Oberlin Blogs

Admitted students--it's your turn!

April 1, 2009

Prof. David Walker ’72

Last week hundreds of fat envelopes went out to those fortunate enough to be accepted to the Oberlin class of 2013. Those of you in that group should feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment in seeing your hard work in high school pay off. Now comes the last but often unexpectedly difficult part of the admissions process: weighing your various options and deciding which of the colleges that have admitted you would be the best fit for the next exciting phase of your life.

Some of you will of course have already made your choice. Whether you applied early decision or just always had your heart set on Oberlin, once the acceptance came through you were home free.

But others have a much harder time making up their minds. Some may have to make difficult choices based on financial considerations: college is a major investment for any family, not one to be taken lightly. And then there are the less tangible factors: would you be better off at a large institution or a smaller one? In a city or not? Where are you more likely to find the academic challenges you seek, the extracurricular opportunities you want, the cultural factors that will stretch and inspire you? Where will you find the people with whom you want to spend the next four years?

I've seen a recent online article suggesting that "Where You Go to College Doesn't Matter"--a notion with which I strongly disagree. (Actually, the article isn't nearly as provocative as its title: it moves toward the conclusion that you shouldn't choose a college based on rankings or prestige, which makes a good deal more sense.) Based on my own experience, where you go to college does matter profoundly: my adult values, priorities, tastes, and opinions were strongly shaped by my experiences as an Oberlin undergraduate, and I know hundreds of Oberlin alums who would say they made the best friends of their lives here.

So if you're currently struggling with indecision, how on earth do you make up your mind? While you're never going to know with 100% certainty that you made the right choice, certainly you'd like to feel you had as much useful information available as possible. Presumably you did a good deal of research before deciding to apply in the first place, but if you're now trying to decide between places that on paper look similar--Oberlin and Wesleyan, say, or Oberlin and Grinnell--you may feel a little like a deer trapped in the headlights.

Fortunately, help is available! I always tell prospective students that we don't want students to choose Oberlin with false expectations; we want students coming here with a clear sense of what they'll find, and so it's to our benefit to be as transparent as possible about what we offer. And there are a couple of sources of information that you really shouldn't hesitate to take advantage of:

1. Jesse has already blogged about All Roads Lead to Oberlin, so I'll just add that the faculty cordially welcomes you to visit over the course of this month. Visiting is the single best way to learn what makes Oberlin distinctive. Often what seems abstract and vague about a college you've only read about becomes crystal clear when you walk around the campus, introduce yourself to a student in the library, go to a concert or the art museum, or spend a night in a dorm. If you visit on the designated highlight days, there will be special events such as panel presentations and lunch with the faculty. But if you can't come one of those days, you're welcome to visit any day during the month, when you can still visit classes, hang out with students (who tend to be remarkably welcoming), and schedule an overnight in a dorm.

(Should I point out that, even if you've already chosen Oberlin, you're still completely welcome at All Roads? If you can't wait until August to meet your future fellow students in a less-virtual-than-Facebook sense, this is the time!)

2. But what if you're unable to visit? I've seen admitted students posting questions to each other on the Facebook page and other websites, and there's inevitably some dubious information being disseminated. Here's an alternative: please feel free to post your questions here, as comments either to this post or to any other one on the site. My fellow bloggers and I would be more than happy to give you our two cents--it's our job to let you know how we experience Oberlin, and we'd love to give you an honest response to whatever uncertainties you're currently grappling with.

Good luck with your decision! I look forward to seeing some of you here this month (I'll be on one of the panels on the 10th, for instance), and others in the fall.

Responses to this Entry

Hey there. I'm an international student living in São Paulo, Brazil, and I'm wondering how people at Oberlin usually get around. Is it good to have a bike at the college? How do people without cars get to Cleveland? Is there some sort of bus system? I've never visited Oberlin so I don't really know the exact size and dimensions of the campus, though I imagine all the dorms are within walking distance of the classes.

Thanks for your attention!

Posted by: Andrew John Churchill on April 5, 2009 6:00 PM

Hi, AJ. The Oberlin campus is extremely walkable--you can get from the northernmost point to the southernmost in about 15 minutes. (This map may give you a sense of perspective: http://www2.oberlin.edu/visitor/campus.html .) That said, a bike is really useful, both for getting around town quickly and for riding out into the countryside on nice fall and spring days. Used bikes can be rented or bought cheaply from the Bike Coop in the fall.

There's a bus service that runs several times a day from Oberlin to the Cleveland airport, from where you can take a train into downtown Cleveland. The system doesn't work at night, when the bus doesn't run, but usually it's possible to get a ride to popular evening events with a student who has a car. Honestly, though, most students I know don't feel the need to go into Cleveland all that often--there's usually plenty of activity to take advantage of right here.

(Students should free to amplify this from their own perspectives.)

I was quite impressed by your movie, by the way!

Posted by: David on April 5, 2009 7:44 PM

Professor Walker, thank you for answering so quickly and thoroughly. The more I hear about Oberlin, the more inclined I am to choosing it. I'm glad that there is a daily system for transportation to the city, however, if most students spend their days at Oberlin, even better!

I think I'll get a bike, in that case. I don't feel the need of owning a car (and neither do my parents).

I am very glad to hear you liked the movie! It's nice to hear perspectives from outside of my school environment.

I'm still thinking about what my major will be, though writing has always been a great passion of mine, especially creative writing. So I will surely take classes in that area. Who knows, I may end up in one that you teach!

Again, thank you for your answer.


