Move-in Day Just Next Door
For many college students, attending college is synonymous with leaving home. To most Oberlin first-years, this means enjoying Feve brunch for the first time, acclimating to a climate with heavy snow and adjusting to life in Smalltown, Ohio. But for a small group of students each year, moving to Oberlin just means moving across town. Or down the street.
“I never really imagined going to Oberlin when I was growing up,” said College sophomore Anna-Claire Stinebring, who has lived in Oberlin since she was three years old. “I was like ‘Oh, I’m getting out of town.’”
But after a tour of the east-coast schools and some soul searching, Stinebring applied early-decision to Oberlin.
Many Oberlin High School graduates are drawn in by the full tuition scholarship that the College offers to students who meet a set of requirements, including four years’ enrollment in OHS, residency within the Oberlin city limits and meeting the College’s admissions standards.
“To graduate from Oberlin College with hardly any debt is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said College first-year Max Phinney, who was born and raised in Oberlin.
Since 2001, when the first class matriculated under this scholarship, 28 OHS graduates have enrolled in the College, of which 13 have graduated, 13 are currently enrolled and two have left the College.
According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Debra Chermonte, this scholarship was conceived in part as a way to foster positive town-gown relations.
“I think [this scholarship program] sends a very important message to the community that we care about our place not only in the world, but we care about our place in Ohio, and the fact that we are located in Oberlin, Ohio and that we would like to take care of our neighborhood,” Chermonte said.
Chermonte also indicated that she believes the program has been doing well.
“I think it’s been very successful. I think that’s evident by the fact that we have already graduated 13 students. As a community, I think we’ve worked very hard to make sure that we are facilitating the success of every student and that we are caring especially about the students who come from within our own community,” she said.
So, what happens to the OHS students once they arrive on campus? What is it like having Mom and Dad able to drop by at any moment? Can a high school that was once in a state of emergency prepare its students for the rigor of the College? Just how different are their experiences from the rest of ours?
“Academically, I was not provided with the tools I needed to go to Oberlin,” said Grube. “Oberlin High School does a really poor job of preparing anyone to go to an institution like Oberlin College.”
College first-year Nigel McMillion agreed.
“I knew it was going to be really hard, but it’s kind of disappointing that I’m not prepared for it,” he said. “They say the first [semester of college] is the hardest and I’m really counting on that.”
Other OHS students experienced similar feelings of being unprepared.
Phinney said, “On the first day of classes, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to get A’s. I’m going to have to try to pass.’”
These feelings of being unprepared may be a result of the fact that OHS offered only two AP classes while these students were enrolled — AP Calculus and AP Biology. Grube also maintained that failing in the Oberlin school district is almost unheard of.
“I think the strategy is that having a diploma is better than not having a diploma,” Grube said.
But not all students felt so unprepared. Stinebring deliberately chose the most rigorous curriculum possible. She enrolled in independent studies through the high school and took four Oberlin College courses: Introduction to Astronomy, an art history class and two French language courses.
Stinebring believes that these choices are what helped her prepare for the College, but noted that she “completely agree[s] that Oberlin High School, if you don’t do anything outside of it, really does not prepare you [for college].”
“I’m on good terms with my family, but I don’t want to live with them anymore,” said McMillion, who currently lives in South.
McMillion does, however, exploit his family’s laundry facilities, remarking with a grin that he doesn’t have to pay $1.25 per load.
Stinebring also noted that her experiences were more normative than exceptional. According to Stinebring, the transitions she went through were the same that she would have felt at any college — transitions such as adjusting to a roommate — but she also struggled to create a separate identity apart from her family.
“I anticipated coming home a lot more…you know, dinner with my family once a week,” Stinebring said. But she also felt that she needed to have “[her] college life established before [she] could come back to [her] old life.”
McMillion acknowledged that there are some hidden advantages that come from staying at home.
“I think it’s really fun that all my friends come back at different times from their different colleges and I’m always here,” McMillion said.
Stinebring, whose father is Professor of Physics Dan Stinebring and whose mother is Professor of Creative Writing Lynn Powell, grew up with College students milling about her house; her father used to host picnics for his students and her mother also hosted the students in her non-fiction workshop.
Nevertheless, Stinebring is acutely aware of the disjoint between College and community.
“It’s always surprised me how non-integrated the [the College and the town] are,” she said.
McMillion remembers how annoying he found jay-walking College students when he was growing up, while Phinney told a story about selling his house to the College.
“I lived on Woodland Street until fourth or fifth grade and then we learned that the College was getting ready to build [a] parking lot behind us…and we didn’t want a parking lot in our backyard,” Phinney said. “So, we went to some meeting — I think City Council — and they just blew us off. We sold [the house] to the College...they just gave us a flat bid and it was either take it or leave it.”
During the time that Phinney lived on Woodland street, he could hear the bass from the ’Sco every night.
Despite the academic challenges and social balancing act that comes with being so close to one’s parents, not a single student interviewed regretted his or her decision to attend the College.
“I love this place, actually,” said Grube. “It took me a long time to realize that.”