Carleton College


Driving down rural Highway 19 in southeast Minnesota amidst farms and cornfields, it’s hard to imagine that one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges lies just out of sight. Founded in 1866, Carleton attracts a talented, diverse, and intelligent group of students, many of whom were initially considering matriculation into the Ivy League. The campus atmosphere, while intensely intellectual, is at the same time laid-back and friendly and is a great fit for students who want a small liberal arts college atmosphere, and a student body filled with a diverse, eccentric, and fun-loving people.

Prospective students who visit the campus in the summer will have a hard time envisioning what the college is all about because Carleton is really defined by the students, staff, and faculty who populate it. All of these people come together to make the college a supportive, intellectual, and challenging environment in which to live and learn. The class sizes are very small, usually with less than 20 students per room, and all classes are taught by dedicated professors, never any teaching assistants. Bachelor’s degrees in arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences are awarded, giving graduates the skills needed to succeed in life.

Information Summary

Ranks 1st in Minnesota and 13th overall. See the entire top 2,000 colleges and universities list
Overall Score (about) 99.0
Total Cost On-Campus Attendance $71,325
Admission Success rate N/A
ACT / SAT 75%ile scores 34 / 1530
Student Ratio Students-to-Faculty 8 : 1
Retention (full-time / part-time) 97% / N/A
Enrollment Total (all students) 2,097


Academics are at the heart of students’ liberal arts experience. Since Carleton is solely a full-time undergraduate institution, its academic programs are of course focused on undergrads, unlike many prestigious universities. There are thirty-four majors to choose from and students have the option of choosing one of sixteen concentrations, which is similar to an interdisciplinary minor. All graduates earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Distribution Requirements

Students are expected and required to complete a wide range of courses in varied subjects. The college’s distribution requirements are designed with the intention that all students’ four-year academic experience will have breadth as well as depth. Everyone must take two courses in arts and literature, two courses in humanities, three courses in the social sciences, and three courses in math and the natural sciences.

Students must also pass a writing requirement by taking a designated writing-intensive course and submitting a portfolio of samples of their writing by the end of their sophomore year. The RAD (Recognizing and Affirming Differences) requirement must be fulfilled, which basically means taking a class that focuses on a subject from a non-Western European perspective. Finally, all students must take four physical education courses, which can range from rock climbing to contact improvisation to ice skating.

Working Toward a Major

The major is an opportunity for students to study extensively in one subject that truly interests them. Every major and concentration has its own distribution requirements and required number of credit hours. Most majors require students to complete introductory courses (100 levels) in order to take intermediate (200 levels) and advanced courses (300 levels). Most students will also have to complete a methods course in their major during their sophomore or junior years and a Senior Seminar. Some will have to go through a petition process to complete a special major and/or double major. All students will meet with an assigned advisor from the faculty in their major to further discuss and plan their academic path.

The Senior Integrative Exercise

In their senior year, students will cap off their major by completing a senior integrative exercise, or the comprehensive project. The project can take on many different forms, even within a certain major. They can be long exams, an in depth research paper, an original thesis, a body of original artistic work, or student-conducted scientific or psychological research.

The Trimester System

Carleton differs from the semester schedule of many other colleges of its size and caliber, and instead operates on a three-term system. The terms, conveniently named “Fall,” “Winter,” and “Spring,” are ten weeks long, and students will usually take three classes each term. Three classes seem like it would make for a relatively “light” course load, but when a semesters-worth of information is crammed into ten weeks, most students will agree that three classes is more than enough. The advantage of the trimester system is that it allows students to focus intensely on a few subjects for short bursts of time instead of spreading out their concentration to four or five classes that seem to last forever. Classes usually meet three days a week for seventy minutes or twice a week for an hour and forty five minutes, so each class is incredibly important and bring something new to the course of study.

Study Abroad

If there’s one thing that Carleton students like to do, it’s explore. About two thirds of students study abroad at least once during their time at college in over a hundred programs in forty-five different countries. Each year faculty members lead groups of fifteen to thirty students to destinations around the world for ten weeks. These programs let students take a wide range of classes that help to fulfill requirements in their major, while at the same time allowing them to experience the subject they are studying on a more first-hand basis.

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For a small private college in the Midwest, Carleton has boasted acceptance rates in the past few years that are as selective as those of its East Coast counterparts. Getting into the college is not an easy feat and there are certain qualities in any application that admissions officers do look for, and aspects about an accepted student that will set him or her apart from less qualified applicants. In order to select a group of students for an incoming class who will take full advantage of all that the school offers, admissions officers will review applicants’ academic backgrounds, standardized test scores, school and community involvement, and other unique accomplishments.

One of the most important parts of any student’s application is his or her high school transcript. Admissions officers want to see that a student has taken challenging academics like honors, International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement classes, even if it means that the student has a lower GPA than if he or she chose to take easier courses. A broad range of harder courses on a transcript shows that an applicant is academically curious, can handle the course load, and is up for a challenge.

Admission officers also consider teacher recommendations, the college counselor recommendation, and standardized test scores. Carleton requires either the SAT or the ACT with writing and recommends that students take the SAT subject tests (scores on these tests can generally only help an applicant). Students for whom English is a second language should take the TOEFL.

