How To Write the Carleton College Supplement

Carleton College is a great liberal arts school of 1,995 undergraduates in Northfield, Minnesota. It’s been steadily climbing in the rankings over the last few years and a lot of people are starting to take notice. Fortunate for them, unfortunate for us. It used to be one of our favorite hidden gems to suggest to students. We’re happy for them though. Really.

Their supplement has a common “Why X School” component, but it’s formatted peculiarly. The second half of the supplement is a bit difficult to decipher in terms of what to include, where. Don’t worry—we break it all down for you. Read on to understand what you need to complete a truly great Carleton College supplement.

  1. When did you first learn of Carleton? (no more than 150 words)

    Because you only have 150 words to tackle this, you can think of questions 1 and 2 as a combined “Why Carleton?” and this is your “culture” section. This is your opportunity to talk about why you are interested in Carleton, which is different than why you are applying.

    Our main suggestion to our students that we’ve advised on this supplement has been to make this a gradual learning story about Carleton. That is, if you don’t have a notable or distinct memory of when you first learned about the school, it can be a sequential discovery that tracks your learning about the school’s existence, how your research evolved, what aspects of the school intrigued and excited you. You can discuss its location, the size, some unique tidbits about the campus and Carleton’s community. You can even discuss how you’re particularly fascinated by the medieval period so the fact that the Carleton mascot is a knight stood out for you. Get creative.

    Because you have so little room to talk about your research, keep it focused. Choose 1-2 things that stood out for you and tell the story of why those aspects are important. Keep all academic interests as they pertain to Carleton on the backburner until question 2.

  2. Why are you applying to Carleton? (no more than 150 words)

    Here is the other half of your “Why Carleton?” answer. This is the part where you discuss your academic interests and why Carleton is the place for you. This requires more intensive research than question 1, because here you’re pulling out the big guns. And by that we mean, professors, specific courses, majors/minors/concentrations, and electives.

    We suggest that students keep a list of a number of courses and professors that excite them, as well as majors that make them uniquely interested in a particular school. Then, you draw from that larger list to create an answer that makes you stand out. Wow them with your in-depth knowledge of the Political Economy concentration and mention your interest in them offering their “Political Economy of Happiness” class once again.  

    When choosing a major or minor to discuss, while it can certainly be something that you haven’t tackled in high school, it shouldn’t be totally out of the blue. If you mention that you want to major in Classics, but all you took were AP sciences and your crowning accomplishment of high school was winning the Intel Science Fair, they might raise their eyebrows. Keep your story consistent, informed, and excited.

  3. Carleton is powered by wind turbines. What empowers you? (no more than 150 words)

    In all honestly, we laughed when we first read this question. It’s one of the quirkier questions, which makes it a fun one to answer. Let’s talk Do’s and Don’ts here

    3 Dos:

    Highlight a unique part of your personality with a story about an event. Identify one of your more prominently identifying traits (ask your friends if you don’t know) that makes you feel good about yourself and tell a story that exemplifies that quality.

    Have fun with this. Write a nuanced list of things that make you feel good or happy, write a poem, speak exclusively in metaphors because metaphors make you feel empowered to play with language and emotion.

    Think outside the box. We had one student who wrote an entire response casually in rhyme to this question. It was a subtle rhyme, and when you read it you felt like you were listening to a song in your head. Be creative.

    3 Don’ts:

    Get on a soapbox. This isn’t Empowerment with a capital E that you should discuss here, so it’s not the time to talk about how you empower yourself by helping spread awareness about violence against women.

    Let your eyes be too big for your stomach. In the same vein as above, keep your empowerment source small. Even if you feel deeply about your work to prevent violence against women (it’s an issue that’s very important to us, too), you can’t adequately contextualize or explore your commitment to an issue in 150 words. It’s not enough space to send a meaningful message.

    Get too deep. Now is not the time to explore a sensitive topic or an event that is deeply meaningful to you. We’re talking what makes you feel great and able to tackle the world. Again, all you have is 15i 0 words. This subsection is exactly that length.

  4. Now, for a bit of fun…

    What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word (word association - just a few words):

    Knowledge? Play? Future?

    Our first instinct here is that you can’t go wrong, except that you can. But it’s easily avoidable if you stick to the rule of sharing your unique personality. Don’t speak in cliches. Surprise your admissions reader. Make them smile or laugh with recognition. These words are open to interpretation—even the oddest interpretation that you can think of. Go with that, always. Some guidelines:

    Knowledge: Don’t take this too seriously or use it as an opportunity to brag about your academic accomplishments. Instead, maybe mention the last book or documentary that you saw that truly blew your mind. You don’t need to expand on it (hence ‘just a few words’) but name it. Add a reaction word if you’d like.

    Play: List something that brings you genuine joy. Think pizza picnics in the park or a dance party to your favorite band in the kitchen with your best friend. What about the most recent concert you went to? Or an exhibit that made you feel capable of creating art? What YouTube video had you truly laughing your head off? Keep it light and fun.

    Future: Don’t write ‘is female,’ for starters. Again, not the time to mention your goal to be president. Choose a few words that you think about when you envision your life or the world in 5-10 years. Be creative. Some words that come to mind for us: hiking Machu Picchu; both memorizing Pi and perfecting my pie crust recipe; finishing Infinite Jest.

This last question, though arguably one of the more “fun” questions on a college supplement, is by no means easy. We’d be happy to help you brainstorm and come up with some compelling answers. Give us a call or send us an email.