Reflections on the Mediterranean Semester

The second semester is in full swing on campus, and with it comes a time of reflection for students who studied abroad during the fall semester or participated in January interim courses abroad and off-campus. Here, Marcus Newton ’16 shares a few favorite photos and reflections from his months away on the St. Olaf-led Mediterranean Semester program. 


Marcus Newton ’16

Here I am in the Ksar (fortified city) of Ait Benhaddou, which is dated to have been created around the 17th century.


Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is a beautiful city, and it is filled with beautiful winding streets and little artisan bazaars. For Game of Thrones fans, it was the filming location for the city of Yun Kai, and it is also where multiple scenes from the movie Gladiator were filmed. We saw it on our 14 day excursion in Morocco.


The American Language Center in Fes

This is one of our classrooms at the American Language Center in Fes. It features beautiful tile work and other Moroccan art. At ALIF we studied Moroccan Sociology and Arabic.  We also lived with a Muslim host family for four weeks where we were able to get an idea of what daily family life looks like in Morocco.  All of the families were so welcoming and warm that we made wonderful connections despite the large language and cultural barriers. My host  mom and I would often sit together and drink tea while watching Moroccan news. I didn’t understand a word of the news, but it was still such a memorable experience to get to spend so much time with such a wonderful, welcoming and loving woman.



This is the Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, known as the “blue city.” I had an amazing time exploring their medina and looking at a bunch of different artwork from local artists.  Several shop owners invited us in for mint tea in order for us to get a taste of Moroccan hospitality. We spent a day here while on a break from the American Language Center in Fes.



We took a three-day trip from Israel to Jordan, and Petra is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. This is a photo of what is believed to be the treasury for the ancient city. Most of this city is carved into caves like this and even features ancient piping that allowed the cave homes to have running water.

Sammi & baily

Our tailor friend, Sammi (left).

We discovered a small tailor shop when walking back to our guest house one evening and stopped in to talk to the tailor, Sammi. It turns out that he has a history with St.Olaf! He has been connecting with Oles who come to stay in the Old City since the 70s, and he even sewed some custom suits/jackets for a few Olaf profs. He reached into a drawer in his work table and pulled out a stack of photos, many of which were of different Ole groups.  He also has a collection of business cards from past professors from the Term in the Mediterranean/Term in the Middle East program. Sammi is a Palestinian Christian who speaks the Aramaic language, and every time we stopped by to see him he insisted on reading the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic and playing Aramaic music for us. He was also sure to offer us candy and a good story or two. He has been a tailor in the old city for over 50 years.

St. Olaf study abroad programs offer a fantastic way to get to know the world. Every year, hundreds of Oles like Marcus make global connections and see remarkable places with their own eyes. Want to learn more? Check out the student-written blogs from other programs!

You applied… now what?

Last week: January 15. After writing, editing, soliciting recommendations from teachers, and figuring out how to cleverly answer the St. Olaf Supplement questions, your application is finished. You take a deep breath and hit the “Submit” button. Then… what happens?

Sunrise on the big day: January 15.

Sunrise on the big day: January 15.

Your application comes to us. For the past few weeks, we each have spent quality time with the applications we receive. Each officer is assigned a specific geographic “territory,” which determines which applications are read by which officer. This is the official first look we have at a student’s writing, teacher recommendations, and high school performance. We dissect the transcript and recalculate the core academic GPA, weighted and unweighted – giving a bump to Honors/AP/IB/PSEO classes. Many times, we have already met you in person, or emailed back and forth, so finally reading your application is especially fun. Personally, I love reading well-written essays from the Common Application and the St. Olaf Supplement. I’m always amazed by what intelligence and creativity is demonstrated.

After your application is first-read, it is sent to a second reader who is a senior staff member. After another read, the application is then considered by the scholarship and admissions committees. We put a lot of work into reviewing each student’s application holistically. We also understand that our office doesn’t operate like some others; there are colleges and universities who are on a rolling admission basis, and you may already have a few letters of admission. However, as St. Olaf is single-notification, we will notify all of our Regular Decision applicants on the same day, around March 15. Early Decision 2 students will be notified earlier, at least by February 1.

