Class of 2026 finds community, overcomes challenges in first weeks

The class of 2026 has been on campus for three and a half weeks. They have had time to settle in, attend classes, visit the Co-Curricular Fair, and start making friends. The Messenger sat down with a number of first-year students to discuss their first weeks of college.

The class of 2026 is a large group, with 869 students from 447 high schools worldwide. The last time the College welcomed a class of over 800 students was when the class of 2023 arrived in fall 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The arrival of the class of 2026 also coincides with the opening of a new dorm and 14 new townhouses which together can house 440 upperclassmen students.

The first-year students reported a wide variety of interests, struggles, and joys from their first month. Many highlighted the communities they have built with their fellow students. “I really feel like St. Olaf is very inviting, like the second you walk in you meet a JC on your floor. I think the rooms are very inviting,” Louisa Ward ’26 said. “I enjoy all of the different community activities that St. Olaf has, it feels very inviting.”

Martin Skare ’26 said, “the thing I love about this campus the most is the community aspect, how you can kind of have access to everything and the hall is just one big open room where we all eat, they want you to find community and I’ve found that’s effective. I’ve already met some great people and I’ve been doing some fun things.”

The students have taken a variety of approaches to meeting people. Some, like Aidan Fitzpatrick ’26, have met people through first-year specific activities and groups, like their St. Olaf Orientation to Academics and Resources (SOAR) groups. This particular first-year program, which began in fall 2021, acts as a discussion and support group led by an upperclassman mentor. “Friends here are pretty cool, the SOAR group is really interesting cause it turned into a friend group,” Fitzpatrick said.

Some first-years have also made friends through extracurriculars. “College is really, really fun. People have been super welcoming in all the clubs I’ve joined,” said Jonas Geere ’26.

Others, like Austin Brekken ’26, have taken a more laid-back approach. “The community is amazing and I love playing spikeball with random people,” Brekken said.

The class of 2026 is also enjoying the independence of campus living. “I like how every room is open, you can just go into any room, you can go skating, you can go into the gym, you can just kind of do whatever,” Ward said.

Many have moved to a new state or even country to attend St. Olaf. The students represent 41 U.S. states and 55 countries — fewer states and countries than the class of 2025 but generally in line with year-on-year admissions trends for the College.

The students have faced challenges navigating the start of college — finding their way around campus and homesickness are common struggles for first-years in the early months of college.

“I have some pretty good friends. I like my classes, they’re not too easy, not too hard. I do miss my dog though,” said Róisín Walsh ’26.

“This is a large campus that’s sort of hard to navigate at times. I went to the wrong class for my first class, so that was fun,” said Peter Klinefelter ’26.

However, the students are finding ways to cope with the challenges of a new place and new experiences.

“It’s pretty easy to find things around, you just ask anyone and they’ll answer,” Demitrius Urban ’26 said.

Lucas Von Oehsen ’26 echoed Urban’s thoughts. “I’ve been able to find everything on campus pretty easily. It’s been a good experience so far. St. Olaf College is very lovely,” Von Oehsen said.

 

klinef1@stolaf.edu

 

+ posts