Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) is a four-year Catholic liberal arts college. TAC is unique in that Socratic discussions and Great Books are used in place of lectures and textbooks. TAC offers no majors or minors, and only has one degree program: Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. Nevertheless, TAC students acquire a broad and integrated education, and they excel in a wide array of studies and careers. Many of them pursue graduate degrees and professional education after leaving campus. Speaking of which, the college’s beautiful 131-acre campus is located 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles, nestled in a quiet valley among the foothills of California’s Los Padres National Forest, and surrounded by lovely mountain scenery (as shown in the above photo).
All students at TAC study from the same fixed, classical curriculum made up primarily of Great Books of the Western Tradition. Studies are divided throughout the four-year program into the Trivium (Freshman & Sophomore years) and the Quadrivium (Junior & Senior years). The Trivium encompasses the subjects of Logic, Rhetoric and Grammar. The Quadrivium covers Geometry, Astronomy, Arithmetic, Music, and Natural Science. Philosophy and theology are also subjects of study throughout the four-year curriculum. All of these subjects are connected through the overarching study of Catholic theology. The college is named after Saint Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274), a Catholic Priest in the Dominican Order who was an influential medieval philosopher and theologian.
Believing that only the truth sets men free and that truth concerns both natural and supernatural matters, TAC seeks to ground its students in the art of thinking while developing a wide-ranging, integrated vision of life and learning. The Socratic Method encourages independence of thought and aids in developing a capacity for critical judgment. TAC classes are small, usually between 13-20 students, and are taught in seminar format guided by professors, called tutors. Everyone in the class is expected to contribute to the discussions. Students read some books in their entirety and read excerpts from others. The college regards certain books as masterworks, and others as sources of opinions that “either lead students to the truth, or make the truth more evident by opposition to it.”
Complementing the stimulating and rigorous intellectual life at TAC are ample opportunities for recreation. Students are just minutes from hiking, camping, and many other outdoor leisure activities. There are regularly scheduled outings to museums, plays, concerts, and other cultural offerings in nearby Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean is only 25 minutes away. The campus itself has a beautiful forested area with walking trails, ponds, and meadows. The college also has basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts, and a baseball and soccer field where intramural sports take place throughout the year. In addition, there are various student-run organizations such as the de Tocqueville Society (politics), the Pre-Medical Society, a pro-life group, and the Legion of Mary.
The “crown jewel” of the TAC campus, Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity chapel, was designed by University of Notre Dame architect Duncan Stroik. The design for this 15,000-square-foot structure employs Early Christian, Renaissance, and Spanish Mission styles. The college library, named in honor of Saint Bernardine of Siena, is another unique building. It is constructed of recovered wood from a 16th century Spanish monastery, and houses a collection of rarities including thousands-year old Hittite seals, original letters written by various saints, an illuminated Book of Hours, and a complete Gutenberg Bible.
TAC was founded by Dr. Ronald McArthur in 1971. “At a time when many Catholic institutions were straying from their loyalty to the teaching Church, Thomas Aquinas College would, by contrast, strive for fidelity to the Magisterium. In place of the burgeoning multiplicity of majors, minors, and electives elsewhere, it would offer a single, integrated curriculum employing the liberal arts and sciences in the pursuit of truth and wisdom.” To preserve its autonomy, TAC does not accept church or government funding. Students may, however, receive individual government loans and grants for which they are eligible. The college also offers its own generous financial aid program, with academic and needs-based scholarships funded by private donations.
Homeschoolers feel very welcomed and accepted at TAC. Approximately 30 percent (nearly one-third!) of their 350 students come from home schools. Homeschool admission is based on essays, transcripts (if you don’t use a specific curriculum, include a list of courses and books read), letters of reference, and SAT or ACT scores. Homeschooled applicants may choose to request that a parent write one recommendation as the primary educator, unless another teacher’s recommendation is available.
Rebekah Hall, a former Homeschooling Teen columnist and current TAC student, told us: “What attracted me was the fact that they have a completely different outlook on what education really is; instead of preparing you for one particular career path, they believe that education is about making you wiser and more whole, preparing you for life in general so that you can handle whatever it throws at you. That’s one reason why they don’t have majors; the other is that they believe that each subject is interconnected with the others, so that you can’t separate them without losing something important. Also, (and this was the most appealing to me personally) they don’t lecture you: each class is done by a discussion method where each class has the original text of the subject they’re studying (i.e. math is Euclid, philosophy is Aristotle, history is Herodotus, etc.) and a teacher to guide the discussion. Only logical explanations of the text will do, and the students must come up with that themselves.”
Rebekah also stated, “One last thing I would add is that the school is small (300-350 students) and secluded (the closest city is about 15 min. away, but you need a car to get to it, with no possibility of walking), which is something that potential students should take into consideration. And I guess another “last” thing is that, while the price tag may seem steep, their financial aid program is probably one of the most generous of private schools in this country. They individually ask only for what you can afford (they frequently work with big families and lower the cost for the number of younger siblings as well).”
TAC receives praises from many different sources – including the Cardinal Newman Society and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute – for its value and small class sizes in addition to its excellent reputation for orthodoxy, fine academics, and strong community life. The college also frequently ranks highly among national liberal arts colleges in The Princeton Review (where it earned the “Best Value” ranking in both 2009 and 2010), as well as U.S. News & World Report. TAC admissions representatives will be in Arizona during the first week of October. Visit the college website at www.thomasaquinas.edu for details, and to find out when they will be coming to your area.
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