How to Write the Carleton College Essays 2021-2022

Carleton College consistently ranks highly among liberal arts colleges in the U.S. If you are interested in applying, you will have to respond to supplemental essay questions. The questions will give admission staff insight into the kind of person you are and the community member you will be when you become a student. 


Carleton values service to the community and lifelong learners who are curious about the world and people around them. These prompts help to direct your thoughts for writing and maybe even for your future at Carleton and the rest of your life. 


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Carleton College Supplemental Essay Prompts 

Prompt 1: Carleton prepares students to “lead lives of learning that are broadly rewarding, professionally satisfying, and of service to humanity.” We rely on the individuals within our community to help carry out this mission and shape each other’s experiences. Please share your thoughts on one (1) of the following prompts (in no more than 300 words) of what these Carleton values look like to you. 


  1. I am empowered by individuals who … OR
  2. I value community because…OR
  3. I want to better my world by…


Prompt 2: Anything missing? Do you want to share more with us? If so, use this space to fill any gaps you think would assist us in reviewing your application. (Optional, no more than 250 words.)


Carleton admission staff provide helpful essay tips on their admissions website. This is great advice for writing college essays overall. They encourage students to see the essay as an opportunity to share information that won’t be found elsewhere in your application and to show who you are beyond test scores and GPAs.


  • Be genuine. Write what you want to say, not what you think they want to hear. 
  • Answer the question. 
  • It is an essay so remember to come up with a thesis, an introduction, body, and ending.
  • Don’t set out to write the perfect admission essay. Write the best essay for you. 
  • Proofread. Errors and misspellings are distracting. Take the time to create a clean, error-free essay. 


Residential liberal arts colleges like Carleton know that students have a better experience and greater success when they feel that they belong at their school. This is especially true for smaller colleges where students and faculty know each other by name. These prompts give admission staff an opportunity to get to know you as a person and how the Carleton community might be a good fit for you. 


All of these options will require some introspection on your part. You may even surprise yourself as you consider these prompts. 


Prompt 1, Option 1

I am empowered by individuals who. . . (300 words)

This is a different twist on a common question about people who inspire you or people you admire. Rather than writing about an important person in your life, they want to know what it is about them that brings out the best in you. The initial prompt tells you that Carleton relies on everyone  to create that living/learning environment they value as an institution.  


To empower someone is to literally give them power and authority to do something, or enable and make it possible to do something. Think about those people who have shaped you to become the person you are today. Who are those people who motivate you? Who brings out the best in you? They can be friends, family members, teachers, coaches, civic or world leaders. Next, think about the traits they possess that encourage you to follow a dream, invite you to be a leader, or create opportunities for you to get involved. 


The word count is “up to 300 words” and while you don’t need to hit that target number exactly, you will want to come close. Finish the option one sentence and provide insight into what it is that these people have or do that empower you. 


An example:


I am empowered by individuals who. . . 


Aren’t afraid to speak out for what they believe in. No one would mistake me for an extroverted person who enjoys being in the spotlight. In fact, I’m one who prefers to stand in the back of the crowd.


Last summer, a few of my close friends invited me to come with them to the state capitol where others would be speaking on issues that were important to me. It was a step out of my comfort zone, but my feelings about these issues were stronger than my reluctance to be a part of a large group. 


What I didn’t know is that one of my friends was going to make a speech and share their perspectives. I was genuinely overwhelmed by the energy, power, and influence of their words. Participants were nodding in agreement as my friend put their feelings into words. Before I knew what was happening, I asked if I could talk. There I was in front of about a hundred strangers speaking into a microphone and sharing my thoughts on the subject. Even though I had never done anything like this before, I felt empowered and supported to say what I wanted to say. People applauded when I finished and only then did I feel like I was going to be sick. 


I’m still an introverted person and I don’t say much. But when I do take an opportunity to speak, others recognize that I don’t do this just to hear myself talk. They know that I am genuine and sincere. It’s still uncomfortable for me, but I feel empowered to say what is unsaid by those who are willing to be bigger than their fears.


