Alumni Spotlight: Carson Brown (’13)
How do MLWGS students choose where to apply to college and ultimately where to attend? How do they handle the transition from high school to college? What are their experiences at the colleges they end up choosing? Our youngest alumni have the freshest perspectives on college applications, admissions, and selection. We talked to Carson Brown (’13) about her experience choosing, applying to, and attending Northwestern University.
As a eighth grader, Carson knew she was looking for a challenge, already having exhausted the advanced classes in her home school district. She remembers falling in love with Maggie Walker when she visited with her mom. “Maggie felt quirky and welcoming to my 8th grade self,” she says. “With 11 languages and seemingly endless AP options, it felt too good to be true.” She still remembers getting her acceptance letter. “I was so excited, I cried. My parents were proud, which made me even happier.” Looking back, she thanks teachers like Ms. Arnold, Mrs. Yagel, Ms. Germer, Mr. Wilkes, Mrs. Hill, and Mr. McGuire, among others, for making “life changing impacts on how I approach life-long learning.”
When she was considering where to apply to college, Carson originally thought she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps at an East Coast private school, where she planned to study French and political science. “I was always one of the kids who listened to NPR on the way to school every day, but it never occurred to me to pick journalism as a profession,” she explains. Ms. Stinnett’s photojournalism Senior Seminar and a college counselor who suggested Carson look at Northwestern’s prestigious journalism program changed her mind. “And it’s all because I wanted to keep up with film photography and Ms. Stinnett’s digital photojournalism course was the only photo class left to take!” she says.
Carson enrolled in the Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, where she pursued the magazine track of the Journalism major, in addition to studying African American studies and psychology. She graduated this past spring and will returns to Evanston for the month of August for a teaching fellowship for incoming journalism students. Carson talks about college admissions, her experience at Northwestern, studying abroad in Paris, and much more below:
What was one of your favorite things about your experience at Northwestern?
Definitely the community I found. The journalism school and African American studies department are super tight knit and I found them to be very welcoming. I was also an orientation leader for two years. We have a 10-day long orientation before classes start for incoming students, and it’s an incredible opportunity to build community when you first step foot on campus. The staff gets really close, and it’s just a wonderful space full of support and love and purple pride!
What was easiest about college? What was the most difficult?
I didn’t find much about college to be easy in the conventional sense. Everything was a challenge in one way or another, but that’s part of why I feel so happy to have been where I was. At first, the hardest part was separation from home. I missed the East Coast and my family and my friends. My loved ones are the most important thing in my life, and being so far from them was incredibly difficult. At the end of the day, college forces you to critically assess yourself and push yourself towards the better. I faced my own self-image, self worth, mental health, political views, and every other aspect of self there is to face. I left college much happier and confident than I was in high school, and I 100% credit Northwestern and the community I found there with giving me so many opportunities for personal growth, in addition to the professional.
What was the best class you took?
Gender and Sexuality in 19th Century Paris. I took it spring quarter my freshman year and it completely cemented my love for the school. It was one of those once-weekly, three hour seminars with 10 other students and the professor. We discussed Haussmannization, read Émile Zola, analyzed maps of early Paris, and watched beautiful films. We learned of the flâneur and of the culture of art and sex work in that era. It spurred me to study abroad in Paris, where I took classes on critical theory at Sciences Po.
Who’s a particularly interesting professor you had?
Just one? This question is difficult. Do I pick the magazine editing professor who took me under her wing like a mother and reinvigorated my love for journalism when I was having the biggest doubts? What about the painting and sculpture professor who was the only person I took multiple classes with and made me realize my own capabilities and the vast possibilities of art? How about my faculty advisor who knows nearly everyone in my industry but is incredibly humble? I couldn’t put a price on the wisdom and guidance he has given me, but it would certainly be more than what I paid for Northwestern.
Here’s a quick story of a professor I particularly admire:
My senior year, I took Sociology of HIV with Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes. She’s brilliant and one of the top scholars in her field, where she specializes in Black women and the AIDS epidemic. The class was cross-listed across three departments: sociology, African American studies, and gender studies. She grounded her work in the lived experiences of people across identities who have been impacted by the epidemic, she discussed HIV as both a public health issue and a social issue, and was an enthusiastic and engaging lecturer. Before my group project was due, she called me on my cell so I would have her cell number in case the group needed anything because she was going to be out of town the day we were set to present. She’s one of my favorite people in this world because of her kindness and wit and I fully plan to stay in touch with her over the years.
What advice would you give to current Maggie Walker students about college admissions and picking a college, particularly for students considering going out of state?
Don’t be afraid to branch out and seek the unconventional. Follow your heart. College is a numbers game at the intersection of ranked prestige, tuition, faculty student ratios, financial aid, etc. The fact of the matter is you’ll spend about four years living where you study and you really have to love it, too. Colleges have personalities; find one that suits you. If you can’t go visit, call the admissions office and ask to talk to students. They have people on hand. It’s good to be vulnerable, and it’s best to be honest with yourself.
College admissions is mystifying and sort of impenetrable. Do not see a rejection as a reflection of your self worth. You’ll find the place that works for you, and don’t be afraid to make your own timeline. I will forever love Virginia, but living someplace entirely different is a beautiful way to broaden your horizons and understand just how many ways there are to live. If you hate the place you go, transfer. It’s not the end of the world. Think long term, but also live in the moment. Undergrad only happens once, and for all of it’s challenges, don’t forget to make and complete your bucket list! You do a lot of growing in college. Your first year especially can be lonely, and your fellow first years will feel the same. You’re gonna do great.
What advice would you give to someone about to start their first year at Northwestern?
Lean on your Peer Advisor. They’re a great resource! Familiarize yourself with the resources of the university. If you find yourself in need of something, there’s a department that can help you out. Explore Chicago!! It’s next door, only a few train stops away, and it really is an incredible, world-class city. Take classes in as many departments as you can, especially in the beginning. You’ll be surprised what you fall in love with. And for the sake of all good things in your world, go to your professor’s office hours. They’re so helpful in ways you won’t initially expect. Northwestern is challenging, but it’s also full of opportunity and there are surprises around every corner. And go cheer on the home team, if only for me!
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