Frequently Asked Questions

If your question is not answered below, contact the International Student Coordinator at 507-786-3995.

Academic Questions:

What is a Liberal Arts College?
Does St. Olaf College offer graduate studies?
What can you do with a liberal arts degree?
What is the 4-1-4 system, and what are its advantages?
Do you offer engineering or computer science majors? How many majors does St. Olaf offer?
What are the popular majors at St. Olaf?
Will I be able to conduct research as an undergraduate?  Are there possibilities in participating in internships or independent studies?
Are there opportunities for students to study abroad?
How big are the classes at St.Olaf?
Are faculty members accessible?
How do I narrow my selection of courses?
Are there any tutorials or help sessions for international students if they’re having any difficulties in their subjects and/or the English language?

Student Life Questions:

Where is St. Olaf College, and what is the town like?
Do international students live with American or international students?
What activities are there for international students?
Is there an International Student Advisor, and what services does that office provide?
Where have recent international students come from?
Is it expensive to call home? What are the telephone rates?
What transportation options are there for students?
Is it possible to visit home or travel during breaks, i.e., what is the necessary documentation required for travel?
What about housing during vacation?
What is the climate like in Minnesota?

Academic Questions:

What is a Liberal Arts College?

A liberal arts college gives students control of and flexibility in shaping their education and provides personal attention and hands-on experience. Classes are small and students have ample opportunity to interact with professors. Students choose from a vast array of subjects in the humanities, natural and physical sciences, and social sciences. During the sophomore year, but usually no later than junior year, students choose a subject or field to “major” in, and that field becomes their primary focus for the next two years. Some students have more than one major while others create their own interdisciplinary major or concentrate on a particular area.

Does St. Olaf College offer graduate studies?

No, St. Olaf does not offer graduate degrees. St. Olaf is a four-year undergraduate college that provides an education committed to the liberal arts, a community of faith, and a global perspective. Many graduates traditionally go on to advanced studies directly from St. Olaf or within five years. According to the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, St. Olaf ranks 8th among private liberal arts colleges in the number of its graduates who earn doctoral degrees, especially in math, chemistry, and life sciences.
In recent years, graduates have gone on to Northwestern University, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Harvard University, Columbia University, University of California-Berkeley, Yale University Law School, Mayo Medical School, and the University of Minnesota’s Medical and Law Schools (to name a few).

What can you do with a liberal arts degree?

The breadth and depth of a liberal arts education prepares students for lifelong learning as well their professional development. St. Olaf graduates go on to highly ranked graduate programs, employment at variety of domestic and international companies, and volunteer organizations around the world. Students may graduate with degrees in English, economics, math, or the sciences but they’ll be prepared for a wide range of jobs and careers.

What is the 4-1-4 system, and what are its advantages?

The St. Olaf College academic year consists of 4-1-4 curriculum and calendar plan (two 14-week semesters of 4 courses each separated by a one-month Interim of one course in January, also known as a J-term). The January Interim allows for an intensive study in one area. We also offer 2 summer sessions where as many courses can be taken as a regular semester.

This schedule improves the quality of instruction by concentrating student effort on fewer courses at one time; by providing opportunity for independent study; by providing integration of intellectual experiences and philosophy of life through interdisciplinary and capstone courses; and by allowing for students to complete more than one major. You may learn more about the academic programs.

Do you offer engineering or computer science majors? How many majors does St. Olaf offer?

No, St. Olaf does not offer an engineering major, but students can explore the field in one of our 20 pre-professional programs, including architecture, business and management, dentistry, law, medicine, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine (to name a few).
St. Olaf offers two Bachelor degrees – the BA (Bachelor of Arts) which includes 41 majors and the BM (Bachelor of Music) which includes 4 majors.  St. Olaf also offers 10 teaching certifications and 20 concentrations.  Majors can be searched alphabetically by department at this website: http://www.stolaf.edu/academics/departments.html

What are the popular majors at St. Olaf?

St. Olaf has internationally recognized programs in math and science, social science, international studies and languages, and the fine arts, especially music. Over the past decade, the popular majors have been biology, economics, English, psychology, and math. You can also learn about America and the world through interdisciplinary majors and concentrations such as American Racial & Multicultural Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Russian Studies.

Will I be able to conduct research as an undergraduate?  Are there possibilities in participating in internships or independent studies?

The college does provide opportunities for undergraduate research, internships and independent studies. There is a ten-week program held in the summer for students who are interested in pursuing research in biology, chemistry, physics, math, statistics, computer science, and psychology. Students are accepted for the program usually after their sophomore and junior years, working under the supervision of a faculty member.  Students who demonstrate strong abilities may submit proposals for independent study/independent research.

Are there opportunities for students to study abroad?

Yes! Approximately 65% of the study body studies internationally before graduating from St. Olaf, and another 18% participate in domestic off-campus programs that allow them to gain a larger perspective on the United States and American culture. The more than 120 international and U.S. off-campus study programs range from 1 month (January Interims) to yearlong programs on every continent except Antarctica. To learn more about how international and domestic off-campus programs, add a cross-cultural dimension to the liberal arts education and aid in the development of a global perspective, visit the International and Off-Campus Studies Site.

How big are the classes at St.Olaf?

