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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Stress enriches academic experience

<rleton can be an incredibly stressful place at times. There is no question of that. As I write this, I am recovering from a cold that I attribute to the exceptionally high amount of assignments I had due this last week. At the same time, the overall culture of this school makes me glad I chose it over other colleges. The stress is reared differently here than it is both at my friends’ colleges and the school system I attended from kindergarten through 12th grade. 

The high school and frankly even the middle school I attended epitomized a Type A environment. It was not just that the work assigned seemed beyond reasonable, the main issue was that I do not think all of this work was meant to help enhance our learning, but to keep us busy. 

Time-management is an important skill for everyone to have. The way in which my high school classes were structured, though, did not permit any productive space for per se time management. 

The other key factor making me loathe the stress of the environment was the community obsession with grades. Teachers were required to regularly post their grades on an online portal. In itself, there is nothing wrong with that, but it unleashed a population of teenagers who checked their grades more than their social media accounts. Some tech-savvy classmate even developed an app so that we could calculate our future GPAs, based on predicted assignment grades. People were truly obsessed with and competitive on this matter. I had a friend who, after every test was handed back, would nag me to reveal my grade. If I declined to answer, she assumed I did “poorly.” 

I put poorly there in quotation marks because this does not necessarily indicate failing. It could mean a B or even an A-, depending on the course. In eighth grade, when we were determining which levels of math classes we could take for freshman year of high school, this same friend had the audacity when she found out I was taking a math level lower than hers to brag about how colleges would view her application more positively. 

Thinking back, it is really bizarre that some 13-year-olds were discussing how to make their college applications look nice. 

You can imagine my shock years later when I got accepted to Carleton and learned that we had a six-week break between fall and winter term, as well as a schedule that typically consisted of only three classes at a time. My mind was blown. Current students, faculty and admission staffs assured me, though, that the intensity of the ten-week terms and fast-paced courses would provide for a considerably stressful environment. 

The summer before my freshman year I messaged a rising Carleton senior on Facebook who attended the same high school that I did. I asked for her honest opinion on the transition from Staples to Carleton and how the workload seemed by comparison. She, like everyone else, explained that Carleton is a rapid-pace and rigorous environment. However, she continued by saying that having attended the high school that we did, the presence of a three-course schedule and other factors made the learning conditions noticeably better. 

Now, as a Carleton senior, I can identify factors that make Carleton less stressful (but still stressful). 

I feel that the three classes at a time really makes for all the difference. For one you get to select classes that you have at least some interest in (this is a factor that is certainly not unique to Carleton, but many other colleges have more rigid general requirements). Very few times here have I had assignments that I consider having been only for means of busy work. They all have some important meaning in my overall learning. 

The professor engagement  has also been a vital aspect. From emailing at one AM on a Tuesday to holding extensive office hours, virtually all my professors have been eager to help me do my best. Their goal was not to make me suffer, which seemed to be the case for some of my high school teachers. Also, my friends at larger universities and even some of those at Ivy Leagues have complained that TAs do all the teaching, which is not how it should be. 

Then there is the component that truly makes Carleton stand out, the little-to-no conversation on grades. I have had classes where I did not know my grades until they were posted on the Hub at the end of the term. Some may not like that, but I love it. Never have I heard my peers brag about grades. Even those on the Dean’s List are quite modest about it. I know this is not the case at many other colleges, including liberal arts colleges of a similar nature to Carleton. It seems like people here celebrate both the accomplishments of themselves and their friends in a healthy manner. 

I do not think that I am in any way downplaying the stress of Carleton. Recalling the amount of pages I have read and papers I have written here makes me dizzy. There is also no doubt that standards here for assignments are especially high. 

However, knowing what I know about my preferred work environment, my undergraduate experience would have been astronomically worse at a university that had values similar to my high school. For someone else at Carleton, the opposite may be true and that is fine. I am just speaking for myself, as I know the stress of Carleton has enabled my learning to be optimal. 

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