Carleton v. Wesleyan
March 22, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Carleton v. Wesleyan. I'll be seeing my nephew next week, and he has his future whittled down to these two colleges. Not that it will really have an effect, but I'd like to appear to know more than that it is colder in Minnesota, and asking MeFites seemed easier (and maybe more astute) than reading a lot of PR things. Neither he nor I know what he will major in, but probably nothing practical (ie. if he doesn't wind up an academic, he'll be applying to law schools sooner or later.). Any opinions or insights?
posted by Some1 to Education (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know anything about Carleton, and just looked up on the school's website. One thing, to my mind, that is worth thinking about is the trimester v.s semester schedule. This ultimately may not be a big deal, but it is a significant enough difference in curriculum structure that it might be to him. Wesleyan is an excellent school in the New England tradition.

He's going for a liberal arts education at a small school. As an alumna from a liberal arts major from a small school, the social climate at and around the school is incredibly important. This is where his life will be for four years, and he'll want to see if the social climate is a good fit for him. If he hasn't done so already, he really needs to visit both campuses --- not necessarily as a part of an official campus tour if he could only manage to get there on the weekends, but it's important that he visits and learns about the students who are currently there --- some of these students will be his classmates.

What's the geography like for him? One of these school's is in the midwest and the other is in New England. These are different parts of the country --- does it make a difference how quickly he can get home? Is it a plane ride no matter which he chooses, or is one a couple of hours' drive while the other is a plane ride? Does this matter at all to him? For me, I wanted to be able to get home with as little hassle as possible within a few hours, but I wanted to be far enough away that drop-by visits from my parents and other family weren't likely. Other people might want to be further or closer. Maybe this isn't an issue at all, but it is one that, at least for me, was worth thinking about.

He'll also want to think about what areas really interest him for study. It can be a bunch of different ones or it can be a few. If he has an interest in Russian (biasing with my major here) Carleton might not be the best choice because it doesn't seem to have a Russian program at all. Wesleyan does. Carleton, though, seems to have a really strong science program. Wesleyan has graduate programs, so there's a chance he may have grad. student TAs for some classes (don't know if that's actually the case) while Carleton seems to be strictly undergrad from the website and he'll likely only have professors teach.

Basically, the best source of information about schools, as I have found, are school websites and the students, which is again, why I think it important he visit each one before deciding.

And if he has and he adores both schools but just can't decide between the two of them, that's an entirely different kettle of fish and he may just have to decide between two good choices.
posted by zizzle at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2010

This is not going to provide much help, but just to throw it out there: when I was deciding between colleges, I visited the campuses of my three top choices in the span of about a week. At the beginning of that week, Carleton was my top choice; by the end, it was out of the running - for no other reason than it just didn't feel right. It's a wonderful school, but for some reason I just couldn't imagine myself there.

Between the two other schools I visited, I fell in love with one, and the other felt just okay - but the just-okay-feeling school was much more generous with their financial aid, so that's where I went. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone to the college I fell in love with instead.

This doesn't really say anything helpful about Carleton, and nothing at all about Wesleyan, but my point is once you've narrowed it down to just a couple of schools, your gut becomes one of the most important factors. I'd encourage him to listen to his feelings as much as everything else. They're both excellent schools, and you can get a good education at either, but you're also making the decision where to live for four years.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:06 AM on March 22, 2010

Having had friends from both schools, and having attended a liberal arts college myself, I don't think there's any difference between the two other than Weslayan is slightly hippie (or struck me as slightly hippie when I visited my friend or maybe she just had hippie friends).

if he doesn't wind up an academic, he'll be applying to law schools sooner or later.

