Nhan Le ’21 (Minnetonka, Minnesota) knew she liked Carleton the moment she saw the mailboxes.
“I liked how they were all unlocked—that everyone on campus obviously trusted each other so much,” she says. “I applied through QuestBridge, and when I matched with Carleton, I remember I cried when I found out. I was so happy and relieved.”
Her mom, she says, cried too. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in search of new opportunities, which weren’t always available. Instead, her mother put her dreams on hold for Nhan’s and her sisters’ sakes. “I would arrive home after school to a dark and empty townhouse because my mother had picked up late-night shifts,” Nhan says.
As a first-generation college student, Nhan didn’t know much about college or applying. Her high school had always told her that financial aid would help her pay for college, but figuring out that part of college turned out to be just the beginning. She came in knowing that she liked science, but that was about it. She didn’t know how to buy textbooks or pick her classes or what she might major in. Academically, classes were much harder, and she wasn’t used to not being the smartest kid in class.
“I didn’t even know what geology was before I came to Carleton,” says Nhan. “I took biology and was weeded out. I felt like everyone was smarter than me.”
Luckily, Nhan found support through her advisor and her friends in QuestBridge and TRIO, and she found direction through FOCUS, a program for under-represented students at Carleton who are interested in STEM fields. She found her passion digging the dirt, looking for fossils, in her Paleo Biology class and now plans to major in geology.
“Financial aid and college in general can be confusing,” she says. “And a lot of times I don’t have the same background experiences as other students. Of all the support I’ve had at Carleton, TRIO has been the biggest. I feel I can talk to my TRIO peers about anything.”
Wrapping up her sophomore year, Nhan has found her place at Carleton. She hosts a radio show with a few of her friends on KRLX and mentors a little buddy through the Center for Community and Civic Engagement’s Project Friendship. She also traveled to Tasmania with an Off-Campus Studies program, something she couldn’t have imagined doing in high school.
“It’s surprising to me how even though Carleton is so small, people can lead such different lives here,” she says. “Everyone makes their Carleton experience so different—but everyone is still connected.
“As long as you’re ready and passionate about learning, things will be OK,” she says.