From the Dean’s Desk: Admitted Student Days

Our newly accepted students will receive multiple invitations, or even strong encouragement to attend one of our Admitted Student Days. So why should you come to see us (on either April 12, or April 26, in case you wanted to put it on your calendar right now)?

A big part of choosing a college – any college – is choosing your community. After all, the college you select is a place you will live for four years. Coming for an Admitted Student Day lets you accomplish a lot of valuable things. For example, it gives you a chance to meet our current students. But most importantly, these days give you a chance to meet other new students who will be joining St. Olaf this fall.

About a third of students who attend one of our ASDs have already sent in their deposit and have become official St. Olaf students. If this year is like years past, another 20-30 students each day will submit their deposit before they leave campus, so during your time here you will literally have the chance to interact with dozens of students who will be on campus next fall.

We will also provide a raft of other events, each of which is important. Information about our Conversations programs, campus housing, interdisciplinary research, Week One, sessions on academic departments, international studies, athletics, music – in short, nearly everything we do on campus and off.

We hope we see you on campus in April – if not for one of our official days, then for a regular campus visit. Just as importantly, your future classmates, future Oles, and future professors hope to meet you, too.

2018 Oles: Congratulations, You’re In!

To the roughly 2,000 seniors who received notifications of admission from us last week: Congratulations!

You all have interests and backgrounds that cover the spectrum. The commonalities: you’re very smart, you’re very well-rounded, and you value your education. We have enjoyed meeting you in person; answering your questions over the phone and via email; and ultimately reading the story of your life thus far. You’ve won fine arts awards, received service honors regionally and nationally, and been a part of state championship athletic teams. Many of you have dealt with heartbreaking loss, crushing defeat, and outright failure — and told us stories of resilience and recovery. Some of you took creative liberties with your St. Olaf Supplement short answer questions (which were generally successful) and some of you sent us wildly entertaining photos of yourselves to help paint a complete picture of your personality (one such student clearly enjoys the product – chocolate cake – of her baking explorations, which made us hungry as we read that application).

We look forward to talking with you in the coming weeks as May 1 approaches. Visit campus during the week or attend an Admitted Student Day, weigh your financial options, and reach out to your admissions officer with questions and updates. As each day passes and more students send us their enrollment deposit, the excitement on campus grows — another group of talented Oles is on its way to the Hill.



From the Dean’s Desk: Shaping the Class of 2018

By Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jeff McLaughlin ’92

This is the time of year when our admissions officers receive phone calls and emails from parents and students. Their specific questions take many forms, but many boil down to this:

You’ve had my application for several months. What is taking so long?

It’s a good question. For some students, we have had their completed application for three or four months (for some others of you – you know who you are – we had to do a little nudging to get that last letter of recommendation!). So what does take so long?

Let me give you a bigger context to help explain the need for patience. The ultimate charge given to the admissions office at St. Olaf is to enroll a class of talented young men and women. We have 4,750 applications this year, so that should be pretty easy, right?

Here are the other charges: make sure we have enough diversity, in academic interests, in cultural heritage, in extra-curricular activities, gender balance, and, most importantly, that each and every admitted student is a person we want to see on campus for the next four years.

This means we can’t enroll a first-year class of all sopranos, for example – not that you would want to go to such a place! If you do, St. Olaf is not the right place for you…

We read every application, every page, every recommendation, every transcript, at least twice. Most files are reviewed a third and fourth time in one of our subcommittees. We also spend time verifying information, following up with students for clarification, checking in with college counselors, and reviewing our own interview notes.

This takes time. It’s worth it: last year over 85% of our enrolled students told us St. Olaf was their first-choice college, and it appears that over 95% of them will be returning for their sophomore year. Both of these percentages are very high when compared to national averages, even among small liberal arts colleges.

If you’ve applied, bear with us. We’re working diligently, I assure you. You’ll hear from us by the end of next week – March 21st – at the latest.

St. Olaf: From a Squirrel’s Perspective

A creative contribution from Shannon Cron ‘15


St. Olaf College:  3,100 undergrads and approximately 10,000 squirrels. From on top of garbage cans, to behind trees, to the middle of the sidewalk, the St. Olaf squirrel populations pops up all over campus.

As one student eloquently noted, “Those squirrels are nuts.”

(Which is funny, because squirrels eat acorns. I don’t think a pun was intended, but I wanted to point it out anyway.)

Being the sneaky, extroverted creatures that they are, these squirrels have a tendency to stare as you approach, waiting until the last possible moment to move away — just long enough for you to become seriously concerned they won’t at all.  However, there is no need to worry:  they won’t actually attack you.

