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How to Write the Carleton College Essays 2022-2023

Carleton College is a small liberal arts college in Minnesota that ranks among the highest of its kind, meaning that writing strong essays will be essential to standing out as an applicant.


Carleton’s supplemental essay prompts generally revolve around the school’s sense of community and inclusion, and your responses should reflect your desire to be a part of that community. While there may not be a standard “Why This College?” supplement, each essay choice will in some shape or form ask you to envision yourself as a Carleton student, and admissions representatives are looking for students who want to continue the school’s mission of serving the community and one another.

 

Want to know your chances at Carleton? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Carleton College Supplemental Essay Prompts 

Prompt 1: Please share your thoughts on one (1) of the following prompts, in no more than 300 words.

 

  • Option A: Carleton’s community plan for inclusion, diversity, and equity aims to nurture and develop an even stronger community where students, faculty, and staff belong and thrive. How might you contribute to a sense of belonging at Carleton?

 

  • Option B: Before graduation, every Carleton student completes a senior project, known as “comps.” Comps projects take many different forms: a few recent examples are formal research papers, public presentations, and even a live staging of theater production. Based on your current academic interests, what type of comps project or topic would you explore, and why? (No pressure, we won’t hold you to this!)

 

  • Option C: Traditions at Carleton center around building and appreciating community. Some examples include the new student frisbee toss, Friday flowers, and baking cookies at Dacie Moses House. If you were tasked with creating a new Carleton tradition, what would you propose and how would you emphasize community within your idea?

 

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 A

Carleton’s community plan for inclusion, diversity, and equity aims to nurture and develop an even stronger community where students, faculty, and staff belong and thrive. How might you contribute to a sense of belonging at Carleton? (300 words)

This prompt references Carleton’s EDI Action Plan, which emphasizes Carleton’s commitment to fostering a community that stresses equity, diversity, and inclusion. The first thing you should do when preparing to answer this prompt is to brush up and read about that action plan, which can be found in full and in a more-concise brochure format. 

 

Essentially, Carleton hopes to create an environment in which everyone has equal access to educational resources regardless of race, gender, financial status, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and so on. As a result, this is a great prompt to answer if you feel your personal identity aligns with this mission statement or if you wish to share how your perspective could continue the progress Carleton is hoping to achieve.

 

We recommend that you write about your background or identity that you feel has given you a unique perspective on this prompt. Even if you feel as though you don’t have something new to add to the conversation, that may prove to be untrue as you begin fleshing out your response. Everyone, regardless of their community and identity, has a unique set of experiences and thus a unique perspective, so as long as you can lean into that in your response, your answer will certainly be your own.

 

First, describe your chosen background and how it has shaped your identity. You can write about family members, traditions, friends, holidays, cultural practices, and even things as simple as food. Just make sure that they are genuine experiences that you’ve had and avoid sweeping generalizations about a people or a culture that may sound unauthentic. And don’t worry about spending too much time writing about this, this is primarily helpful to provide context to the admissions representative who may be less familiar with your background.

 

The primary goal of this response is not just to describe your background and identity, but to show the admissions representative how you plan to continue a sense of inclusion and belonging within the wider Carleton community. That can be for both students who identify similarly to you as well as those who wish to engage further. 

 

Perhaps you plan to put together a multicultural group on campus for South Asian students. Or maybe you’d love to spotlight international films that you grew up with from your immigrant parents. Maybe you’re a first-generation college student who wants to connect with fellow first-generation students on campus to help new first-generation students transition into the campus community. Whatever your idea may be, the admissions representative wants to see that you’re passionate about your background, ambitious, and committed to their EDI cause.

 

Remember to keep it unique and authentic to your experiences. This will have the most impact on your application. You want your final response to feel as though only you could’ve written it, so reflect on what you want your college experience to be in relation to your background and identity, and write about how you can help determine that for others.

 

Prompt 1, Option B

Before graduation, every Carleton student completes a senior project, known as “comps.” Comps projects take many different forms: a few recent examples are formal research papers, public presentations, and even a live staging of theater production. Based on your current academic interests, what type of comps project or topic would you explore, and why? (No pressure, we won’t hold you to this!) (300 words)

This question allows you the opportunity to speak candidly about your interests and your goals – they can extend beyond what you may already have experienced in high school and can be as ambitious as you want them to be. In fact, we recommend shooting for the stars. It’s that sense of ambition that the admissions representative is hoping to see in your response.

 

Regardless of what field or area of study you are interested in, there will most likely be something that can serve as a capstone, or in this case a “comps”. Think of the comps as a final project that serves as a comprehensive example of all you have learned, compounding the skills and knowledge you have garnered over four years of college into one final swan song. 

