Photo of Old Main on a snowy evening.
Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a member of Six Colleges, comprising Amherst, Bowdoin, Carleton, Pomona, Swarthmore, and Williams.
Photo courtesy of

Why go to school in the Upper Midwest? What could I tell students from the Southeast about Minnesota, as most of us in Maryland and south think of Minnesota as a land encased in ice? The Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul have activities all year long, with festivities to celebrate what winter brings. Macalester is in St. Paul; St. Olaf and Carleton are only a 45-minute ride south in Northfield, Minnesota. You just need to employ their “Minnesota logic”: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

The small liberal arts and sciences colleges of Carleton, Macalester, and St. Olaf have more similarities than differences, starting with a shared commitment to social justice.

Admissions representatives from the Minnesota colleges spoke to 300 counselors at a webinar on January 27, 2021: Jeff Allen of Macalester, Art Rodriguez of Carleton, and Chris George of St. Olaf. Similar not only in size but sensibility, the group began with a moving statement on diversity and their commitment to indigenous populations, recognizing that their schools were built on land belonging to the Dakotas. Jeff Allen read: 

One shared value among these three institutions is our ongoing commitment to dismantling systemic racism and systems of oppression. To this end, Art, Chris and I want to share the joint statement our institutions crafted last summer following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The statement about our commitment to anti-racist practices remains as relevant today as it was then. 

We want to share that Carleton, Macalester, and St. Olaf stand together in our desire to dismantle systemic racism and systems of oppression. In our shared grief, and amid the national call to action, we have pledged to commit to action, and to intentionally lean into challenging conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

We embrace that we are not perfect and that there is always more work to be done to eradicate racism on individual and institutional levels. It is our goal to continue to build on and further push ourselves to realize a collaborative inclusive and diverse community at each of our institutions. This work also means honoring the indigenous peoples of Minnesota, through acknowledging that our campuses are on the stolen and occupied homelands of the Dakota people. We do this, in order to honor the continued thriving of indigenous people in Minnesota. Despite our shared history of colonialism. These are our shared values.

All three schools saw applications go up this year, with a significant increase from international students. According to, in 2020 Macalester had a 32% acceptance rate; St. Olaf, 48%; Carleton, 19%. This uptick in applications mirrors that of other selective institutions.

All have gone test optional this year–Macalester and St. Olaf permanently, Carleton still reviewing its policy on testing. Much of the webinar addressed how the reading of applications adapted to this change. 

Impact of Test-Optional Policy on Reading Applications

Carleton’s Art Rodriguez said that not having tests makes grades and recommendations more important and that being test-optional didn’t hamper their ability to decide; however, they had to consider how individual high schools handled grades in the pandemic. Because they felt they might not have enough insight into how students will work at college, they frequently contacted high school counselors to try to better understand the context of grades. They had some concern that with the pandemic, classes weren’t able to cover everything necessary to provide a good foundation for Carleton.

Jeff Allen of Macalester said test-optional has forced the readers to slow down, but at the same time, they’ve received more applications. Chris George of St. Olaf said about half their applicants applied without submitting scores. He agreed with Allen that it forces them to slow down and read more closely, but noted that adding early action helped spread the reading out over a longer period of time. They are looking more closely at personal essays, courses, and recommendations.

Impact of Covid-19 on Campus Visits and Fall Semester

Carleton has made no decision yet about changing the no-visitor policy as it’s an effective way to maintain the safety of kids and staff. Faculty and staff are on campus, about 80% of students are living in halls, and courses are a mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person. Carleton is trying to create a bubble to protect the community. They will maintain the no-visit policy through June. 

Macalester tried welcoming one family at a time on campus, essentially for a tour of campus outside of buildings. Now, in the beginning of Semester 2 they are in a quiet period, so there are no visits at the moment as they await public health guidance. They’re focused on bringing on admitted students. Few opportunities exist currently for juniors or sophomores to visit, so those interested should continue to focus on virtual opportunities.

St. Olaf is taking a mixed approach, currently allowing drive-throughs with an app. St. Olaf may allow admitted students in spring and they hope to allow sophomores and juniors this summer. Robust testing allowed students to interact and engage with each other this year.

What should families know?

Allen from Macalester said that college-side people understand the complexities of this moment and acknowledge that no one is operating under ideal conditions, that connections and  opportunities have been impacted. They want you to understand that THEY GET IT. 

Rodriguez from Carleton encourages students to think carefully about recommendations. In a piece of unconventional advice, he says you can use recommendations from 10th grade teachers when you were in-person if those people know you better than teachers you’ve only interacted with virtually. [Under normal conditions, colleges prefer that teachers from junior and senior year write recommendations.]

Chris George of St. Olaf said that they’re all committed to knowing students deeply and want to work with them to reduce their anxiety: “We recognize that students have a whole host of new challenges.” The ways of evaluating applications are evolving. “We’re in the business of admitting students, not denying students. We want to find students that would be great matches for our institutions.”

Macalester virtual visits:

St. Olaf:


Carleton, Macalester, St. Olaf: Similarly Sublime