In fact, I’ve come to think of these small, furry animals as ever-present companions on campus. Whenever I think about about walking to class, St. Olaf’s squirrels will come to mind. Similarly, I believe they know quite a bit about St. Olaf students — just by observing them walking through the quad.  Without even talking to them, I know they pick up on consistent Ole mannerisms.

Oles are always going somewhere.

Whether it’s walking from genetics class to a friend’s senior piano recital, or hockey practice to the ukulele club meeting, Oles are always on the move — bouncing from one commitment to the next. Oles not only enjoy getting involved, but in wide range of activities.

I once witnessed a theater major reciting a monologue while running. No, I’m not kidding.  Not only was she practicing her lines, but she was building respiratory stamina and entertaining her teammates. What a smart multi-tasker!

Another day, I saw a football player heading to gospel choir, food shelf volunteer going to a host her radio show on KSTO, and hall council president on his way an Environmental Coalition meeting.  I had a hard time picturing the lineman in a choir robe, but I’m sure he makes it work.

Not only does a broad range of interests lead to interesting conversations, or collaborative projects among students, but it makes socializing all the more exciting.  It doesn’t take long to realize that your friend from Oles for Global Health knows your friend from modern dance class.  The connections pop-up more often than not, which makes the St. Olaf community even stronger.

Given their busy schedules, I thought they would look stressed or unhappy, but Oles walk with a pep in their step. Oh, and they always carry their backpacks with them, in hopes of squeezing in those precious study hours (or minutes) in between everything else.

They are constantly drinking coffee.

If not, they are probably sipping on some tea, apple cider or at least carrying their empty tumbler, wishing there was a hot beverage inside.

For some Oles this may be their fourth or fifth cup of the day (or, let’s be honest, hour).  Usually, they purchase all “All Day Coffee” from the cage, which allows students to pay a flat fee for unlimited coffee.

“Today I had three cups of coffee and a handful of almonds for breakfast!  I’ve had spontaneous stomach pains all morning, but I’ve been so productive!  I feel great!” one jittery student said.

They all show signs of caffeine dependence, but no signs of shame.

They are often singing.

Whether it’s in harmony, falsetto or slightly of tune, Oles sing with conviction, and most importantly passion.

And frequently.

Additionally, Oles often use song to express their emotions on the go.  I know if a student is stressed, happy or feeling blue just by the type of song they sing as they walk along.  It’s a great emotional release, don’t you think?  If I didn’t get stage fright, I would probably join them, especially for my favorite tune: the college fight song “Um! Yah! Yah!”

They stop and chat with everyone they pass.

It’s usually between three and four people, but on a busy day an Ole can cross paths with up to fifteen friends in transit.  The typical conversation goes as follows:

“Hey! Sarah! Hey!” said Camille.

“How are you? Didn’t you have that big sociology test this morning?” said Sarah.

“Yeah, it was tough, but I felt like I was well-prepared.  Oh, hi, Sam!” said Camille.

“Hey Camille!  How are you?” said Sam.

“Excellent!  Sam, do you know Sarah?” said Camille.

“I don’t think we’ve ever met, but I think you’re on my friend Mason’s intramural soccer team.” said Sam.

Yeah, and Sarah is in St. Olaf Choir with me.  Sam is going to be in the choir next year.” said Camille.

“Oh!  Wow! We all have so much in common!  I’m so  happy we can all be friends!” said Sam.

And of course, every conversation ends with: “We should all get lunch next week!”

If you really hit it off, the following may occur:

“We should get lunch every week.”

“Yeah, we can have a weekly choir-loving, soccer-playing, new friends lunch group.”

“We could make lunch group Christmas cards!”


Ole Traditions


One of our newest traditions: winning national championships


Class held outdoors: rain, shine, or snow


Trying out the climbing wall in Tostrud Center


Connecting with alums at off-campus networking events like Ole Law


Spending beautiful autumn afternoons in the coveted Adirondack chairs


Random food-related events in the cafeteria, Stav Hall (the “Caf”)


Celebrations and performances in the Lion’s Pause, like Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, which is sold out annually


Creative, student-led events like Harry Potter Night in the Caf


The annual Christmas Festival, which just celebrated its 102nd year (500+ student musicians, four performances, thousands of attendees)


Daily chapel and special events in Boe Chapel


Squirrels that think they’re human


Seasons, even chilly ones, that make for wonderful photo ops


Late Night Breakfast, on the eve of each finals season, served from 9-11 pm in the Caf by friendly college administrators (including President David R. Anderson ’74, pictured on the left)


Once-in-a-lifetime study abroad opportunities, such as meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the Social Work January interim program in South Africa


Move In Day and the giant outdoor lunch on the campus green. Hauling boxes, small refrigerators, and furniture into the dorms works up an appetite.