While you wait, continue your research! Schedule a visit to St. Olaf — we’ll arrange an overnight, classroom visits, and meetings with professors if you desire. Keep up with our Facebook page and Instagram. Share your Ole excitement with us on Instagram by adding #stolaf2019 and #FutureOle to your pics. Be in touch with your admissions officer with updates and questions. We are excited to get to know you even better. If you are interested in applying for need-based financial aid, be sure to complete the required forms by their respective deadlines.

We look forward to reading your stories, and hope you’ll be in touch with updates or questions!

48 hours until the application deadline: don’t miss out!

The application deadline is two days away – it’s an exciting week in our office! As January 15 approaches, here are a few things to consider:

1. It’s not too late to apply.

2. If you have applied, double/triple/quadruple check that your application is complete by checking your online application portal or contacting us.

3. If you have application pieces that will arrive after January 15, just keep your admissions officer updated. Even if a few things arrive after the deadline, we still want to be able to consider you as an applicant.

4. Watch the vibrant clip below to see just a few reasons why it’s a good idea to apply to St. Olaf. You’ll be glad you did.

We look forward to reading all about you and getting to know you throughout this process!

Exploring the St. Olaf return on investment

By Chris George, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to southern California to present at the Sage Hill School’s Financial Aid and Scholarship Night. I enjoy having a dialogue with students and parents about paying for college. When I present, much of my time is focused on how to apply for financial aid and what type of financial aid is available, but I also talk about why they should invest in a college education and to advise them to look for schools that demonstrate a return on that investment. During my first three months on campus, I have explored how St. Olaf does that for Oles while they’re on the Hill and after they’ve graduated.

To begin, I had a lunch meeting at the Cage in Buntrock Commons with Branden Grimmett, Director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career. In that meeting, I quickly realized that St. Olaf has put a tremendous amount of effort into quantifying the return on investment and the efforts that go into preparing a student for life after graduation. In our meeting, I learned about the Piper Center’s four year approach to assist Oles in “leveraging their liberal arts education to achieve their full potential.”

Oles and Piper Center staff on the Chicago Connections program in 2013

Oles and Piper Center staff on the Chicago Connections program in 2013

It begins from the first semester students spend on campus. The first-year student experience centers on building a foundation and self-exploration. The Focus on the First-Years program held in January is designed to assist students in getting the most out of their time on the Hill.

The sophomore year is designed to transition students to think about potential careers through activities and experiential learning opportunities. Students are encouraged to explore internships, research, and service opportunities that align with career aspirations. The Quo Vadis retreat program gives sophomores the chance to step away from campus to reflect on who they are, what has been most important in their experiences so far, and explore where they’re going in life.

The junior and senior years focus on making connections, identifying post-graduation plans and putting those plans into action. The Connections Program gives students the chance to travel to cities such as Denver, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, DC to meet with alumni in career fields that are of interest. Ample opportunities to network with St. Olaf alumni from the Twin Cities area – only 45 minutes from campus — are also available through the Ole Biz, Ole Med, Oles for Public Interest, and Ole Law programs. These receptions offer students that chance to make professional connections and hear two minute “pop-up” speeches on alumni’s career experiences.

After graduation, each class is asked to respond to a post-graduate plans survey from the Piper Center. This fact is amazing: within 9 months of graduation, more than 90% of the graduating class has informed us of their post-graduation plans. Of those grads, 97% are employed, in full-time service programs, or enrolled in graduate school or professional school. So, while you consider your list of colleges to apply to this winter and ultimately attend next fall, I encourage you to explore the Piper Center and Outcomes websites. I think you will see the tremendous value in choosing St. Olaf.

‘Tis the season to apply

The holiday season is upon us. December brings the arrival of Christmas Festival; the first dustings of snow (or sprinkles of rain, as is the case this year); and festive campus-wide gatherings. It’s also the arrival of application season, when the Class of 2019 begins to take shape. We admitted the first members of the next class two weeks ago – welcome, Early Decision 1 Oles! – and are well on our way with application review for our other admission rounds. Our application deadline for Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision are January 1 and January 15, respectively.

