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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

Admissions garners praise for numbers

By Alyssa Kleven
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 9, 2007

Recently, Star Tribune reporter Mary Jane Smetanka had the opportunity to sit in on the St. Olaf admissions proceedings, which she wrote about in the Feb. 22 issue of the newspaper.

Her goal was to understand the painstaking process of the have and have-nots in a college admissions process. Michael Kyle, vice president of admissions, said that, “One condition we set for her doing this was that she would protect the identity and other identifying characteristics of all the students we talked about. The article, after all, included many very specific and direct quotations, so I think we all felt we were showing her how it would have gone whether or not she had been in the room.”

This insight into the admissions process allowed St. Olaf students and staff, as well as the community, to understand the greater admissions process that must be undergone, instead of just the statistics for the incoming class of 2011. Smetanka stressed in her article that St. Olaf was looking for well-rounded students, she witnessed applicants from various backgrounds and with various grounds for acceptance, but an overwhelming number of students that were in the “accepted” pile were eventually moved to “wait list” or “deny.”

One such applicant, Smetanka commented, was “a talented West Coast musician whose file had been reviewed four times – ‘accept,’ ‘wait list,’ ‘reject’ and ‘refer’ were scribbled in the corner -- was finally, painfully, denied.”

With over 1,000 more students applying for admission than two years ago, the admissions team has found itself more stringent in the applicants whom they accept. Admissions staff look for well-rounded high school students who will fit into the St. Olaf community. GPA and SAT/ACT scores are still very important to the process, but so is volunteer involvement and extracurricular activities. If a student is well rounded in each of these activities, his or her chances of getting in are higher.

Diversity is also important in the application process. Not just diversity of race, but also geographical and religious diversity, as well as other factors, make a difference in whether a student might get admitted to St. Olaf. “More students from a broader range of backgrounds are considering St. Olaf, and I think that enhances campus and community life, both in and out of the classroom,” Kyle said.

Kyle’s leadership role and responsibility recently increased, as well as that of the rest of the admissions staff recently when former Director of Admissions Jerry Pope resigned in late January. Shortly after, Smetanka sat in on the admissions process.

Admissions and Financial Aid aren't the only entities that weigh in on those who are accepted and those who are denied admission. “[St. Olaf staff, coaches, music directors,] pastors, high school teachers, to name just a few others – there are many stakeholders in high school students’ lives who care about the choices they make, and the college choice is no different.” At the end of the day, Kyle said, there are many other factors that contribute to the acceptance process, “but the admissions staff tries to factor that into our process as fully and fairly as they can.”

Due to the increased number of students applying, instead of a growing acceptance sect, there is a larger waiting list. “One of the real challenges for us is that the applicant pool wasn't just larger – the quality of the students considering St. Olaf has also increased, so that is both exciting and challenging,” Kyle said.

The admissions staff is currently waiting to hear back from accepted students as to whether or not they will choose St. Olaf. “We have all these offers of admission out there and we are eager to see who will make the decision to come to St. Olaf. It has been a very busy year but we are working very hard and deliberately to give every admitted student the information they need to make a good, well-informed college choice,” Kyle said.

To read Smetanka's article on St. Olaf's admission process go to (

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