Posted by: Andrew John Churchill on April 5, 2009 9:00 PM

Hi--I visited Oberlin a little while ago, and really loved it; it's my top choice right now. I'm very much undecided about what I want to study, though, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the English department, especially the creative writing program? Thanks so much,


Posted by: Hannah Seidel on April 7, 2009 8:02 AM

Hi Hannah. I've been thinking about writing a post about creative writing at Oberlin, so I'll try to find time to do that soon. Meanwhile, just two points:

(1) English and Creative Writing (which are two separate programs here) are among the strongest departments at Oberlin, and we have many students who come here specifically for that reason.

But (2) I think it's a mistake to decide too soon what you want to concentrate on in college, or to choose a college because of the strength of a particular program. The whole point of a liberal arts college is that it provides a broad-based education; students don't have to choose a major until the end of their sophomore year, and should spend the first two years taking classes from across the span of the curriculum. Many students arrive planning to major in English or history, and end up majoring in (say) East Asian Studies or Environmental Studies--subjects they may not have been exposed to in high school. To choose a college because of a particular program is to miss the point a bit, since in fact you're apt to find your interests changing while you're here. Better to choose based on the overall atmosphere and fit of the place, in my view anyway.

Let me know if you have further questions.

Posted by: David on April 7, 2009 12:55 PM

Thanks for your answer, Professor Walker.I'm looking forward to finding out more first hand. I do want you to know, though, that I am trying to stay as open-minded as I can about what I want to study, and I'm looking forward to having a chance to explore so many different programs at Oberlin.

Thanks again,

p.s. My mom told me that you were her advisor when she was at Oberlin (she was the one who suggested I talk to you). Does the name Rachel Breslow ring any bells?


Posted by: Hannah Seidel on April 9, 2009 1:49 PM

Of course I remember your mom! Please say hello from me.

Posted by: David on April 9, 2009 2:39 PM

My son was admitted to Oberlin and really likes it. One small area of concern I thought you might address is that Oberlin's 6 year graduation rate (from the common data set) is only 83%, whereas other similar schools are all in the low 90's. First-year retention is great, as are most of the other stats.

My question is just whether you can shed any insight into why Oberlin has fewer students who graduate within 6 years?

Posted by: Dave on April 14, 2009 1:44 PM

@Dave: Sorry I overlooked your question until now. It's a tricky one, because I suspect there are several contributing factors. The easy part of the answer is that a substantial number of students are enrolled in the 5-year double-degree program (BA + BM), rather than the usual 4-year program, which skews the statistics.

The more complex part--and here I'm speculating--has to do with the kind of students attracted to Oberlin in the first place. Oberlin students are far less likely to march in lockstep with the rest of the band than the average college student. Choose your cliche: they march to a different drummer, they think outside the box... They're also highly self-examining: they want to be sure they're making the right choices, that they're not wasting their time or their parents' money, that they're getting as much out of the educational process as they possibly can. This sometimes means that, after a year or two at Oberlin, a student will decide that she needs to go off and work with underprivileged children in Baltimore, say, or that he should transfer to a school where he can study Korean literature (which Oberlin doesn't offer). The great majority of Oberlin students do graduate within four years, of course. But for those who need to pursue a different path, we encourage their independence. It hurts our statistics a little, sure, but ultimately we think the students benefit from being encouraged to think for themselves.

I hope that's helpful. Anyone who has further ideas about this question is welcome to comment.

Posted by: David on April 19, 2009 12:24 PM

Hi Professor Walker,

I am an international student, and am going to apply for college in the fall. I've been thinking about Wesleyan and Oberlin a lot, and I am unsure which one I should apply for early decision. I just want to know what makes Oberlin different from Wes, because both are very similar!

Thank you for your attention.

All the best,

Posted by: Nicole on August 25, 2012 3:56 AM

I wish I had a definitive answer for you, Nicole, but the truth is that I've never been to Wesleyan and don't really know much in detail about it, so I can't make any comparisons based on personal experience. And, honestly, very few people can. There are websites where prospective students ask this very sort of question, and then people who've been to Oberlin talk about why Oberlin is the better school, and people who went to Wesleyan write about the superiority of Wesleyan--and the fact is that few of them really have much basis for what they're saying.

It's especially hard when the schools being compared are as similar as Oberlin and Wesleyan--it's much easier to contrast Oberlin and, say, the University of Michigan. If you were a US student, I would encourage you to visit both schools if at all possible, since it's often much easier to learn what makes a school distinctive from a visit than from reading publications. Obviously, this is much more difficult for international students.

I can make a few obvious comparisons. Oberlin has a world-class conservatory of music, and Wesleyan doesn't. The presence of the conservatory has a huge impact on life at Oberlin for anyone who's interested in music: there are great concerts almost every night of the week, most of them free. Oberlin also has one of the best college/university art museums in the country, much stronger in its collection than Wesleyan's. Oberlin is located in a small town in the Midwest, while Wesleyan is in a mid-sized city in the Northeast, and the regional differences may be important to you. (For my further thoughts on how the town of Oberlin affects students' experience, see http://blogs.oberlin.edu/living/town/the_middle_of_n.shtml .)

But what I think makes Oberlin most distinctive is the character and individuality of its students, which I think you can get a sense of by reading around in the blogs (just click on the colored tabs at the top of this page for access to the archives). Here are a few posts to get you started:

Also, feel free to ask this question in the comments section of any of the current student bloggers' posts--I'm sure they'd be glad to give you their perspective.

I hope this is helpful. And good luck figuring things out!

Posted by: Prof. David Walker '72 on August 25, 2012 10:51 AM

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