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St. Olaf College

A national liberal arts college

Fostering the development of the whole student in mind, body and spirit

One of the nation’s leading four-year residential colleges, St. Olaf offers an academically rigorous education with a vibrant faith tradition. Founded in 1874, St. Olaf is a liberal arts college of the church in the Lutheran tradition (ELCA). Committed to the liberal arts and incorporating a global perspective, St. Olaf fosters the development of the whole person in mind, body, and spirit.

Academic excellence informs St. Olaf College's identity and characterizes its history. Through its curriculum, campus life, and off-campus programs, St. Olaf hones students' critical thinking and nurtures their moral formation. The college encourages and challenges its students to be seekers of truth, to lead lives of unselfish service to others, and to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.

Widely known for its world-class programs in mathematics and music, St. Olaf is also recognized for its innovative approaches to undergraduate science education and its commitment to environmental sustainability as evidenced in such initiatives as the adoption of green chemistry principles across the science curriculum.

For nearly half a century, St. Olaf has been at the forefront of global education and a pioneer in study abroad. Today, with 110 distinct international and off-campus programs in 46 countries, St. Olaf students enjoy a world of opportunities when pursuing their studies.

St. Olaf is an inclusive community that welcomes people of differing backgrounds and beliefs, a community that embraces spirituality and cultivates compassion. Conversations about faith are part of campus life and numerous opportunities are provided for students to grow in their faith and discover how they are called upon to serve others.

Academic Excellence

St. Olaf takes pride in its record of academic excellence. A leader among undergraduate colleges in producing prestigious Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Fellows, and Peace Corps volunteers, St. Olaf ranks ninth overall among the nation's baccalaureate colleges in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees, with top ten rankings in the fields of mathematics/statistics, religion/theology, arts and music, medical sciences, education and the social service professions, chemistry and the physical sciences, life sciences, and foreign languages.

St. Olaf's commitment to the liberal arts is the foundation of its academic mission. The liberal arts train students to think broadly and analytically, develop rigorous habits of the mind, and instill an appreciation of lifelong learning that is essential to continuing personal and professional development.

To be liberally educated is to adopt an attitude of intellectual openness, one that embraces inquiry and new ideas and perspectives. It also means the development of the ability and desire to employ critical thinking when considering one's own beliefs, values, and positions, as well as those of others. At its best, a liberal arts education widens the field of discourse and encourages informed and reasoned debate.

A St. Olaf liberal arts education provides both breadth and depth. The college's General Education (GE) curriculum ensures that students are exposed the full spectrum of disciplines that contribute to a balanced intellect.

A Faith Tradition

St. Olaf is rooted in the Lutheran tradition of the Lutheran Church, and is a place where conversations about matters of faith are part of campus life and numerous opportunities are provided for students to grow in their faith and discover how they are called upon to serve others. As the St. Olaf community embraces its Christian heritage and engages in interfaith dialogue and activity, so also does it strive to be an inclusive community of various faith traditions, beliefs, and backgrounds. St. Olaf currently is one of 27 colleges and universities affiliated with the ELCA, and the student congregation is considered to be an ELCA congregation.

Approximately 40 percent of students at St. Olaf are Lutheran, but the college hosts a variety of religious groups for students to explore faith, including Muslim, Jewish, and a variety of Christian student associations, plus a Baha'i Club. In addition to regular Sunday services in Boe Memorial Chapel, daily chapel services that feature a faculty or staff member, student, or visiting speaker, are open to students of any faith who choose to attend.

St. Olaf intends that its graduates combine academic excellence and theological literacy with a commitment to lifelong learning. As a college of the church, St. Olaf also emphasizes community service. The student-led Volunteer Network runs 35 programs that allow students to put in some 14,000 hours of community service annually.

A Global Perspective

In accordance with its mission statement to "enhance students’ global perspective by helping them encounter and understand changes confronting our world in a context of global community," St. Olaf College has a deep tradition of study abroad. From interdisciplinary study travel to language immersion, scientific research to hands-on to service learning, St. Olaf has offered strong study abroad programs since the 1960s.

In the early 1960s St. Olaf adopted its distinctive "4-1-4" academic calendar that allowed for intensive study of one subject during January — the calendar's "1," also known as Interim. The new calendar also helped better integrate off-campus study into the curriculum by allowing a number of month-long study abroad programs.

Today St. Olaf offers 110 off-campus programs on virtually every continent of the globe. They vary in educational approach (from courses taught by St. Olaf faculty to enrollment in a foreign university), in numbers (from large groups to single students embarking on their own), and in accommodations (from village homestays to urban hostels).

The idea of "global perspective" enhanced through off-campus study has long held a place beside the liberal arts and the church as one of the highest values of the college. With a wide array of opportunities for domestic and international study, the strong tradition set in place by pioneering faculty members has led generations of St. Olaf students to fulfill the college's mission of creating responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.