The average class size is 23 with a student-to-faculty ration of 13:1. With the exception of introductory science courses, there are very few large, lecture style classes. Professors teach all the courses and lead lab sections.

Are faculty members accessible?

Yes. Students appreciate the interaction they have with their professors in and outside of the classroom. Ninety-one percent of full-time faculty hold Ph.D.s or other terminal degrees in their fields.

How do I narrow my selection of courses?

St. Olaf’s commitment to a liberal arts education means students can explore a wide range of subjects. The curriculum cultivates the basic skills students need to succeed in college and beyond. Faculty advisors are assigned to students to help them choose the blend of courses needed for their major(s) as well as to satisfy general education requirements. While students deepen their knowledge in the area of their major subject, they broaden their worldview by sampling courses in art, computer science, philosophy, foreign languages, religion, etc. Students may also seek assistance from the Academic Advising Center.

Are there any tutorials or help sessions for international students if they’re having any difficulties in their subjects and/or the English language?

The Academic Support Center (ASC) at St. Olaf helps all students develop independent learning techniques that will contribute to their academic and personal growth at St. Olaf. We have professional and student staff to assist students with time management, analytical reading, note-taking, writing, math, test-taking, or problem solving. ASC also sponsors several special programs including the Writing Place (assistance in writing papers), Math Clinics (assistance in beginning mathematics courses), and the Tutoring Program (individual help in most subject areas).

 

Student Life Questions:

Where is St. Olaf College, and what is the town like?

St. Olaf College is located in Northfield, Minnesota, a charming, two-college town of more 17,000 people just 40 miles (about 70 km) south of the metropolitan cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Northfield has a rich history that includes the infamous defeat of the Jesse James/Cole Younger Gang’s robbery attempt. The town is much more sedate now than it was in 1876 with the outlaws and is extremely pedestrian-friendly. Shops and restaurants line Northfield’s historic Division Street.

Do international students live with American or international students?

All international students are evenly spread among the 11 residence halls that are on campus and live with American students.  There are 5 residence halls housing first year students and 6 housing upper-class students. The residence life office does its best to match roommates based on their common interests. In addition, there are 5 language houses and 13 honor houses. You can learn more about residence life and students’ perspectives here.

What activities are there for international students?

International students participate in the same activities as our American students, from musical ensembles and sports teams to student government and social activities. You can learn more about student activities here. International students have a mixture of American and international friends, and there are special international counselors that help students adjust to life in America and help plan special events.

Is there an International Student Coordinator, and what services does that office provide?

Yes, there is an International Student Coordinator who seeks to educate, counsel, befriend, and advise international students on academic, personal, career, and immigration issues.

Where have recent international students come from?

In recent years students have come from Albania, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Is it expensive to call home? What are the telephone rates?

Students are provided a telephone account to make domestic and international calls for which they are billed individually. Rates vary and you can contact the telecommunication office for more information on rates. Some students find better deals with international calling cards.

What transportation options are there for students?

There are many options to travel around Northfield.  Students can walk into the downtown area of Northfield; walking usually doesn’t take longer than 20 minutes.  Transportation is also available to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  This is a pay service where you can buy individual tickets or a subscription. Holiday break shuttles are also available by visiting the transportation link for more information and prices.

Is it possible to visit home or travel during breaks, i.e., what is the necessary documentation required for travel?

It is possible to travel within and outside of the U.S. during the breaks. However, students must check with the International Student Advisor regarding current U.S. government rules and regulations in order to maintain your student visa. You should also apply for the appropriate visa for any country you are visiting, including Canada or Mexico if needed.
Generally you should carry the following documents with you to re-enter the U.S.:
Valid passport (should be valid for at least 6 months from date of entry into U.S.)
Valid U.S. F-1 visa at the time of re-entering the United States
If you are returning from Canada or Mexico, you are allowed to re-enter the United States with an expired visa provided that: 1) your absence did not exceed 30 days, 2) you are not a citizen of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba.
Valid I-20 with a signature of the International Student Advisor. If you leave for longer than 5 months and do not continue enrollment at St. Olaf (with a leave of absence), you must have a new I-20 issued in order to re-enter.

What about housing during vacation?

During the breaks, students can choose to stay on campus for a nominal extra fee. During the winter and spring breaks, there is usually one hall that students can temporarily reside in. Other options may exist and you can check with the housing office or International Student Advisor. However, you may find new friends here that invite you home with them! View the Academic Calendars and determine when you should leave or return to campus based upon exam schedules.

What is the climate like in Minnesota?

Minnesota is known for its cold, snowy winters–just one of four distinct seasons here. For the majority of St. Olaf students, winter is an adjustment from their home countries. September through November is considered fall or autumn when leaves change color with cooler daytime and evening temperatures. Winter runs from December to about March with January typically the coldest and snowiest month. Some winters there is hardly any snow while others may have a meter of snow on the ground. Spring comes anytime from late March through May when trees and flowers bloom and the temperatures rise. Summer usually lasts from June through August, and it can get quite warm and humid. The average January temperature is 11 °F (-12 °C), while the average July temperature is 73 °F (23 °C). Regardless of the season, students can be found busy in and outdoors enjoying the seasons. Check out the latest temperature at the Weather Channel. Just type in Northfield, MN or its zip (postal) code 55057.