Prompt 1, Option 2

I value community because. . . (300 words)

Carleton has laid out their institutional values about community and service in the instructions to these prompts. Know that the concept of “community” can be used in many ways. Think about the communities you experience or are a member of. It might be your hometown or your high school community. It could be a community of faith or a service club that you are a part of. It could be your family or your group of friends. 


What is it about being/learning/living in a community that is important to you? As a small residential liberal arts college in a small rural community, it’s difficult to be anonymous. That close-knit community trait may be something appealing to you. Your response to this prompt provides the admission staff insight into the kind of community you value and the kind of community member you could be at Carleton. 


For example:


I value community because. . .


My neighborhood and the families who live there have worked hard for everything we have. We are really rich, though, because we share what we have like we are family. Of course, many of us are related either through blood or by long friendships. My best friend’s grandparents and mine are close friends and went to school together. So did our parents. As kids, we were in and out of everyone’s houses. Neighborhood grandparents took turns taking us to and from school when our parents were at work. No one had money for daycare but we had folks who cared about us and our family. We always had a big potluck at the end of the month and everyone brought what they could share. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized that this is how we were feeding each other until the next payday. On our own, we didn’t have enough to feed ourselves, but together, it was a feast. These are the people who raised my siblings and me to truly understand how important community is.


Prompt 1, Option 3

I want to better my world by . . . (300 words)

Residential living and learning communities like Carleton offer more than an academic education. It is truly a life-changing experience and they want to know how you envision your life after college. As you have gathered, your time at Carleton will be transformational. They have expressed their mission to prepare students to be lifelong learners leading rewarding and satisfying lives that serve the greater good. All of these prompts paint a full picture of who you are and who you will grow to become. Students with a passion for service in all areas of their lives are often drawn to Carleton because this is a key personality trait of the institution. 


If you are motivated by other people and have a strong value for the importance of community, you likely also know what you can do personally to benefit humanity.  Know that this can be targeted to your course of study, your career choices, or where you choose to live. It can be something like knowing what you can do in your area on a micro scale – all change begins locally. Or it can be a macro, world-focus type of project that can have extraordinary effects on our world. And, of course, everything in between. Carleton students are engaged in 


For example:


I want to better my world by . . .


At 17, I have learned enough about myself to know that I’m not going to be a scientist working on a cure for cancer. I’m also not cut out to be an accountant, a doctor, a poet, an assembly line worker, or a daycare instructor. These are all very important people in our world, but none of these match my strengths or my best self. 


I know that I want to have a fulfilling life and to make a contribution to society. For me, that looks like public service through a career in law. I’ve learned about programs like Equal Justice Works and legal aid organizations that work to help people in need of legal advice and representation but cannot afford an attorney. I’m interested in finding ways through this current eviction crisis that helps both the tenant and the landlord. I know that situations like this disproportionately affect women, single moms, persons with disabilities, and persons of color. I want to use my skills and passion to create greater equity and find ways to shrink the gaps that exist in our society between those who have and those who have not. 


Carleton’s 3-3 program with the Columbia University School of Law will put me on the path to this goal to serve others. I can’t change everything that I would like to, but I know that I can better my world starting at Carleton.


Prompt 2

Anything missing? Do you want to share more with us? If so, use this space to fill any gaps you think would assist us in reviewing your application. (Optional, no more than 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 get feedback from others prior to submitting your response.


How to Get Your Carleton College Essays Edited for Free


It can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively after re-reading your essay countless times. That’s why we created our helpful, free Peer Essay Review tool, where another high school student can give you an unbiased review of your essay. They can help you make sure your personality shines through and that you’ve thoroughly answered the prompt.


You can also use the tool to review other student’s essays to help improve your own writing skills. Give it a try, and let us know what you think!


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.

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