College Spotlight – St. Olaf College

St. Olaf logo

By Michelle Anderson
February, 2021

My first college visit was to St. Olaf, and though I went on other tours, I knew I didn’t need to. Walking up the long staircase to the top of ‘the hill’ to meet my tour guide, I slowly saw the limestone buildings and vibrant main quad on campus appear. This was the moment that made me believe in love at first sight (at least with colleges anyway!). 

I applied early decision to St. Olaf, and I graduated in 2014 with a B.A. in sociology/anthropology and a concentration in management studies. However, these degrees only give a superficial view of my experience and what I took away from the Ole (pronounced “oh-lee”; the name for a St. Olaf student) community. St. Olaf’s community encourages and deeply values experiences beyond traditional academics. It was clear as an Ole I was not there to earn high grades. What mattered to my professors and peers was that I intentionally engaged in the process of learning who I was and how I wanted to positively impact the world.

Though campus has changed since I was a student, both visibility with new buildings and dorm renovations and internally with new faculty and student opportunities, St. Olaf remains a college that changes lives that attracts and develops creative, smart, musical, caring, and community-orientated students. 

St. Olaf College, Holland Hall

St. Olaf College Overview

St. Olaf College is located in Northfield, MN, about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities. Northfield also is the home of rival college, Carleton College. St. Olaf is a small, liberal art college based in the Lutheran tradition. As a residential college, it has a community of 3,000 students with 95% of students residing in dorms. St. Olaf is known for its stellar music programs, learning abroad opportunities, great food, unique conversation programs, and above-and-beyond career services. 


St. Olaf College

St. Olaf’s curriculum will “challenge you with the breadth and depth of a rigorous liberal arts education.” In my experience, even more than the St. Olaf’s curriculum, its engaged and caring professors bring that curriculum to life. Today, I still have relationships with past professors, and look forward to dinner at a professor’s home for her annual alumni dinner party. 

For students who want to learn in an intentional community, St. Olaf has 8 conversation programs that allow a group of students to take themed courses in a series. The courses are interdisciplinary and team-taught. 

70%+ of students participate in one or more study abroad experiences at St. Olaf. Olaf’s academic calendar, wide variety of international programs, and financial support make study abroad a part of most students’ Olaf experience. As a student, I spent a J-term (the month of January) as a sophomore in Central Mexico studying social work and my fall semester of junior year studying anthropology in Tanzania. 

Campus Life

St. Olaf College’s Cafeteria, Stav Hall

“Oles can. Oles will.” This is St. Olaf’s motto, and it accurately describes the buzz I felt when I stepped on campus for the first time. Students are engaged in the St. Olaf community and the community beyond the hill. With student groups, research, passion projects, music programs, campus jobs, and volunteering, students have the space to explore and deepen their interests alongside their peers. 

The hub of student life at St. Olaf takes place at my favorite place on campus, “the caf”. Oles eat beautiful food together at every meal. With one dining hall on campus and no nearby restaurants, delicious meals bring the student body together in a cozy, window-filled dining hall that makes you think “Hogwarts”. Keep your eye out for “Gado Gado” day- it’s a student favorite! 

Career Services

The Piper Center for Vocation and Career is the must-know office for all students. The Piper Center team excels in connecting Oles with Oles. Supporting students (and alumni!) with career & vocation discovery, major choice, pursuing internships, graduate school preparation, application materials, interview preparation, and networking skills is their specialty. Unique to St. Olaf, career services is embedded into campus, making its programs accessible. 

Who would be happy here? 

Students who excel in close communities and who want to be surrounded by peers and faculty who take action in the world may find a good fit at St. Olaf.