I know what I want. During my college search, my browser never had less than ten tabs open, from schools' websites to student blogs (hey!) to articles about social justice movements at different American universities. I was sure that I was doing all the research necessary. That's why, even though I hadn't visited, I knew that a certain college in New York City was the place for me. I grew up in a fairly small town in California, and had always dreamed of walking to a corner store for bagels and hopping on the subway to explore different neighborhoods of a big city. This college had all that and more.
Over spring break of my junior year, my mom and I went on a college tour, visiting Oberlin, the school in New York City, and a few others on the East Coast. We flew to Ohio first, arriving on a snowy March evening. I was immediately surprised by how much Oberlin reminded me of my own town, over 2,000 miles away. It felt like a place that could become home. When I got lost on the way to the Admissions Office, several students gave me directions with smiles and compliments to my outfit. They seemed genuinely happy that I was there. I was officially sold when the tour guide described Oberlin as a place where being weird is celebrated and loved. From the delicious vegan food I ate in Stevie to the fascinating lecture in the Sociology of Sexuality class I visited, every moment at Oberlin was precious.
Though I loved Oberlin, the promise of the NYC college still made my heart quicken. But, unlike my experience in Ohio, this college tour made my skin feel a little prickly. My mom loves to tell the story of what happened as we waited for our tour to begin. As I looked around at the other students and flipped through the brochure, I took off my favorite beanie and tried to smooth my hair, saying desperately, "Mom, don't ask too many questions! I don't want them to think I'm weird." This stood in stark contrast to Oberlin, where I had been goofy and thrilled. To me, that single moment told me everything I needed to know. A few of my friends attend and love that college, but it wasn't right for me. Since that experience, I'm a big proponent for visiting schools before committing. If that's not possible, talking to current students about their favorite and least favorite things about their school is a surefire way to gain inside perspective about colleges that may look perfect on paper.
I wish that I had paid more attention to the academic graduation requirements at different colleges during my search process-- I have to admit that I never even glanced at Oberlin's requirements until I had committed. With all the incredible art and culture showcased in admissions brochures and YouTube channels, it's easy to lose sight of the main reason you're going to college: to take classes! But take a second and think about the type of education that works for you. Are you excited to stumble into a new academic passion via the Cultural Diversity requirement, or do you feel as though you need to jump into a specific area of knowledge right away? Personally, I've found that I love Oberlin's gentle requirements, which allow me to dabble in different areas without spending several semesters in a field that isn't my favorite. No matter what, your personal preferences are important to keep in mind.
Learning about colleges' social and political climates was a huge part of my research: one thing I knew I had to have in a college was an open climate for discussion. While Oberlin isn't perfect, it is a place where a lot of real conversations about race, class, and privilege occur. Is everyone involved in these dialogues? Not necessarily. But they definitely happen all over--with teachers during class or office hours, and with other students at meals or practice rooms. If you want to learn about how you fit into structures of oppression, as well as how we can take steps to dismantle those structures, Oberlin is a wonderful place to start. But it's difficult to figure out where conversations like these are happening when embarking on the college applications process! In my opinion, as said earlier, your best bet is talking to current students. Ask around to see if anyone you know has a connection to the colleges on your list, or email college admissions offices to ask for a student contact. Most people I know are very willing to discuss their perspectives on Oberlin's social and political climate, both positively and critically.
Because Oberlin felt like home, and because I knew it would endlessly challenge and inspire me, I ended up applying Early Decision I, and was accepted as the first semester of senior year came to a close. Now, as I write this post, the fall colors out my window are like nothing I've ever seen. I'm so happy to be living in this beautiful place! This new home is full of possibilities, and I couldn't be more excited to live them all.