It would have been tough to get to St. Olaf College (MN) for a visit, COVID or no COVID. I’ve been to Minnesota twice on business and visit family, and winter feels longer than it does in New Jersey. St. Olaf College is quite impressive, but it is also different from most selective liberal arts schools you will find in the Mid-Atlantic or New England states.
St. Olaf College has more than 3,000 undergraduates under a single school. The most similar school in the East would probably be the College of the Holy Cross (MA), which is also located in a cold weather city, and also situated on a hill. Holy Cross is a member of the Patriot League that competes in Division I (scholarship) varsity athletics. But St. Olaf plays 24 Division III sports, including Alpine Skiing and Nordic Skiing. St. Olaf College, also like Holy Cross, is a religiously affiliated school that welcomes students of all faiths. Everyone lives on campus at both schools, and Greek life is not an option. Both schools share another thing in common: rigorous general education requirements.
Also, like Holy Cross, St. Olaf College is located close to other colleges. Holy Cross is located in Worcester, the second largest city in New England after Boston. Worcester has seven other colleges, including Clark University, which like St. Olaf, is one of the Colleges That Change Lives. St. Olaf has a cross-town neighbor in Carleton College in Northfield, a much smaller town, population around 20,000, less than an hour’s drive from Minneapolis. Carleton and St. Olaf share a very nice college downtown. They even share an eagle statue in the main square; the eagle is turned to face the winning campus in the annual football contest between both schools. The most recent football YouTube will show you some of the best selling points about St. Olaf, including the campus and community. Carleton has 2,100 undergrads, more similar to many selective East Coast liberal arts colleges that I have visited.
It’s tough to get into either St. Olaf or Holy Cross, though both schools are test optional. St. Olaf accepted less than half of the students who applied to join the current freshman class. The middle 50 percent of the students who submitted scores scored between 1220 and 1410 on the SAT or between 26 and 32 on the ACT. Their average GPA was a 3.6.
And much like Holy Cross, nearly every freshmen returns for their sophomore year, and most will graduate. St. Olaf has retained at least 91 percent of every freshman class since 2011. No less than 81 percent of each freshman class from 2011 to 2016 finished on time. This school has over 25,000 alumni registered in LinkedIn.com, about half are based in the Twin Cities. There are over 1,000 ‘Olies’ based in and around Chicago and over 560 in each of these metro areas: New York, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington DC. St.Olaf also participates in two consortia with other selective liberal arts colleges, the Liberal Arts Career Network and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. Both help students make more connections during college and for life afterwards.
One reason that Olies were able to stick around: the college meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need. In 2018-19 the average need-based freshman scholarship covered 77 percent of tuition and fees. A fifth of the freshmen received merit-based scholarships that averaged over $18,000. The average student loan debt for the Class of 2019 was just under $29,000. St. Olaf College is a very well endowed school. For FY 2019, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the college’s endowment had a market value in excess of $540 million. It’s larger than the endowments of liberal arts schools such as Haverford College (PA), Union College (NY) and Dickinson College (PA) that get on college lists in New Jersey.
St. Olaf College grants two bachelors degrees: a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music. Want to join a choral group or orchestra? You can perform in first-class facilities such as the Christiansen Hall of Music. While St. Olaf College does not have a conservatory like Oberlin or Lawrence University (WI), put it on your list if you love music. St. Olaf also has a unique Fifth-Year Emerging Artists program for students who are interested in the visual arts, and show promise at making their art their life’s work. Another unique program is Engineering Studies, which prepares graduates for work or masters programs in specialized engineering disciplines.
The college appears to take a middle ground between Holy Cross and Oberlin for its academics, music offerings and campus culture. But whenever you plan to visit, compare the temperatures where you live to those in Northfield, Minnesota on the very same day. You can take control of much of your college experience to make it rewarding, but you have no control over very cold weather.
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