Carleton vs Macalester vs WUSTL

I’m not sure what I want to major in, but have some interest in both Pre Med and Engineering of some sort. I’ve visited Carleton and Macalester already, and loved Carleton’s vibe. However, I also want to spend time in city, and I would be able to play basketball at Mac. Meanwhile, I haven’t been able to visit WUSTL, but through a lot of reading it seems like it would be my top out of state choice right now, but also kind of a stretch for me as far as my scores. I’d love to hear some pros and cons of these schools, as well as my chances of getting in. I scored a 32 on my ACT, with a 36 in Reading, 34 in English, 29 in Math, and 29 in Science. I am confident I can get my Math and Science scores up at least a few points but I’m not retaking it until October. I have a 3.94 GPA on a 4.0 scale, am involved in a ton of extracurriculars, and take several classes through my local community colleges (I don’t have access to AP classes). Thanks!

WashU is the only one of those that actually has engineering. It has a very different vibe than the LACs though. Of the 3 Macalester would be the easiest to get in to, but they are all reaches with your current ACT. If you bring your ACT up a little, Mac becomes a low reach and the other 2 are still reach/ high reach (just quite popular schools).

If you love the vibe at Carleton, check out Grinnell. The students are quite similar: collaborative/non-competitive, non-ostentatious, casual, egalitarian, progressive/liberal, politically aware/active (but not as stridently as Oberlin), crunchy/granola, quirky/eccentric/bohemian/free-spirits, etc.

It’s slightly easier to get in to than Carleton, although still a bit of a reach, but, unlike Carleton, Grinnell is 100% need blind. BTW, have you consulted with your parents regarding what they are able to pay? Have they run the numbers yet on any of the schools? This is very important especially if you’re going on to medical school, which can be quite expensive. Some other LACs you should look at that are similar to but less reach-y than Carleton include: Reed, Beloit, Whitman.

As washugrad noted, WUSTL has a quite different vibe from both Carleton and Mac, and it is the only one of the three with an actual engineering major. If you’re dead serious about engineering as a career, it’s probably best (or at least cheaper — certainly fastest) to go directly to a school that offers an engineering degree (one that is ABET accredited, because that’s what many employers will demand). Most LACs don’t have engineering departments, but there are exceptions: Swarthmore is one I know off the top of my head, but it is very selective and a high reach, even more so than Carleton.

Now, I’m sure somebody in the comments is going to bring up the 3-2 program between Carleton and Washington, to which I would simply note that almost every Carleton student who expresses interest in a 3-2 program drops out of it; I know because I’m one of those Carls who mentioned the 3-2 plan to their advisor during New Student Week.

What almost inevitably happens is they become immersed into life at Carleton, and then come junior or senior year their advisor will look at the notes scribbled in their file and ask, “Oh, by the way, are you still interested in that 3-2 engineering program?” Typical student’s reply: “Oh! [awkward silence] Ummmm … yeaahhh … uhhh … guess that’s not going to happen?? [advisor starts nodding their head before student even finishes speaking because they’ve seen this movie a million times before].”

There’s a reason why Carleton phased out it’s 3-2 program with Columbia. Frankly, I’m surprised that they still have the 3-2 WUSTL program, or 4-2, 3-3, 4-3, 4-4, or whatever, or that any LAC still offers a m-n type program, for that matter. So many parents are terrified at paying for 4 years of college, let alone 5, 6 or 7 years.

I guess the overhead associated with offering these sorts of programs is low, and it’s good for the college from a marketing perspective, kind of like the build-your-own major thing or the “we’re a part of The X Consortium where you can cross enroll at any other Consortium X college [followed by asterisk and fine print restrictions, disclaimers, caveats]” thing. In reality, however, almost nobody actually follows through with these 3-2 plans.

Definitely will be working to get my scores up, I do have a couple of solid safeties I’d be happy at. Thanks for the input!

I’d like to visit Grinnell at some point. I’m not sure what my financial status will be, I’m an independent and I haven’t completed the FAFSA or anything yet. I didn’t realize that about the 3-2 engineering, I really appreciate your insight!

That issue with 3-2 is true almost everywhere that requires a transfer. Once you establish yourself at a school it’s hard to drop it all and go somewhere else for a couple more years. But I have a couple friends doing 3+3 programs (undergrad + Dr) where there’s no move and that’s still really attractive. (Also really difficult, but attractive.)

Frankly, if you want to be an Engineer, go to a school with an Engineering faculty. Don’t mess around. Pre-med…Carleton is a great school, but keep in mind that it is very rigorous. You’ll want to get great grades as an undergrad if you are going into Medicine. I do know of a couple of students who went to Macalester with the intention of going into Med. It’s still rigorous, but a bit less so than Carleton.

BTW, if you are good enough to play Varsity hoops, then it will help with your admission chances. HA LAC’s are always looking for student athletes.