Oberlin Blogs

FAQ for Incoming First Years

June 19, 2013

Dara Lehrer ’16

Hey Class of 2017! Do you have the pre-orientation jitters? Are you at all anxious to leave home and come live in a place you've probably never spent a formidable amount of time at before? Do not fear! I am here to try and alleviate some of that anxiety.

I was a freshman last year, and as luck would have it, one of my good friends from home is going to be a freshman this year at Oberlin! For some of you this may not seem too exciting, but I'm from Arizona, so I hardly know anyone that ends up going to Oberlin from my own town.

I met with her a few weeks ago and asked if I could write down all the questions she had for me, so that I could share them with all of you! If your question isn't here, and you have a very specific, burning question you'd like to ask, comment on this blog and I will respond in kind.

Cheers to a great year!l

Looking back on your freshman year, what did you like and what did you not like about it?

I pretty much liked everything about the school academically, and being in OSCA was a great learning experience. Dorm life got old pretty fast though, and I can't say I'm completely thrilled at the prospect of living in one for another two to three years. However, that's kind of part of going to a smaller school-- they've got housing that needs to be filled, and you're the one to fill it. I think its small size more than compensates for its less than ideal living arrangements. Just like with anything, you learn pretty quickly to adapt and be happy (or at least make do) in whatever situation you happen to be in.

What most surprised you about Oberlin?

I was pretty taken aback by how little people complain about grades and homework. Most people don't seem too terribly stressed with work all of the time, even though everyone is secretly doing a lot of it. Also, the dating scene is definitely very different at Oberlin than at most high schools. (See Ma'ayan Plaut's entry from a couple years back.)

Something else that surprised me, especially first semester, was my ability to function well on so little sleep. I certainly wouldn't recommend purposeful sleep deprivation to anyone (although there was a time when I did...), but it's probably bound to happen at some point. There are never enough hours in the day to go to classes, do homework, exercise, go to club meetings, hang out with your new friends, and end up in bed asleep before midnight. It's certainly not impossible, but it's also not probable, especially if you don't make an extremely conscious effort about it.

Did you like your classes?

Yes! They were all great. The important thing to remember is that when you're signing up for classes, check the class size. You really don't want to end up in four classes that are all huge lecture classes (anywhere between 40 and 120 people), because that's no fun. Lecture classes are good, and a complete necessity, but don't take all of the 101 classes your first semester. I can't stress the importance of the First-Year Seminar Program enough-- it offers you what may be your only glimpse (at least at first) of what upper-level, non-lecture based classes will be like. Small classes are a lot of fun.

Is Oberlin academically challenging enough? When we were there visiting, my Dad got the impression that you all just make cupcakes all day...

Oberlin is in fact academically challenging, although it may not seem like it from the outside. I think that's probably because most people are enthusiastic about talking with you no matter how many other things they are doing and/or supposed to be doing at any given moment. I haven't coasted through my classes like I did in high school, but I also haven't failed abysmally. There are a ton of resources that you can (and should!) take advantage of if you're struggling (or just want affirmation of how awesome you already know you are), such as the Writing Center, free one-on-one tutoring, and small group tutoring (which in my experience are usually held for primarily science classes). Your peers will also be a great source of support, especially because there is hardly any competition about grades and such.

What First-Year Seminar Program should I take?

Based on my own experience, I honestly would advise you to try and take an FYSP in the humanities. I say this just because the professors for those classes are generally the most adept and experienced at teaching seminar-style classes. I loved my first-year seminar, and I got the impression that most of my friends loved theirs, too. I did know a couple of people who were not totally thrilled by their classes, though.

Were you happy with the advisor you were assigned?

Not particularly. My advisor wasn't actually very helpful or knowledgeable about the things I wanted to know about. I am pre-med and he was in the hispanic studies department. Many people do get assigned advisors in relevant departments, however. Ultimately, no matter who you initially get assigned to, you'll find your own unofficial advisors and older students who will undoubtedly give you way more advice than you'll know what to do with. Also, when you declare a major towards the end of freshman year or anytime during sophomore year, you'll get a new advisor within your department.

How many classes do most people typically take per semester?

Four. Don't try and take five your first semester, even if you feel there are five classes you feel are absolutely imperative you take immediately. Don't. (Unless the fifth class is something fun, easy and low stress—these classes usually only count as half a class in terms of the amount of credit you receive for them.)

What was orientation week like?

Busy and fun. Go to everything you can! Meet as many people as you can when you have free time! Orientation is prime time for meeting new people and familiarizing yourself with the campus. Try as best you can to remain outgoing and enthusiastic, even if you start feeling burned out after a few days. Although everyone at Oberlin is always friendly, orientation week and the following couple of months are generally the easiest times to meet new people and form friendships.

What about the town of Oberlin?

You may not believe this, but it surprisingly has everything you'll ever need. Except a shoe cobbler. Oberlin does not have a shoe cobbler.

You may have to search around a bit, but Main Street (and the greater area) has much more on it than first meets the eye. You would never guess what businesses lie hidden on the second floors of all the buildings. I'd advise you to go exploring and figure it out for yourself! Especially because nearly everything in Oberlin is not a chain store, so you'll be supporting local or at least semi-local businesses.

Is there really a ton of diversity in the student population?

This has been a hot-button issue this year (see Simba's blog and other blogs) because of some biased-based incidents that transpired on campus during second semester. I think one of the main concerns is that although there is a good amount of diversity within the student body, there are definite circles on campus that lean towards one specific gender, race, or socioeconomic background. Additionally, many feel that the cultural diversity requirement for graduation is too lax, and that more classes should be offered that give different cultural perspectives.

What are your thoughts on the president of the College?

Marvin Krislov is a good guy. He definitely makes an effort to be around campus and accessible to students. In fact, I have even danced with him before at a Contra Dance, and he made time for my good friend Quinn to interview him for one of her classes.

There are always those who complain about "administrative problems," and not being forward-thinking enough, but that's part of being a student at Oberlin College. It's pretty much been that way since its foundation in 1833.

Is there a big party culture?

Compared to UC Santa Barbara, no, there is not a big party culture. We don't have fraternities and sororities, so if you're looking to go to a party filled with hundreds of crazy, intoxicated strangers, you may be disappointed with Oberlin's party offerings.

That's not to say that there aren't parties, though. It's just that you'll probably know most of the people there, and chances are, your definition of "party" may change a little. Personally, I chose Oberlin distinctly for its lack of any greek life. You'll be able to make friends here without having to join some organization. I may not be the best person to ask about party culture, though... my friends and I are more likely to be found dancing like crazy people to weird Zumba videos or cooking something tasty in the co-op at 1 am than at a party.

So there you have it folks. Still have unanswered questions? Use the comment box below! Also, check out another one of my blog posts from a while back on what I've learned at college, as well as other bloggers' entries on this site!

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