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St. Olaf --- What is it like?

FresnoMomFresnoMom Registered User Posts: 1,044 Senior Member
edited October 2005 in Saint Olaf College
A friend on CC recommended St. Olaf for my son. So far, I like everything I've read about it: large size LAC (3,000), outstanding music program, Great Conversations program and an overseas study program.

If anyone has visited St Olaf or knows anything about it, please post!

Post edited by FresnoMom on

Replies to: St. Olaf --- What is it like?

  • musicmomicmusicmomic Registered User Posts: 266 Junior Member
    FresnoMom, My D and I visited last Feb and were very impressed. I believe I posted a long report and will try to find it for you.
  • musicmomicmusicmomic Registered User Posts: 266 Junior Member
    There are several posts that include St. Olaf on the Parents Forum in the "Some Midwest Schools -- comments" thread. I would start there.
  • rickyrosariorickyrosario Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    I spent last year there as an exchange and loved it. it is a good place for religious students mainly (otherwise I would choose Carleton College across the river). Professors are the best, and the campus is really pretty. A bit boring, but a half-hour trip will take you to the twin cities. Most programs are rated among the best in the nation. My only criticism is that the campus is too white and have little diversity of any enicithy. They are working hard for that, but their administration is too old fashion in their ways without even noticing.
  • carldadcarldad Registered User Posts: 32 Junior Member
    I am a graduate of St. Olaf and know many current students that attend. Generally strong academics, mixed liberal and conservative environment, beautiful campus. The religious environment is not nearly as oppresive as many might think given that it is a lutheran school. There is a believe that faith is important to carry through life but what that faith is will vary with different people. The school in no ways forces a particular faith on the students.

    It has a tremendous program of study abroad and sends many kids to the peace corp after graduation. Good grad school placement and good job placement.

    The biggest weakness tends to be a lack of diversity along racial and economic lines. Lots of upper middle class white kids. The school is working hard to gain greater diversity and it has been improving, although slowly. Financial aid is generally quite good and they meet 100% of EFC(however that might be defined).

    If you have more specific questions, let me know.
  • FresnoMomFresnoMom Registered User Posts: 1,044 Senior Member

    Thanks for the responses!

    I think my son would be ok with the religious aspect of St. Olaf.

    My husband is a returned Peace Corps volunteer so we were delighted that St. Olaf has the overseas emphasis.

    My son would like at least 3% Asian....From what I've read, I don't think St. Olaf is diverse enough for him. He might apply to Carleton, in which case I told him to apply to St Olaf too. We could visit both during Spring Break

    Thanks again for your insights!
  • condor30condor30 Registered User Posts: 1,083 Senior Member
    i've read that it's music department is very strong and that study abroad is strong as well. lutheran heritage - i'm not sure which synod.
  • rickyrosariorickyrosario Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    It is intersting that you mentioned Peace Corps because St. Olaf holds records in sending graduate to the PC every year.
  • musicmomicmusicmomic Registered User Posts: 266 Junior Member
    Fresnomom -- I found my earlier post about our visit to St. Olaf and am copying it here in case others are interested. We have not visited again yet but it is on my D's short list and she is applying as a music major for next year.

    While I can't speak to the campus atmostphere at St. Olaf from a current student's perspective, I can share the following with you. My D is a high school junior now searching for the right college fit. She is interested in music. A friend who attends St. Olaf suggested she should look there. She asked me about it and I indicated that I knew of its good music reputation but that she should know that it is a "church-affiliated" college. She rolled her eyes and walked away. A few months later, she heard a recording of the world-renowned St. Olaf Choir and asked me to look into the school more closely. I noted that the student groups included a range of interest groups (gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender groups, students for choice, etc) and that the overall atmosphere (tremendous encouragement for global study, very strong science programs, Peace Corps, community service) seemed to be fairly progressive. We attended their juniors day in February.

