written by
Zoë Edington

St. Olaf College Essay Guide 2019-2020

Essay Guides 4 min read
Old Main building at St. Olaf College

About St. Olaf College

St. Olaf College is a small, private liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and is listed as one of the Colleges That Change Lives. A campus of roughly 3,000 undergraduate students, St. Olaf (pronounced OH-luff) was founded in 1874 by “Norwegian Lutheran immigrants”, and shares the town of Northfield with football rival Carleton College. Northfield itself boasts several local breweries and pubs, boutiques, and green spaces, and is a short 45-minute drive from the Twin Cities.

St. Olaf prides itself on the close working relationships between students and faculty; every single course is taught by a faculty member, not a teaching assistant. There are 40 available Bachelor of Arts majors (including the Individual Major), five Bachelor of Music majors, and 20 concentrations to choose from. The academic calendar consists of two semesters with a one-month “Interim” course during January in between. St. Olaf uses a highly holistic review process. Admission rates for the class of 2021 were 80% for Early Decision and 41% for Regular Decision.

Required Supplemental Essays

1. “How are you and St. Olaf a good fit for each other?” (max. 100 words)

For this essay, specificity is key. Pick two or three unique aspects of St. Olaf in general and your department of interest specifically, whether it’s the Natural Lands and associated ecological research, the plethora of study-abroad opportunities during Interim, or the renowned Kierkegaard Library. Tell St. Olaf why these are important to you; tie them to your academic and personal interests, as well as your future goals. If you are applying for the nursing or music programs – which require separate application components – you should talk about these here as well. If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific talking point, email or call a professor in a department you’re interested in to ask about unique features of their program.

Because of the short word limit, organization is just as important as content for this supplemental essay. Your writing should clearly link what St. Olaf offers to why you need it. This is especially important as St. Olaf’s mission is to foster global, community-minded leaders who are passionate about their vocation. Consider a non-traditional format, such as a poem or short narrative if you feel these fit your personality. Above all, be honest – admissions officers read thousands of application essays and can tell when applicants are saying something only because they think it’s the “right thing”, so make sure your essay sounds like you.

2. “Everyone knows that I...” (max. 10 words)

3. “St. Olaf should know that I...” (max. 10 words)

4. “No one knows that I...” (max. 10 words)

Supplemental essays 2-4 are extremely short, and at first glance may look more like ice-breaker questions rather than essays, but they are still crucial to your application. For these essays, maintain the structure given to you in the prompt and simply fill in the blank. Subtraction from the ten-word limit gives you six words left for the first essay, four for the second essay, and five for the third essay. Therefore, the key is to make every word count. Use descriptive, specific nouns and impactful verbs; avoid qualifiers and weak adjectives. For example, “Everyone knows that I really love mathematics” is not as good as “Everyone knows that I took our Mathlete club to Regionals” or “Everyone knows that I write algebraic proofs for fun”.

Furthermore, these three essays should combine to paint a unique picture of you that is distinct from all other applicants. An admissions officer should be able to remove your name from these, have a conversation with you, and know that these essays are yours. Try to vary the types of things you discuss in each essay. Instead of making all three about academics, perhaps one will be about your ties to your family or culture, one about a passion or interest, and one about your part-time job.

Optional Supplemental Essays

1. “St. Olaf isn't just a place to spend four years. Our community challenges and empowers Oles to become individuals of action and substance. They are committed members of classrooms, ensembles, teams, and organizations. Oles discover, collaborate, create, question, and inspire. They become engaged citizens who shape the world. As a St. Olaf student, how would you make an impact on campus?” (max. 500 words)

This essay is optional; however, since it’s the supplemental essay with the longest allowed word count, it’s in your best interest to write it to give a fuller picture of yourself as an applicant. If you decide to write it, you may want to expand more fully on an aspect of yourself from one of the previous essays, or write about totally different aspects. As long as you aren’t too repetitive, either strategy can work for you.

St. Olaf’s culture is very community-oriented, since it is a smaller school, with most students living on campus all four years. The culture is also very service-oriented, due to the school’s affiliation with the ELCA church. Even if you decide to live off-campus or are not an ELCA member, community and service are still important, and are at the heart of this essay question. Service doesn’t have to mean unpaid volunteering – what are your life goals, and how do they make the world a better place? For whom? How will St. Olaf help you get there? Similarly, which communities are you looking forward to getting to know or surround yourself with at St. Olaf? What ties your service and community goals together? St. Olaf is looking for students with clear and passionate answers to these questions.

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This essay guide was written by Olivia Sullivan, St.Olaf Class of 2018. If you want to get help writing your application essays from Olivia or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, click here to schedule a free call.

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