Creativity with the snow


Lounging and studying in Fireside, located in Buntrock Commons


Homecoming & Family Weekend on Manitou Field

Experiencing the Campus Illumination Ceremony at the culmination of four years

Experiencing the Campus Illumination Ceremony at the culmination of four years

What is Interim, Anyway?

Economic Progress in China. Changing Political Identities in Coastal Central Europe. Medicinal Chemistry in Jamaica. Theater in London. These are only four of many courses offered during the month of January, or “Interim,” at St. Olaf. So, what should you know about Interim as you work on your St. Olaf application?

Even though it’s only four weeks, this one month provides many opportunities for Oles. They are able to take a class on campus — maybe in an academic area they’ve always wanted to explore, or something they know will be challenging and best to focus on intensely for a month. It also provides hundreds of students with study abroad and off-campus study opportunities led by St. Olaf faculty. Some students design their own Interim courses; others will pursue an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. Students are required to take three of their four Interims during their time as Oles; however, most students take all four Interim classes. With the chance to explore a new subject, dive further into something familiar, study abroad, or take in a slower-paced life on campus for a month — and at no added cost — students take advantage of January.

The essay on the St. Olaf Supplement to the Common App is where you get the chance to express your interests and creativity. We ask you to design your own interim course and to make it interdisciplinary — and you can embrace this term however you wish. An example of an already existing interdisciplinary course: during a popular Art and Biology interim (aptly titled “Art and Biology in the Bahamas”) students travel with one Art professor and one Biology professor to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Not only do the students get to explore the marine and island life, they study the natural surroundings from both a scientific and artistic perspective. Students who are interested in art still experience the biology offerings, and vice-versa. Here’s an example of your classroom for the month, sent to me by Patrick Faunillan ’13 after his experience last Interim:

(Courtesy Patrick Faunillan '13)

(Courtesy Patrick Faunillan ’13)

As you sit down to write your St. Olaf Supplement essay, consider your interests and hobbies, both inside and outside the classroom. Maybe they all have a common thread; maybe they have absolutely nothing to do with one another (or so you think). When we read your application, we want to see how you connect ideas and demonstrate your academic curiosity. Try to enjoy it! The Supplement essay is another chance for you to tell us about yourself and how you would engage with the St. Olaf community.



A Lesson in Financial Aid Vocabulary

By Stephen Lindley ’08, Assistant Director of Financial Aid

Financial aid can sometimes feel like an intimidating topic. But it doesn’t need to be!

It’s important to remember that financial aid does exist, in both need-based and merit-based forms. For the Class of 2017, 84% of our students are receiving some type of aid; need-based financial aid awards can range from $5,500 to over $47,570. Here, I will break down and define some of the most important terms within the financial aid process.

Scholarships: the most common word associated with financial aid. Scholarships are awarded to students based on the information on their admissions application. The criteria aren’t established in a grid; rather, scholarships are determined based on above-average academic performance and extra-curricular engagement.  At St. Olaf College, we have both academic and fine arts scholarships, as well, which scholarships range from $2,500 – $24,000. Though scholarships will appear on your financial aid award, all selection is completed by faculty and admissions staff. 

Grants are a form of financial aid that is similar to scholarships. While scholarships are based on the admissions application and strength of the student, grants are determined by the family’s financial information. The Financial Aid Office gets this information through both the CSS PROFILE and the FAFSA. Grants can come from the federal and state governments, in addition to the college or university. Taking the time to carefully fill out these forms (and doing them on time) is the best way to give the Financial Aid Office a picture of your family’s financial circumstances. For this current year, Oles are receiving over $25 million in grants.

In some ways, grants and scholarships can be thought of in a similar fashion. They are both “gift aid.” Gift aid is money given to the student that the student does not have to earn or repay.

The next main form of financial aid is student employment, or work study. Students are able to earn this money by working a job either on or off-campus. This money can be used to help pay for tuition or directed to the student to help with miscellaneous expenses (Target run, anyone?). There are hundreds of jobs: helping in the cafeteria, working on hanging shows in the art gallery, managing a stockroom for the chemistry department, staffing the front desk of a residence hall, and even refereeing intramural flag football games. Sometimes, your work study job could help inspire a future career path.