You might want to nudge him to rethink these plans since going to law school strikes a lot of people as a really bad idea now, and becoming an academic isn't a terribly viable or, if he makes it, stable career option either anymore. Unless he has a trust fund/financial help in place that will help him until he eventually decides on what kind of field he wants to pursue.
posted by anniecat at 11:21 AM on March 22, 2010

Might be interested in the book about the Wesleyan admissions process: The Gatekeepers
posted by smackfu at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2010

Oh, to be clear, I didn't visit Carleton, just Wesleyan. My friend at Carleton went back to India and helps with their (lucrative) family business. But she'd gotten an offer to do management consulting (this was awhile back when the American economy was full steam ahead) in Chicago and I can't remember if she took it and left or if she went straight home after graduation....
posted by anniecat at 11:24 AM on March 22, 2010

Carleton is a good school in an okay town. Northfield Minnesota is torn between two or three words: the college "hip" part of town, and the classic 1930's "Antique" style part of town. There are pluses and minuses to both. As far as small liberal-arts schools in small towns go, the Townies vs. the College kids is not as pronounced as other areas.

Northfield is about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities - not totally isolated, but enough to keep you from leaving at the drop of a hat.

There's also a weird relationship between Carleton and the other school in town - St. Olaf, mostly populated by good Norwegian Lutheran kids and a pretty different atmosphere than Carleton.

It's a great school for many folks, but some may find it a bit isolating - both because of the small student population and the location.
posted by Think_Long at 11:26 AM on March 22, 2010

I am a Carleton grad who grew up in western Massachusetts (an hour-plus due north from Wesleyan). I visited Wesleyan early on in my college search process (in the uh, 90s), but it didn't even make my short list, and I didn't end up applying (I applied to, and was accepted to Carleton, early decision). Per Metroid Baby's comment above, it really comes down to whether the school feels right to your nephew or not. A major factor for me in choosing Carleton over (some east-coast school):

East-coast vs. Midwest. The east-coast colleges that I visited didn't feel right academically/socially to me. Lots of grade competition, cliquey-ness, a perpetuation of the jock/nerd crap that reminded me a bit too much of my (east-coast) high school. Carleton is filled with lots of smart people who don't really give a shit what your GPA is (they will bust their ass to improve their own, though). In other words: at Carleton: very few Andover/Philips-Exeter prep school types.

Also, Carleton is 100% undergrad. Your professors teach your classes. They have office hours. They engage with you. If you pick the right department, they will roast a whole pig with you.

If your nephew has questions about Carleton, I would be happy to answer them - memail me.

Northfield Minnesota is somewhat isolated. Few people have cars, and there is not really anywhere to go. Carls make their own fun. Some of it may involve drinking. Be forewarned.
posted by misterbrandt at 11:29 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Advicepig and I both went to Carleton and Mrs. Advicepig's sister went to Wesleyan. I think they are both excellent schools, but there is a slight difference in their character. I would strongly advise visiting both if possible.

We Carls seem to be less competitive and really don't bother trying to measure ourselves by someone else's benchmarks. As a whole, we tend to really push ourselves, but rarely at someone else's expense. Maybe it's because we're in the Midwest and have a lot of Midwestern students and Wesleyan seems to have more students from East Coast money. Wesleyan may seem like hippies to some, but it's always seemed kinda Abercromie to me. Maybe that's my bias.

At either school, you'll be surrounded by progressive over achieving geniuses that then towards a little goofy nerdiness.
posted by advicepig at 11:36 AM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and this is something you should know, but since Carleton is so isolated out there, we tend to be a little culty about our alma mater. ;)
posted by advicepig at 11:37 AM on March 22, 2010

I grew up close to Middletown and my brother now lives there. If you want to get off campus, Middletown is a small city without a lot to offer for entertainment, shopping, restaurants, sports, etc. And Connecticut isn't known for its cities generally, so it's not like road trips to Hartford or New Haven offer a lot more. On the plus side, New York is less than two hours away, Boston a bit further.
posted by Sukey Says at 12:05 PM on March 22, 2010

I went to Carleton and I grew up in Connecticut with friends who went to Wesleyan.

Neither of them are in big towns. Once you get off the shore, Connecticut is surprisingly rural. Granted, Wesleyan is closer to Hartford than Carleton is to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), but Hartford isn't such a great city whereas the Twin Cities are pretty fabulous. In both cases, I think it's sort of an expedition to get off-campus. That wasn't a big of a deal for me at Carleton because there was a lot going on campus. The school was pretty good about putting on events, and most events were free--the rationale being, I think, that you'd already paid for them in your tuition--

Some differences academically: the trimester vs. semester thing is something to think hard about. Trimesters mean you get to take one extra class a year--9 instead of 8--but they also mean that you have 10 week terms, so your first mid-terms basically happen after a month of classes and things never really calm down until the term is over.