    We enjoyed the campus very much. The staff and students were extremely pleasant and nice. There was absolutely no mention of religion until a parent asked a question about it during a Q/A session with current students. The staff had the students field the question. They all said generally the same thing. Chapel is held daily -- it is not mandatory and the majority of students do not attend daily. The topics tend to be timely issues rather than explicitly religious sermons. There are 2 religion courses required with a range of possible choices -- all taught from an academic and not a dogmatic perspective. The students indicated that kids at St. Olaf range from religious to atheistic and that all are welcome. There are Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist students there. The tour guide we had (a very pleasant and knowledgeable young woman with muliple piercings wearing an army jacket) also indicated that the religious atmosphere was very open. In her view, the approach was to encourage all students to examine their beliefs -- to make sure that their personal beliefs were arrived at thoughtfully -- and to make sure the beliefs were not simply what their parents or pastors had suggested they should be. Both my daughter and I were pleasantly surpised at the lack of dogma we encountered.

    The students we met (about 6-7) were very pleasant and probably more mannerly than the average college students, but did not strike either of us as out of the mainstream -- just a really nice bunch of kids. They do have a "no alcohol" policy in the residence halls but other than that, we saw/heard nothing that we would have interpreted as pushing any religious doctrine -- certainly not an evangelical/born again atmosphere.

    From a Biblical perspective, I would say that they are more Matthew than John. Hope this is helpful. We will be visiting again and I will update if I have any additional or different (contrasting) information after that.
  • carldadcarldad Registered User Posts: 32 Junior Member
    Fresnomom--I just took a look at St. Olaf's CDS information for 2005. They have about 4.5% asian students. Not a huge number but it meets your son's criteria.

    Your idea of looking at Carleton is a good idea although the feel of the two schools is very different. Most people I know come away with a strong preference for one school or the other after visiting. Both good choices for the right student.
  • FresnoMomFresnoMom Registered User Posts: 1,044 Senior Member
    Hi Carldad

    I appreciate your looking that up and getting me the updated numbers. That is promising!

    I wish % of Asians wasn't a concern......but, I understand where S is coming from. Here in CA, our ethnicity isn't a big deal, and he is just unsure how it will be out in the midwest. Son would be fine in an environment with "lots of upper middle class white kids" as long as it was inclusive....

    What majors do you feel are the strongest at St. Olaf? Why did you choose to go to St. Olaf?

    Yes, we noticed in the St. Olaf Viewbook that they mentioned Peace Corps several times. My husband's 4 year experience in Papua New Guinea had a huge impact on him. We've tried to raise our sons with that type of world outlook and that is one of the reasons why I thought St. Olaf might be a good fit.

    What did you mean when you wrote "their administration is too old fashioned in their ways?"

    MusicMom- thanks for posting your review here on the St. Olaf forum! My son is musical, he plays bassoon and alto sax, but he doesn't want to major in music. Is St Olaf's band/orchestra so good that non-music majors don't have a chance to play?

    Anyway, the plan is to apply to St. Olaf and if accepted, make a visit during Spring Break. I know S can't really make a wise decision without first getting a "feel" of the place.

    Thanks all!

  • musicmomicmusicmomic Registered User Posts: 266 Junior Member
    FresnoMom -- There are 2 full orchestras, 2 bands, and 3 jazz ensembles at St. Olaf. I am sure there would be a place for your S if he is interested in performing. In addition, many students continue private lessons with music faculty even if they are not music majors. I would recommend having him look at the Music Dept website and making an appointment with someone on the music faculty prior to his visit.
  • rickyrosariorickyrosario Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    I want to stress that St. Olaf is an exceptional college in all respects. I would send my kids there without regrets. The non-alcohol policy is rather superb, and the nature of the kids attending is quite tame and most are hard-workers. You actually see students reading and studying (although their entering GPA scores [3.65] speaks more about their conformist attitude than of their inventive juices). Their international emphasis is recognized worldwide, and, to a certain point, it brings a welcoming fresh spirit to an otherwise unexciting spot in a rather cold state. What follows is more an intimate scrutiny of internal St. Olaf difficulties in regards to diversification.

