Whitman vs St. Olaf

Last day! :grimacing:

Twins are deciding between St. Olaf and Whitman. We have visited both schools in the past 2 weeks. Both are very academic kids, undecided in major but have interests in Environment, writing/journalism, psychology, education.

Whitman is a couple hours from home and I think this is pushing it to the top of their list. Girls really liked the community they met at Whitman, very friendly, laid back, and campus is small but very accessible and pretty. They felt like they were part of the school at the tour. Whitman is more expensive and would carry more financial burden if for some reason their big scholarship discontinued. They like Whitman’s calendar better with longer breaks and no interim in January like St. Olaf.

St. Olaf has stunning campus. St. Olaf is closer to a urban area (still 45 minutes), Minneapolis, with shuttles going often. Of course is a plane ride away from home. Girls liked the bigger campus and more majors. St. Olaf is very affordable for the girls and they have been awarded a great financial package, and if big outside scholarship discontinued it still would be affordable. Little financial risk. St. Olaf has January interim term which allows kids to do travel abroad during that, and take different classes, but makes breaks shorter.

Any thoughts?

One of my close friend’s D graduated from St. Olaf a few years ago and had an amazing experience!

My understanding is that students don’t have to do every J term but that may have changed. She went abroad one year and did research at school for credit the other year.

She loved every single minute there.

I know nothing about Whitman so can’t help in the comparison but I think you are smart thinking about the finances.


I think that student have to do 3/4 Jan terms. I suggested that the first one, come home and have a long break. I definitely want them to make this decision, but St. Olaf really wants them at the school vs Whitman isn’t conveying that sentiment as much. But also, financially or thru admissions and students reaching out.

You answered your own question:

Whitman is more expensive and would carry more financial burden if for some reason their big scholarship discontinued.

St. Olaf is very affordable for the girls and they have been awarded a great financial package, and if big outside scholarship discontinued it still would be affordable.

You also pointed out a gorgeous campus, close to the city if they need to go and they liked the bigger campus and more flexibility major wise.

So they fly home a few times a year - a three hour flight and a wonderful experience.

Based on what you wrote this is a no brainer - because in the end, why have to stress if you lose a job, the market goes down, or a scholarship goes away. And with facetime, you can see your kids as often as you’d like.

Good luck to them.

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It’s actually the opposite, they are worried about the distance! In my mind it’s a 3 hour drive or a 3 hour flight… My vote is St, O all day! I hate financial risk. Thanks for your vote!

Both colleges are CC favorites. My D knew several Whitties well, after spending a semester in Japan with them. She liked them so much that she kind of regretted turning down Whitman back in 2016. Whitman has regularly appeared in lists of happiest students and engaging classes, etc… It’s a better location for students who want to pursue outdoor activities.

St. Olaf also has an excellent reputation here too, but I don’t get the sense it has quite the easygoing vibe of Whitman, and I think it’s a bit more straight laced than Whitman. My daughter never considered St. Olaf, as to her, it sounded a bit goody two shoes. Not that Whitties are raging partiers, but I suspect there might be a bit more of a party culture at Whitman.

@MYOS1634 might be able to weigh in.


Interesting! Yes, St. Olaf is dry, so that might attract a subset of students. I got that impression too. Thanks for the input!

@alo2021 Sounds like they prefer Whitman and you prefer St Olaf.

How important is access to the outdoors vs. access to a city to them?

@lindagaf is correct - Whitman seems like a more middle-of-the road school culture with a bit of a sporty vibe and many different personalities represented. St Olaf students tend to be very kind, earnest, Midwestern nice, probably a bit more on the straight and narrow. St. Olaf is larger and also historically it tends to have a fairly large population of international students. Study abroad is also much more baked into the curriculum.

How big is the cost differential?

A nonstop flight is not a big deal but don’t underestimate the potential hassle factor of traveling from the upper midwest by air during the winter. A three-hour drive is more predictable. It has the added bonus of being able to access quickly in the case of an emergency or a pandemic or whatever. This is probably not make or break but worth considering.

Bottom line, both great schools with strong academics and happy students. Win-win.


Cost diff is 9K. Appealed 2X, no both times. We are lower income also, so the need based aid is critical. Whitman gave more need aid/less merit, St. O gave equal amounts. So if our need goes down, Whitman’s offer may be more impacted as need aid isn’t always the same every year. Merit of course is.


9K x 4 (or is it 18K x 4 for both of them combined?) plus there’s possibility that if income rises, so would college costs. As you are lower income, that difference could be significant. Those three hour flights should be factored into your budget, though.

