Carleton College is committed to providing a true liberal arts education, a curriculum that challenges our students to learn broadly and think deeply. Instead of training for one narrow career path, Carleton students develop the knowledge and skills to succeed in any walk of life.
“Education is a really powerful tool, and it has the ability to impact people’s lives in many different ways,” says Maraki Ketema ’15. “At Carleton, you are given the opportunity to learn not only for yourself, but also for society.”
“This place allows you to work a bit outside your comfort zone. You definitely have to do that in academics. The liberal arts focus forces you. But it’s not a thing that anyone at Carleton dreads,” says Nate Livingston ’16, who majored in chemistry.
The most important thing our students gain is how to learn for a lifetime. Critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, effective communication: these are the tools that transform a collection of facts and figures into a way of understanding the world.
Founded in 1866, Carleton College was the dream of Minnesota pioneers who understood that human knowledge is the real frontier. We’ve been exploring it here ever since.
Carleton is the fourth oldest private institution of higher education in Minnesota. Carleton was founded on October 12, 1866, by the General Conference of the Congregational Churches of Minnesota, which — after considering locations in Zumbrota, Mantorville, Cottage Grove, and Lake City — chose Northfield for the home of its new college. (Note: Carleton is now a non-denominational college with no formal religious affiliation.)
Carleton’s founder was Northfield businessman and Congregationalist Charles M. Goodsell, for whom the college’s observatory is named. It was he who encouraged the church to open a Minnesota college and he who donated part of its original 20 acres. The first instructor hired was Horace Goodhue, Jr., for whom a campus dormitory was later named.
The earliest Carleton students, both men and women, arrived in the fall of 1867 to attend classes in the former American House hotel. That three-story building, located in what is now downtown Northfield, presented some serious challenges to its residents. According to Carleton archivist Eric Hillemann, sources from the time reported that the building’s plumbing was disgraceful, its heating meager, and its mice legion.
The new school met with serious financial challenges until 1871, when Massachusetts brass wares manufacturer William Carleton agreed to donate $50,000 to the College that now bears his name.
The following year, thanks to a $10,000 gift from Carleton’s one-time assistant and second wife, Susan Willis Carleton, the fledgling college moved into its first new building. Willis Hall still stands today on the western edge of campus, and now houses the political science and economics departments.