PLEASE NOTE: This blog entry was published in 2009. Oberlin College no longer requires a supplemental essay as a part of its application.
Over on the Oberlin Hopefuls Facebook page, I recently answered a few questions about the essay part of the Oberlin Supplement, and I thought you all might be craving a bit more information.
If you're applying to Oberlin this year, you probably already know that we take the Common Application, but that we also require you to complete the Oberlin Supplement. The supplement asks a few additional questions, and also gives you the (required) opportunity to write an additional essay about why you want to attend Oberlin. The wording sometimes changes from year to year, but right now the question asks you to "Please write a brief statement that addresses the following: Given your interests, values, and goals, explain why Oberlin College will help you grow (as a student and a person) during your undergraduate years." We refer to this essay in our office as the "Why Oberlin?" essay, because we basically just want to know why you want to attend Oberlin, and what you think you're going to get out of the experience.
Everybody's different, and we like differences, so we don't have one perfect answer to this question that we want everyone to approximate. We're looking to find out a bit more about who you are, and why you want to come to Oberlin. This is helpful to us in several different ways as we do our holistic review of your application.
1) It gives us a better sense of who you are as a person and what you will add to the community.
2) It gives us the opportunity to discover your level of enthusiasm for Oberlin and how much you're really interested in attending.
3) It's another chance for us to evaluate your writing skills, and make sure that you can express yourself coherently and grammatically.
From your perspective, this is the one place in your application in which you have the opportunity to directly make the case to the admissions officers about why they should admit you to Oberlin. The rest of your application is more general--it demonstrates why you should be admitted to college. This essay is the place to demonstrate why you should be admitted to Oberlin. We are a unique place, and we like to see that you have a sense of that, and that it's really what you want, and that you will add something positive to the Oberlin community.
Not to stress you out too much about it. We do a holistic review, so every part of your application is important. But the other side of the holistic review is that no one element of your application can singlehandedly kill your chances of being admitted. We've admitted some students with pretty poor Why Oberlin essays, because they had otherwise strong applications. A good essay will help, but to be good it doesn't have to be a brilliant masterpiece that will blow us away with your wit and charm and enthusiasm and writing skills and general awesomeness.
When I read one of our Oberlin supplement essays, I'm looking for something that gives me a sense of who you are and what you care about, something that is well written, and that gives me a sense of why you want to come to Oberlin. The only disappointing essays are the ones that don't answer those questions, or that read like they were written as a generic response to a different essay question (this is, after all, your one opportunity to make an Oberlin-specific argument. Don't waste it by just adapting that essay you wrote for some other school). If you are genuinely interested in attending Oberlin, and if you spend some time making sure you have expressed this interest clearly, your essay will be fine.