Seriously, it sounds like they like both schools and have a few pros and cons for each that seem to offset one another. Maybe the fear of the unknown is holding them back?

$72,000 sounds pretty significant for you but the daughters don’t feel the impact. If they are taking loans, have you shown them the difference in how long it will take to pay back $72K at current rates and your best guess at monthly payments?

D17 went to Whitman. It’s not dry (neither of mine would’ve gone for that), but the party scene, like the students, is pretty low key & manageable. I would not call it a party school~academics too rigorous for that!

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I think we talked over on the Paying for College 101 FB group about appealing! My son just committed to Whitman but I agree that with twins the financial costs would play a big part in the decision. We love Whitman, but I think in your shoes I’d chose St. Olaf. Both are excellent schools and I think they’d be extremely happy and successful at either. I bet going to the same school will help lessen the homesickness of St. Olaf since they’ll have each other, will always have a companion to travel home with, etc.

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Would it be fair to say that one you can afford and one you can’t?

One point confuses me. You listed 4 areas that your daughters are interested in - or at least interested in exploring - Environment, Journalism, Psychology, and Education. As far as I can see on their website, Whitman doesn’t offer Education. Am I missing something? On the other hand, St. Olaf does offer it.

This seems like an important point to me. Especially in a family where there isn’t extra money lying around. (Sounds like my family.) Teaching is a field in which a new graduate can get a job right away and start earning money. Pretty practical. At St Olaf, a student can graduate with state teaching licensure. At Whitman, if a student decides that they’re interested in teaching, it means at least a year - probably 1.5 years - of additional cost after graduation.

I’m not saying that either of your daughters will become a teacher, but at Whitman, they would be closing the door on that as an undergraduate option right out of the gate. Their interest in psychology suggests that teaching could emerge as a possibility. Pedagogy is applied psychology in the field of child development.

Another interest is Jounalism. So much is done on line these days, but St Olaf’s proximity to Minneapolis-St. Paul means there are opportunities to get involved with what journalists cover since St. Paul is the state capitol. Maybe there’s an internship opportunity there. (I have a friend in St. Paul who’s a journalist there. I could ask.)

I appreciate the vibe at Whitman that’s so appealing. I love the outdoors myself, so their approach strikes me as a great way to spend 4 years. But 4 years at St. Olaf doesn’t strike me as a bad way to spend 4 years either. In fact, it’s a wonderful alternative. And while they don’t see it now, I’m betting that some of their best memories from college will come during that January term.

All things considered, St. Olaf strikes me as a better match as a place to prepare them for the rest of their lives. And there’s also the nagging cost factor.

In this Princeton Review survey-based ranking of colleges offering the “best classroom experience,” however, only St. Olaf appears from among the OP’s daughters’ choices:

My son’s top choices came down to these two colleges this year! (With Eckerd on the sidelines as another very appealing choice). He’ll be attending Whitman in the Fall, but St. Olaf was close in the running. He never got to visit Minnesota, but he loved his conversations he had with students and administration up there. In the end he wasn’t so sure about the religious class requirements at St. Olaf, and he fell in love with Whitman’s location, people and outdoor activities.


I am a huge Whitman fan and encouraged my daughter to seriously consider their offer in 2019. I’m also a cheerleader for St. Olaf.

From what I have read and heard, Whitman has been greatly affected by the pandemic. As a result, I believe achievement (merit) scholarships have topped out for most students around $14,000 per year vs. $25,000 in 2019.

Edit: Whitman had frozen tuition rates in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.

As much as I would normally lean toward Whitman because your family is in state and it provides hardworking students with a special environment, I would choose St. Olaf in your case. However, there are no guarantees that St. Olaf’s endowment will not be affected in the future.

Wishing your family the best with your choice!

No. We can afford both schools, but relying on a COA based outside scholarship. We just rely more heavily on that at Whitman vs St. Olaf. So the scholarship brings cost down to our efc. But, if scholarship was lost we’d be in a pinch at Whitman and St. Olaf not because their institutional award is much larger at St. Olaf.

But, hats off to the hard working girls that get to make a very amazing life decision. I’ve helped steer but it’s their final decision especially since they’ll be the ones taking on the debt.

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Could one of the twins go to St Olaf and the other Whitman - or is the outside (or any)scholarship tied to their attending the same college?

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Yes, hats off to the girls! :two_women_holding_hands: You must be so proud of them.

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