St. Olaf College

St. Olaf College

Missing image
Seal of St. Olaf College

Established 1874
President Christopher M. Thomforde
Motto Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmen
(Norwegian for "Forward! Forward! Men of Christ, Men of the Cross")
School type Private
Location Northfield, Minnesota, United States of America
Enrollment Approximately 2,900
Central Campus Size 345 acres (1.4 km²)
Web site


St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian immigrant pastors and farmers, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus, as a coeducational, residential, four-year private liberal arts college and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).


St. Olaf enrolls nearly 3,000 students, and its academic divisions provide offer 45 graduation majors, including 10 teaching certifications, 20 concentrations and 20 pre-professional fields. This college offers pre-professional preparation in architecture, dentistry, engineering, law, medicine, pharmacy, social work, theology, and veterinary medicine. The student/faculty ratio is 12:1, and most classes have an average enrollment of 21.

St. Olaf ranks third among liberal arts schools nationally (and 44th overall) in the number of National Merit Scholars, according to the Journal of Higher Education. Four students earned Fulbright Scholarships in 2005, and 18 have received the award in the past 3 years.

According to the National Research Council’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, St. Olaf ranks fifth among bachelor degree colleges in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees. (This represents the years 1991–2000.) St. Olaf was also first among baccalaureate colleges in mathematics, first in religion and theology, fifth in chemistry, seventh in foreign languages and sixth in life sciences as an undergraduate supplier of Ph.D.s.

St. Olaf is tied for 16th among small colleges and universities nationally in the number of Peace Corps volunteers produced by the school.

Living at St. Olaf

Most St. Olaf students (95%) reside on the campus located in Northfield, Minnesota, 40 miles (60 km) south of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Study abroad programs

Each year more than 800 St. Olaf students leave the Northfield campus to study. St. Olaf College offers academic programs in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, North, South and Central America, and the Pacific. Some programs extend the scope of particular majors, language concentrations, or area studies; all add a cross-cultural dimension to a liberal arts education. St. Olaf off-campus opportunities are not limited to language students or specific major fields. Many programs, taught in English, provide significant opportunities for cross-cultural study and experience in the broader area of the humanities-including the natural sciences-within the general education program of the college. Off-campus Interim courses are offered each year during January.

Music at St. Olaf

St. Olaf's music program, founded by F. Melius Christiansen in 1903, is world-renowned. Its band, choir and orchestra tour the continental U.S annually and have made several critically-acclaimed international tours. The St. Olaf Band was the first American college musical organization to conduct a concert tour abroad when it travelled to Norway in 1906. The band is also credited with introducing the saxophone and the game of baseball to Norway. The orchestra was the first college orchestra ever to be a part of the Community Concert series.

The St. Olaf Choir, founded by Christiansen in 1907 as the St. John's Lutheran Church Choir, is regarded as one of the premier a cappella college choirs in the United States. It has toured Europe several times, as well as China, Korea, and Australia, performing before heads of state and producing over a dozen recordings. The choir performs in the nationally-broadcast annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival along with St. Olaf Orchestra and 5 of the college's other choirs.

More information

The following is a quote from St. Olaf's promotional material:

St. Olaf, a four-year college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, provides an education committed to the liberal arts, rooted in the Christian gospel, and incorporating a global perspective. In the conviction that life is more than a livelihood, it focuses on what is ultimately worthwhile and fosters the development of the whole person in mind, body, and spirit.

St. Olaf is a traditional athletic and academic rival of its neighbor across town, Carleton College. The college song, Um Yah Yah, is in 3/4 time.


St. Olaf College is a member of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC).

Notable alumni


St. Olaf is mentioned in the works of Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald (Jay Gatsby of "The Great Gatsby" attended briefly and worked as a janitor) and in Garrison Keillor's radio program "A Prairie Home Companion."

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