Help with decision - Macalester or Carleton? (Pol Sci) - just got off waitlist

Can you all help us/ my son with this decision? Seeking insights from people familiar with either or both of these schools. Son got into Carleton last week from the waitlist, hooray! He had previously decided on Macalester, although he had not formally committed yet. We live on the west coast and due to Covid, we were unable to visit either school. On paper they seem more similar than different. Obviously a visit would help but not possible. Here are some more details:
–We were offered a similar aid package at each school so no big difference there. We have friends with kids at Mac and I think have a pretty good sense of the students (all basically enthusiastic and happy) but we have no Carleton connections to draw on, though our professor friend speaks very highly of it. The location is a factor (there is some appeal to being in the city at Mac, but we have heard Northfield is a great little town too) so not a super strong decision maker there. Originally, our son had a search image of what he wanted from visiting several east coast SLACs that he liked, which would tip us to Carleton, but before he got off the waitlist there, Mac did a great job showing a really engaged bunch of professors and kids, and it grew on us all. I do wonder if the campus is physically very small and also how supportive the community is, although none of the people we know found this to be problematic.
–Son is studious and works hard, loved to explore ideas, I’d say is intellectual but not super-intellectual or to the exclusion of all else . He is somewhat introverted. He really likes political policy work which is sort of his main interest/activity.
–Here are my impressions: We are getting the feeling that the temperament of the schools is a little different. Perhaps Carleton is a bit more academically rigorous, more stressful, faster paced b/c of rigor and trimester system? Perhaps, connected to this, Carleton has an emphasis on this shared experience of learning together and creating intentionally a strong sense of collaborative community together? Maybe Mac is a little less internally-community-focused and a little more outward-looking/activist/driven by the value of engagement in the world a bit more? I don’t know if that’s right and also if it really makes that much of a difference in the student experience - I suspect a motivated kid at either school could find great classes, friends, and experiences like political internships, for example.
–Also if anyone has any specific details on Political Science at these schools that would be great. Both sound like strong programs. I can’t quite divine if there are significant differences. Thank you!
Today at 10:22 pm
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Macalester has a reputation as a very liberal school although Carleton is not far behind.

I have read that Carleton students take 3 courses per trimester (similiar to Dartmouth College). If correct, this would greatly reduce stress often associate with the constant demands of a quarter or trimester system.

Preference for city versus rural ?

Since your son’s main interest is political policy work, I would think that there’s an enormous advantage to being in the state capitol. It’s where the HQ of the state parties would be and where there should be opportunities for internships.

A little googling reveals some articles on line about politics on each campus. In both cases, the campuses lean heavily to the left - almost to the exclusion of any competing ideas. This is a problem for someone who wants to study or be involved with political policy because the range of points of view is limited, debate is limited, and there seems to be a lot of pressure to adher to an orthodoxy. My brief search suggests that Mac has made more progress in wrestling with this than Carleton has. A more in depth s arch by your son would likely be an educational experience for him.

The advantage of being in the state capitol really emerges if you see the campus as a liberal bubble where there is no real debate and examination of contrasting ideas. (I say that as a liberal.) The only way to find that is to get off campus to some place like the state legislature to see ideas challenged and to get involved with politics in action.

Both of these are obviously excellent schools as you’ve mentioned. I know only one person from each and they’re both exceptional human beings. I don’t know if this is typical, but the friend from Carleton went into urban planning after college but then transitioned to organic farming after just a year or two. She and her husband, whom she met at Carleton, today own a successful organic farm which employs half a dozen interns each year. Gotta like the open mindedness and ability to put ideas into action of those Carleton alums.

Mac is known for it’s Political Science and International Relations. An all round vg+ school situated in between the downtowns of MPLS/St. Paul. A benign, urban residential setting, with nary a high rise in sight. Easy to get to from the airport, and easy access to either downtown. There are at least 4 other colleges within a couple of mi. and the U of MN isn’t far either, so your student can avail themselves of events there, as well as in the city. Known for it’s PC’ness, but in a Minnesota Nice way. Decent, but not awe inspiring campus. Approx. 58-60% female, which was a turnoff for my 2018.

Carleton is located in a rural town that it shares with St. Olaf, another LAC. Low key charming. Suburbs of MPLS are about a 15 minute car ride away. Very nice, large’ish campus with rolling hills and ponds. Very smart, but friendly students. IMO, they have something special going on there. My 2018 was very tempted to go there, even though he wanted to go to a big school(which he finally did…he couldn’t see going to a college with a smaller enrollment than his HS). They attempt to keep the gender ratio balanced. To me, Carleton is about as good as it gets. Very bright but down to earth, and lacking in the student/athlete and class divide that you might find in some of the other top LAC’s. They are definitely left of Center, for the most part, but politics isn’t front and center the way it might be at a place like Swarthmore.

