Wesleyan vs. Carleton vs. Harvard

<p>I was accepted to Harvard early, offered a fantastic financial package, but am still not positive if i want to go. My main concern is about the academics/students- I would really like to attend a school where the students tend not to be competitive with each other concerning grades. I have sometimes heard Harvard's atmosphere referred to as "cutthroat" and this worries me a lot! Basically, I would just really like to enjoy college as much as possible, and am slightly worried that the Harvard environment might not suit me.</p>

<p>The two other schools that I am considering applying to are Carleton and Wesleyan. Does anyone have any insight as to how these two compare to Harvard in terms of sense of community and academic competitiveness? I am also concerned with one-on-one interactions with profs, although I understand that office hours really help with that at Harvard.</p>

<p>I would REALLY appreciate help! January 1st is creeping up on me!</p>

<p>Well, the first thing you have to realize is that most people don't attend Harvard for the academics, or at least not for the academics alone; most people attend Harvard for what goes on outside the classroom. Name almost any interest or theme or activity outside the classroom, be it, the student newspaper, the lacrosse team, feminism, gay liberation, African-American culture - you name it - and you will almost assuredly find some of the smartest young people in the country interested in the same thing.</p>

<p>That being said, Wesleyan isn't too shabby either; it too, has an exceptionally strong student culture (IMHO, the art, film, and independent music scene at Wesleyan is arguably as good or better.) While Wesleyan doesn't have the same scale of operations as Harvard - there's no world-famous law school to draw future jurists and presidents; no business school to draw future Republican presidential hopefuls - and certainly not the same name-recognition, it more than makes up for it in terms of intimacy. </p>

<p>There is no "house system" at Wesleyan; rather, its opposite: upper classmen are expected to begin learning the rudiments of getting around Middletown, shopping for themselves and gradually creating their own gathering places for the sharing of ideas, food and good company. Everyone knows everyone else and even if that's not literally true (you'll hear the word, "literally", used a lot at Wes), you are probably never more than two or three degrees of separation from anyone else, at any given time. </p>

<p>While this, in some sense, lends credence to Wesleyan's reputation as a Hipster refuge, it also makes for an incredibly fertile intellectual as well as social atmosphere.</p>

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The two other schools that I am considering applying to are Carleton and Wesleyan. Does anyone have any insight as to how these two compare to Harvard in terms of sense of community and academic competitiveness? I am also concerned with one-on-one interactions with profs, although I understand that office hours really help with that at Harvard.

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<p>I've never been to Harvard or Wesleyan so I don't know how Carleton compares with those two. I'm inclined to have great respect for Harvard's academics- it can't be bad by any means, but I truly believe that undergraduate teaching is superior at both Wesleyan and Carleton.</p>

<p>Speaking from my own experiences here at Carleton, the classroom culture is phenomenal. My largest class was Calculus I, taught by Mark Krusemeyer. I think it had about 30 people. For a small school, we have a very large Math department, which is why I think the class could afford to be as small as it is. Nobody knows anybody else's grades unless you volunteer it, and even then there's no competition going on. I was talking to some friends in other universities, and from the sound of it, they're a lot more competitive. They need to, for instance, keep track of how well they're doing relative to the rest of the class, especially in the STEM classes. Here, everyone cares about grades, but you wouldn't notice, because it's not about beating other people down to elevate ourselves.</p>

<p>Carleton really has a "community", and there are many campus-wide events. The Halloween concert, for instance, was a highly anticipated event where there was a mad dash for the famed "Schiller", the search for whom has gone on for decades. The student body is... "quirky". I know it's probably a dirty word, but hey, we're talking about a nerdy LAC here. The student body in general is either pretentious or unpretentious, depending on your perspective. You won't find a lot of people who like "superficial" things. Luxury, appearances and social prestige aren't big, but there might be more of the "/winkwink;nodnod/ we're quirky" pretense going on, but I'm sure that's true of a lot of LACs. One thing that impressed me is that everyone is extremely tolerant of different views here, and social circles are very permeable. What's even better is that while there could be a "campus culture", you don't have to notice it if you don't want to. I didn't participate in some campus traditions, such as the "screw date", and there's absolutely no pressure to be "part of the crowd". I've never been pressured to do anything I refused once.</p>

<p>Classes are great here. I heard some profs don't like it, but every professor I know is on first name basis with me and the atmosphere is generally very informal, and in the case of small classes, even familial. Some professors are actually frustrated that people don't come to office hours and end up doing poorly in the class. One prof said to us: "Please come if you're not sure on anything... it gets lonely..." I was actually worried about having to use an awful textbook, but fortunately I never had to because my math prof delivers such stellar lectures. If you really put work into it, even if you're not a "math person", you can understand the concepts as well as anyone. They truly want you to succeed, and it still surprises me that they really mean it at Carleton.</p>