The main reason is that Carleton has a Discord (this is like an invite-only forum that you can’t access without an invitation, so it can’t be seen unless you’re logged in and invited) for newly admitted students and DC1 is really vibing (my term, not hirs) with the other admitted students. They all like board games, even the mainstream Taylor Swift fans. They’re all serious about academics. They’re mostly introverted and nerdy. DC1 has never been around so many people who share so many of hir interests before. (Zie has friends at school, but they’re really into CS or games but not school, or they’re into school but not CS or games. And friends online are into games or music but not CS or school. Etc.)
From the materials that the other three schools have been sending, Macalester students are somewhat of a fit but still more external-looking than at those at Carleton for the most part. Oberlin just doesn’t seem like a personal fit, and Union is not a fit at all. Re: Oberlin, it’s not that DC1 doesn’t care about social justice, zie does deeply and has very mature views that astonish me whenever zie shares them, but zie isn’t going to organize a protest. Re: Union, DC1 isn’t an east coast jock. (We recently learned that there are only ~50 students in the Union Scholar program each year, so a pretty big deal for them, but DC1 would be part of an elite minority.)
The second main reason for Carleton over Macalester is that people at Macalester have more free time and do stuff outside of school and DC1, I am not making this up, said zie doesn’t actually want a whole ton of free time outside of schoolwork. I mean I get that, but at that age I would have phrased it more positively, like having a thirst for learning and wanting to make the most of guidance from experts while I could.
The other reasons are that Carleton has pretty much always been on the top 10 or thereabouts of SLACs. Currently it’s at #6. Macalester is on the rise, but it’s still a tier lower. Oberlin has been dropping. Carleton is also ranked #1 for undergraduate teaching on various lists and is on top 10 SLAC lists for computer science. Carleton and Oberlin are both really nationally/internationally known schools for those who know elite schools, whereas Macalester (though becoming more well known) is still somewhat regional and Union is very regional. Carleton and Macalester both have great food (a hilarious moment on one of the Macalester virtual student panels was when someone asked them about the worst cafeteria food experience and one of the women was like… sometimes the chicken breasts are a little dry), Oberlin and Union’s dining hall services are more mediocre. Oberlin does have the great music scene, but Carleton is across from St. Olaf so DC1 can go to concerts etc. there. Plus Carleton has a flexible music minor.
Macalester really did do a great job of recruiting, and if DC1 hadn’t fallen in love with Carleton (or if we valued that 120k cost difference more), zie would be very happily going there. I expect that Macalester will continue to rise up in the rankings over the years. It is truly a great school and boy does their marketing team know what they’re doing. They had interesting virtual sessions (unlike Oberlin’s, which was dull and uninformative). DC1 LOVES the socks and the bagpipe confetti. The sticker sheet was also great (to be fair, so was Oberlin’s). They’ve sent fantastic infographics about job outcomes (though Carleton’s Sankey diagram about where their majors end up is also really impressive) and local amenities. They’ve got great day in the life videos online. DC1 spent a few hours pouring over the link to the school newspaper archives they sent. I strongly recommend Macalester to any kids interested in the SLAC experience. It seems like a really great school. (Also, as with Carleton, Oberlin, and Union, anyone we mention it to who knows someone who went is like, my friend/family member went and LOVED it there.) More people outside the Midwest should know and consider it.
Last week when DC1 said it was most likely going to be Carleton, I looked at the 529 plans, and saw that DC1’s is … about 120K short, give or take. (It has exactly enough for any of the other three choices, which was not really planned but is where the stock market landed.) We had some extra money from a big tax refund, so I put another 10K into DC2’s 529. My current plan is to exhaust DC1’s 529 and then I’m not sure whether we will dip into DC2’s or pay cash. On the one hand, dipping into DC2’s would allow us to use up the 529s if DC2 ends up going to a less expensive school than did DC1. On the other hand, paying cash would allow DC2’s account to accumulate more tax free, AND there are a more ways to use up a 529 than there used to be (including the IRA!). If our kids have kids it’s a really nice way to pass on generational wealth. But our kids might not have kids! Still, DC1 has a lot of relatives that will be having kids, so we’ll be able to pass on excess money to someone. (I keep in mind that our end goal is not necessarily to make/save as much money as possible– if the government is good, they use our taxes for things like feeding people.) Probably what I end up doing will depend on how the stock market is doing– it will be easier to justify taking out of DC2’s still mostly stock-based 529 if stocks are high than if stocks are low.
DC2 is currently talking about going to MIT/Vanderbilt/Northwestern for economics (they’re doing a finance unit in math and zie is loving learning about bonds), so zie has different but equally expensive preferences compared to DC1. DC2 would also be a great mechanical engineer or designer more broadly– zie has designed several cat toys and cat habitats that are universally loved by immediate and extended family felines. Zie has a wonderful amount of creativity and ability, so might follow in my sister’s footsteps instead of mine. Fortunately we have another 5+ years before zie actually has to decide on schools.
So I guess next year when I’m back up at full salary, I’ll be putting money into DC2’s 529. I will have to think about if I want to do 1K/month or just put all our excess money in there until we’ve reached some threshold. And of course we’ll have to figure out how to actually pay DC1’s tuition– does the 529 do it directly or do I have to have cash on hand and then request reimbursement? $83K/year is a LOT. I wonder how often payment happens. I wonder how much tuition will go up each year. (Macalester has a nice page that shows theirs goes up 2K/year, so maybe Carleton will be similar?)
I do think (and hope) that DC1 will be happy at Carleton. Everyone who has been seems to love it and it really does seem like a great match for hir on every front except the weather and lack of poke places in walking distance. Everyone here is happily optimistic about DC1’s next four years, including DC1. My sister says she will send DC1 a SAD lamp for Christmas if necessary and my MIL has plans for more warm winter clothing.
So I think we’re done with this process! Friday is the requested Ask the Grumpies on what we’ve learned and advice for parents about to embark on this journey. Then maybe back to business as usual finishing up and posting blog drafts from 2012?
Side Note: Apparently Carleton would have given DC1 stickers had DC1 gone to their admitted students weekend. So maybe that’s a reason to do a college visit… They also said they give more swag at orientation week.
College educated readers and parents with kids who have gone through this process– how did you and yours make a final college decision? Any recommendations for kids the summer before starting freshman year?