The last big term that students and families need to understand is student loans. We believe that reasonable student loan debt is a necessary part of affording a St. Olaf education. That said, St. Olaf works closely with students to make sure they are taking on a manageable amount of debt and that their loan debt won’t affect their post-graduation decisions. Our median loan debt this past year was $27,480 (cumulatively, not per year), consistent with the national average.

Yes, there’s more than one kind of loan: federal and private. Federal loans are the loans from the government directly to the student, while private loans come from financial institutions (like banks or credit unions). Federal loans are often preferable to private loans because they tend to have a lower interest rate, do not require a co-signer, and offer more repayment/forgiveness options.

So, there you have it! I hope this has helped define some of the terms you need to know in the financial aid process. For now, do your research. Communicate with financial aid offices about changes or context of your family’s financial situation. Think about all four years instead of just the first year when considering a college’s affordability. And though finances can play a large role in the college search, be sure to consider the value of the academic and social fit overall.

Happy New Year: It’s Time to Apply!

Happy New Year! It’s now 2014, so goals are set and resolutions made. In admissions, January is also the arrival of application season, when the Class of 2018 will begin to fully take shape. We have already admitted our Early Decision 1 students, so the first official 2018ers are sporting their black and gold. For the rest of our applicants: the application deadline for Early Decision 2 is January 1st, and Regular Decision applications are due January 15th. Maybe you’re at home, chipping away at the Common Application in your PJs; or maybe you’ve sat down and stared at your college list, wondering where to get started. However you’ve approached your college search, the time has come to get to work on those applications.

A word of advice: don’t wait until the night before 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 few weeks before January 15th is much less stressful than scrambling on January 16 to get a teacher recommendation submitted.

Another reason to apply before the deadline? Get ahead of any Common Application glitches. It can take 36 hours to process application pieces on our end and verify we have everything. It will alleviate much stress on your end to build time into the process so any questions and problems with missing application pieces can be resolved.

While we won’t send admission notifications for the Regular Decision deadline until mid-March, you have time to visit campus, communicate with us, peruse our website and Facebook page, 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, suggested by the Vice President of Enrollment and College Relations Michael Kyle ’85:

Congratulations, Early Decision 1 Oles!

Your friendly St. Olaf Admissions staff is happy to welcome the first members of the Class of 2018 to the college. It’s an exciting time: you have finished your college search and you can finally take a deep breath. The Early Decision 1 admitted students come from a variety of backgrounds — you’re engaged in your schools and communities and have worked hard to prepare for college. We’re excited to see what you all will contribute to our community up here on the Hill.

AdmittedStudents-KyleObermann - 29

As you prepare to commit to St. Olaf, here are a few things to keep in mind over the coming few days, weeks, and months:

Ready to deposit? There are a few ways to do so. You may mail in the enrollment deposit of $300 via check and the reply card. If you need to deposit online, do so by logging onto your student account at the Admitted Student Page. On the right side of the page, you’ll see the “Deposit Here” button; log into the page using your Common Application email and the password in your admit letter. That’s an important page to bookmark — it will hold a lot of important information in the coming months. Which reminds me…

Hold onto your Admitted Student page log-in information. It’ll make life easier for you in the future, trust me. Remember, the page holds a lot of links to connect you to life at St. Olaf. Research a Conversation program, keep up with our Facebook page, visit campus (again). Stop in our bookstore and get some Ole gear.

The Early Decision 1 enrollment deposit is due January 15th. This deposit will hold your spot and make you an official Ole.

If you applied for need-based financial aid: your financial aid award will be mailed mid-week. Thanks for your patience in the meantime.

More information will be released in the coming weeks and months as we admit our Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision students. For now, sit back, relax, don your black and gold, Tweet #2018Oles to connect with future classmates… and enjoy the holidays.


Common Application, Common Frustrations

There’s been a lot of media attention to problems with the Common Application. St. Olaf is a Common App member, and we rely on the Common App as our only application.

We haven’t been overwhelmed with calls from frustrated students, but we have heard a few complaints. There seem to be problems with the uploading functions: files won’t upload, documents won’t display, recommendations don’t appear or aren’t acknowledged in the checklist.

There are two simple solutions to these problems: 1) log in to your St. Olaf application and check the status. You’ll see a checklist of what we’ve received. 2) call or email your admissions officer. We don’t mind checking the status of your application. If there are missing items, we’ll go over them with you. If everything is complete, we’ll reassure you.

For a little more about Common App problems, give Admissions Officers Aakriti Mehra and Adam Johnson a minute of your time: