Carleton College Logo


One North College Street, Northfield, Minnesota 55057

(507) 222-4000 

Carleton College

Carleton College

Founded in 1866, Carleton College is a small, private liberal arts college in the historic river town of Northfield, Minnesota.

An Undergraduate Experience Like No Other

The college runs on a trimester system. Each term (fall, winter, spring) consists of 10 weeks, during which time the work of a semester is completed. It's intense to squeeze 15 weeks of course work into 10, but students only register for 3 courses a term. The trimester system gives students lots of flexibility when declaring a major and registering for classes, particularly when trying to complete a sequence of courses since you have 3 trimesters a year to sign up for the course instead of two semesters. We don't declare a major until the end our sophomore year, which allows you plenty of time to sample many different departmental offerings before picking an area of specialization.

2/3 of our students study abroad, the highest percentage among the top 10 small national liberal arts colleges. You can study black dance in Jamaica, art in Australia and the Cook Islands, French in Mali, political economy in China and those are just a few of the study abroad programs that Carleton operates. Carleton is also a member of numerous study abroad consortiums that routinely take students to a variety of places throughout the globe to study.

Northfield is very much a college town, with a rural backdrop. Northfield has about a dozen pizza places, cute shops, and a coffee cafe that everyone loves to study in; there are also numerous farms. Carleton itself owns a 800 acre arboretum which features natural prairie land and forests. It's a great place to run, ski, or bike. We're also about 45 minutes away from the arts and entertainment that the Twin Cities offers, with buses going up there every weekend.

Carleton students, staff, and faculty have a great sense of humor. We're quirky and fun loving and active in the community. For example: Back in the 1960's, students "liberated" a bust of the German poet Schiller from the dean's office. Since then, Schiller has been in the hands of generations of Carleton students who keep their identity a secret and show the bust at important campus gatherings. Since his liberation, Schiller has been lowered out of a helicopter at homecoming, been aboard Air Force One when President Clinton visited in 2000, and seemingly exploded during an elaborate magic trick at reunion.


The mission of Carleton College is to provide an exceptional undergraduate liberal arts education. In pursuit of this mission, the College is devoted to academic excellence, distinguished by the creative interplay of teaching, learning, and scholarship, and dedicated to our diverse residential community and extensive international engagements.

The College’s aspiration is to prepare students to lead lives of learning that are broadly rewarding, professionally satisfying, and of service to humanity. By discovering and sharing exemplary models of undergraduate education, the College seeks to be a leader among those colleges, universities, and professional organizations that share our dedication to this vision.

Carleton strives to be a collaborative community that encourages curiosity and intellectual adventure of the highest quality. Faculty, staff, and students respect one another for the serious work and the playful humor we share, and we support each other in pursuing a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit. Quiet reflection and lively engagement are valued as sources of self-understanding and renewal. Carleton honors thoughtful conversations about difficult questions as necessary for individual growth and community strength. The College works to embody the values of freedom of inquiry and expression and is vigilant in protecting these values within a culture of academic integrity, civil deliberation, and ethical action. Carleton aims to be welcoming and hospitable to its neighbors, guests, and the public, and a responsible steward of its resources.

Carleton’s academic goals focus on developing the critical and creative talents of our students through broad and rigorous studies in the liberal arts disciplines. Mentored by dedicated faculty and staff, students become active members of a learning and living community that promotes the exploration of passionate interests and emerging avocations. Students learn higher order thinking skills: disciplinary inquiry, analysis of evidence, arts of communication and argumentation, and problem-solving strategies. In their chosen fields of study, students strengthen their capabilities for disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and artistic production. Students acquire the knowledge necessary for the continuing study of the world’s peoples, arts, environments, literatures, sciences, and institutions.

Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges. 


Broomball: Broomball is a game played on ice on the Bald Spot rink, kind of like ice hockey but with shoes instead of skates, brooms instead of hockey sticks, and a ball instead of a puck. Elbow and knee pads are not technically allowed, although some players wear them secretly under their clothes in order to make spectacular diving plays without breaking anything. 