Early Decision

There are two Early Decision options for those who are certain that this college is their top-choice school. Early Decision is a binding agreement, and accepted Early Decision students will have to withdraw all other applications and not submit new ones. The Fall application deadline is November 15, and decisions will be mailed by December 15. The Winter deadline is January 15, the same as the Regular Decision deadline. Winter Early Decision will be notified by February 15. Regular Decision will be notified by early April, and no later than April 15.

Financial Aid

There is a need-based financial aid policy in place, meaning there is an expectation that the family will contribute as much as they can toward the cost of education. Of course, this contribution varies with each family.

The school awards grants and scholarships, which do not have to be repaid. Outside aid comes from federal and state grants and national, regional, and local scholarships. In each class, Carleton sponsors seventy-five or more National Merit and National Achievement Scholarships. The college also participates in the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Pell Grant, Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG Grant), and National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant programs, as well as the Perkins Loan Program, the Stafford Student Loan program, SELF Loans, and a number of other loan programs.

Most of the financial aid packages consist of grants from the school and outside sources, a loan, and a work contract. Almost 82% of all students work on campus, most as a part of the work-study program through their financial aid. First-year students don’t work more than eight hours a week, and upper-class students don’t work more than ten hours a week. Most students find that their work is manageable and often a rewarding part of their overall experience.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 6028th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Minnesota.


Residence Halls

All first-year students and the majority of all students live in the nine residence halls (or dorms) on campus. Every dorm is coed and mixed by class year. Freshmen will live in one of seven dorms (they don’t live in two dorms because their layout isn’t conducive to proper freshmen “floor bonding”) and will be assigned to one or two roommates. Living in close quarters with a diverse group of people for an entire school year can be a challenging, yet ultimately rewarding experience. Dorm floors become small communities of their own, and many of them band together in intramural broomball games or as cast and crew of an annual campus-wide video- making competition called DVD Fest.

Clubs and Activities

At the beginning of every school year, each student is given a Lagniappe, the schools very own daily planner. It’s a good thing to have around campus because schedules can get complicated very quickly. Besides class periods, assignment due dates, and readings to follow, students will probably want to keep track of things like club meetings, performances, volunteer events, intramural games, and dates to hang out at the local coffee shop. All students are part of the Carleton Student Association (CSA), and elected officers form a student government that influences college policy and allocates funding to student organizations. There are over 150 “official” student organizations on campus to satisfy just about everyone’s interests, whether it be religious, athletic, political, artistic, cultural, intellectual, or just plain goofy. If there isn’t a club for a particular group, they can easily start their own

Community Involvement

Many students work as peer leaders in many different offices on campus. The Resident Advisors, Intercultural Peer Leaders, Gender and Sexuality Center Associates, Student Wellness Advisors, Chaplain’s Associates, and Student Departmental Advisors are constantly working to make the college a welcome and inclusive campus for all students. They frequently host guest speakers, panel discussions, open houses, movies, and other events to educate and inform the entire campus community.

Fine Arts

Two of the largest student organizations are KRLX, the school’s very own radio station, and Ebony II, a dance troupe open to anyone. Over 200 students are involved in each club each term—as DJs, newscasters, and engineers for the round-the-clock FM station, or as dancers in one or many of the Ebony II shows that debut near midterms. Students wanting to get more involved in dance can try out for Semaphore Repertory Dance Company, take classes ranging from ballet to moving anatomy, or even apply for a special major. Every year a few students also apply for special majors in theater, and there are many opportunities for students with a wide range of abilities and interest levels to get involved in theatrical productions. Every year students write, direct, and perform in a program of one-act plays or put on larger faculty-directed Players shows that go up in the large Arena Theater. Students can also participate in a number of CSA-sponsored theatrical and comedy groups that usually perform several times a term.

Making the Most of Campus

Since this is a full-time residential college, the social scene is very campus-centric. In any given week or weekend, there are countless speakers, exhibits, community meetings, movies, presentations, gatherings, festivals, performances, and parties to attend.

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


A good majority of students will play varsity, club, or intramural sports during their time at here. There are twenty-one NCAA Division III varsity teams at this school who compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, one of the strongest Division III sports conferences in the country. Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and women’s soccer and volleyball have been particularly successful in the past few years.

If a sport isn’t played at the varsity level here, it’s probably a club sport. Club sports range in intensity, but most seem to strike a balance between serious competitive play and just having fun. Some of the most intense club sports are the Ultimate Frisbee teams. Both Syzygy, the women’s squad, and CUT, the men’s squad, have made it to the national championships year after year. Other popular club sports are men’s and women’s rugby, cycling, hockey, lacrosse, and equestrian teams.


More than half of all alumni earn advanced degrees, with approximately seventy percent going on to graduate schools within five years of getting their diplomas. Many grads do not go straight to grad school and instead decide to enlist in programs like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America. They also might work for a few years to gain some practical experience before considering more school.

Prominent Grads

  • Thorstein Vehlen, 1884, Economist
  • Pierce Butler, 1887, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
  • Michael Armacost, ’58, Former U.S. Ambassador
  • Barrie Osborne, ’66, Film Producer
  • Dr. Mary-Claire King, ’67, Medical Genetics Researcher/Professor
  • Jane Hamilton, ’79, Novelist
  • Jonathan Capehart, ’89, Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist

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