Choosing A College
Sam Chao '16 says:I was looking for a small school where I would feel challenged but not pressured academically. I was also looking for a school that would let me pursue all of my interests - a double major, varsity sports, and theater - to the fullest. I visited Carleton, and after getting a taste of Minnesota nice and the scent of Malt-o-Meal in the air, I knew Carleton would be a good fit for me.
The Admissions Office says:Even though Carleton tends to do well in college rankings, we don't recommend that high school students put too much stock in them. The important thing is that the college you choose is the best fit for you--and your criteria may be very different from those used for college rankings. A college can be #1 in the rankings and still be a bad choice for your own individual needs.
Did you visit Carleton before applying? Kifaya Taha '17 says:I had a great prospie experience. I stayed for two days and my host was so nice. It’s just a feeling you get. You feel like you belong. I definitely felt warmth from sitting in a class. Plus, it was a small class, and I like that about a liberal arts college. We’re a community here. It’s very warm, homey and comfortable. I remember that I got lost once while trying to find a building. I must have looked confused, and somebody came up to me and asked, “Do you need help?” Little things like that. People here are very open, very nice.
The Admissions Office says:
The sheer number of college choices can be overwhelming! Most high school students, in consultation with parents and guidance counselors, start to narrow it down by identifying the factors that are most important to them. These may include:
- Size. Do you thrive on small, intimate settings where you can get to know everyone by name, or do you love the energy of a big place where there are always new faces? Are you happiest in large classes or small ones? How important is it to you to have a lot of individual interaction with your professors? Are you interested in an academic program that's generally only available at larger institutions?
- Location. Are you hoping to stay close to home, or are you interested in trying a new part of the state, country, or world? Do you love big cities or small towns? Are there certain kinds of cultural opportunities or outdoor recreation that you can't live without during your college years?
- Academic programs. If you're convinced you know what you want to study, you can start researching the colleges known to have a particularly strong program and outstanding faculty in that area. If you are undecided, have eclectic academic interests, or just want to keep your options open, you'll probably want to look for schools with a broad range of programs that you can sample in your freshman year.
- Extracurricular activities. Some colleges are especially well known for the quality of their extracurricular opportunities in music, theater, athletics, etc. If there's a student activity or organization that's especially important to you, you'll want to make sure that prospective colleges offer you ample chances to pursue it.
- Cost. This is an important factor on almost everyone's list. However, be sure that you don't evaluate colleges solely on "sticker price." It's a popular misconception that only the rich can afford to attend the most selective colleges. In fact, many leading colleges are committed to making a first-class education affordable to outstanding students from all economic backgrounds. If your favorite college is expensive, don't rule it out until you learn what kind of of financial aid package they could offer you.
- Personality. Although it's probably the hardest to define, the unique character of a college can be a key factor in whether you'll be happy there. It's that indescribable something that says to you, "This is my kind of place." Campus visits are probably your best bet for finding the right fit, although off-campus conversations with alumni and current students can also help.
Your own checklist will be as individual as you are, of course. But your sophomore and junior years in high school are a great time to fine-tune your criteria so you can start going to college fairs and campus visits with some very specific questions in mind.
The Admissions Office says:
Students come to Carleton for all different reasons, but here are a few reasons why Carleton stands out for students who visit:
The college runs on a trimester system. Each term (fall, winter, spring) consists of 10 weeks, during which time the work of a semester is completed. It's intense to squeeze 15 weeks of course work into 10, but students only register for 3 courses a term. The trimester system gives students lots of flexibility when declaring a major and registering for classes, particularly when trying to complete a sequence of courses since you have 3 trimesters a year to sign up for the course instead of two semesters. We don't declare a major until the end our sophomore year, which allows you plenty of time to sample many different departmental offerings before picking an area of specialization.
2/3 of our students study abroad, the highest percentage among the top 10 small national liberal arts colleges. You can study black dance in Jamaica, art in Australia and the Cook Islands, French in Mali, political economy in China and those are just a few of the study abroad programs that Carleton operates. Carleton is also a member of numerous study abroad consortiums that routinely take students to a variety of places throughout the globe to study.
Northfield is very much a college town, with a rural backdrop. Northfield has about a dozen pizza places, cute shops, and a coffee cafe that everyone loves to study in; there are also numerous farms. Carleton itself owns a 800 acre arboretum which features natural prairie land and forests. It's a great place to run, ski, or bike. We're also about 45 minutes away from the arts and entertainment that the Twin Cities offers, with buses going up there every weekend.
Carleton students, staff, and faculty have a great sense of humor. We're quirky and fun loving and active in the community. For example: Back in the 1960's, students "liberated" a bust of the German poet Schiller from the dean's office. Since then, Schiller has been in the hands of generations of Carleton students who keep their identity a secret and show the bust at important campus gatherings. Since his liberation, Schiller has been lowered out of a helicopter at homecoming, been aboard Air Force One when President Clinton visited in 2000, and seemingly exploded during an elaborate magic trick at reunion.
Sam Chao '16 says:Unless you have to stick to a certain region of the world, cast a wide net - look at schools on the east coast, the west coast, the midwest, or around the world. It might be a little more work to research schools, but it'll pay off if you find a school that suits your needs (even if it ends up being a school somewhere in Minnesota).