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An Overview of Saint Mary's College of California

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Saint Mary's College of California, a small private #liberalarts college named one of the 44 Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL). It is the only CTCL college in California and the only one that is Catholic (Lasallian).

Religious Affiliation

Saint Mary's College's foundation was built on the five Lasallian core principles: Faith in the Presence of God, Concern for the Poor and Social Justice, Respect for All Persons, Quality Education, and Inclusive Community. Only about half of the approximately 2300 undergraduate and 1000 graduate students are Catholic. Students of any (and no) faith are welcome, and chapel attendance is not required. All students must take two theology classes, one specific to Catholicism, and the second, an exploration of other faiths.


Only 15 miles from Oakland and 23 from San Francisco, Saint Mary's is located in Moraga, a town of approximately 17,000 people. The 420-acre bucolic campus is in a valley surrounded by green rolling hills. Students who want to get off campus have several options. All students (even freshmen) can have a car on campus, there is a bus stop on campus that takes students into town and connects to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and students receive 14 free Lyft rides a semester they can use around the Bay Area. Oakland International Airport is about 30 minutes away by car.


Saint Mary's signature programs are the Collegiate Seminar and the January Term. The Collegiate Seminar is based on the Great Books and comprises four required courses that examine major works of Western civilization, as well as two elective seminars that provide a multicultural perspective. The classes in the Collegiate Seminar are small (picture students sitting around a table discussing ideas), but so are all classes at Saint Mary's - 98% have fewer than 30 students, and the average class has between 15 and 19 students, all taught by professors and not graduate students or teaching assistants. The January term is a four-week period between the two semesters that gives students the opportunity to take one class on campus or around the world on topics of interest to them. This past January, 60% of students chose to study abroad.

Three schools - the School of Liberal Arts, the School of Economics and Business Administration, and the School of Science - house the 35 undergraduate majors and also offer graduate programs. In addition, the Kalmanovitz School of Education offers graduate degrees and teaching credentials. Business Administration, Psychology, and Communication are the most popular majors at Saint Mary's. Interesting undergraduate programs include Archaeology (as a minor or an Anthropology concentration); Justice, Community, and Leadership (offered as both a major and minor); the Integral Program of Liberal Arts (essentially a major in the Great Books); and a certificate in Practical Political Leadership.

Saint Mary's works hard to help its students succeed. Freshmen receive not one but three advisors in their first year, incoming students can receive credit for several AP exams with a score of 3 or higher, and about 30% of students receive accommodations for disabilities. The High-Potential Program provides first-generation and low-income students with academic and financial support. A student I spoke to during my visit told me Saint Mary's is "a good place for students to receive academic help."

Student Life

First-year students are required to live on campus, and about 80% of sophomores and 60% of juniors and seniors chose to. Unusual for a small school, Saint Mary's offers NCAA Division I athletics. Students can also participate in various sports at the club and intramural levels and use the rec center, which includes a rock climbing wall, indoor courts, a pool, and a fitness center. Being a small school away from a city and providing Division I athletics creates a strong sense of community. Students pack the gym to watch basketball games. There are no fraternities and sororities at Saint Mary's. Students who are at least 21 can enjoy the pub on campus.


Saint Mary's annual tuition and fees are $53,572, with room and board adding another $16,404. However, almost no students pay that much. 85% of incoming students receive financial aid averaging $38,253 a year, and the remaining students receive merit #scholarships averaging $24,882 yearly. Saint Mary's meets about 74% of the financial need of first-year students.

Students applying for financial aid only need to complete the FAFSA; the CSS Profile is not used. All incoming first-year students are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships ranging between $13,000 and $29,000 annually. There are additional scholarships students can apply for, and these can be stacked as long as the value does not exceed the cost of tuition. As an NCAA Division I school, Saint Mary's also awards athletic scholarships.

Military-affiliated students eligible for the #YellowRibbonProgram will receive enough funding from Saint Mary's and the VA to cover the remaining cost of tuition after #GIBill benefits have been used.

Finally, two-thirds of Saint Mary's students graduate in four years (20% above the national average), so few need to worry about paying tuition for an additional year or two.


The application deadline for Fall 2023 entry has passed. For this past cycle, the Early Action deadline was November 1, and the Regular Decision deadline was January 15. Prospective students should check whether these deadlines will change in the coming application cycle.

Saint Mary's uses the Common App, is #testoptional, and accepts approximately 77% of applicants. The average GPA of accepted students is 3.63, and students are admitted by major. However, none of the majors are very competitive, and students don't have to declare a major until their sophomore year. Demonstrated interest is considered in admissions, so students interested in Saint Mary's should make sure to request to get on the mailing list, visit if possible, and meet with admissions representatives during college fairs and visits to their high school.


Have you visited or attended Saint Mary's College of California? If so, leave a comment and share your experience.


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