Maybe you are going over the final version of your essay with a fine-toothed comb. Or, you could be sitting in your PJs during your first few days of winter break, staring at the Common Application and wondering where to start. However far along you are on your college applications, take our advice: don’t wait until the night before the deadline to apply. Take a bit of time each night in the coming few weeks to work on your application — write and re-write your essays, formulate your thoughtful responses to our prompts in the St. Olaf Supplement, and compile your activities resume in a concise and informative way. Then, hit the submit button! If you apply well before the deadline, you’ll give yourself time to communicate with your teachers, college counselor, and registrar’s office to ensure that all parts of your application have reached us. There are a lot of application components that are outside of your control, and trust me: a complete application a month before January 15 is much less stressful than scrambling on January 16 to get a teacher recommendation submitted.

While we won’t send admission notifications for the Regular Decision deadline until mid-March, you have time to visit campus, communicate with one of us, peruse our website, check out Facebook and Instagram pages, and get a sense for the smart and well-rounded students we have in the St. Olaf community.

Here are a few more reasons to apply:

Home on the Hill for the holidays

By Aleece DeWald, Admissions Officer


To echo my colleagues’ previous posts, I also experienced the thrill of admissions fall travel season. As the admissions officer for all of Wisconsin, I spent my fall exploring one the Midwest’s hidden gems. I was captivated by the finest fall colors in Wausau, indulged in tasty burgers and cheese curds in La Crosse, and interviewed numerous intelligent and engaging prospective students in Appleton, Madison, and Milwaukee.

While it was bittersweet to say goodbye to the adventures of travel season, I can’t help but agree with Judy Garland’s statement at the end of The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

My statement may sound a bit cliché. I’m certainly not the first recent graduate to refer to her alma mater as home. But it’s hard for me to think of St. Olaf as anything different. The sense of community and conversation resonate with me as much as the rigorous academics and valuable opportunities – which are great benefits too.

St. Olaf felt most like home to me this past weekend, when the campus celebrated its annual Christmas Festival. For those unfamiliar, Christmas Fest is a four-day musical event that invites all St. Olaf students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests to celebrate the joy and the spirit of Christmas.


A couple of things come to mind when I think of Christmas Fest. Unsurprisingly, the first of these is the music. The weekend revolves around the large festival concert, which features the 500 talented student musicians, who participate in the orchestra and various choirs. Each year, I am awestruck by the talent of our students, who produce such beautiful and inspiring sounds. Even more shocking is when I remember that most of them do not even major in music. About one third of St. Olaf students participate in music; however, only one third of our musicians are music majors. If you have the opportunity to attend Christmas Fest or any St. Olaf music event in the future, I encourage you to read through the list of student majors in the concert program. You’ll see everything from music performance to physics, to nursing, to English, to environmental studies to even our most popular first-year major, Undecided.

In Admissions, we believe that aspect to be a special feature of St. Olaf. My colleagues and I love meeting prospective students with multiple interests—who find the time to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, such as music. Because extracurricular involvement is vital for students in high school, we believe it’s just as important for them to continue developing their interests in college—even if they don’t plan to make a career out of them. If you’d like to learn more about music at St. Olaf, I invite you to visit the website. You’ll find great information about our ensembles and music scholarships, which are open to students of any major.

Now, let’s talk about my second favorite element of Christmas Fest: tradition. Christmas Fest is one of the oldest musical celebrations in the United States. Over the last 102 years, thousands have flocked to St. Olaf College to experience the joy of being part of such a musical tradition that has lasted throughout generations.


