What We’re Looking For In An Applicant

Students admitted to St. Olaf have indicated that they want their college experience to be challenging, and that they want to join a community of other students who have ambition and initiative. “Highly selective” also means we literally do not have space to admit every student who could be successful at the college. Our process is holistic, which allows us to admit students from a range of backgrounds and who bring a range of experiences. These include enrolling students who:

  • Will be challenged academically across the breadth of our academic offerings,
  • Thrive in a classroom environment that encourages discussion, deliberation, and conversation,
  • Display a wide range of talents – musically, artistically, athletically, and culturally,
  • Contribute to a campus ethos which fosters and supports collaboration and cooperation.

St. Olaf students arrive on campus academically well-prepared. They have taken courses in the core academic areas at the highest level commensurate with offerings in their high school. When reviewing an application for admission, our focus includes an assessment of the applicant’s ability to succeed in a wide variety of academic subjects and settings. We look for evidence of curiosity and a pursuit of excellence. A high school transcript is the best predictor of academic success at St. Olaf. After all, how students have prepared in high school strongly influences their ability to succeed in college.

Our transcript review considers course selection and grades from 9th through 11th grade, as well as course selection in the senior year. We evaluate both the difficulty of the classes you took and the grades you received in those classes. Applicants who present lower grades in more challenging classes are not at a disadvantage compared to applicants with strong grades in less rigorous classes. Ideally, an applicant will have taken as many honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses as made available to them in their school.

We compute an “academic GPA” based on core academic coursework (math, science, English, social studies, and foreign language courses), and weight grades for advanced, accelerated, AP or IB classes. A strong applicant will have an academic GPA greater than 3.80, and the vast majority of our admitted students will have an academic GPA of at least 3.55.

The St. Olaf education includes a considerable amount of writing, both in individual classes and programs and across the curriculum. Essays submitted in the application for admissions have the great potential to enhance an application and frequently provide the greatest insights about a candidate. There is no right or wrong approach to an essay, but each should be:

  • Clearly and thoughtfully written
  • Reflective of personality and individuality
  • Centered on well-conceived and articulated ideas and concepts

A response to an essay could include a reference to the opportunities provided at St. Olaf and the candidate’s reflection on their understanding of and commitment to the college’s identity and mission. In addition, we review the quality of an applicant’s writing when we make merit-based scholarship decisions.

Test Scores
We require the submission of results of either ACT or SAT scores, with no preference between the two. Standardized test scores complement a student’s record, and enhance our ability to fully consider an applicant’s intellectual preparation. They are the only standardized tool we have to compare applicants from over 1,800 high schools.

Extra-curricular Involvement
St. Olaf students are very involved — about a third participate in athletics, another third in music, about half in community service and nearly three-fourths in student government or student organizations. Many are involved in more than one area. We actively seek students who have achieved success in areas outside the classroom. This success may have occurred on the playing field, on stage or in the community. We are particularly interested in the depth of commitment to an activity, as well as the diversity of experiences a student has had. Lengthy and detailed resumes can be submitted, and will be read, but we encourage students to use the appropriate fields on the Common Application to tell us about their involvement.

What your current teachers and mentors say and write about you carries considerable weight in our admissions process. A good recommendation will highlight academic accomplishment beyond the grades reflected on a transcript. We look for the same things your teachers look for – participation in class discussions, and the ability to be a leader and a follower in an academic setting. One letter of recommendation from a teacher, preferably from someone who knows you well from a class taught in grades 10-12 in an academic subject (English, foreign language, history, social studies, mathematics, or the natural sciences) is the most influential. We are also happy to review additional letters of recommendation from people who know you outside the classroom.

FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE
Students applying for need-based financial aid are required to complete the FAFSA and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE at the same time they are beginning, continuing or completing the Common Application. Comprehensive financial aid data from families allows us to continue to meet a family’s demonstrated financial need and enables us to plan and manage our financial aid budgets accordingly.

St. Olaf is a community of individuals. We are intentional in creating a student body that reflects the diversity of origin, experience and perspective. We also look for evidence that the applicant will be positive contributors to our campus. We do not want 775 identical first-year students. Instead, we seek a student body with a wide array of interests, talents, and personalities.

If you have any questions about these requirements and guidelines, contact your admissions officer.