Frequently Asked Questions: Conversations and Learning Communities

At this point in your college search as an admitted Ole, you’ve likely heard of the Conversations and Learning Communities. We’ve talked about them with you in interviews, during visit days, and we mailed out information. Some of you may have already been admitted to one or more of the programs!

However, as you consider applying for the second deadline (May 10) or decide between different programs, we want to be sure you got your burning questions answered to best inform you as you consider your four years at St. Olaf.

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What are the Conversation programs? Which programs can I take during my first year?

Interdisciplinary and unique, the Conversation programs are sequences of courses that take place over more than one semester. There are six Conversations overall: The Great ConversationAmerican Conversations, Environmental ConversationsAsian Conversations, The Science Conversation, and The Public Affairs Conversation. The first two — AmCon and Great Con, as they’re known on campus — are two year programs that students begin during their first year at St. Olaf; Environmental Conversations takes place during the first year only. So, those are what we’ll talk about here. Keep in mind: Asian Conversations and Science Conversation are sophomore year-only courses. Asian Conversations requires the students take Japanese and/or Chinese during their first year at St. Olaf (as there is a study abroad component over Interim of the sophomore year). As always, it’s good to visit the web pages for the Conversation programs to get the basic information about course offerings and general focus.

What is CH/BI?

CH/BI – or Integrated Chemistry and Biology – or “Chubbi,” as it’s pronounced, is a sequence of three courses taken during your first year, including your interim during the month of January. Students work together to explore the fundamentals of chemistry and cellular biology. As a learning community, students and faculty explore ideas in the lab, through group-based problem solving and discussions. In addition to basic texts, readings from a variety of sources enrich discussions and illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of science. There isn’t a residential component to CH/BI.

What’s this about a “residential component”?

Students who are involved with Great Con, AmCon, or EnCon live among each other in specific residence halls during their first year only (though non-Conners live there too, so you won’t have a Con roommate). Hoyme Hall is typically where AmCon students live; Kildahl and Ellingson are where Great Conners reside; and you can find EnCon students in Kittlesby, which is designated the “green” dorm on campus. There is a lot of writing, reading, thinking, discussing, and debating in the Conversation programs — and much of it happens in the residence hall lounges where the students reside. It creates a fun and dynamic intentional learning community that can also aid in the transition to college life during your first year.

How do I apply for one of these programs?

To apply, you need to log in to your Admissions account (which is different from your St. Olaf account; the Admissions account is what you’ve been using to monitor your application status, and where you’re also able to make your enrollment deposit). Once you log in, you’ll be able to locate the applications for the four programs for first years on the right-hand side. Each application requires a short original essay component with prompts specific to the program. Need help logging into your Admissions account? Contact your admissions officer.

Can I apply for all Conversations and Learning Communities if I’m not sure of which one I want to do?

Yes. If you are accepted to them all, you’ll be able to do a little more research before choosing the one you want. Generally, one of the questions on the application requires students to rank their Conversation preference.

Since the first deadline passed, can I still apply?

Yes! While many students are admitted from the first application round in April, there is still room for students who decide by the later deadline of May 10.

I love the concept of the Conversation programs and CH/BI, and I want to do THEM ALL! Can I?

Wow, we admire your gumption! However, even if you are an incredibly motivated genius, it’s impossible to do CH/BI, The Great Conversation, American Conversations, and Environmental Conversations alongside each other. However, it is possible to do either CH/BI or Great Con or AmCon or EnCon AND Asian Conversations or The Science Conversation. Generally, there only are a handful of students who double-up on a two year and one year Conversation program.

How many students are accepted who apply to the Conversation programs?

Not all students who apply are accepted, but there are wait lists that exist throughout the summer as students change their minds or decide to opt out of the program. There are two cohorts of 60 students for Great Con, one cohort of 40 students for AmCon, and roughly 30 students in EnCon. Generally, both programs are able to accept half to a third of students who apply.

How are applications reviewed?

The professors who teach in the programs review all applicant essays completely separate from any other consideration. They don’t look at your high school GPA, your test score, or essays you submitted in the fall. Their reasoning: you were admitted to St. Olaf, so you’re smart enough. It’s just about who puts together a compelling essay and how well it’s written.

Are these programs considered “honors” programs?

While there is a considerable amount of reading and preparation for each class (for Great Conversation, you read upwards of 80 extra pages of reading per night); no, St. Olaf doesn’t have any honors program. As a selective, academically rigorous college, every course sequence provides the rigor and opportunities you’d find at a typical “honors” level program.

What if I don’t do a Conversation program?

All in all, only 25% or so of Oles are involved with a Conversation program when all is said and done. While they are awesome for the students who are involved, they are not the only way you’ll get a rigorous, interesting, compelling education at St. Olaf. Evaluate if it fits what you want and how you learn best; if it doesn’t, you won’t be looked down upon or judged for not being a Conner.

