many ways, this is what university life is about: a continuous conversation with your professors, fellow students, the authors you read, and yourself, about ideas that matter.
Do not (we repeat DO NOT) behave like feminists at Georgetown who last year acted like little children and ran off to special “safe rooms,” or students at the law center who lobbied the administration to delay finals, all because they were too upset to function normally and carry out the tasks of daily living when something they didn’t like actually happened. This is weak, cowardly, and the exact opposite of the attitude you need to have not just at Georgetown, but in life. The simple fact of the matter is that if you can’t bring yourself to hear a dissenting opinion or fulfill your basic responsibilities as a student, then you don’t belong at any university, anywhere. Do something like that in the private sector, or even among public sectors professionals, and you’ll not last long.
When you go out into the world you’ll want to be able to interact with reality as it is and tackle any challenges that present themselves. You do this now by testing yourself at Georgetown and being open to new experiences, even if they are uncomfortable, difficult, or a little frightening. Read the poem “If” and take to heart Rudyard Kipling’s wise words. The stoicism and behaviors expressed therein applies to both men and women and is a great way to view how one should approach life.
When it comes to mapping out your college career, let us start by suggesting you consider a dual major. This isn’t for everyone, but for many it’s a good idea. Decisions don’t need to be made until sophomore year so there is time to decide. If you’ve long been set on becoming a doctor your whole life and you’re fascinated by medical science, then by all means make that your focus. But if you lack a strong, dedicated interest in a particular subject, it may be worth double majoring in another, particularly if it is in the business or STEM fields. If you’re majoring in humanities you would do well to beef up your undergraduate resume with some hard skills.
Having expertise in subjects such as math, science, engineering, or in an obscure language, is a great way of improving your chances of finding gainful employment upon graduation. English and history majors are a dime a dozen, as are those who choose to spend their time in the grievance studies (the main difference being the latter are known hiring risks). You can distinguish yourself from most other new graduates if you finish with difficult to obtain skills which employers greatly desire, and for which they compete heavily with other businesses to acquire.
Before you sign up for a class, do some basic research about the professor and get a hold of a syllabus. Not all courses are equal. Talk to students who have taken the class to find out what it is like and if it will be a valuable use of your time. An interesting title and class description is nothing more than an interesting title and class description. You might get lucky and have a blast, or it could be the worst course you’ve ever taken and your dissatisfaction with it may cause you to lose motivation and not do well. Perhaps you’ll kick yourself for spending $7.5K on the class, which is about what a single three-credit course at Georgetown costs. That time might be better spent somewhere else. Remember, as long as you have the syllabus you can read the books on your own time and talk with your fellow students about it when you want.
We’ll have more to say on this topic in the future as we prepare a list of the best courses and professors you can take at Georgetown. In the interim, let us recommend two subjects we think are essential for every student.
This course is a must because it will familiarize you with certain principles about how the world works. Economics is all about making the most optimal use of available resources. It applies to much more than finance. Concepts such as the role of incentives, trade-offs, marginal benefit, opportunity costs, and present vs. future, or real vs. nominal value, all have role to play in living one’s life. Learning how to think like an economist and apply such analyses to your life will maximize your time, money, energy, and other resources, in addition to helping you make sense of the world.
The best way to make an argument or decide on a course of action is to base it on evidence. Being able to assess statistical data will help you do that. Both the private and public sector are highly desirous of acquiring raw data and then processing it into useful statistical information which can be analyzed when making decisions. The problem is finding people who can competently put the data together and interpret it. Individuals who know how to do so will be well compensated.
Understanding statistics is also extremely important for knowing when someone is trying to pull a fast one in order to get you to support a particular cause. In life, we constantly hear numbers used as justification in defense of one public policy or another. Often times the data is twisted or massaged. News headlines will tout a dramatic number coming from a study, but when you delve into the details, you might find that study doesn’t really say what the journalist or activist says it does. Or it may be those behind the study had an agenda and designed it in such a way as to arrive at a predetermined conclusion which endorses the public policy prescription they support. Feminists who regularly promote the wage gap myth are a textbook example. Having a strong background in statistics will allow you to know when someone is trying to make a dupe out of you and help you debate successfully.
In our final section we want to give you a couple resources to explore as you go about acquiring your education at Georgetown.
The first is a book by long-time Georgetown professor Father James Schall, S.J. We have it listed on our Bookshelf as one of the important tomes a student should read during his or her time on the Hilltop. It may very well be the longest-titled book ever written. It’s called: Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How to Finally Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice About How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found. You’re best off reading it as early as you can in your Georgetown experience, and then going back for a review midway through. There’s useful advice for new students on how to go about reading and studying, along with discussions about life’s most important questions and the purposes of an education.
Our second recommended resource is a series of student guides by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. ISI for many years funded TGA through their campus newspaper program, and many members have gone to their events or brought ISI-sponsored speakers to campus. They’re one of the organizations on our Opportunities page which we hope you’ll check out if you fancy yourself a bit of an intellectual. Each guide is short, reader-friendly, and as ISI notes, “offers a historical overview of a particular discipline, explains the central ideas of its subject, and evaluates the works of thinkers whose ideas have shaped our world.” They're like Cliff's Notes for intellectuals. Father Schall wrote one of these pamphlets, entitled A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning, which along with Mark Henrie's A Student's Guide to the Core Curriculum, are the two with which you should begin if you wish to develop a general understanding about the purpose of a university education. Our long-time faculty advisor, Professor George Carey, produced another: A Student’s Guide to American Political Thought. Plenty more exist on subjects such as Economics, American History, Philosophy, and the Classics, to name just a few.
If you've made this far and find what we’ve said to be of any use or in need of improvement, then please let us know. We're especially interested in hearing about professors and courses you found to be of great value. Our plan is to continually refine this page over time until it is as close to perfect as possible.
We would appreciate it too if you would forward a link to this page to any student who you think might benefit from the advice. And don't forget to check back again in the future. We'll be continually refining this Ratio as we receive feedback for how to strength in it.
Finally, be sure to check out our Bucket List. There are lots of ideas there for how to go about spending your time on the Hilltop.