Transitioning to Carleton

Carleton is a rigorous and supportive environment. All Carleton students go through a transition period as they adjust to the new challenge.

Family Talking Points

Common first-year challenges that your student my call home about, and how you can help.

“I am doing so bad in a class! This never happened in high school. Maybe I don’t belong at Carleton!”


Remind them that they belong at Carleton—they got in because they deserve to be here. Feeling out-of-place is a normal part of transitioning to college, and will get better with time.


Remind them that college is supposed to be challenging (more challenging than high school) as students move to higher order thinking skills. Challenges are opportunities to become a better student! Challenge is how we learn and develop our brains; increased effort leads to increased gains (watch this Growth Mindset Video for an explanation).


Ask them what the have done so far to try and improve. Students may be embarrassed about a bad grade or uncomfortable asking for help, but avoiding their professors and working alone only make things worse.

Encourage them to:

  • Attend office hours and talk with the professor (professors expect students to attend, but students often need encouragement)
  • Go to TA or Prefect sessions or the Math Skills Center
  • Work with a study group
  • Go to the Academic Support Center for help on papers, study strategies, note taking, and more
  • Talk with their TRIO advisor and academic advisor

Thriving at Carleton

Carleton offers MANY academic and personal resources. Utilizing these resources effectively is the key to success in college (like going to faculty office hours, making an appointment at the writing center, etc.). Part of transitioning to college and growing into an intentional learner is exploring all available resources and then using the ones needed in any given situation.

As a family member, you can encourage your Carleton student to seek out these resources. At TRIO, we have lots of events carefully designed to provide support to students, including advising and mentoring, social events, and informational workshops. We will help connect your student to other resources on campus as appropriate (see the different types of resources in the student portion of the site).

Advice for families from current TRIO students

Rather than call every day, call once a week to update. It’s also good to hear your family’s voice every now and then with the whole pressure of college always on you. It just reminds you that you have people who love and worry about you but also want you to do well.

Giving your new student a little space for the first week would be great. Letting your child know you are available for them to talk is really great too.

My mom was really worried that I was not going to adjust well academically and that my high school did not prepare me enough for Carleton caliber coursework… [but] there are so many different resources on campus to aid students with almost every little thing. [Also] every high school background and experience is different and prepares students in a unique way for Carleton — there is no “one path” of preparation.

I was an overachiever in high school and did very well in my classes. My dad didn’t understand why it wasn’t the same when I went to Carleton. … explaining to my dad that college is hard but I’m doing the best I can helped him in giving me the space I needed.

Carleton is stressful. The 10 week term schedule, combined with rigorous classes means that it’s hard. … As a student, I had to reevaluate my self worth — a bad grade does not mean that you’re stupid, it means that the class you’re taking isn’t your strength. Also, getting A’s at Carleton is hard!

Read The Voice from Carleton… to stay in the loop of what’s happening …and the TRIO Newsletter, too.