Dean of Enrollment Michael Kyle estimates the incoming class size will be around 745 students, and their academic merit will increase St. Olaf's current ACT, SAT and GPA statistics. Kyle credits St. Olaf's rising recognition and academic rigor as impetus for the heightened selectivity. "St. Olaf continues to attract students first and foremost because of the strength of its academic program. I also think we have seen a boost, if you will, from families that have seen St. Olaf in the context of one of Loren Pope's 'Colleges that Change Lives.' We have better articulated the strength of our offerings, I believe, in programs, in person and in presentation," Kyle said.
Admissions counselor Jill Lynch '98 draws a connection between increased selectivity and St. Olaf's efforts to appeal to a broader student base. "As we continue to strengthen our national recognition, the strength of our applicant pool continues to rise," Lynch said. This trend is reflected by Kyle's early estimate that 52% of next year's entering class will hail from Minnesota, a 7% decrease from the class of 2010.
St. Olaf admissions plans to continue the pattern of academic record-setting exhibited by the classes of 2010 and 2011, but does not hold increased selectivity as its primary goal. St. Olaf's rising national prominence via admissions work has resulted in a record-breaking 4,000 applications. Consequently, St. Olaf admissions counselors can be more discerning about who they accept when crafting a class.
"In many respects, this path toward greater selectivity has been thrust upon us by the greater number of students applying and our desire to decrease the size of the first year class. We didn't wake up and decide 'let's get more selective.' The depth and breadth of the applicant pool, in quantity and quality, has put us in our current position," Kyle said.
Across the country institutions of higher education, especially small colleges such as St. Olaf, have experienced a jump in the number and merit of applications. Tanya Schevitz noted in her April 7, 2007 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that "small colleges that once were considered safe bets for getting in have become dramatically more selective in whom they accept, posting record low admission rates this year. It appears that a confluence of factors are at work, including a growing population of high school graduates, a willingness of parents to pony up for a private education, and an increase in the number of applications sent by individual students as they hedge their bets."
St. Olaf has become part of this trend since the number of cross-applications with other competitive institutions has increased. "We continue to compete with big public flagship institutions but the largest increase in application overlaps are with highly selective liberal arts colleges, including Carleton, Macalester, Grinnell, and Northwestern," Kyle said.
Incoming first-year Karen Hopper selected St. Olaf for its challenging academics and intimate community -- benefits students around the nation are beginning to expect from their college of choice. "When it came time to do hard core research for where to apply, I kept Olaf on my list, and it ended up being the best fit for me. The campus is gorgeous, and the academics are strong without having the intimidation of an Ivy League school," Hopper said.
Though the nature of college admissions is continually changing, the trends will not directly affect academic programs and daily life at St. Olaf. "While the incoming student profile may be slightly stronger than in previous years, the shift is sure to be gradual in terms of classroom changes. It seems to me that classroom discussion will only be strengthened with academically stronger students," Lynch said. President Anderson added, "I don't think there is a fundamental change in the character of the college There are a variety of factors such as a wider spread of interests."
Kyle said that the number of admitted Lutheran and legacy students has remained steady, "despite the up tick in geographic diversity and academic quality." President Anderson concluded by emphasizing St. Olaf's dynamic ability to provide students with spiritual resources and an excellent academic education. "My way of looking at this is that you can have it all and yet retain factors of the student body that connect with [the college's] history and student body."