Oberlin Blogs

Diversity and Admissions

July 30, 2009

Charles Grim

Today I received an e-mail from a prospective student in China. I started to answer this with a quick e-mail, but decided that a) I had a lot to say on this subject and b) others might enjoy my rambling as well. So I decided to put my thoughts in a blog. The student essentially asked three questions:

1.Colleges all say that they want "diversity." What does that mean?
2.I can't change who I am so how do I become "diverse"?
3.Would you tell me what your two favorite movies are so I can use that as a gauge of the kind of things that you like as that might help me know what qualities you are looking for?

Diversity is not the result of any one or two students that we have at Oberlin, but rather the result of the integration of the unique perspectives of all of the students that we have on campus.

You indicate that you are Asian. That alone makes you different from many of our students, but it makes you similar to many others. Some students come from small towns while others come from some of the world's largest cities. Some Oberlin students (although admittedly not too many) come with very conservative political backgrounds while others come to campus thinking that the US Democratic party is too conservative. Some students couldn't imagine a better way to spend a weekend than in a science lab working shoulder to shoulder with their chemistry professor, while others will seek to find the most efficient way to complete their academic assignments so as to leave the maximum time to work on promoting environmental awareness. Some dance, some sing, and some play left tackle on the football field. One of my very favorite students from my days as a faculty member was married and had a child while at Oberlin. Others are outspoken members of Oberlin's gay community. World-class opera singers attend Oberlin as do students who would rather have their fingernails pulled out than sit through The Barber of Seville. We have white students, Latino/Latina students, black students, Asian-American students, and international students. We have students whose parents are affluent enough to build buildings at Oberlin and students who need application fee waivers. This heady mix of views enables all of our students to learn and challenges all of them to think about where their own views come from and whether some of their peers might have even more compelling ideas.

Borrowing the title of a 1998 book about the admission process written by Elizabeth Duffy and Idana Goldberg, admissions officers like to think of the selection process as "crafting a class." It is our job to sift through the many, many students who apply to our school who could thrive in Oberlin's challenging academic environment and accept the subset of those who bring as many different characteristics to Oberlin as possible.

Of course this is not a balancing act without constraints. Our varied residence halls have a limited capacity as do our classrooms. Without the small and intimate size that is one of the hallmarks of an Oberlin education, we wouldn't be the institution that we are. So we work with a fairly firm admission target. The College also has to remain financially sound. We cannot draw excessively off of our sizable endowment indefinitely. We cannot continue to attract such a capable faculty and staff unless we offer competitive salaries. So ultimately we have to be mindful of the overall financial aid budget as we admit students. We are constrained by the applications that we receive each year. In the end, the final diversity of the class is also determined by precisely which of the students we accept that ultimately choose to come to Oberlin.

As we travel in the fall, our primary task is to create as large and diverse a group of academically qualified applicants as we can. The larger is this pool, the more interesting perspectives we can bring to Oberlin. In the winter, as we read through the applications that represent the hopes and dreams of thousands of kids, it is our job to identify a great mix of students. Throughout the year, but especially in the month or so after we make our admissions offers, our task is to do our very best to yield the great and diverse students that we have admitted. When yield is high we are, by definition, getting exactly the students that we want to make Oberlin the most interesting place that we can make it.

Over the last decade, Oberlin has enjoyed substantial growth in our admission pool and our ability to yield the students that we select. When those two factors are combined with a more or less steady class size, our admit rate has fallen and we are able to choose an ever more selective class. The result of this can be seen in the steady increase in academic measures like SAT scores. Interestingly, though, the larger applicant pool has allowed us to maintain our diversity and our core values. Jill Medina in our offices looked through admissions records from the class that entered Oberlin in 1988 and the class that entered in 2008. She found that the proportion of students who had done significant community service was comparable. The proportions of high school newspaper editors and varsity athletes and everything else that she could think of to compare were similar.

Now that I've given you this long philosophical discussion on admission and diversity, I realize that I haven't really answered your two underlying questions, which are basically "what can I do to distinguish myself from all of the other applicants?" and "what can I do to make sure that I would be a good Obie?" I'm afraid that there really is only one, sadly non-useful answer to both of these questions. Be yourself. Craft your application in such a way that we know who you really are. As professionals we can then use our professional judgment to think about how you would fit in and add to the other students that we are considering.

