I think I met Winnie pretty early in my Carleton career, though we really started talking this summer when Winnie was working at Camp Sol, an amazing Northfield summer program.Winnie is a wonderful, sunshine-y person. At Carleton, she is the Student Departmental Advisor for American Studies (her major) and a member of the Semaphore Dance Company. She also has started, as a senior, working in the dining hall, which I think is awesome. Sometime last term, Winnie shared what she loves about Carleton and how she thought about her decision to come here. What she says is what I wish I had heard as a prospective student; hopefully this is helpful for you!
I realized I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college during my senior year of high school. I was at a small high school and felt that I would like the environment of a small college. I also knew I wanted to take a gap year. I think a lot of prospective Carleton students should consider gap years, because it was a really good experience.
My family was encouraging me to not go into debt. I was really looking at financial aid, and Carleton had better financial aid than the other private schools I got into, but it was still a difficult decision. My parents didn’t want us to take out private loans, and I seriously considered going to a state school.
During my gap year, I had time to think a little and talk to a lot of people. I visited campus when classes were in session. I hadn’t actually visited Carleton when there were students and I really wanted to see a class and get a better feeling of what campus life was like. I really liked the people I met, the people I stayed with, the people in classes I went to. I really wanted to come here. I managed to make things work with financial aid, even though it took a while.
I had been taught to think very skeptically about college and I went into it thinking, “If I don’t like this after a year, I can leave.” The gap year was really important to me in how I approached Carleton because it gave me time to really intentionally think about why I was going to college, what I wanted to get out of college, and what my interests were. I came into Carleton really pumped for it and felt very independent…I had traveled, been working, and I think that helped me adjust to the environment here and have a better sense of myself.
I wanted to go to Carleton to gain knowledge, figure out what my values are and what direction I want to be going. While I don’t know everything, what I’ve learned here has helped me shape my opinions. My values haven’t radically changed since coming to Carleton, but they have more depth and perspective. I have a better understanding of the world and a better ability to ask questions.
I think I’ve come away with better questions about the world that will help me make decisions about what I want to do. Even though I don’t have a career path planned, I’m very excited because I feel like Carleton has helped me, not just academically. It’s been a good place for me to figure out what I care about, and that happens not just in the classroom.
The most valuable things for me have been things like Inter-group Dialogue and FemSex, which are academic, but peer-led and extracurricular. They force you to think about yourself more. Those types of opportunities to learn about yourself and others, combined with academic classes have made me the person I am today. I’m a much more reflexive person, and I can think about myself within a larger context. Carleton has motivated me to be more conscious of inequalities and how I might be reproducing them or part of them.
Part of my gap year experience was going to Bolivia and I learned a lot about inequalities, but I didn’t really have a context to seriously understand how I fit in. I want to explore more of those issues in America, and Carleton has shown me how we fit into this world context, and what our history is and what we have to work on. Rather than just thinking “Oh, we need to save the world!” in this general sense, it’s better to think about how we can make a difference, given our own experiences, skills and interests. We need to develop the specific knowledge and talents that we have.
It’s important to be humble. Carleton should be about more than the degree.
Figure out why you, specifically, want to be at Carleton. You can get an education anywhere--I believe that. Whatever you do is going to change you. When you’re choosing Carleton, think about where you’ve been, and what you really want to learn at this point in your life. Those thoughts will serve you when you’re struggling and you need to remember why you’re here. Don’t be afraid to question what you’re doing, and sometimes even doubt it. Remember to ask for help, and find people you can talk to about why you care about being at Carleton. It is a big commitment to come here, and we shouldn’t take that for granted. This is a really expensive education, in terms of money but also in terms of effort and energy. But there’s a lot to be valued---you just need to find that for yourself!