This year’s festival theme was The Word Renewed with Love Divine, which I found especially poignant when thinking about the magnitude of the Christmas Fest tradition. I attended the concert this past Friday. While preparing for the performance to begin, I flipped through the pages of the festival program and stopped on the first page. Inside the front cover was text describing different types of circles. The image stuck with me throughout the performance as I imagined how, like circles, the Christmas Fest tradition seems never ending. The celebration is renewed each year with a new group of first-year musicians, who fill the spots of graduated seniors. I’m already looking forward to next Christmas Fest, when I look to the Viking Chorus and Manitou Singers, the first-year choirs, and see the faces of the students whom I am meeting this year. I cannot wait to welcome them into this special community.

Mostly, the tradition reminds me of home. It’s unique and real, and there’s nothing quite like it. A few months ago, I was speaking with prospective student who was applying to St. Olaf for Early Decision 1. (By the way, here’s a link to our application deadlines. If you think St. Olaf might be your top choice, there’s still time to apply for Early Decision 2.) During our conversation, I asked what it was about St. Olaf that stuck out to her. She replied that St. Olaf is a school with a “real personality.” In addition to Christmas Fest, several parts of the school – the students, the architecture, the traditions, the fight song – contribute to St. Olaf, giving it a unique identity among the hundreds of colleges in the United States. And, as the holiday season progresses, I can’t think of a better place to be than home.


From Thailand to travel season

By D.J. Erickson, Admissions Officer

Most of the time that I’ve traveled in the past two years, I’ve needed my passport. After serving some motivated and tenacious Twin Cities high school students for two years with St. Paul-based College Possible, I packed a bag for Gwangju, South Korea, and then Chiang Mai, Thailand. This fall, as my colleagues and I in the St. Olaf Admissions Officer hit the road, drivers’ licenses in hand, I was excited to visit some new and familiar places in the country I call home. My national territory involves most of the states on the East Coast from Maine down to Virginia, including Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.


One of the greatest pleasures of visiting the high schools and college fairs along the way is getting to know the next generation of Oles, one at a time. Although I would be a little too optimistic to imagine every student I met on our campus in Northfield, it’s fun to sit down and imagine that possibility with each of them. Whether students are considering physics majors or English majors, whether they play football or the French horn, or whether they want to study abroad in Jamaica or Japan, I enjoy taking the time to wonder out loud where their lives might take them after high school.


As I stopped at high schools and college fairs along the way, I kept thinking about how many different places and experiences Oles bring with them when they arrive on campus. Over the course of the week, I met students who grew up hundreds of different places, speaking several different languages, but sharing one common goal: to continue to explore their passions – both in and outside of the classroom. And I kept thinking about what a wonderful opportunity it is to be able to surround yourself with equally passionate people who push you to grow and learn.

Some of my favorite people to talk to are those who have never heard of St. Olaf. Many times, I was asked, “Where is St. Olaf exactly?”, but my favorite question came from the younger sibling of a current high school senior in northern Virginia: “Is your mascot a snowman?” A native Minnesotan myself, I never realized just how famous for cold my home state is. “How cold does it get there?” “How much does it snow?” Everyone wanted to talk to me about winter.

So allow me to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post for a public service announcement:


MINNESOTA HAS FOUR GORGEOUS SEASONS, of which winter is just one. My only regret while on the road was missing one of the best weeks of the year in Minnesota: the last week in September. The leaves are gorgeous here. Vermonters: we may not have your incredible mountainous canvas for the foliage, but our fall colors are worth gawking all the same.


I have to admit that when it came time for me — as a high school student — to look at colleges, I was tempted to dismiss what Minnesota, and St. Olaf in particular, have to offer. I know I certainly underestimated the passion and purpose of this place. In just the four years since I’d been away, St. Olaf has exploded with an incredible new array of scientific research, alumni career connections in business, medicine, law, and public service, and artistic and athletic success than I could have imagined when I moved in to my first year dorm in 2006. It has been such a pleasure to return to an even more vibrant St. Olaf than I knew — and most of all — to share that vibrant world of possibilities with all of those considering St. Olaf in their college search.

