How to Write the Carleton College Essays 2019-2020

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Minnesota can get cold, but then there’s Carleton! Home to over 2,000 undergraduates, Carleton ranks at #1 for undergraduate teaching among liberal arts colleges in the U.S. and keeps up a rivalry with St. Olaf’s across town. Last year, 1,401 students were admitted from a pool of 7,321 applicants, placing the acceptance rate at 19.2%. Keep reading to find out how to tackle those supplements! Want to know your chances at Carleton? Calculate your chances for free right now.


How to Write the Carleton College Supplemental Essays


Prompt 1:

When did you first learn of Carleton? (150 words) 

The first prompt asks when you first learned about Carleton. While this may on the surface seem only to require a brief, factual response, the word limit (150 words) tells us that the school is actually seeking a more developed response to this question.


In responding to this prompt, it’s important that the response you give is differentiated from that of the second prompt. While the first prompt deals with your initial exposure to Carleton College, the second specifically asks about why you are applying. Thus, while you should discuss your interest in Carleton in some capacity in your first response, you want to avoid too much overlap with your essay for prompt 2.


A good way to start this essay might be with an anecdote about the exact moment you learned about Carleton. Note that the phrase “learn of” can be interpreted with some flexibility; while you can obviously speak about the first time you ever heard of the school, you can also discuss the moment you realized it was the perfect place for you after months of your parents pushing you to apply.


However, note that this prompt also serves to inform admissions committees which of their outreach methods are most effective. You should make at least some mention of the method through which you initially heard of the school, be it through an email, college fair, word of mouth, etc.


You should also notice that this question asks when you first learned about Carleton.


If your discovery of Carleton was spurred on by a newfound interest in liberal arts colleges your junior year, or your conviction since your sophomore year that you wanted to leave your home on the West Coast and explore new parts of the country, you can tie in your developing interests at that period in your life with your discovery of Carleton. This offers admissions committees insight into the process by which you decided to apply, and for how long you’ve been interested in a Carleton education.


For example, a student with two older siblings in college might have gained an understanding of the cons of the quarter and semester systems from an early age. Knowing from the beginning of their college search that they wanted an alternative to these two options, they could have discovered Carleton with its trimester system early in their junior year and had their heart set on attending ever since.


Their essay could provide both a factual account of when and how the student first learned of Carleton College, while also communicating the student’s lasting interest in the school and desire for a unique educational experience.


While describing your lifelong desire to attend Carleton could make for a great essay, you shouldn’t write about that if that hasn’t been your experience. Even a story of discovering the college a week before the application deadline can make for a compelling essay, so long as you communicate what exactly about it stood out to you.

Prompt 2:

Why are you applying to Carleton? (150 words)

The second question is fairly straightforward: essentially, explain why you want to be a student at Carleton College. Although the prompt is clearly understood, the challenge here is fitting a compelling narrative in a mere 150 words.


A key to answering these “Why us?” questions is to focus on specifics of the school. If you are really interested in studying the Classics, do some research on the the college’s website on their Classics department and mention specific courses and opportunities that appeal to you. Maybe you’re especially drawn to Latin poetry, and want to take Carleton’s Latin Prose and Poetry class.


Given the short nature of the prompt, we at CollegeVine would suggest focusing more on your interest in Carleton and the opportunities it offers than your personal experiences in your response. How you came to be interested in a certain subject can be a good place to start off this prompt, but it is important to show a demonstrated interest in the school and persuasively show why you are a good fit.


An example of a bad way to approach this prompt would be to provide too much autobiographical information in your response and fail to make your response tailored to Carleton. For instance, if you want to talk about your interest in biology, don’t spend the majority of the prompt telling the story of that one time you went on a camping trip and became fascinated with other organisms and only mention the school in the last two sentences.


A key challenge in this prompt is incorporating just enough autobiographical details to give the admissions committee context for your interest, while still conveying a focus on the school.


Think strategically about how this prompt  fits in a broader narrative about yourself that you have set up in other parts of your application. If your Common Application essay was all about your interest and fascination with biology, this could present a good opportunity to contextualize those interests to this specific school.

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Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographic, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Prompt 3:

Please complete the following 3 questions (each in 300 characters or fewer), and have a little fun doing so:

  • I am empowered by people who…

  • I appreciate my community because …

  • In the future, I hope to explore…

Carls have a reputation for being quirky above all, so here’s your chance to exhibit! As the premise for these prompts is to not take them (or yourself) too seriously, we suggest drawing attention to fun aspects of your personality, unique hobbies, or amusing goals — anything about you that hasn’t been discussed at length in other parts of your application. The admissions office is looking for a sense of humor and a fuller picture of who you are, so it’s really just a personality contest! Your goal is to leave a lasting impression, so try to be as specific as possible and don’t worry about going up to the character limit.


The first prompt is asking who inspires you, so consider the types of people you surround yourself with or the people that you look up to, and see if you can draw attention to any specific traits. Note that this is in no way a limitation on the range of answers, as you can be semi-serious and actually describe who you like to hang out with, or highlight offbeat passions, or reference nerdy interests! You can also do any sort of combinations you’d like, and if you’re really struggling, try a well-curated list. (Just avoid doing lists for all of these prompts, yes?) Here are some examples:


I am empowered by people who…


  • meme excessively with the Simpsons, preferably at 2 in the morning before CS finals.
  • insist on playing bishop C4 on the second move, but still reject my pawn sacrifices later in the midgame.
  • dislike capitalism, finger puppets, Shakespeare, or all twelve of my stunningly attractive Leghorn chickens …*shrugs*


The second prompt checks in on your sense of community. This is critically important for Carleton, being a small liberal arts college in almost the middle of nowhere! Your interactions with others will have more resonance in such a close-knit community, and the admissions office is interested in hearing about what you might contribute. Start by reflecting on aspects of your current communities that you genuinely appreciate — whether it be a sports team, a workplace, your church, or anywhere else you consider a community — and see if anything lines up with the research you’ve conducted on Carleton. (Legend has it that besides quirkiness, Carls are generally nerdy, funny, warm, and humble.) For this prompt, you can also be a little more straightforward and focus less on showing off your incredible personality, but we would still advise some humor where possible. Here are some examples:


I appreciate my community because…


  • it is made up of socially competent, hysterically funny, and heartwarmingly kind caffeine addicts.
  • nowhere else have I found so many poets, artists, and philosophers, hidden underneath the cover of their remarkable STEM talents.
  • of our universally preferred method for bold procrastination: watching Seinfield reruns and pondering, every few hours, how much money Steven Bannon is making off of us right now. (Our estimates range from “a lot” to “a LOT!”)  


The third prompt is framed as asking about your passions or future ambitions, but taking it less seriously (again) may be to your benefit. Any question that you have unanswered, or a problem you have left unsolved will work — can’t go wrong between the nerdiness and the quirkiness! If you’ve done your research, you could also cite something specific about Carleton that you’re interested in exploring. And of course, you could also answer this one more seriously by detailing one of your passions or future ambitions, but per usual, we would strongly recommend that you still include a bit of personality or humor in there. Some examples:


In the future, I hope to explore…


  • whether polyamory is so much better than monogamy.
  • why the chicken(s) did actually cross the road. (I’ve observed that mine don’t actually care that much about getting to the other side…?)
  • the habits of the carnivores that I’d be sharing the Arb with — but particularly the coyotes.
  • the roots of society’s morbid fascination with serial killers.
  • how the 42-page AP Pokémon exam came to be! (And yes, it’s reputedly even better than the AP Minecraft one.)


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