Is there a cool visual aid to help me get a better sense for the Great Conversation program in particular?

Why, yes! Enjoy.

Hopefully this is helpful! Enjoy crafting your clever essays… I know our professors are excited to read them and welcome the next group of Conners and CH/BI students to campus.

Why you should come to Admitted Student Day

Maybe you think, “Well, I’ve been to campus, why should I come to one of these Admitted Student Days?” or “I’ve already deposited… should I still come?” or possibly “Why should I spend a weekend of my valuable time visiting St. Olaf?” Good questions! Below, I’ve highlighted a few reasons why Admitted Student Days are particularly special. From an admissions perspective, my colleagues and I — who will be wearing matching blue shirts, by the way — love the energy and enthusiasm of these days. We finally get to meet students with whom we’ve worked for months (and sometimes years). Whether or not it’s your first time meeting us, we have gotten to know you by reading your application, emailing with you, and talking with you on the phone. It’s fun for us to see the next class of future Oles explore campus with the knowledge that they could actually be students here in a few months.

Here are a few reasons (of many) to attend Admitted Student Day:

1. Meet your future classmates… and roommates… and teammates…

From informally meeting during registration, to the students-only lunch in the Pause, you’ll meet the students who will become part of the community in the fall. Around 30% of the students who attend Admitted Student Days have already decided on St. Olaf (how to tell? see #5).

2. Learn about the beginning of your beginning here: Week One!

From Move In Day to the first day of class, Week One is a time of transition. From socializing, adjusting to dorm life to registering for classes and finding level 3 1/2 in the library, there is a lot to do. Learn about the support systems in place to ensure your arrival and adjustment to college life at St. Olaf goes smoothly.

Learn about Week One--and what it's like to live in a first year dorm!
Learn about Week One–and what it’s like to live in a first year dorm!

3. Hear from faculty in every academic discipline about what makes the St. Olaf experience unique.

There will be breakout sessions from faculty in Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Science & Mathematics, and Interdisciplinary & General Studies. One–or a few–of these professors may soon have you as an advisee, lead your study abroad program, or teach you in the classroom. Get a sense for who will be teaching you during your four years on the Hill.

4. Taste the food. Make sure it still suits your palate. And, take a free St. Olaf Cookie for the road.

Breakfast in the Caf, lunch in the Pause, and a St. Olaf cookie to go — you will be well-fed and get a true sense for the culinary atmosphere at St. Olaf. Princeton Review recently ranked us #5 for Best Campus food, but you should see–and taste –for yourself.

5. Get your “I’m an Ole!” button.

Committed students who have given us their enrollment deposit will receive this button upon check-in to wear during the day’s events. Attach it to your shirt and let everyone know you’re official. If you get to the end of the day and decide you’re ready to become an Ole, you can deposit and we’ll bestow this valued trinket upon you. Also, we have buttons for your parents, as well.

6. Update your Ole gear: the Bookstore will provide a 15% discount.

Wear your name tag into the Bookstore, and grab the St. Olaf signature sweatshirt, black and gold sweatpants, and a pennant to hang in your future dorm room. These guys below definitely took advantage of the discount…

7. Mingle with current Oles and start planning what clubs and organizations you’ll join.

Numerous student-led clubs will be present for the Co-Curricular Fair during the student lunch. Volunteer organizations, special-interest groups, intramural sports, multicultural and religious organizations — a sampling of our 250+ clubs and organizations will be present. You’ll be able to walk from table to table and meet current students who can tell you about their groups. You’ll even be able to sign up for the clubs that look interesting to you and get a head-start for next fall. Check out the full listing of current student organizations!

8. Learn about resources for mapping out life after St. Olaf.

We are proud to have the Piper Center for Vocation & Career on campus to advise and connect Oles to their future jobs and vocations. Attend the informative presentation from the Piper Center staff, and hear from current Oles’ experiences at St. Olaf and how the Piper Center’s support has helped prepare them for the future. Your college career is imminent, but it’s important to know what St. Olaf can do to prepare you for life after your four years here.

9. Scope out a residence hall.

Check out a residence hall tour. As part of the continuing effort to provide an even better residential experience than we already have, you’ll be able to see one of our newly renovated first-year residence halls. Start to plan your room decoration theme, packing list, and how you’ll move into your new shared living space.

10. Get the answer to your question: “What are the Conversations programs, anyway?” 

Now is your chance to learn more about the interdisciplinary Conversations and Learning Communities directly from the professors who teach in these unique-to-St. Olaf programs. There are two application deadlines for the first-year programs – April 12 and May 10 – so it’s good to get all your questions answered before you apply.

11. Take a stroll around our hometown, Northfield.

We’re located about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis St. Paul, but there are a lot of special reasons why our students choose our town of 20,000. Walk down historic Division Street, grab a coffee or tea at Goodbye Blue Monday, try a cupcake at Cakewalk, peruse the shoes at the Rare Pair, and learn about the town’s unique history at the Northfield Historical Society. The community of Northfield employs St. Olaf students as interns, babysitters, baristas, servers, and much more – discover it for yourself.