In terms of majors, there are barely any cross-disciplinary majors at Carleton although there are a ton of cross-disciplinary minors. Wesleyan has a whole bunch of cross-disciplinary stuff. In fact, I think they have a really cool "history of ideas" sort of major that combines philosophy, english, and history. However, I know at Carleton that there were lots of people majoring in the hard sciences as well as in literature, etc, but my impression of Wesleyan was that it was more oriented towards the social sciences and fine arts (take that with a grain of salt though, because that impression is not based on hard facts).

Finally, I think there are probably cultural differences between the two places that your nephew will best understand simply by visiting campus. This will probably sound like splitting hairs to anyone outside of the small-liberal-arts-frame of reference, but I think the main difference between the two quirky student populations is that Wesleyan has a bit of the East Coast hipster thing going and Carleton doesn't. Or put another way, Carleton kids are weird because that's just the way they are, and Wesleyan kids are weird because they're trying to be cool.
posted by colfax at 12:12 PM on March 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Neither Middletown nor Northfield are exciting places. Middletown is stuck in the middle of nowhere...Hartford doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment, and New York is too far for just a night out. (or maybe not, I probably don't have the stamina of a college kid. It's two hours in, but it's easier to park a ways out and take the train.)

Northfield, MN IS only 35-45 minutes away from the Twin Cities, which are awesome. If he doesn't have a car, he should make friends with someone who does. Northfield itself is cute, but tiny. Downtown fun involves getting a big cup of coffee at Goodbye Blue Monday on the weekdays and getting a pitcher of Natty Light at Rueb-N-Stein's (or just 'the Rueb') on the weekend. and, um, that's almost it. Carleton has some freaky parties to make up for Northfield's attractions. There's a lot of alcohol and a lot of weed, but really, that's true of just about any college. and don't expect the other college, St. Olaf, to add attractions: Oles and Carleton are like oil and water -- the colleges couldn't be more different.

I agree with colfax: Carleton kids are wackier than Wesleyan kids -- or at least more genuine about how wacky they are. I found Wesleyan too snobbish for me and the kids seem to be wealthier, or at least they show their money more than Carleton.

The best way to figure a college out is by doing an overnight visit!
posted by missmary6 at 1:47 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a great school for many folks, but some may find it a bit isolating - both because of the small student population and the location.

I also went to Carleton, and this was my experience. Ultimately it was too small and isolated for me. However, the education is top-notch and the faculty are fantastic. And I wouldn't trade my small handful of Carleton friends for anything in the world.

Or put another way, Carleton kids are weird because that's just the way they are, and Wesleyan kids are weird because they're trying to be cool.

After visiting Wesleyan, that was my take as well.
posted by another zebra at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went to Wesleyan and it was a great place for me. Both are good schools filled with interesting people, the academic offerings are similar, so it's a choice he will likely need to make from the gut. Visiting, if he hasn't already, is a huge help. I would especially stress the importance of visiting while school is in session, when he can interact with the students and get a sense of the culture, rather than over the summer.

To address a few points people raised above: The Gatekeepers is an interesting look at how admissions departments work, but it doesn't contain much information about the student experience. It's like reading a book about sausage factories, when all you want is to be served a nice bratwurst dinner.

All my classes at Wesleyan were taught by professors. Teaching assistants don't teach the undergrad classes, with the possible exception of weekly lab sections in science courses. Wesleyan is technically a university, but the culture is geared towards undergrads and the resources are mostly dedicated to undergraduate pursuits.

The interdisciplinary majors that colfax mentioned are called College of Letters and College of Social Sciences, and your nephew should definitely check those out if he's interested. Wes also has a pretty cool and somewhat under-the-radar Science in Society department, which I just like to talk about whenever I have an excuse.

What I personally loved about Wesleyan was the amazing passion everyone had. Everyone was making movies, building tree houses, doing science experiments, everyone had something they really cared about. I'm not sure if this is still true, but when I graduated the top employer of Wesleyan grads was the Peace Corps.

