A Rigorous Liberal Arts Education

In their original form, the liberal arts consisted of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy). Today, the liberal arts include the study of art, history, languages, literature, mathematics, philosophy, science, and theology, plus a host of sub-disciplines and emerging disciplines that rely on rigorous scholarship and experimentation, critical thinking, and persuasive writing and speaking. Pursuing a strong and broad foundation of knowledge by learning across disciplines is key to such an education.

St. Olaf’s commitment to the liberal arts is the foundation of its academic mission. The liberal arts train students to think broadly and analytically, develop rigorous habits of the mind, and instill an appreciation of lifelong learning that is essential to continuing personal and professional development.

To be liberally educated is to adopt an attitude of intellectual openness, one that embraces inquiry and new ideas and perspectives. It also means the development of the ability and desire to employ critical thinking when considering one’s own beliefs, values, and positions, as well as those of others. At its best, a liberal arts education widens the field of discourse and encourages informed and reasoned debate.

A St. Olaf liberal arts education provides both breadth and depth. The college’s General Education (GE) curriculum ensures that students are exposed to the full spectrum of disciplines that contribute to a balanced intellect. Courses that fulfill GE requirements are placed throughout the academic programs, from first-year writing through senior seminars.

  • Foundation studies sharpen writing, oral communication, mathematical reasoning, physical well-being, and language skills.
  • Core studies explore Western culture, human behavior and society, the natural sciences, biblical and theological questions, and artistic and literary ideas.
  • Capstone integrative ethics courses examine practical applications of ethics in fields across the curriculum — from the arts and humanities to the natural and social sciences.

In addition to meeting the GE requirements, every student must complete at least one major. The major allows students to delve deeply into a discipline that captures their imagination and sustains their interest. The availability of 45 majors provides a wide variety of choice.

While the major demands a dedicated effort to learn the conventions and techniques of a single area of study, other curricular offerings are designed to spark interdisciplinary exploration. Some 20 concentrations and four Conversation programs examine ideas, eras, areas of the world, or emerging issues across traditional academic boundaries. This blend of traditional and innovative instruction nurtures a critical, creative, and flexible intelligence.