12. Discover your favorite spot on campus.

The official tours will show you the key places on the Hill; feel free to use that time — or time to wander on your own — to see where your new study place, meet-up spot, or meditation location will be. You can — and probably will — have more than one favorite place. I encourage you to take time to investigate the nooks and crannies of campus, from an outdoor spot in the Natural Lands, to the space under the Memorial Chime Tower, to a study corner of Regents Hall.

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In addition to the highlights above, there will be a luncheon for parents, various information sessions about life on campus, such as study abroad, fine arts, and athletics, and lots of time to hear from current students and faculty. The basic schedule is on the registration page; you’ll receive a complete and detailed schedule upon check-in at Buntrock Commons. We look forward to welcoming you — see you soon!

A look behind the admissions process

It’s official! As of today, admission decisions are in the mail! Just as prospective students patiently await their admit packet, Admissions Officers are looking forward to the next phase of the process. Once the decisions safely arrive in mailboxes across the country (and email inboxes worldwide for our international students), we’ll be calling you to say “congratulations,” hand-writing notes, and welcoming families to campus all through the spring.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, some of you may be wondering what we did in those months between clicking submit on the Common Application and receiving a big gold envelope in your mailbox.

Aleece DeWald reads applications from western states including Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, and more!
Aleece DeWald reads applications from western states including Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, and more.
JB Tut reads applications from Iowa and Illinois. (Stacks of papers and stressful faces added for dramatic purposes).]

For many families, the application process can be fairly confusing. In Admissions, my colleagues and I work to demystify the process as much as possible. To do so, we often start by reminding families that admissions officers are people, too! That means that when I read an application from my territory, or the states that I work with personally, I pull that application up on my laptop and begin to read. Often we read applications outside the office in quiet coffee shops, at our dining room tables, or (every so often) on our living room couches. We read all the different pieces that go into the application. That means we read recommendations, transcripts, and yes, the essays.

After the first officer reads an application from his or her territory, another officer reads the application a second time. The applications then move to my favorite stage–committee. In committee, officers advocate for particular students. This is where the nuance of our holistic review process really shines. Although GPA and test score certainly come up, we also talk about students’ families, passions, aspirations, struggles, and anything else that shaped their educational experience.

After months of reading applications and weeks of committee, we finally send out decisions. As much as I enjoy reading season, I can’t wait to congratulate the students I have worked with all year. Perhaps more importantly, my colleagues and I are looking forward to discussing with students why we think St. Olaf could be a great fit for them!

 

 

Junior preview days are around the corner

Calling all juniors! Our Junior Preview Days are coming up on February 15 and March 14. While it may feel like college application season is far away, late winter can be a great time to get a start on your college search or start narrowing down your current list.

As an Admissions Officer, I always recommend that students do individual visits in the fall of senior year to finalize their list. Junior Preview Day can be an awesome “first look” at St. Olaf, then you can come back this fall to interview, stay overnight, and meet one-on-one with professors. Believe me–you’ll thank yourself this summer if you already have a good idea of where you want to apply by the time school starts!

Each Junior Preview Day kicks off with breakfast by our award winning food service. After that, faculty will present STOTalks, or short TEDTalk style lectures modeled after their classes. Then there are tours and elective sessions through the afternoon, followed by more delicious food. Interested? Sign up here by clicking the date you’d like to visit.

See you next month!

-Zoey

Interim gets off to a frosty start

Hope you’re staying warm! Here in Minnesota (where temperatures plummeted below zero…), Oles are back from break and are likely gearing up for their interim midterms. It may surprise those less familiar with the concept of interim that students are almost halfway through their courses after only a few weeks, but it’s true! Interim is a unique academic experience where students spend at least three of their four years taking one course for the entire month of January.

While St. Olaf students and professors love the interdisciplinary nature of our usual liberal arts schedules, interim can be a welcome respite between semesters. Students are able to dive into a topic they’re interested in, and professors get to devote more time to teaching the nuances of their discipline. Many students also take the month to travel abroad and escape Minnesota’s arctic winter climate.

It might be cold, but winter on the Hill is beautiful!

Nora Serres ’16 exploring our snowy Natural Lands

While some Oles are trekking the globe, interim courses on the Hill also tend toward the adventurous. For example, this year students can take “Quest of the Ring, the Grail, and the Cross,” a religion class exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels and other quest literature. If students are more interested in science, they can take a cryptology course and learn how to use computers and to crack complex codes. Students passionate about sustainability can take an environmental film course. Many interim courses are open to students from across departments, so it can be a great time to try something new without committing to an entire semester. Despite the subzero temperature, many Oles enjoy staying on the Hill for interim’s unique twist on the liberal arts experience.