The Liberal Arts Education

International students are sometimes surprised and dismayed when they realize that they are expected to take courses that they perceive to be totally unrelated to their fields of interest or specialization. The goals of a liberal arts education are to “liberate individuals from the constraints imposed by ignorance or complacency and prepare them broadly to lead rewarding, creative, and useful lives in a diverse and changing world.” As its simplest, a liberal education teaches the basic skills upon which higher achievements rest: to read perceptively, to write and speak clearly, and to think analytically. Thomas Jefferson said that education should “enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom.”

Course Selection

Students are pre-registered for one out of three classes their first term at Carleton based on their list of preferences. Students will register for two other classes of their choice through Web Registration. The Office of the Provost mails detailed instructions on how students go about registering from home. Students are advised not to unduly burden themselves the first term here by taking more than one writing intensive class or more than one class with a laboratory requirement. This is to ensure that students have a smoother transition period as they adapt to the rigors of academic life at Carleton. For more information see Beginning your Academic Journey at Carleton.

Academic Support Services at Carleton

All international students are encouraged to take advantage of Carleton’s Academic Support Center, which can help students adjust to all aspects of Carleton’s rigorous and challenging academic environment. Professional staffers are especially dedicated to supporting students at every level of academic writing and are trained to focus on the specific issues of multi-lingual writers.

Staff members offer one-on-one opportunities to work on academic concerns through several widely used support structures. These include the Math Skills Skills Center, the Writing Center, the Prefect Program (peer-based group study in academically challenging courses), Speech Coaching, and individual academic tutoring. Anyone seeking any form of academic support can get all the relevant information on the main floor of Gould Library.

Academic Rigor

U.S. education is shaped by various values that influence the classroom, professors’ expectations and styles, and students’ styles and interactions. A few of these values and their influences are as follows:

Time Orientation

Time is not wasted, time pressures are high and emphasis is placed on time management.

Work and Achievement Orientation

Americans place a high value on hard work and their accomplishments from that work. They take personal responsibility for their actions and results and they judge others by these standards. This orientation promotes self-reliance and independent thinking in the classroom and with course work. High achievement also promotes competition as a norm and creates the expectation for active participation in and outside the classroom environment.


This value supports both freedom and responsibility to manage one’s own life, to make decisions, and to accomplish goals. In the U.S. people are held individually accountable for things they promise to do. This is most exemplified in one’s assignments for courses.

Direct Communication

In the higher education environment factual communication is emphasized, rather than a focusing on feelings or opinions. Directness and a linear method of communication are valued as a way to establish relationships with others and are seen as effective and understandable communication. This is best exemplified in articulate presentation of ideas in the classroom.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving

U.S. higher education emphasizes the utilization of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking has been influenced by direct communication, linear explanation, and the scientific method. Critical thinking goes beyond being critical to include the reasoning of one’s viewpoints and the consideration of other perspectives and viewpoints. It also incorporates individualism in that it is more than synthesizing a viewpoint or information, but rather it emphasizes formulating and articulating one’s own positions, knowledge, and reasoning. Most course material and homework is based on implementing this value.


This value is the attraction to practical and useful things and ideas. It emphasizes the connection of theory and practice. In the academic setting, this value combines critical thinking and the scientific method to show not only the theoretical components of your studies, but also how theories interact and can be proven by practical examples and application.

Standards of Academic Conduct

Academic honesty is expected of Carleton College students. Academic standards and practices are influenced by culture. What is considered appropriate academic behavior in your home country might be different from what is appropriate in the United States; it is important that you understand U.S. standards and practices.

Not meeting these standards can result in charges of academic dishonesty and possibly expulsion from the College. 

Please visit the Plagiarism website to learn more.

Academic dishonesty includes, but is not necessarily limited to, cheating on assignments and examinations; plagiarizing, representing as your own work any part of work done by another; or unauthorized use of library or computer materials.

It is common in many countries for students to study and work together to prepare for exams. This is also acceptable in the United States. However, once in the classroom, students are on their own. Students cannot copy or discuss answers with each other during an exam.

Plagiarism is defined as copying the work of someone else and not naming them as your source. It is one of the most serious violations of the standards of academic conduct in the U.S. It can ruin your academic career.

When you are writing a paper you must name your sources and identify when you are using their words and ideas. This also applies to the work of other students. It also includes your own work, which you have done for another class. It is NOT permissible to hand in a paper you have written for one class in another class. If you use ideas, quotes from another paper, you must indicate this.