 

As they state in the prompt, you’re not tied to whatever you choose, so think of a project you would create if any of your high school teachers gave you full autonomy. While you shouldn’t write about trying any hyperbole like finding a cure for cancer or solving world hunger, you can certainly write about crafting a research paper about cancer or working in the public health department to develop strategies to combat global famine.

 

Remember, you’re not pitching a project to them, but rather explaining why you would want to complete your chosen comps. If you want your final project to be a staged reading of an original play, describe how you want to elevate your narrative writing in college and want to be able to complete a full-fledged work with a performance component that can represent how your understanding of theatre has grown.

 

The admissions representatives are looking for driven and ambitious admits who have hopes, dreams, and intentions to use a college experience to help achieve them. This is your chance to show off what you hope to do with your college experience, and leave your mark not only on your future but also on Carleton’s campus and community. 

 

The more specific you are in your response the better – having a clear goal in mind, even if you’re not completely sure of what you want your project to be, will leave a lasting impression on your admissions reader. Write about what you want your process to look like, how you want your project to engage with the community, and basically anything else that can paint a vivid picture of your aspirations.

 

Prompt 1, Option C

Traditions at Carleton center around building and appreciating community. Some examples include the new student frisbee toss, Friday flowers, and baking cookies at Dacie Moses House. If you were tasked with creating a new Carleton tradition, what would you propose and how would you emphasize community within your idea? (300 words)

This can be a tougher question to answer, as it requires you to assess a community that you are not yet familiar with. However, admissions readers are not looking for the next big Carleton tradition to snatch up, rather they want to see your commitment to engaging with the Carleton community and the traditions that come with it. They want to see how you hope to build and add to the community at the school, as well as how you can use creativity to engage a wider student body.

 

This will require some critical thinking and inventiveness, so the first thing you’ll want to do is conduct a brainstorming session. Take a couple of minutes, whether you type it or handwrite it, and jot out any idea that comes to mind. It’s likely that the idea that you will choose for your essay will come from this list. 

 

Also make sure to look more into Carleton’s current traditions, as you don’t want to accidentally suggest something that already exists! It can also help you get a feel for the kind of tradition that might fit best at Carleton.

 

Think back on your high school experiences. Are there any community events from your high school you want to carry forward to college? Are there any events you wish your high school had had? What about personal events during your life? Are there any that could be applied to the campus at large? Think about Carleton as a Midwestern school. Are there any Midwestern traditions you hope to bring to Carleton? 

 

Remember that these essays are ultimately meant to tell Carleton something more about you as an applicant, so don’t be afraid to suggest something related to your interests.

 

For example, maybe you plan to play in the orchestra and want more students to experience orchestral music in a casual setting. You might suggest a spring festival that takes place at the Carleton Arboretum. There could be live music by campus music groups, games planned by each dorm in a bracket-style tournament, and international foods catered by the culture clubs. This event would expose students to the diverse range of music at Carleton and have students from all kinds of groups working together to make the festival a success. 

 

Your tradition is meant to inspire that sense of community, so aim to create one that brings all students together and makes them feel present on the Carleton campus. 

 

Remember to keep in mind that Carleton is a small liberal arts college that doesn’t come with the same mass of athletic spirit as larger public universities might, so try not to write about something like tailgating or rallying the student body for a game. 

 

Additionally, you’ll want to avoid general community events such as game days as well as anything that may just be a national-wide college tradition like leaving your dorm room door open on the first day to meet your hall. Feel free to do research on other schools’ traditions, but be careful not to directly copy or paraphrase the traditions of any other. Look into Carleton’s culture and think about what kind of community-building activities would find a good home there.

 

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.)

However, if you feel as though there is something about your identity or about why you want to go to Carleton that is important to your application, don’t hesitate to include it here. Here are some examples of details you may wish to write about here:

 

  • Unusual circumstances or hardships (financial hardships, first-generation status, illness, tragedy, etc.)
  • Family responsibilities that may have prevented students from taking traditional extracurriculars
  • Unique extracurricular that wasn’t written about in another part of the application outside of the Activities section
  • Describing your identity in the context of race, gender, or LGBTQ+

 

This prompt is going to be on an extremely case-by-case basis, so do what feels right for you and remember that you don’t have to embellish anything about yourself or your life in an attempt to make it sound more interesting to an admissions reader. They really just want to get to know you as your authentic self, so if you do choose to answer this prompt, make sure that you’re doing it in a manner that is genuine and honest.

 

Also, even though this prompt has a 250-word limit, feel free to only write a few short sentences if that feels more appropriate to you.

 

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.