There's no bad choice to be made here. Your nephew has to check it out for himself and see which place feels like home.
posted by Mender at 2:22 PM on March 22, 2010

As you can see, lots of this oe better than that one. Frommy experience as an academic:
a college without a grad program will get you full-time professors in just about all your classes. With grad programs, you often end up with grad students.

I am from and like the East Coast so I would myself avoid the mid west, all things being equal, but frankly, Weslyan is located in a terrible town--Middletown--but then there may be enough at the school to be satisfactory.

Let the student to be check out both. Does he want location, weather, as central to concerns or can he be satisfied with the college of and by itself, in which case, explore programs, but especially talk to older students on campus (tour guides are advertisers).
posted by Postroad at 2:48 PM on March 22, 2010

Another Carleton alum here (hi guys!). I don't know much about Wesleyan, but can nth visiting the two schools while in session to get a feel for the campus atmosphere. If your nephew is into the outdoors, one thing Carleton has going for it is that the college owns a c. 900 acre nature preserve adjacent to campus that's great for getting lost in.
posted by Tsuga at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are good. Thank you all.

Last summer he gave me the impression that his ideal college would be something like a medieval monastery (only co-ed, or near a nunnery) with a left bank cafe inside of it (my ideal life would be a bit like that too.). From what has been said Carleton might be closer to that. ?

He's going to (or recently has) spend a weekend on each campus, and I know that will have a bigger impact than anything I can say. I looked at the inter disciplinary programs at Wes, and I wish it was me that was enrolling.
posted by Some1 at 5:45 PM on March 22, 2010

Wesleyan grad here, 2005: advicepig's sister-in-law (both advicepig and sister went to Carleton). I'm originally from the Midwest. My thoughts:

I think Wesleyan is great.

Wesleyan is about twice as big as Carleton, which makes it a "large" "small liberal arts college" in contrast to Carleton, which actually is a "small" liberal arts college.

I wouldn't fixate too much on the Minneapolis/Hartford thing. I never once went to Hartford while at Wesleyan. There's so much happening on campus--hanging out on Foss Hill, queer prom, ethnic music, gatherings with friends, $4 films, naked parties, comedy shows and yes, even frat parties--that you don't need to leave campus let alone Middletown.

Conventional wisdom is that there is no "typical" Wesleyan student. Wesleyanites have a diverse range of fascinating and quirky interests. That said, I think Wesleyan students may be slightly less nerdy than Carleton students and are typically hipper and more political. I'll have to disagree with advicepig on Wesleyan being "more Abercrombie", since I do think of us as hip/hipster/hippie, but Wesleyan does have a healthy athletic subculture of teams hanging out and getting drunk together, so perhaps that's the angle he's going for. Then again, one of those teams is the "rugby team," which refuses to call itself the "women's rugby team", because it is for women, transgender, transsexual individuals, etc. Yes, even our athletes are typical Wes students.

I would never ever ever ever describe Wesleyan as a medieval monastery, although the campus is kind of an island unto itself. A great, quirky, not-monastery-like island.

One thing to consider academically is that Wesleyan gives you huge freedom to craft your own major: their general education expectations are only "expectations" meaning that you can graduate without taking any science/math classes etc. as long as you're stubborn enough.

Negative for Wesleyan: As a Midwesterner, I found the east coasters and especially New Yorkers at Wesleyan to have a superiority complex that was quite off-putting. If your nephew is not from the east coast, he might find the atmosphere at Carleton more appealing in that regard.
posted by moreandmoreso at 6:28 PM on March 22, 2010

He picked Carleton. I picked Wesleyan, but he is a wise child and didn't listen to me. He did listen to a lot of the things all of you said though, and the thing is I want to have been a free spirit at eighteen than I was able to be. He's a lot like me back then in his self reservations and self consciousness (but don't tell him that.).

So, can a boy from a small east coast megalopolis (and the most southern one at that (Washington).) find happiness, knowledge and fulfillment in a really cold mid-western small town? I guess it'll take a few years to find out.
posted by Some1 at 3:11 PM on April 21, 2010

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