We are seeking students who will:
- thrive at St. Olaf, both academically and personally.
- contribute to the community, inside and outside of the classroom.
During the review process, we consider test scores, grades and GPAs, but we also give weight to qualitative factors such as the breadth and depth of academic interests and evidence of leadership abilities.
High School Coursework
When reviewing your application, our primary focus is your ability to succeed in the St. Olaf classroom. The best tool we have for gauging this is your high school transcript. We look at your 9th through 11th grade coursework and require an update of senior coursework for all candidates.
We consider two things when evaluating a transcript:
- the difficulty of the classes you took
- the grades you received in those classes
We prefer an applicant with lower grades in more challenging classes to one with very high grades in easier classes. Ideally, you will have taken as many Honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses as possible. If your high school does not offer advanced classes in a particular subject or does not offer them at all, we will not penalize you for missing them.
The following is a list of what we expect you to have taken before entering St. Olaf:
- English or literature — 4 years
- Social studies or history — 4 years
- College-preparatory math — 3-4 years (preferably 4 years)
- College-preparatory science — 3-4 years (preferably 4 years)
- Foreign language — 2-4 years
We will compute a new GPA based on this core academic coursework, as well as on other AP or IB classes that do not fit into the categories above (e.g., AP Music Theory). A strong applicant will have an adjusted GPA greater than 3.75, and the vast majority of our admitted students will have an adjusted GPA of at least 3.3.
Essays have the great potential to enhance an application and are often what our admissions counselors find most insightful about a candidate. There is no right or wrong approach to an essay, but every answer should:
- include well-conceived ideas
- reflect your personality and individuality
- be clearly written
Through one of the essay questions, we want to know why you’re interested in St. Olaf and what you have to offer to the St. Olaf community. We don’t expect everyone’s response to be overly specific, but we want you to have a sense of what makes St. Olaf unique, and uniquely right for you.
We require the submission of either your ACT or SAT score. We have no preference between the two. If you submit more than one, we’ll consider the best score, so if you struggle at first and then improve, there’s no need to worry.
While these tests are designed to predict academic success in college, we realize that they are not always a reliable indicator of your performance in the classroom. Test scores improve our ability to compare applicants across different high schools and regions. Your score is, of course, only one component of your application, and it is rare that a weak score would cause us to rule out an otherwise strong student.
St. Olaf students are very involved — about a third participate in athletics, another third in music, and about half in community service. We look for students who have achieved success in areas outside the classroom. This may have occurred on the playing field, on stage or in the community. In fact, the greater the variety of talents and interests you bring to St. Olaf, the better the college becomes. We are interested in the depth of your commitment to an activity, as well as the diversity of your experiences.
We are interested to hear what your high school teachers have to say about you. A good recommendation will highlight academic strengths that may not be obvious on your transcript. Do you participate in class, contribute to discussions, and work well with your peers? We gain some sense of this from your grades, but your teachers’ recommendations can give us a unique glimpse into your hidden strengths and in-class personality.
One letter of recommendation must be from a teacher, preferably from a class taught in grades 10-12 in an academic subject: English, foreign language, history, social studies, mathematics, or the natural sciences. We are happy to review one or two additional letters from people who know you in a different way (other academic areas, pastors, coaches, employers, etc). Do not send us more than three or four letters of recommendation — it is unlikely that a fourth or fifth person has anything substantially new to tell us.
If you have any questions about these requirements and guidelines, contact your admissions officer.