    What I meant with the phrase you quoted was that some administrators (not the professors at all) are not proactive enough in promoting diversity and/or attracting diverse group of students (not only ethnically, but financially and other sorts of diversity). There is a new dean of diversity and they even have a new program that brings a minority scholar for one year to campus (“Consortium for Minority Strong Representation” or something like that). But I noticed that a few in the administration were not courageous enough to leap into the aggressive recruitment attitude that Carleton College has, for example. CC has a noticeable stronger recruiting program, and thus, has a much more diverse student population--which always reflects well on its academic (I truly believe that the more diverse you are in academics the better academics you would have).

    Their new rubric in deciding who is a student from a diverse cultural background has changed now, and in my opinion, is a bit deceiving. They have included most international students as part of their “diverse” student body because they have been more successful in attracting certain international students than students from St. Paul, for example. Most universities do not follow this practice. The idea is, of course, to look better in paper—they are locked into a competition with Carleton in this issue too.

    The excuses that the administration provides are always in regards to money. But they have a larger endowment than the college in which I am now presently, and the things that they can do are not necessarily money-based. They could, for example, create pipelines with schools from new places (they have well-lubricated pipelines with schools in Oregon). They could move from their “Minnesota-nice” attitude to a more genuine- approach to students that are different. Their mentality is reflected in the faculty composition too. Look at this, there is only two black professors (one is a director of one of the choirs and the other an English Professor), an Asian, and an African professor (also in the English department). There is not a single Latino, gay (there is one and is only visiting), lesbian, or handicap professor.

    The problem is not that there is a hostile environment to students who are not of Scandinavian background, but that there is not a concerted and sincere effort to create a diversity-friendly environment. Yet, the location does not lack opportunities. There is Carleton College at 2.5 miles from St. Olaf, and “Blue Mondays” in town. I hope that more students who are conscious of this problem would join with the majority of the professors who have wanted to do something about it, and change the make up of campus.
  • carldadcarldad Registered User Posts: 32 Junior Member
    I wouldn't worry about St. Olaf being inclusive. Most of the students will be very accepting of people from different racial backgrounds. Although not perfect, I think the midwest tends to be fairly accepting of different types of people. Northfield in particular has an accepting feel in large part because of the two colleges, neither of which would consider exclusivity to be a good thing.

    St. Olaf has a number of strong academic departments but historically some of the strongest are math, chemistry, music and religion.

    I was a student there many years ago and actually transferred there after freshman year. I started at a mid sized university that I discovered after getting there had a lot of competition between students. That was not my thing. I had applied to St. Olaf originally and decided that a smaller school was a better fit. There also was not competition amoungst the students as much as competition with your self to do well. I also enjoyed music and music is a strong force on the St. Olaf campus.

    As to the band and orchestra, I would guess that the vast majority are not music majors(although some very good musicians). St. Olaf is best known for vocal performance of which the St. Olaf Choir is the best known and has a number of music majors. Last count I think there were 7 or 8 choirs, some of which required tryouts and some that were available to anyone who wished to sing.
  • condor30condor30 Registered User Posts: 1,083 Senior Member
    carldod - does st. olaf has it's lutheran roots in the wisconsin synod? was just curious. i know it's not a missouri synod school.

    thanks for the info. about the choirs -- are they then ec's?

    do you happen to know anything about pre-law at st. olaf? have heard of pre-med there but not much mention of pre-law.
  • carldadcarldad Registered User Posts: 32 Junior Member
    St. Olaf is a church of the ELCA which is the largest of the Lutheran denominations and what I would consider the least conservative.

    Yes the choirs would be considered extracurricular.

    I really don't know much about pre-law at St. Olaf but I am not a big fan of pre-anything. Let me explain. I am a practicing lawyer and if there was such a thing as pre-law when I was at St. Olaf I didn't know about it and it wasn't necessary. Law schools don't care what you major in or what classes you take. I had students in my law school class that majored in almost anything you can think of from engineering to political science to music.

    Pre-med is a little different simply because there are some core courses that you need for medical school. But, other than that you can still major in anything you want to for medical school. If a school wants to give support classes to study for the LSAT or MCAT that is great. But to have a specific focus on pre-law or pre-med just isn't necessary.

    Bottom line- don't worry about pre-law. Ask questions like what is your placement rate to medical or law school and what schools do your graduates typically attend.
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