I feel fortunate that it’s now my job to share my St. Olaf pride with all of you. A glance at recent higher education-focused New York Times articles calls into question much of what a liberal arts education is intended to accomplish. The kinds of personal growth and development possible when you bring together a group of driven, passionate, caring, and community-oriented young people is really remarkable. It’s a unique environment because the growth isn’t limited to the private intellect of each student. There are so many different kinds of students who flourish in this place, and the way they learn from each other and alongside one another is part of the magic of this community. As I look back on my four years at St. Olaf and where they have taken me post-graduation, I would have never imagined the places to which I’ve been catapulted. I guess that’s the risk and the reward in a liberal arts education.


I wish I could stop by every high school where we get applicants, to try to imagine the enormous variety of people and passions who make this place what it is. American poet Walt Whitman set out on that task on his rambling walks through New York City. As an Admissions Officer, I get a small opportunity to do that out on the road visiting your home states and hometowns. The best way for you to do that would be to come for a visit and see for yourself what life is like for our 3,100 Oles.

Reflecting on my first travel season

Hi all!

My name is Zoey Slater, and I’m a new Admissions Officer for St. Olaf College. If my name sounds familiar to loyal readers, it’s because I used to write for the Admissions Blog as a student at St. Olaf. Now that I’ve graduated and become an officer, I’m looking forward to posting my insights on the admissions process at St. Olaf! As a recent graduate, I love telling students about why I chose St. Olaf and what my experience was like as a student while helping them work through the sometimes-daunting admissions process.

Interviewing at the Mars Cafe in Des Moines

Interviewing at the Mars Cafe in Des Moines

One of my favorite aspects of being an Admissions Officer is what we call “fall travel season.” At St. Olaf we have students from all fifty states, which means officers like me spend days on the road traveling to high schools, college fairs, and the occasional coffee shop telling students about St. Olaf. We divide the state of Minnesota and the country into territories, and each officer becomes the primary contact for those different “territories” (if you haven’t already met your officer, find out who it is here. We love getting emails and phone calls from our prospective students, so don’t be shy). This year, we’re joking around the office that I have everything south of St. Olaf–that means I have the southern suburbs of Minneapolis (places like Apple Valley and Burnsville), Iowa, which is just south of Minnesota, as well as “the South” (if you live between North Carolina and Louisiana, I’m your officer). I was born and raised in Minnesota, so I was excited to find out I would be traveling to places like Atlanta and Nashville to meet future Oles. Throughout the fall I traveled to high schools, set up my table at college fairs, and held interviews with students. At the end of the season, I met and got to know hundreds of students and helped them learn more about St. Olaf.

Spending time between high school visits exploring Martin Luther King Jr's old neighborhood

Spending time between high school visits exploring Martin Luther King Jr’s old neighborhood

America's "Music City," Nashville, TN

America’s “Music City,” Nashville, TN

I loved travel season for a few reasons. First, I spent all day talking to amazing high school students. I met a student in Iowa who wants to combine her love of Jane Austen with her interest in health. I got coffee with a student in Atlanta who plays the organ for her church, and a few weeks later I met another who does magic card tricks in his spare time. I met hockey players and cellists, painters and golf stars. Hands down, my favorite part of traveling was hearing about all the awesome things high schoolers are doing!

View from the beautiful Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN

View from the beautiful Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN

Another thing I loved was meeting students who had never heard of St. Olaf. In those situations, I introduced families to the school for the first time and watched them realize how our small college in the North Midwest could be a good fit for an out-of-state student. That’s not to say I did not have to correct some assumptions. Namely, we are not connected to the small town of St. Olaf’s in the Golden Girls, nor did we have anything to do with the snowman in Frozen. Even though some students started off knowing next to nothing about St. Olaf, they walked away with view books in hand and a picture of themselves as an Ole in their minds. Whether you grew up singing our fight song or think St. Olaf is Betty White’s hometown, I encourage you to reach out to your officer, and next time we’re in your hometown, stop by and say hello!