Bubble Brigade: In 1970, at President Swearer's inauguration, members of the senior class began the tradition of blowing bubbles on faculty members at formal Chapel events from the balcony above. 

Convocations: The weekly convocation series is a shared experience that is at the foundation of Carleton values. Students, faculty and staff from across campus gather for one hour for a lecture, presentation or performance from specialists in a variety of disciplines. The goal of the convocation series is to stimulate thought and conversation outside the classroom on a broad range of subjects. 

Ebony II: Founded in 1977, Ebony II is a student-run dance troupe open to all Carleton students regardless of previous dance experience. Each term the group performs student choreography in a performance open to the entire campus (and attended by most of campus too). Ebony II shows are some of the most popular performances on campus. Dance pieces range from the sublime to the ridiculous--the latter including the now-traditional Man Dance segment, which has even inspired Man Dance apparel.

Freshman Frisbee Toss: This ceremony is the official beginning of one's four years at Carleton. During New Student Week all freshmen are given free Frisbees, line up along the edge of the Bald Spot, listen to a stirring speech by the college president, and then toss their Frisbees into the center of the Bald Spot. From then on, they are Carleton students. 

Friday Flowers: Every Friday, the campus mailboxes turn into a flower show as students buy flowers in the Sayles-Hill Campus Center and "mail" them to their friends. 

Golden Schillers: The Golden Schillers is the annual student-produced short film festival. It began in 2002 as DVDFest and has since grown to be one of the most anticipated Winter term events. The Golden Schillers provides students an opportunity to create a film, regardless of major or prior experience and receive feedback from professionals and the Carleton community. 

International Festival: The International Festival features food, music, dance, and cultural workshops from countries around the globe in Spring Term. Anyone can sign up to cook for the festival, and many of the school's international students take the opportunity to share foods from their home countries with the Carleton community. 

Mai Fete: Mai Fete is one of two islands located on the Lyman Lakes. The island earned its moniker for playing host to the annual Mai Fete pageant, a Carleton tradition that began in 1918. Each Wednesday evening of Spring term, the Senior Class gathers on Mai Fete Island to celebrate their final term together. 

MidWinter Ball: Glitz and glamour at Carleton! MidWinter Ball is held on the Saturday night of Mid Term Weekend during Winter term. Started in 1981 as a Viennese Ball, this event has consistently provided the campus an opportunity to don formal attire and mingle with friends and colleagues. Three different rooms within one connected complex provide guests with a variety of music genres, including jazz, swing, big band, salsa, and modern music from student DJs.  

Primal Scream: At 10:00 p.m. the night before finals start, Carleton students lean out their windows and let out a collective unearthly wail of anguish and despair. Then they go back to studying. 

Rotblatt: It is rumored that Rotblatt is the world's longest, College intramural sport. Played each Spring term, this marathon softball game begins at sunrise and involves live music, good food, and of course softball. Rotblatt was created in 1964 by a group of sophomores living in Burton. This long-standing Carleton tradition is named in honor of Marvin J. Rotblatt, a professional baseball pitcher with the Chicago White Sox. Marvin’s ERAs of 1948 (7.85) and 1950 (6.23) were the highest in the majors, however his batting average for all three seasons was .000.

Silent Dance Party: A relatively new Carleton tradition, the Silent Dance Party occurs at 11:00 p.m. on one of the two reading days preceding final exams. Armed with an hour-long playlist of dance music chosen by the party organizer, party-goers gather on the first floor of the library, don their headphones and press ‘play’ on their MP3 players at the exact same time. The dance party then moves from the library to a variety of locations around campus. 

