The first time I visited Oberlin, I hated it. From the minute we pulled off of the highway and I saw miles of flat farmland to the second we left after the tour, I was certain that I wasn’t going to go to Oberlin for college. In fact, I decided I wasn’t even going to apply. Three years later, I (obviously) go to Oberlin. For me, the decision to come here was never simple, and, if you’re a prospective student reading this, your decision about where to go to college probably won’t be all that easy either. Here’s why I decided to come to Oberlin in the end, and I hope my story will help you reflect on where you might want to go.
Like I said, my first experience at Oberlin was quite negative. Because the college is only a 2 and a half hour drive away from my hometown, my mom and I drove up one weekend to check it out. It seemed like a plausibly good fit on paper—it was strong in areas I was interested in, like history and political science, and it was a liberal arts college that seemed to be more interdisciplinary than some of the larger research schools I was looking at.
The first thing that I didn’t like about Oberlin, however, was how flat it was. While this might seem like a small thing to dislike about a school, I’ve lived my entire life in a very, very hilly city (Pittsburgh), so I never would have imagined going to college in an almost entirely flat landscape, let alone one that seemed to be very rural. And, while our tour of the school was fine, it wasn't any better than the many other college tours I had been on by that point. In other words, there was nothing about Oberlin during my first visit there that really stood out to me and made me want to go there. There were other similar schools I had visited that I liked more based on the tour, the layout of the campus itself, and the apparent quality of academics. When my mom and I left Oberlin that day, I decided that—although it was a fine school—I wasn’t going to apply.
Well, I ultimately did end up applying, in all honesty on a whim. Some of my high school friends were already hearing back about school acceptances, and—like many high school seniors absorbed in overwhelming anxiety about the college process—I decided that applying to just one more school would be fine. Anyway, writing my supplemental essay for Oberlin about why I wanted to go there, and what I would bring to the school, was easy to write. By ‘easy to write,’ I don’t mean that I wrote a disingenuous answer for a school that (at that time) I thought I probably wouldn’t end up at. My supplemental essay was easy to write because it was very genuine. I wrote about my favorite high school teacher and mentor who went to Oberlin for college, how his way of thinking encouraged me as a person and student, and how, by going to Oberlin, I might be able to further learn to think in the way he did—critically, generously, and with conviction.
After waiting a few months, I learned that I was accepted to Oberlin and a few other schools. In deciding whether to go to Oberlin's admitted students day (All Roads), a large factor for me was that Oberlin had given me the most money in a merit scholarship out of all of the other schools I was accepted into. While I am privileged that money was not a deciding factor for where I would go to college, it still was the factor that convinced me that I should visit for admitted students day.
This second visit to Oberlin would flip my perception of the school on its head. While other schools’ admitted students' days were pretty good, Oberlin’s was (while not perfect) shockingly fantastic considering how strongly I had disliked the school during my first visit. I felt that I could find a place for myself here academically, personally, and, surprisingly, even athletically. I hadn’t planned to continue playing field hockey in college, but my parents and I happened to sit down at the same table as the then-head field hockey coach during a faculty/staff lunch event. The coach told me that I could walk onto the team and that, while it was certainly a time commitment, they wanted their players to be involved in academics and other activities—your sport wouldn’t be your whole identity in college. All in all, when we left All Roads, Oberlin had jumped from 4th or 5th on my list of colleges to 1st or 2nd.
I say ‘1st or 2nd’ because my final decision about where to go to college was agonizing, so Oberlin’s ranking often changed. While 'agonizing' might be a strong word choice, it certainly felt that way at the time. In the end, I essentially chose between Oberlin and one other similar school, another liberal arts college, which I thought was a beautiful school where I could really see myself as a student. There were a few swaying factors—Oberlin was closer than the other school (something I’ve come to appreciate a lot more once actually going here), I could play field hockey there but didn’t have to if I decided not to later on, and lastly, Oberlin had given me a substantial amount of money in a merit scholarship, especially compared to the second school which didn’t grant merit scholarships. Although I kept trying to convince myself that Oberlin and the other school had more or less equal standing, the scholarship Oberlin gave me and the ‘gut’ feeling I had gotten at All Roads made it seem almost inevitable that I would choose to go there. All that was left for me was to actually accept this—and I did, albeit 1 or 2 hours before the final deadline.
I am someone who frequently overthinks things, especially when it comes to literally life-changing decisions like where to go to college. I could have been happy at all of the other schools I was accepted into, and if I had gone to any one of them my life today would clearly be different. When I think back to choosing Oberlin, this idea is the strangest thing to me. While all of the factors that led me to accept this school’s offer of admission made it seem impossible that I wouldn’t end up coming here, I could have really made any decision at that point, all of which would have taken me down a different path. That is an utterly daunting thought. If you’re in a similar situation, or just overwhelmed in general by choosing where to go to college, know that making a decision is often the hardest part. I think for most people there’s not just one ‘right place’ to go to school—if you’re engaged enough, you can find a home or carve out a space for yourself anywhere, as long as the circumstances are good enough.