As to your final question, I suspect that you aren't going to find my answer to that question all that illuminating either. I like my movies the same way that I like the admitted classes at Oberlin: I like them to be quite varied. I watch pretty much everything from "chick flicks" to documentaries to musicals to.... Last night I watched "Australia" with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The night before that I watched a couple of episodes of "Queer as Folk." I'm eagerly awaiting the release of "Julie and Julia" August 8th, about a young woman who cooks and blogs her way through chef Julia Child's cookbook. But if I had to name my two favorite movies, I'd probably have to say "Casablanca" and "The Sting."

Responses to this Entry

I can not agree with you

Posted by: everlanes on July 30, 2009 12:32 PM

If college look at the applicant's diversity from his or her geographfic location, the how to distinguish the students form the same palce.

You may say" he is from city and her hometown in a small town, this is different diversity"


I think every year, Oberlin has a corwed applicants from China. how you office select brids from this "dragon pool"? I don't know what will Chinese would bring to Oberlin wihlie I am sure most Chinese applicants have a high SAT and a Toefl score and alway rank the top 5 in his or her class.

Image, a applicant who grown up and educated in rural China,and have no SAT(because there is no SAT centers in Mainlan)socre, it is will be very dificuult for him receive an education in Oberlin though he is surely will bring his own special "diversity" to the college.

To you college, I think, the diversity of Chinese people is based on the academic achivement. Not only Oberlin, but many US colleges.

You know, I felt so sad for the rural-grown up guy now.

Posted by: Chen on July 30, 2009 12:51 PM

Hi Chuck, good job on explaining diversity in admission.

And Chen, just wanna remind you that diversity is a factor in college admission, just like academic achievement. Some factors might play a heavier role, but they will all be considered.

Posted by: S on July 31, 2009 12:36 PM

Hey,friend S,

I may say, academic achievement is the most important part of Oberlin admisson, no matter to American perspectives or international applicants.

The diversity for college, is its admmitted guys form different places, some from NY, some from TX,some from south ameirican, some Chinese. it is.

The point word for "diversity" not depends on the applicant his or her individual, but geographic erea.

I think Oberlin adimitted Chinese students run to the same aspects: beautiful SAT, great GPA, and some almost the same community things,from good high school. they are same-man!
I do not think they will bring the so called "diversity" to college.

at all.

Posted by: Chen on August 1, 2009 4:10 AM

Hey Chen, just out of curiosity, have you met all those Chinese applicants? I'm going to assume the answer is a "no." So how can you go on to say that you don't think they will bring diversity? For all you know, they're as diverse as students get! Also, you say that "academic achievement is the most important part of Oberlin admission." First of all, it is *one* of the most important factors, and not *the* most important factor (see http://new.oberlin.edu/arts-and-sciences/admissions/international-students/requirements.dot where it clearly states: "Oberlin admissions counselors engage in a holistic review process when reading and evaluating each application. This means many factors are considered, with no one component of the application singled out as most important."). I'm sure you've heard this before, but a lot of things go into college decisions. Second, even if it were *the* most important factor—what's wrong with that? Colleges are academic institutions, and academic achievements are often good indicators of how a student will do in college. You should also know that so-called "academic achievements" are not only measured through SATs and other tests, as Oberlin often stresses. I don't really get why you specified Oberlin in that quote of yours ("academic achievement is the most important part of Oberlin admission")—academics are very important parts of admission to *any* college, or at least any of the good ones. As an Obie freshman about to start college in the fall, I personally think that what Oberlin looks for is not really "academic achievement" per se, but more just "achievement" in its various forms. Don't get me wrong; perfect SAT scores and stellar grades are a plus, but like I've said before, they're not the only thing the College looks at/for. So let's use your example of that Chinese guy who was educated in rural China and could not take the SATs…I think that for Oberlin to accept him [and Dr. Grim, please correct me if I'm wrong], he would have had to have several things. Generally speaking, if no extreme situations are involved, he should have decent grades to at least make the first cut. If he really sucked in school, can you blame any college for rejecting him? Yes, he's poor, but you did mention that he was educated—why didn't he make an effort to do well? Still, Oberlin might accept him based on his other achievements and how much of a fit he is. Also, Chen, you said that that rural guy could not take the SATs. If you check the International Student FAQs page (http://new.oberlin.edu/arts-and-sciences/admissions/international-students/international-faq.dot), it clearly states that "if you live in a country where these tests [those required by Oberlin] are not available, you may contact international.admissions@oberlin.edu to inquire about alternatives." So yes, there are alternatives to the SATs, and Oberlin is very understanding when it comes to these things. All the rural guy had to do was send an email or contact the School in any other way. I'm sure the Admissions Team would have made special arrangements. Perhaps he would be at a slight disadvantage since he might need to work harder on other parts of his app, but is the School to blame for this? Another one of your comments that I found interesting is "the diversity for college, is its admmitted guys form different places." My response is simple: Oberlin and other colleges look for diverse viewpoints and personalities. Location often significantly affects viewpoints and personalities. Hence, colleges often admit students from different locations. It often seems that colleges look for diverse nationalities, but I really do believe that it is the experiences and beliefs shaped by those nationalities that they are after. Finally, you say that all Chinese applicants "…are same-man!" Why do you say this? Because they are all academically strong? In that case, every student at every good college is the same. You seem to indicate that the "diverse" that colleges seek should be in terms of grades (an aside: I can just imagine an admissions officer saying something like: "We just admitted two straight A students, we need three more B's, a C, and a random F" =P hehe). I personally have full faith in the Oberlin Admissions Team (and I'm not just saying this because I was admitted lol), and in their ability to find "diverse students." If most of these students are academically strong, well, it doesn't surprise me; Oberlin is a stellar school with a strong applicant pool. If most of these students seem somewhat similar, that doesn't surprise me either; it's only natural for Obies to have some things in common.

