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I Started Out With English, How Did It End Up Like This?

Fiona shares her experience taking classes in a range of departments.

Fiona shares her experience taking classes in a range of departments.

Carleton has no expectation that first year students know what they want to major in. Students are required to explore a wide variety of disciplines for two years before declaring a major. In this time, many people stumble upon a field that takes them by surprise. 

Liberal Arts Requirements

At Carleton, we have liberal arts requirements. However, there is no core curriculum. This means that you will never have to take any one specific class to graduate. If you never want to take Calculus 2, that’s fine! There will be a variety of classes you can take instead that fulfill the same requirement.

Even your freshman writing seminar (A&I) is chosen from a long list of options spanning various departments. My friends have taken classes for their A&I that range from poetry to religion to biology to computer science. My A&I was a philosophy class called Science, Faith, and Rationality. It was part of the reason why I ended up declaring a philosophy minor!

Students sit around a discussion table in a classroom
Students taking an interdisciplinary, or IDSC, class.

With the number of areas of study that you must engage with at Carleton, you will find yourself exploring departments that are new to you. Exploring departments is easy and often leads to pleasant surprises. Take advantage of this opportunity! Learning about topics from a wide array of disciplines will not only help with critical thinking, but will also expose you to things you never would have known you have interest in. 

Exploring Departments

Some of my favorite classes have been in departments that I normally wouldn’t think to engage with. For my literary analysis requirement, I took a class called Music and Storytelling. The class analyzed the stories that can be captured in music and the emotions they provoke. We looked at everything from opera to video game music. Some days it was Vivaldi, others it was Dolly Parton. Our final project was to create a concert program to go along with a collection of music that told a story of our choosing. Mine was a twelve piece program that told a story of life and death. I would have never taken this class if not for the requirement, but it ended up being my favorite class of the term. 

Another class that took me by surprise was one I took this past winter, The Anthropology of Food. This class covered the relationship that culture has with food. I was surprised to learn just how nuanced something as mundane as eating can be. Food can be a representation of countless concepts, depending on the culture. Sometimes, it is a symbol of love. Other times a symbol of power. We learned about how food can build community and alter behavior. In addition to learning the sociological/anthropological concepts, we also examined recipes and even did weekly tastings.

oranges, limes, chilies, crackers, and other snacks spread on a wooden table
Part of a Mexican snack tasting we did in class! Not pictured: numerous varieties of dried chilies

Declaring a Major

At Carleton, you declare your major during the last term of your sophomore year. This means that the college encourages taking your first two years to explore. Many students stumble across passions this way. Around 70% of students end up graduating in something other than what they indicated at the beginning of their first year.

When I first arrived at Carleton, I thought that I was going to declare chemistry. Through the fulfillment of my liberal arts requirements, I then came to realize that I actually enjoyed cognitive science and philosophy much more than I had expected. This is an incredibly common story for Carleton students. Of the students who think they know what they want to study, over half will change their minds. This would not be possible without the exploration we do during freshman and sophomore year. Don’t be afraid to try something unfamiliar, you just might find something you love!

Fiona (she/her) is a rising Junior from Stoneham, MA who is majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in Philosophy. On campus, Fiona works at Carleton’s music venue, The Cave, and is one of many admissions bloggers who is a DJ on KRLX. She is also a defender on the women’s club lacrosse team, and takes yoga classes wherever they fit into her schedule. In her down time, you can find Fiona going for walks in the Arboretum, listening to a podcast, or grabbing a dessert from Cakewalk. Meet the other bloggers!