What We Look For In An Application

Students admitted to St. Olaf have indicated that they want their college experience to be challenging, and that they want to live and learn in 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:

  • Are interested in academic challenges across the breadth of our curriculum,
  • Thrive in a classroom environment that encourages discussion, argument, and disciplined thinking,
  • Display a wide range of talents – musical, artistic, athletic, and cultural,
  • Contribute to a campus community that values 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 offered by their high schools. When reviewing an application for admission, we look for demonstrations of a student’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 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 3.5.

A St. Olaf education includes a considerable amount of writing, both in individual classes and programs and across the curriculum. Writing samples submitted in the application for admissions have 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 scholarship decisions.

Test Scores
We require 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.

Extracurricular Involvement
St. Olaf students are very involved — about one-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 seek active 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 résumés may 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 both 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 and submit both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Financial Aid PROFILE. Please see our Dates and Deadlines page for the submission deadlines for the application cycle you choose. Comprehensive financial aid data from families allows us to continue to meet a family’s demonstrated financial need.

St. Olaf is a community of individuals. We are intentional in creating a student body that reflects a diversity of origins, experiences, and perspectives. We also look for evidence that applicants 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.