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The Humanities at Carleton

Andriana writes about studying humanities subjects at Carleton.

Andriana writes about studying humanities subjects at Carleton.

Hi everyone!

This week, I am writing about the humanities at Carleton, which I will try to compare to STEM classes. Fair warning: I have much more experience with the humanities, though many of my friends have taken STEM classes. I was in a humanities program in high school, and I have always loved English, history, general cultural studies, the works.

The thing is, I’m just not crazy about math and science. Don’t get me wrong—STEM is important! But it has never been my forté, and I have always had to work much harder in those classes—AP Physics (nearly) killed me! Also, my classes at Carleton have mostly been in non-STEM subjects. The main exception is my Intro to Linguistics class this term. (I found a function in my textbook, so it counts!)

What are the humanities and STEM?

I’m categorizing classes as either STEM or humanities. There are classes that don’t fit neatly into either of these categories, but generally, I think it’s a solid dichotomy. To give examples, some of the humanities-focused classes that I have taken at Carleton include:

  • Intro to Cross-Cultural Studies (CCST)
  • Intro to Islam (RELG)
  • The Art of Jane Austen (ENGL)
  • Intro to Creative Writing (ENGL)
  • Culture and Politics in India (SOAN)
  • The 1930s (AMST)

I have also taken a few Political Science classes, but in my opinion, these are slightly different from traditional humanities classes. They don’t really focus on cultural studies, though that can be a component, and the discipline relies on data and statistics in a way that many humanities subjects don’t. That said, they don’t seem to fall neatly into STEM either.

Generally, I think STEM encompasses math- and science-related subjects, while the humanities focus on history, literature, culture, etc. There might be varying interpretations, but this is how I like to differentiate the two.

What does it look like to study the humanities and STEM at Carleton?

I think that the biggest difference between the STEM and the humanities at Carleton—besides subject matter, of course—is the format of the courses. In my experience, humanities classes are very reliant on discussion, teaching through conversation. The homework is usually reading, either academic articles or novels, and projects are writing-focused. For example, instead of exams, midterms and finals will usually be papers and/or group presentations.

From what I’ve heard, STEM classes are more lecture-based. In my (relatively limited) experience with non-humanities classes, this seems to be true. There is definitely interaction with classmates, but much of this happens in small group formats. Otherwise, lectures and presentations are more common in these courses. The discussion component is also smaller than in humanities classes. Homework might be problem sets, textbook readings, or lab assignments, and midterms and finals are often exams.

Why do I love the humanities?

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m really interested in anything related to the human experience. As such, I’m planning to major in English and minor in Cross-Cultural Studies (CCST). I love to read, and English classes have exposed me to so much amazing literature that I would not have discovered on my own. As for CCST, the intro class was excellent. The classes I have taken for the minor have really shaped the way that I think about cultural interactions. Through them, I have learned so much about cross-cultural analysis and global traditions.

Why should you take classes in the humanities?

Even if you are STEM-oriented, I would strongly recommend taking a couple of classes in different humanities departments during college. Humanities classes equip students with crucial reading, writing, and analytical skills. In fact, as a liberal arts school, Carleton requires that its students take courses across disciplines.

A liberal arts program encourages students to explore various disciplines, providing a holistic educational experience. At Carleton, students have to fill certain requirements before graduation, including Writing Rich courses, Quantitative Reasoning courses, a Formal/Statistical Reasoning course, a Fine Arts course, etc. These requirement distributions are essentially designed to make students well-rounded in their learning.

Even if you find yourself at a school where you don’t have these general requirements, you should explore different fields during your first terms of college. You might be committed to a certain educational or career path, but take classes that you might not have imagined taking. You might be pleasantly surprised! Or you might hate it, in which case you never have to take the class again.

Either way, it’s so important to try new things in college. This is a key part of the learning experience as it allows you to really explore your interests. Just something to keep in mind… ; )


Andriana is a sophomore at Carleton, where she plans to major in English and double minor in Creative Writing and Cross-Cultural Studies. Although she will be spending this fall at home in Richmond, VA, Andriana is already excited to return to Carleton and escape the southern heat. When she isn’t busy avoiding Virginia’s never-ending summer, you can find Andriana binge-reading, playing music, or watching a favorite movie or show for the umpteenth time. Meet the other bloggers!