If your son thinks he would be fine with the semi-rural setting of Carleton then I wouldn’t hesitate to go there. It is highly regarded. If he wants the city and all that it offers, then Mac is a fine choice for a LAC.

Thank you, everyone. This is all helpful…and…he still hasn’t quite decided. We have managed to connect with a Carleton student and a recent Carleton grad for our son to talk with on the phone, which has helped, since he had talked with several Mac families. To address some of your good points: we live in Oregon in a very liberal zone with a lot of politically engaged (and often PC) folks. So on the one hand our son is used to it, on the other hand having some diversity of opinion or at least willingness to look at multiple perspectives with an open mind would be nice. My impression is solidifying that Mac seems to have more of an emphasis on civic engagement and attracts kids that like this, and that is appealing to son. It has a good sense of energy to it. Maybe that is partly some excellent PR work on the part of the admissions office and the staff, but wow, they have done a wonderful job producing great short videos with the faculty and extending a warm and friendly feel during the Covid-19 time period. On the other hand Carleton seems to focus more towards intentionally developing a friendly, fun community of intellectuals and knowledge-seekers… which seems like in a way, this might result in some good willingness to look at different sides of issues and delve underneath things. I agree that the Mac’s location is well-used for internships; Carleton claims to have lots of externship/internship opportunities as well but it’s a little murky to me. In other words, they both seem great in their own ways. I don’t really think he can go wrong. Will see soon what happens…

@winterwren - my daughter looked at both schools and you have received a lot of great info from other posters about the school culture You mention you are from Oregon, my daughter felt Mac seemed very small and compared to the campus at Seattle University with you are able to see from end to end vs Carleton had the look and feel of many east coast liberal art schools and felt like a bigger Whitman. May or may not be helpful :slight_smile:

Thank you, coffee@3, that’s actually quite helpful to compare to some places we know! We actually toured and liked Whitman, we thought the campus was beautiful, but my son couldn’t get past being quite that far away (hours) from a city.

@winterwren -North field is a mini Walla Walla with well maintained low brick buildings along a main street - 5 minutes from campus with a mix of locals, farmers and college crowd. 45 minutes to Minn/St Paul, but students we spoke to said they rarely go.

The area around Macalester reminded us of this one area of Portland (neighborhood name escapes me - Hoyt?) - with upscale national chain shops mixed with local restaurants right outside of campus.

From our area, Carleton seems to accept the higher stat, academic kids - nice too. Mac gets kids more laid back, also nice and not top stats compared to Carleton. Mac also gives merit - so that matters vs Carleton. Carleton’s 3 terms can make it a faster pace learning environment.

Both are “midwest nice” and your son has two nice great options.

Great points. Different campuses appeal to different people. I went to an urban college with a defined campus which included some green space. But it was compact, which I loved because it was quick and easy to get around. I now live in New England near some of the little Ivies with their classic, sprawling campuses. They’re beautiful, but I still prefer a more compact campus which doesn’t involve a hike to get from here to their. Others prefer the beauty and getting the exercise. To each his own. ?

@winterwren - I just pulled my daughter’s notes - again, these may or may not help, but thoughts from a 17 year old :slight_smile: and I can read her handwriting !

Mac: lots of engagement in St. Paul approx 2/3 of students complete an internship, complete a capstone for graduation. Love our area admissions rep, energy on campus seemed low (my thought: we had a very dominant mom in our tour group and a very quiet tour guide - so could be why my daughter was less impressed with tour), campus seemed very small (this was after a visit to Grinnell and their campus is very large and open). 1 of 6 kids from Minnesota, mandatory first year course has 16 students. Attended a theater class and everyone was nice and had me participate. Cool building. I wanted to love Mac - but think I will eliminate. The food was not great, but I am not food motivated. (says that daughter that asks me numerous times of day what is for dinner!)

Carleton: 20% admit rate, called themselves highly selective a lot in the presentation, want students that like to learn and demonstrated by high school course selection. Want students that will engage in the community. The campus is so pretty and I love all the tree lined paths, people said hi to me a lot. They talked a lot about wanting more diversity and said they are a PWI (I had to look that up - Predominately White Institution) and they are trying to change it with more outreach. Funny tour guide and he seemed to know everyone. Attended a first year seminar class - it was okay and the professor did not have me participate, but talked to me after class. The food has a better selection and more fresh produce. Tour guide and the student I had lunch with both said that academics are tough and move fast. It is hard when you get sick and always seems like you have a mid term or a final. They said that it is worth it, because you get to take more classes and if you don’t like a class it is over fast.

She is an arts kids and her one concern with Carleton (HS class of 2021) is that it was very STEM focused and we could only tour the arts building on our own. The physical campus and that kids that go from her current HS are “her” people. Her plan was to go back this Fall for an overnight - but we all know that is not going to happen.