Sorry for the extremely long post!

Posted by: Fajer Saeed '13 on August 1, 2009 10:38 AM

hey,my dear friend Fajer,

Thanks for you extremely long paper!

Oberlin, as one of the best liberal colleges in US, so, sure, a nice academic achinvements is neccessary for her pespectives, I think it's will be difficult find any "f" even "d" on her adimttied students's high school report. well, you mentioned that Oberlin likes to need more "f"-man, yes, every college perfer it, also in China, crowed universities admitted many sports genius\musican,or young writers.ets, these talented people seem always scored on F. while this rule is only open for these uncommon guys.

Diversity,OK,let's foucs on the diversity that Chinese Oblie bring to the college:

1,Oberlin will say she has lots international students and a large number form China ,on her website, and off-site, Chinese dude also yes bring a quite ZHONGGUO FENG to the college:chinese language,music,history, food,etc.---it's diveristy.
2,But form the Chinese obie group, no matter class 2012 0r class 2013, they have similar high school and test experiences, the diversity they hold up is only the gloss words that on the Oberlin website.

----STOP. sorry.
----Thank you for so long post again! and most of you said are reansonable and understandable.

hi,dude, I hope you can bring a quite Chinese diversity to Oberlin and share you college life there!

Posted by: Chen on August 1, 2009 3:09 PM

@Chen: "you mentioned that Oberlin likes to need more "f"-man..." Uhh, no. I was being sarcastic with the diverse grades example (hence my "=P hehe"). I think it would be completely silly for a college to admit, say, students who have failed subjects simply because they don't have enough of those. I'm pretty sure Oberlin does not do this, and don't see why it would/should. Also, you say: "but form the Chinese obie group, no matter class 2012 0r class 2013, they have similar high school and test experiences, the diversity they hold up is only the gloss words that on the Oberlin website." Unless you've met every single Chinese Obie from the Class of 2012/2013 (and read all their applications), I don't get how you can speak with such certainty and claim that they're not diverse. Furthermore, just because they have similar experiences doesn't mean they're identical in terms of personality and non-academic achievements.

I'm not sure if your last statement was directed to me, but I'm actually a female student from Bahrain =].

Posted by: Fajer Saeed '13 on August 1, 2009 3:51 PM

I think what’s important about diversity is whether it offers us a platform of sharing and improvement. Diversity must scrutinize an individual’s openness and uniqueness along with the individual’s comparability to the college’s core values. Diversity must be built upon a mix of people who enrich and benefit each other. By being diverse, the ultimate purpose is to minimize three things: dominance, incoherency and segregation. The paradox is that diversity inevitably risks all the three. This paradox will not be solved overnight, but I just want to bring it up.

I am therefore not attracted to things or places that are superficially “marvelous” or full of “new” stuffs, because interpersonal distance could be huge when people pose to be different without really caring about others. And you often find in these places that some people must hide their differences so as not to be discriminated against. In such cases, diversity brings no understanding and no joy.

In the film “Man on the Moon” (1999), the comedian Andy Kaufman (played by Jim Carrey) manifests a role of a comedian to such an extent that his audience hates him, only to show us that the world is a united one, and understanding and engagement is more important than awes and entertainments.

I’m a prospective student only. The reason I want to come to Oberlin is that this school’s culture makes it possible for us to pursue the real diversity.

Posted by: Xiao Jin on November 27, 2009 3:52 AM

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