How to Write the Carleton College Essays 2020-2021

Minnesota can get cold, but then there’s Carleton! Home to just over 2,000 undergraduates, Carleton consistently 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, 1,384 students were admitted from a pool of 6,893 applicants, placing the acceptance rate at 20%

 

Operating on a trimester schedule, Carleton offers 1,000+ courses across 37 majors and 33 minors. Around 75% of all alumni end up in graduate school within five years of graduation, and 75% of students also study off-campus at some point, either domestically or abroad. With a student-faculty ratio of 9:1 and an average class size of 16, Carls enjoy four years of intensive academics and a famously close-knit community. Want to know your chances at Carleton? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

The school requires applicants to answer several short, essay-style questions. Keep reading to find out how to tackle those supplements! 

 

Want to learn what Carleton will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Carleton needs to know.

 

Carleton College Supplemental Essay Prompts 

Essays 

 

Prompt 1: When did you first learn of Carleton? (150 words)

 

Prompt 2: Why are you applying to Carleton? (150 words)

 

Prompt 3: Is there any additional information you feel we need to know regarding your application? (250 words)

 

Short Answers

 

We’d like to get to know you a bit better. Please complete the following 3 questions (each in 300 characters or less):

 

  • I am empowered by individuals who … 
  • I value community because … 
  • I want to better my world by …

Prompt 1

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

While this prompt may only seem to require a brief, factual response, the word limit tells us that the school is actually seeking a more developed answer. Note that it’s important to differentiate your response here from that of the second prompt. While this first prompt deals with your initial exposure to Carleton, the second specifically asks about why you are applying. Thus, while you can discuss your interest in Carleton in your first response, you want to avoid too much overlap with your essay for prompt 2. You have limited space to explain “Why Carleton?” across both prompts, so plan accordingly and make all 300 words count.

 

Consider also that the admissions committee likely considers these answers in understanding which of their outreach methods are most effective. You should therefore 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.

 

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. Did you visit campus, or have a great conversation with a current student or alum? Focusing on a specific, significant interaction can double as evidence of your initiative in learning about Carleton. 

 

Notice that this question also asks when you first learned about Carleton. If your discovery of Carleton was spurred 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 the admissions committee 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, 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. No matter what you choose to highlight, the key here is to be specific. Well-researched details and references will make for a more memorable essay and speak to your genuine interest in Carleton.  

Prompt 2

Why are you applying to Carleton? (150 words)

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

 

Remember that all your essays, including those answering the “Why this college?” prompts, are ultimately opportunities to showcase who you are, what you value, and how you think. While you may be tempted to extol the virtues of Carleton here, the admissions committee already knows that their school is great. Focus on selling yourself and making the connection between you and Carleton. 

 

Again, the key to answering these “Why this College?” questions is to hone in on specifics of the school that stand out to you. If you’re really interested in the physical sciences — a Carleton strength — do some research on the college’s website and mention specific courses and opportunities that appeal to you. Maybe you’re especially drawn to their 3-2 engineering program with Columbia and WashU, and want to take the Paleoclimate class or attend the Geology Department’s annual field trips, which have journeyed to Death Valley and Hawaii in past years. Or maybe you’re a free-spirited artist drawn to Carleton’s strong sense of community and quirky students, and want to propose ceramic hairstyle arrangements for Schiller (research this one!) as part of your senior Comp in studio art. 

 

Regardless of which details you mention, be sure to link the aspects and opportunities of Carleton with specifics about you, your interests, and your goals. While you want to demonstrate your fit with Carleton, the short word count requires getting to the point as fast as possible. 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 then only mention the school in the last two sentences.

 

Lastly, 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 a specific academic interest or pursuing individualism within a learning community, this could present a good opportunity to contextualize those aspects to Carleton specifically. 

 

Prompt 3 (optional)

Is there any additional information you feel we need to know regarding your application? (250 words)

This prompt is optional, and you do not need to provide a response unless you have a compelling reason to do so. The Common App already has an additional information section that will be sent to all your schools; you can read more about this in our blog post about what to write in the additional information section

 

As that section allows you to clarify unique circumstances or explain unflattering parts of your application with 650 words, there are few instances where you will need to send another 250-word addendum specifically to Carleton. In the very rare cases (e.g. you are applying early decision and there is some aspect of your application requiring additional, context-specific clarification) that a statement here would be beneficial to your candidacy, we strongly suggest that you make use of our free peer essay review service to get feedback. 

Short Answers

Please complete the following 3 questions (each in 300 characters or less):

 

  • I am empowered by individuals who…

  • I value community because…

  • I want to better my world by…

Carls have a reputation for being quirky above all, so here’s your chance to express how you exhibit this trait! In past years, the premise for these prompts was to not take them (or yourself) too seriously, and while recent events may make the third prompt a little more down-to-earth, we still suggest using the other two to highlight 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 more complete 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. (However, avoid just doing lists for all of these prompts.) Here are some examples:

 

I am empowered by individuals who… 

 

  • meme (proudly but) excessively about their new procrastination habits in the age of COVID-19, preferably at 3 in the morning whilst starting their soon-to-be-due problem sets. 
  • 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 the middle of almost nowhere! Your interactions with others will have more resonance in such a tight group, and the admissions office is interested in 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 less focused on showing off your incredible personality, but we would still advise some humor or passion where possible. Here are some examples:

 

I value community because…

 

  • mine frequently consist of hysterically funny, heartwarmingly kind, and surprisingly socially competent caffeine addicts. 
  • after five hours of vigorous debate and speculation on what could happen if that pile of rubble had moved a few feet over, we found it in ourselves to (conditionally) forgive Game of Thrones: Season 8. 
  • of that rush I get every time we perform — the lights, the movement, the feeling of home and that magic of creating something together, lasting only a moment yet greater than anything we could ever achieve alone. 

 

The third prompt checks in on your passion for learning, sense of civic duty, and future ambitions. In light of recent events and since Carleton offers top-notch instruction, the admissions committee wants to see that you have plans for using your education to empower others, advance knowledge, and contribute to society. If this sentiment has been expressed in one of your other essays — be it the Common App or Why Carleton prompts — you can again opt for a more humorous, personality-filled response: any unanswered question or unresolved problem could work. Other applicants, however, will want to more clearly express their desire to contribute; when in doubt, look for a personal connection. Some examples:

 

I want to better my world by…

 

  • studying ADHD symptoms and diagnoses in populations that aren’t white men, helping to tear down systemic barriers in healthcare access and equity, education, and life outcomes for BIPOC children and women. 
  • exploring the challenges posed to carnivores in mitigating climate change, starting with my fellow humans but also in considering any darling coyotes I’d be sharing the Arb with. 
  • figuring out why the chicken did actually cross the road, as this would finally provide some closure to the countless millions who have pondered this question. (It’s also a matter of intellectual curiosity, as mine don’t seem to care about getting to the other side?)

 

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