Please take this as intended - thought of a high school junior :blush: I am obviously procrastinating on a project due for a client and spending time here instead!

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Remember that this is Minnesota.

I assume that the part of Oregon in which you live has a milder climate than Minnesota? The windy prairie can be brutal in winter, and winter can come early & stay late. The pretty, tree lined paths can become a long walk in harsh weather. The smaller campus in the city can come to be much more appreciated over time.

Obviously we don’t know if or when visits will be available this year, but as a general rule, February is a better time to visit a campus than Fall so you can see it at its worst. When a campus is at its best (summer), most students aren’t there.

My disclaimer is that different settings appeal to different people.

Everyone, thank you so much! coffee@3, I am so grateful that you put your procrastination into sharing your daughters’ notes! These are great, I think the view of another 17 year old will be perfect to share with my son. And Bill, I think you have good points about the benefits of a compact campus in the winter. My son doesn’t seem to mind the idea of the Mac campus being small. And he is used to living in a place where you can walk to great eateries and bookshops or hop on a bus to go across the city. On the other hand, we take him up to the mountains and snow camp so he thinks of snow as an adventure. :wink: He’d be ok either way in regard to cold and snow, but he does have a slight fear of how he’d handle endless cornfields. However I’m getting the sense that the focus on community and sense of shared intellectual endeavor at Carleton go hand in hand with the more isolated location. I’d choose that myself. Since my son is particularly interested in politic science and enjoys civic engagement, it’s a bigger tradeoff for him because Mac seems to do a great job connecting kids with opportunities in the city. We are hoping to gather a little more info about kids from Carleton that studied Pol Sci/International Relations there, and how they obtained internships or other cool off-campus experiences. Other than that, he might just have to go on his gut!

Good luck. You really can’t go wrong with either one. Yours is a great problem to have because you all get to make the decision rather than having it made for you.

Bill Marsh - That’s true!

I wanted to share my perspective because I was in the same position last year–trying to choose between Carleton and Macalester, and I was also considering studying political science. Ultimately, I chose Carleton, but I can certainly see the appeal of Macalester, which is also a great school! Here were a few of my considerations when I was trying to make a decision, and a bit about my experience so far:

  1. Yes, Northfield is pretty small, especially when the alternative is St. Paul. This ended up being appealing to me, because I felt that the small town gave Carleton a closer community, especially since the vast majority of students live on campus. Having actually lived in Northfield now, I think the town has lots of great things to offer. There are really nice restaurants and coffee shops within walking distance, and there's a nice bookstore downtown.

Honestly, sometimes you really feel like you’re in a small town, especially if you don’t have a car on campus. Students don’t make the trip to the Twin Cities very often (although there are definitely opportunities to do so), and there isn’t much open in town at night. That being said, there are plenty of things to do on campus. People usually spend nights and weekends hanging out with their friends and going to campus events (I’m a fan of SUMO, a Carleton film organization, which has free weekly screenings of recent releases).

Also, the winter doesn’t deter students from being outside, going for walks (whether around campus or into town), etc. I still made the 10-15 minute walk downtown at least twice a week in the dead of winter, and I didn’t grow up with cold weather either.

  1. In terms of political science, Macalester definitely has its appeals. It has a strong international focus, and being in the Twin Cities has its advantages. Additionally, there is a Political Science major as well as an International Studies major, and a concentration on Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Alternatively, Carleton has a single major, Political Science/International Relations, and a Public Policy minor, and within that, students choose to focus on either domestic or international politics.

This didn’t up being a huge deciding factor for me, first because I knew I might change my mind (and I did–I’m no longer planning to study political science). Also, I decided that I could probably get an equally good education at either school, so I should focus on other factors that were important to me.

Also, there are definitely lots of opportunities for political science at Carleton. For example, a group of Carleton students went to the Iowa caucus this February to observe the caucus process. Externships are also a big deal at Carleton, and the school really works with and encourages students to take advantage of breaks for this purpose.

Sorry this got to be such a long post, but I hope this helped! I remember how stressful this was, so good luck with making a decision!

@winterwren by when does he have to decide? If it’s not too late, and you still want input, you can PM me. My ds1 graduated from Carleton in poli sci a few years ago after going in as an environmental science major. While there, he got a shirt with the Einstein quote: “Politics is more difficult than physics.” :smile:

Thank you NewMinnesotan! It’s great to hear from someone who considered them both and with similar interests. It’s good to know that you too saw the appeal of both schools and programs. And I appreciate your view on the location in Northfield and campus life. I will share your thoughts with my son, thanks again.

I’d love to pm you, youdon’tsay. I just need to figure out how (I’m new at forums). He has several days yet. Thank you .

@winterwren: You cannot PM another CC member until you have made at least 15 posts. (At this time, you have just 6 posts.)

Ah, thanks for explaining that, Publisher.
Thank you, youdon’tsay - sorry I can’t pm you.