*Correction: The following article claims that US News and World Report Rankings uses acceptance rate as a main criteria to judge college rankings. This practice stopped in 2019, meaning acceptance rates no longer affect a school’s rank.
Carleton recorded a record- low 17.5% admissions rate for the class of 2025. While this news was probably accompanied by cheers in Scoville Hall, it shouldn’t be a cause for celebration.
Carleton has not magically become a better school because we rejected 1,000 more applicants this year than last. Our professors aren’t any better, our students aren’t any happier and our classes aren’t any more rigorous. The drop is nothing but a symbol of how Carleton continues to choose exclusivity over inclusivity for the sake of Carleton’s ‘brand.’
Carleton’s brand can best be measured by the all important and eminently stupid US News and World Report Rankings. Acceptance rate is one of the main criteria by which colleges are judged.* Lower acceptance rate, better ranking. Better ranking, better brand.
The problem is that Carleton has chosen to be a luxury brand; we’re trying to be Gucci instead of Old Navy. To be at Carleton is to be a part of an exclusive group that grants exclusive privileges: we have fantastic professors, plenty of funding for extracurriculars, fancy food and a luxurious living environment. And like most luxury brands, Carleton is reserved for the rich.
There is a general idea on campus that roughly half of students who attend Carleton pay full price to subsidize the other half that are on financial aid. That’s basically correct. So you’d think half of the students that go here are ‘poor’ because they need financial aid. They’re not.
According to a 2013 analysis by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, almost 70% of Carleton students come from the top 20%. Even more shocking, a full 14% of students come from the top 1% while only 2.9% come from the bottom 20%. Let that sink in.
I cannot emphasize enough how segregated Carleton is along class lines, so I will repeat those numbers: 14% from the top 1%; Almost 70% from the top 20%; 2.9% from the bottom 20%.
Carleton can pontificate as much as it wants about inclusion, about our wonderful financial aid package and accepting a diverse student body. It’s a lie. According to Chetty’s 2013 analysis, only 1.4% of Carleton students come from poor families and become rich adults. Carleton is an integral cog in the American machine that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich.
Carleton does not care about social mobility — why would they? Are poor people supposed to wear Gucci? No. The point of luxury brands is to differentiate between the poor and the rich, to say, “I went to Carleton, a prestigious, exclusive, elite liberal arts college.” Poor people don’t have prestige, so Carleton doesn’t want them.
Hi, Zak! This article inspired a LOT of conversation in the Class of 2026 Discord server, and after we all came to similar conclusions, I felt like I needed to respond accordingly to this piece.
This is an exceptional piece for provoking thought and conversation surrounding prestige, income inequality, and the college application process; quite frankly though, you poorly argue your case by bringing up points that, while interesting, are irrelevant to whatever conclusion you’re trying to make. Your biggest flaw in reasoning here is your attempt at connecting Carleton’s most recent acceptance rate with the alarming distribution of wealth across Carleton students and their families without analyzing either of their causes.
While acceptance rate can certainly be a mark of prestige, you fail to mention anything which affected the acceptance rate of Carleton this year. Yes, Carleton did deny acceptance to many more students than usual. However, they ACCEPTED roughly the same number of students as they do every year – a bit less, but only due to the over-enrollment of the class of ’25 caused by COVID-19. The amount of students who apply to Carleton every year is increasing, but Carleton cannot accept any more students than it has the capacity for, regardless of how many more students apply each year. Regarding the statistic you bring up in your article, I’d like to first point out that it is just that: a singular statistic. It shows no trends for the income demographics of Carleton College over the years, nor is it even from this year, making it completely irrelevant to this year’s acceptance rate. Without any other schools to compare this statistic to, or, more importantly, the demographics of any other year at Carleton, especially in the years following 2013, you fail to effectively use this alarming statistic, and this failure causes this article to lose even more credibility.