First impressions

By Chris George, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid

Halloween marked my first month back on the Hill. I have spent the better part of October getting reacquainted with a place that I once knew very well. It has been twenty years since I walked off Manitou Field after graduation, ready to take on the world. I didn’t realize that one day, I would have an opportunity to come back and work for my alma mater as the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid; yet here I am, managing a dynamic staff of admission and financial aid professionals who are dedicated to finding students that are a match for the St. Olaf academic and residential community. We are looking for students who want an experience that is academically rigorous, intensely residential, globally engaged, and involved with the college’s faith tradition. These four pillars were very much a part of my time at St. Olaf twenty years ago, but as I have learned, current students experience that foundation in a lot of different ways than I did as a student. Over the next couple of months, I will share what makes St. Olaf special and why I encourage you to visit our beautiful campus.

The first stop you should make when visiting St. Olaf is Buntrock Commons. Buntrock is truly the campus crossroads and the perfect example of our intensely residential experience. With 96% of our students living on campus for four years, Buntrock is the place to pick up your mail, eat a meal and find out what is going on across campus.


I find myself looking for ways to make a daily trip through the building. I’ve been in Buntrock at 7 a.m., at 7 p.m., and all times in between. Every time I’m there, I’m struck by the constant energy in the building. One day you might find a band playing during lunch; the next, you might see 300 prospective students and their families checking in for our Fall Visit Day; and on another day, the college is serving cake to celebrate its 140th birthday!


I’ve run into professors that I took courses from when I was a student, had lunch with a colleague from the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, shared a soda with the College Pastor, and met with my student athletic trainer. But most importantly, I see students connecting in ways that you won’t find on other college campuses.  They are working together in small groups at the Cage and meeting up at the top of the stairs to eat in the cafeteria, Stav Hall. They’re finding a cozy spot to study in the Fireside Lounge, and talking with a professor about a research paper over a cup of coffee. On Fridays, they’re stuffing “Friday flowers” in a friend’s mailbox.

When you visit campus, I encourage you to take a little extra time to watch the interactions that take place in Buntrock, explore the hallways and lounges, and see yourself engaging in that community for the next four years.

It’s time to apply Early Decision

Do any of the following scenarios apply to you?

Your first words were “Um ya ya” – pronounced correctly (OOM-yah-yah). Your bedroom has taken on a black and gold color scheme. You visited campus last summer during a camp… then came back and visited this fall… then realized you were convincing your family to travel to Northfield again for a weekend vacation. You already know your favorite places to study, socialize, and hang out on campus and can visualize your dorm decorations. Your St. Olaf sweatshirt is worn to school, to sports games, during rehearsal, on the weekends, and to bed (and the cuffs are starting to fall off). When people ask you about your college search, you blurt “St. Olaf!!!” before they finish the sentence.

If any of these situations seem familiar to you, apply Early Decision. Early Decision applicants are students who have decided St. Olaf is the perfect fit and their absolute first choice. When they receive the gold admission envelope in the mail one month after the application deadline (by December 15 for Early Decision 1, and by February 1 for Early Decision 2), they are prepared to commit to St. Olaf. Then, they’re finished with their college search.There are two weeks until the first deadline of November 15; if you need a little more time, Early Decision 2 is on January 1.

We certainly understand the leap of faith it requires to apply Early Decision. First of all, in this world of thousands of college choices, it can be hard to narrow down to one school by November 15 or January 1 (our Early Decision I and II application deadlines) instead of the National Candidate Reply Date of May 1.

This decision also prompts conversations about affordability. It’s important for Early Decision applicants to do financial research. If need-based financial aid is part of the equation, we require the CSS PROFILE to be submitted by the applicable Early Decision deadline. We award merit scholarships and preliminary need-based financial aid packages for our Early Decision applicants; however, by signing the Early Decision Agreement, students and families forfeit the ability to compare financial aid offers with other schools. It can be overwhelming to consider all the scenarios, but it’s good to prepare. And, you can always contact your admissions officer and financial aid staff with questions. We are here to help and talk through the intricacies of Early Decision, in addition to getting to know you in addition to reading your application (which is a fun part of the job).

Hear from a few of our current Oles who applied Early Decision:

This is an exciting time of year for us! We’re excited to meet the students who will be the first Oles of the Class of 2019.

– Maggie