St. Olaf College Visit Report by liska21
Campus Visit Notes for St. Olaf College
My D is a current student at St Olaf. I basically just asked D questions and wrote down what she said more or less verbatim. So this isn't a usual visit report, but rather report from a STEM student at St Olaf.
First things that come to mind when you think ‘Olaf’. Super friendly. That’s a thing. Big time. Also musical. It is like living in musical; people singing in halls ways and common areas all the time even in upperclassman dorms. There are tons of choirs and like a 1/3 of the students are involved in Christmas Fest. Another thing is the school has high academic standards without being cut-throat. Very much community, 'we are all in this together'. [D is particularly impressed with this]
Choir kids. People in choirs are really close to their choir. Travel a lot. Tour abroad. Find out if those costs would be covered. Probably yes. St. Olaf seems to take ‘full-need’ seriously. If you are a singer and on a choir, you will have an immediate community of like-minded peers. They fly you in (March?) to audition for Ole Choir if you are on scholarship. But you can also audition for Manito Choir and then later get into Ole Choir (2nd yr).
What is Math dept like? [this iswhat D knows] It is huge. 3rd largest major. Some great female math profs. Really good overall. You won’t ever be only woman in class. Dept specific study abroad programs. Also have strong math education program and grads go straight into teaching jobs. Math talks every other week. Multiple science talks every other week. Big community events (picnics, bbqs). In major about 50/50 male/female. Good number of Indian students. Multiple math and physics clubs.
Party scene: There is a party scene if you want to be part of that, but mainly off-campus so you have to seek it out. In D’s frosh dorm, about 1/2 partied on Friday and 1/2 stayed in and watched movies or played games.
Definitely ‘wholesome’ nerdiness. Everyone knows the dorky fight song. A bunch of friends dressed up in costume to go to the Star Wars movies. The conductor of Ole choir dressed up as Santa and hung in library so you could get your picture with him. No vibe at all of ‘hipster’ or cosmopolitan nerds. More ‘we are dorks and we love it’. Think midwestern nerds.
St Olaf has reputation for being polished and better dressed, but it is ‘nice flannel’ kind of better dressed. Scarves and sweaters. However there are many choirs so you do see people racing off to performances in tails or nice dresses on a regular basis.
Economic diversity. Many of D’s friends are lower middle class and on financial aid. Many people come from small towns (but also many come from Chicago and Twin Cities). Geographic diversity. Most are from midwest. Good number of international students. Few from east and west coasts. Not so many from south. It is kind of cold in MN…
Politics: definitely liberal school.
Religion: That’s a thing. You don’t have to be religious and D has never gotten the sense that anyone has thought she should become Christian. But you will have friends who are religious and go to church regularly. You will have conversations about religion and overhear regularly conversations about faith/god. Note, her Christian friends do NOT consider St Olaf to be a "Christian" school. A lot students are not Christian or were raised Christian but are now areligious or atheist. Also ECLA [the denom of St Olaf) is a in the Progressive Christian 'wing' so very liberal and with very liberal views about homosexuality (e..g support marriage equality) for example.
Study Abroad. Really Huge thing. All of D’s friends all will study abroad at some point. Tons of scholarships available to do that. Many of her friends need full-ride to do study abroad and will get scholarships to do that. Most of the study abroad interims are with an Olaf professor so really easy to fit in schedule and class fits with your required GEs (general reqs) and reqs for major. Study abroad semesters: There’s ‘global semester’ led by Olaf profs and you travel all over world and do classes on each continent. There are also department specific study abroad semester programs. Tons of connections with other universities and they have a system for those credits to become Olaf credits.
What’s campus like on breaks: Fall break (4 days). Still lots of people on campus. Cafeteria is open. Thanksgiving. Some people stay on campus (international esp). Winter break (10-14 days). International students stay. Note winter break is short. Only like 10-14 days unlike some schools that have 4 weeks. Interim break (1 week). Fair number on campus. D says it’s really nice being on campus during breaks. Nice and relaxing without the MN folks who go home. You stay in and watch movies and play board games with your friends.
Getting to airport? Easy 45min with regular bus shuttles to the airport. But taking the shuttle does add quite a few hours to travel. Better after frosh year, since rides from friends could be arranged.
What's campus like on weekends? People do not tend to leave (go home). Parties happen mostly off campus. As a freshman, the people who lived nearby tended to go home during the first month. But after that, that doesn’t happen very often. Going home on the weekend is not a ‘thing’.
School is the ‘community on the hill’ and in their Olaf bubble. Plays, student productions, performances, movies on campus, lots to do. School has many dorky traditions that Carleton makes fun of.
Northfield? Cute town. Not tons to do, but most people socialize on campus or at theme or sports houses off-campus. Parties are held at sports houses off campus often (technically not supposed to have alcohol D thinks, but they do).
Chirstmas fest? This is a huge thing. 1/3 of the campus is involved so a 1/3 of your friends are rehearsing multiple hours every night in the lead up. Campus gets invaded by alumni and parents in Norwegian sweaters. Campus is packed. The campus is beautifully decorated for xmas. It’s really beautiful. For a week, the cafeteria serves Norwegian food. Meatballs, yum! Lutefisk, ug! They have other food too.
Food? Food is really good and abundant on campus. There are different meal plans. D is on a plan with 2 meals a day at cafeteria and $200 for semester for cafe (coffee shop stuff, tea, coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, soups).
Conversations? D did Great Con. 2 years but plenty of people only do one-year. It gives you an immediate community. These are all nerdy people who like to read a lot and talk about what they read. You will definitely come out being able to write well. D says the Science Con would have been more closer to D’s interest BUT she really liked being in a Con freshman year so she immediately had a community of likeminded peers. If you are Humanities major, you might want to do Great Con year 1 and then switch to Science Con for year 2. American Con is smaller and only 2 semesters year 2. Chem-Bio Con is smaller and year 2; it’s a lot of work but those in love it. The reputation of ‘Great Con’ students are known as being intense and the program has a reputation of being hard. Everyone lives together in the same 2 dorms but you only have classes with those in your dorm. So immediate community (of intense nerdy-humanities types). Prob more humanities (philosophy, classics, English) majors but many STEM majors too and for STEM majors it fills most of your humanities GEs.
Top downsides? Small town and you can feel a little trapped. But now she has friends with cars so better. It’s cold. If you can’t handle cold, not the place to come to. CS is not a fun place for girls (that’s not an Olaf specific issue however), but current female CS students are agitating to improve that. Again, not Olaf specific; this is a big CS problem. On flip side, big camaraderie among the CS women. Note, math dept is very different. Many female profs and 50/50 ratio among majors. There isn’t really a sports scene. Don’t come here for the sports culture. Sometimes it feels small. D loves it but thinks at the end of 4 years, she’ll def be ready to go to a big school for grad school. She’s glad she didn’t pick an even smaller school. With one campus cafeteria, if you don’t like someone, you won’t be able to really avoid running into them. Did I mention it’s cold in winter?