Spring Concert: Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2016, Spring Concert is an annual outdoor music festival, and possibly the most widely-attended student event of the year. It typically falls on the 8th weekend of Spring Term and features both professional and student bands. The professional bands are selected by the Spring Concert Committee (which anyone may join), while the student bands are the first and second place acts at the annual Battle of the Bands competition, held just two weeks before Spring Concert. Past Spring Concert headliners include De La Soul, Wilco, Blue Scholars, Wale, Brother Ali, Run the Jewels, and T-Pain. 

Schiller, Friedrich Von: Dating back to 1957, this Carleton tradition involves “stealing” and periodically displaying a plaster bust of the German poet, Friedrich Von Schiller. The exact meaning of this tradition is unknown; some believe it represents a subconscious desire to mock the seriousness of Carleton’s academic pursuits. The guidelines that govern Schiller’s “keepers” are somewhat vague, however the modern world has dictated two simple safety precautions, including: 1) No motorized vehicles may be used in displaying Schiller (due to the chase that typically ensues); and 2) Tradition dictates that if the keepers are touched while holding Schiller, the bust is relinquished to the next keepers. A struggle over Schiller should never occur, nor should he be physically forced away from his keepers. Schiller has been shattered several times, glued back together at least twice, and replaced with a new replica on occasion, but the tradition lives on. Schiller flew on Air Force One, dangled from a helicopter, signed by President Bill Clinton, even made an appearance on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. 

Senior Week: A week-long series of events for members of the Senior Class. Coordinated by the Student Activities Office, these events immediately follow finals and last through Commencement.

Student Life:

90% of Carleton students live in college housing. And whether it's in a residence hall, a shared interest house, or one of the coveted campus townhouses, Carls pack a lot of life into their residential life! From pizza study breaks to Bad Poetry Night, the activities that go on in Carleton’s halls and houses are often some of the most memorable of your college experiences.

Over 90% of students play an intramural, club, or varsity sport. So whether you're a fierce competitor at the top of your game or just interested in getting a little exercise in good company, you'll find options to suit you at Carleton.

The Moustache Club. The Carleton Juggling F.I.S.H. The Random Acts of Kindness Club. The Gender Neutral Cheerboys. What can we say? You get creative when you spend winter on the frozen prairie with a couple thousand of your closest friends. If you can’t find something appealing in one of the 250 (and counting) student organizations at Carleton, you're welcome to invent your own.



The Knight is Carleton College's mascot. It is most often associated with athletics, and it does not replace the wordmark.

Carleton College today:

Best known for its academic excellence and warm, welcoming campus community, Carleton offers more than 1,000 courses in 32 majors in the arts, humanities, natural sciences/mathematics, and social sciences. 


Carleton has an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students from 50 states and 35 countries (9% international).

Famous graduates:

Jacob Joseph "JackLew (born August 29, 1955) is an American government administrator and attorney who is the 76th and current United States Secretary of the Treasury, serving since February 28, 2013. He served as the 26th White House Chief of Staff from 2012 to 2013. Lew previously served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, and is a member of the Democratic Party.

Pierce Butler (born March 17, 1866) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1923 until his death in 1939. He is notable for being the first Justice from Minnesota, and for being a Democrat appointed by a Republican president, Warren G. Harding.

Interesting facts about Carleton College:

The "Arb," Cowling Arboretum, consists of approximately 880 acres (360 hectares) of land adjacent to the College and was created under the leadership of President Donald J. Cowling and Professor Harvey E. Stork in the 1920s. Professor Stork and Superintendent of Grounds D. Blake Stewart ("Stewsie") were responsible for much of the early development of the Arb, and their influences can still be seen and felt in many places. Stork and Stewsie were remarkable land managers, and it can be argued that they were among the nation's first restoration ecologists.

The earliest Carleton students, both men and women, arrived in the fall of 1867 to attend classes in the former American House hotel. That three-story building, located in what is now downtown Northfield, presented some serious challenges to its residents. According to Carleton archivist Eric Hillemann, sources from the time reported that the building’s plumbing was disgraceful, its heating meager, and its mice legion.