First-Year Experience

Heather Campbell, Tomson Hall 290

The First-Year Experience

During your first year at St. Olaf, the First-Year Experience offers opportunities for you to explore campus resources, take courses designed for your college transition, and find the people and programs that will support your personal growth, social development, and academic success. 

Team Advising 

Your First-Year Experience begins with advising before you arrive. Virtual advising sessions and a summer registration advisor will help you navigate registration resources and choose Fall courses. When you arrive, a team of advisors, including a pre-major advisor, a Success Coach, and a peer leader will welcome you and support your transition to living and learning on campus. 

New Student Orientation

New Student Orientation guides your transition to living and learning within the St. Olaf community. From the day you arrive on campus until Fall classes begin, you’ll participate in activities to help you become part of your residence hall community, explore academic interests and resources, navigate campus, and develop a sense of belonging. 

First-Year Experience Courses

First-Year Experience courses focus on ideas and questions about the world and your role in it. In these seminars, you’ll engage with big questions, deepen your understanding of the liberal arts, and learn new ways to think, write, and have conversations. These seminars emphasize active learning as you build community with peers and the professor. 

All students complete First-Year Seminar and Writing and Rhetoric — one course each semester. You may choose to enroll in Individual Courses OR participate in a Conversation Program. What interests you? Explore the two paths below. (You’ll choose one or the other, not both.) 


As part of your Fall and Spring First-Year Experience, you will participate in SOAR (St. Olaf Orientation to Academics and Resources). These small group sessions, led by highly trained SOAR peer leaders, provide time and space to create intentional community, access resources, and meet new people. 

What is the First-Year Experience?

Individual Courses 

The First-Year Experience at St. Olaf provides you with a foundation for college success. The two courses that make up the First-Year Experience focus on critical thinking, discussion, research and writing skills to prepare you for your college experience.

You may complete your First-Year Experience on one of two paths. You may take First-Year Seminar 120 and Writing 120 as individual courses, one in the fall and the other in the spring, OR you may enroll in a Conversations program. Students who opt for the First-Year Seminar 120 and Writing 120 are split into two groups. One group takes First-Year Seminar 120 in the Fall and one group takes Writing 120 in the Fall. In the spring, students who completed First-Year Seminar 120 then take Writing 120, and students who completed Writing 120 take First-Year Seminar 120.

Conversation Programs

The Conversations programs focus courses around a theme that students engage with in multiple courses during one or two years, and through the Conversations, students may fulfill additional Core requirements beyond the First-Year Seminar 120 and Writing 120. Note that Enduring Questions is a two-year program. 

Students wanting maximum flexibility with regard to their schedule should opt for the individual course option as most of the Conversations programs are offered at only one time period, and therefore may conflict with other courses. 

You do not have to participate in a Conversations program.  In fact, only 30% of incoming students do.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do you have questions? Someone else might be wondering the same too! Visit our FAQ page about St. Olaf’s First-Year Experience.