To be considered full time, Oberlin students have to enroll in at least 14 credits, or the equivalent of 3.5 courses, every semester. It’s common for Obies to take the traditional four-courses-at-four-credits-each approach, but it’s also very common to supplement coursework with non-academic credits.
Some Obies enroll in these credits to stay at full-time status while taking three intense courses—some students even shift to a part-time credit load if they’re working on an Honors thesis during their last semester. Others enroll in extra credits to get ahead on coursework, and for some it's simply a handy way to stay busy and explore new interests.
Here are a few of the ways Obies can earn credits without having to write a single research paper:
Athletics and Physical Education
Oberlin offers a variety of physical education courses, including yoga, fitness, strength training, bowling, and, of course, frisbee golf, that students can take for up to two credits. Don’t worry, you won’t be graded on how many throws below par your frolf game is—these courses are all offered pass/no pass.
Writing for a Campus Publication
Lots of Obies write for one of Oberlin’s campus publications, which include the Oberlin Review , the Oberlin Grape , Wilder Voice , the Synapse , and As I Am . There are a handful of other publications as well, but writers for those five are all eligible to enroll in a Practicum in Journalism for one credit. Expectations can vary between publications depending on production schedules, from weekly articles at the Review to producing one polished piece of long-form journalism for Wilder Voice.
Audio-inclined Obies can also earn credit by reporting radio pieces for WOBC’s news workgroup. Trying out journalism on campus is a great way to engage with different parts of the Oberlin community and to pick up non-academic writing skills! I started writing for the Grape my first semester and I’ve stuck with it since, but this is the first semester I’ve enrolled in the Practicum. Except for a brief midterm and final report, the workload is identical. It’s also a great way to put ‘‘journalism’’ on my college transcript.
Theatre Productions and Music Ensembles
Many Obies unleash their inner thespian for credit. By participating in a theater department show (student-run shows are not-for-credit, unfortunately), Obies can earn a half- or full-course credit, depending on the time commitment required.
This credit isn’t limited to cast members—crew and pit musicians can earn credit as well. For example, I was eligible to earn two credits for playing guitar and banjo in the department’s production of Cabaret last semester (which I wrote about in my last blog post). Music ensembles are another way students in the College of Arts and Sciences can keep their skills sharp while earning course credits. The Arts and Sciences Orchestra and the Oberlin College Choir are two very popular options for musicians in the college.
At the start of each semester, college and conservatory students can audition to take secondary instrument lessons from a faculty member or student teacher. These lessons are usually once a week and taken for two credits. They’re a great way for non-conservatory musicians to keep improving their skills and meet conservatory students in the process! Obies can also take not-for-credit secondary lessons with student teachers.
Taking (or Teaching) an ExCo
Oberlin is the only college in the country with an entirely student-run Experimental College that allows students, faculty, staff and community members to teach courses that are, as its website states, “considered non-traditional, experimental, or simply too niche to be otherwise taught in an academic department.”
Over 50 ExCo courses are offered every semester, ranging from language courses like Wolof and Korean to classes in poetry, arts and crafts, dance, and film, as well as some slightly more out-there subjects. Notable examples include Cryptozoology and Spongebobology.
Classes generally meet for one to two hours a week and range from one to two credits. Student ExCo instructors also receive three credits. During my first semester, I took the Live from Studio B ExCo. Studio B is a live performance program run by WOBC radio that films local and touring artists, and the ExCo, which is run by the Studio B staff, teaches students how to book acts and record, film, and edit live concert footage.
In past semesters I’ve also taken a creative string improv ExCo, which was all about tonal and non-tonal improvisation on classical string instruments, and SketchCo, a comedy writing class. This semester, I’m taking DogsCo, a 1-credit course all about different dog breeds and the history of canine domestication.
This one might be cheating a bit; one-module courses are actual academic courses, with syllabi and grades like any other, but they only last for half a semester, which Oberlin calls a “module.”
These courses can be great ways to reach full-time status during a particularly intense semester, or to add a relatively light-workload academic course to an already full schedule.
Last spring, I took two one-module physics courses—Dan Styer’s physics class on Einstein and relativity in the first module, and his course on quantum mechanics in the second. Both of these classes were aimed at students interested in the science but not inclined toward spending hours in front of a whiteboard in the Science Center staring at calculations (e.g. me), and were a great chance to engage with unfamiliar topics in a low-stress environment.
Bonus Round: AP Credits
Ok, this isn’t ~technically~ an Oberlin thing, but it’s worth mentioning, because matriculating at Oberlin with some AP credits under your belt can be really beneficial! AP credits can count as general course credit toward graduation, place you out of intro courses (especially in the languages), and even count toward some major requirements. See the full list of AP and IB scores accepted by Oberlin.
These seven options are by no means the only ways students earn credit outside of class. For more on how to finesse your way to a degree without ever sitting through a 9 a.m. lecture, you can find other non-academic credits in Oberlin’s course schedules and course catalogue .