Gustavus Adolphus College was founded by Eric Norelius as a Lutheran parochial school in 1862. The congregation of Swedish Lutheran immigrants donated $20 so that Norelius could create a parochial school in their church in order to fill a need for trained pastors and teachers. It began as an experiment to see if it was possible to teach “older” students as well as students at lower levels of education. It was so successful that the Minnesota Conference adopted the plan, voting to relocate the school to East Union. It was named Minnesota Elementar Skola, based on the Swedish education system’s name for preparatory or secondary school.

The new school opened in a log church that had never been completed. The students suffered through drafts and cold during the first winter the school was open. In 1865, on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of St. Ansgar, who was the Apostle of the North, the school as renamed St. Ansgar’s Academy. A campus was donated by Scandinavian soldiers of the Ninth Regiment of the Minnesota Volunteers. In 1866, the drafty church building was partially dismantled and rebuilt on the new land.

The school’s enrollment remained low and, after Norelius conducted a survey designed to increase the endowment for the school, he reported to the Minnesota Conference that the rural location was a problem. Norelius suggested moving the school to Minneapolis and plans were begun to accept donations for the purpose of moving the school. At the same time, the school was renamed Gustavus Adolphus Literary and Theological Institute in honor of King Gustav II Adolf, the Swedish leader who created the gymnasia system of education that is still in use in Sweden today. The financial panic of 1873, however, halted plans to move the school to Minneapolis.

Five men from St. Peter approached the Minneapolis Conference in 1873 with a proposal. The leader, Andrew Thorson, was a Swedish immigrant who had spent time in California during the gold rush. He had now settled as a farmer as well as register of deeds in Nicollet county. The remaining four were prominent businessmen, although none of them were Swedish or Lutheran. They suggested that St. Peter may be the best location for the college. The conference required a bid of at least $10,000 and acreage for a campus site. In 1874, the delegation provided sufficient pledges from the Swedish Lutheran Church in St. Peter, the Scandian Grove Lutheran Church and from other non-Swedish citizens in the St. Peter area. Ten acres of land on the west side of the town were donated for a new campus. Plans were included for three stone buildings, three-stories high, to be used for the school.

When it opened in October 1876, Gustavus Adolphus College, as it was now named, held classes in buildings that were not quite finished, in rooms without furnishings.

Today, Gustavus Adolphus is a highly selective, private liberal arts college that is still affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The college has five core values including excellence, community, justice, service and faith. The school still embraces its strong Swedish roots, celebrating the contribution of Swedish immigrants in the building of the country. In addition, Gustavus Adolphus promotes an understanding of the Christian faith and encourages students to live lives of service in order to create a just and peaceful world.

Gustavus Adolphus College Accreditation Details

Gustavus Adolphus College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Regional accreditation indicates that the school offers programs of the highest quality based on criteria set forth by the accrediting agency and that they are open to improvement in areas that are identified by the organization. In addition, the following agencies accredit programs at Gustavus Adolphus College:

  • Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education
  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Gustavus Adolphus College Application Requirements

In order to apply to attend Gustavus Adolphus College, students must complete an application. There is no application fee and there is no application deadline. Students who have not earned college credit after high school graduation are first year students. They must provide an official high school transcript. Recommendations from teachers and counselors are welcome, but not required.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Full-time tuition is $43,590 per year. Over 70 percent of students receive need-based financial aid and over 90 percent receive some type of aid, such as scholarships, grants, loans or student employment. Gustavus awards over $14 million in grants and scholarships each year. Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for financial aid. President’s, fine arts and speech scholarships winners are expected to participate in Scholarship Day. Qualified students are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships. Need-based financial aid is based on information provided in the FAFSA.

Degrees Available

Art History

The Art History degree is a very popular one at Gustavus Adolphus College. Students are immersed in both academics and experiential studies related to art history. Students present original research, design independent exhibits, commission original work and pursue internships at art galleries or museums. Graduates of the program have entered into careers in museums, historical societies, auction houses and galleries. Courses required may include:

  • Art History I and II
  • Art History: Theory and Methods
  • Art and Archeology of Greece
  • Art and Archeology of Rome
  • Arts of Asia
  • Christian, Islamic and Jewish Art
  • Contemporary Art Seminar
  • Film as Art
  • Film in Spanish
  • French Cinema
  • Gender and Art
  • Indigenous Arts of the Americas
  • Maya and Mexican Art and Archeology
  • Media and Society
  • Museum Studies
  • Philosophy of Art
  • Renaissance and Baroque Art
  • Scandinavian Film


Biology is a top-ranked major at Gustavus Adolphus. The scholar-educators at Gustavus’ Nobel Hall of Science are world-renowned, providing students with rigorous education that includes hands-on training. Students develop an understanding of large mammal behavior, protein regulation, reproductive biology and climate change. Students may choose from Biology, Biology with Honors, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Life Science Teaching. Programs are interdisciplinary, providing students with a well-rounded education. Courses required for the Biology degree may include:

  • Animal Behavior
  • Aquatic Biology
  • Biology Explorations
  • Biology Research
  • Cancer Biology
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology
  • Comparative Physiology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology
  • Entomology
  • Evolution
  • Evolution, Ecology and Behavior
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Invertebrate Zoology
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Neurobiology
  • Organismal Biology
  • Plant Physiology
  • Plant Systematics
  • Principles of Biology
  • Vertebrate Biology

In addition, students are required to complete an independent study as well as directed research and a biology thesis.

Gustavus Adolphus College began as an experiment in rural Minnesota and has grown to a highly selective coeducational liberal arts college. The Art History and Biology Departments are well-known in those industries which is why degrees from those departments are highly sought after. Gustavus Adolphus offers many options that allow individuals to move into a new career or advance in a current career by achieving their higher education goals.