This is a piece rife with sensationalism and poorly concluded ideas, and you make the tragic mistake of neglecting to mention the causes of the issues you are trying so hard to advocate for. To understand if Carleton truly IS leaning more towards prestige than true progress, you must first explore what is causing the uptick in applications, WHO the new applicants are, and which people Carleton is choosing to accept when they must maintain a certain number of students each year rather than a certain percentage of applicants. We in the aforementioned 2026 Discord server found ourselves asking certain questions that I think would lead you to a better, more thought out conclusion were you to actually research this topic:
As previously mentioned: What is causing the continuous increase in applicants to Carleton, and where are those students coming from in terms of their families’ income, race, and ethnicity (because something else you neglected to mention – is the income disparity linked with racial ones? On a macro scale, they’re often linked)? With this new influx of students, how are the demographics of each new Carleton class changing, if at all?
Carleton is a need-blind school (for US students). When did Carleton become need-blind, and have the class segregation trends changed at all since then? What would cause Carleton to be accepted more wealthy students than poor ones even when they ARE need-blind? (Some hints – standardized testing scores, quality of primary and secondary education, and, most importantly and relevant to those last two notes, access to resources outside of school).
It is obvious you care about this topic, and for good reason! It’s incredibly important. However, you need to look at the root of the problem. If you only look at Carleton’s new acceptance rate and immediately link its decline to the ridiculously small rates of the most prestigious schools (which, not-so-coincidentally have also been declining even more in the last two years due to becoming test-optional), you won’t be able to accurately inform others about this topic, nor will you be able to do anything to fix the problems you’re seeing in this system.
If the class of 2026 discord could Google you’d know Carleton is, in fact, not need blind. It’s a shame that of all the 1% they choose to let you nimrods in.
oh GIRLY! “quality of primary and secondary education is something that only a person so infatuated with themself and their polish would ever write. Mediocrity cannot be overcome by veneering yourself with degrees. I would recommend that you enter THE REAL WORLD for a brief moment and understand that spending what I only assume took an HOUR of laborious, painful writing is a WASTE. Why are you so mad? Like why are you so upset about this article. Does it threaten your self-concept as someone with worth? If so, go hug a tree or make a friend or something. The maize and blue will not assuage those warring thoughts. I hope the class of 2026 discord group can learn something at the prestigious institution they are about to enter!
Fort night 🎮🎮
Wut does this mean… speak in normal English plz
The class of 2024 had 6892 applications. The class of 2025 had 7915 applications. The class of 2026 had 8583 applications. Applications increased by nearly 1,700 in two years. If applications increase, and Carleton admits the same number of students, the acceptance rate must decrease. This is not a reason for moral outrage. It is basic math.
Imagine that Carleton does not lower its acceptance rate and admits more and more students each year. How many more faculty and staff would Carleton need to hire to handle this influx of students? How much more food would Carleton need to buy in order to feed these extra students? Where do you propose housing these extra students? (Carleton housing is already stretched to capacity to accommodate the larger-than-usual class of 2025.) Are you aware that hiring more faculty, buying more food, and building more housing costs money? Money that could be used for financial aid or other measures that increase equity?
Upon reading the title, I was genuinely interested to read this article and learn about inequity at Carleton and the institutional change necessary to combat it. Unfortunately, the only thing I learned from this piece is that the Carletonian needs to be more discerning with the articles it publishes.
I don’t think it’s lost upon anyone that more applicants and the same amount of students results in a lower acceptance rate, and to think that is the point of the article is naive. It seems like the point is that with 1,691 more applicants for the class of 2026 than the class of 2024, there was surely more socioeconomic diversity represented in the applicant pool. Despite that (and if you took the time to actually review the profiles of each class), Carleton has not become more socioeconomically diverse; the stats are more or less the same as previous years. Even when presented with the chance to invest in students from poorer backgrounds, Carleton does not. Carleton continues to fill the incoming classes with students who hail from wealthy backgrounds.