Oberlin Blogs

Small But Big in Spirit

April 18, 2022

Ariel Roberts ’25

Even if I didn’t recognize it at first, I guess I always knew deep down a small college was the right fit for me. At about 3,000 students and a 440 acre campus, Oberlin is rather tiny, but it’s one of the many things I love about it. People like to say that Oberlin’s in its own little bubble, which is both figurative and literal thanks to its secluded geography. But there’s something about this bubble that’s so cozy, comfortable, and cultivates such a visible community. From the small class sizes that allow for engaged discussion and the quaint downtown area packed with unique independently-owned shops, the smallness of Oberlin is what gives it its charm and why I knew this school was for me.

One of the biggest pluses of Oberlin is the seminar-based, small class sizes. So far, the biggest class I’ve had has been my Einstein and Relativity/Strange World of Quantum Mechanics physics class, which was about 50 people, and I don’t think other classes get much larger than that. Even though it was in a lecture hall setting, it still felt like our professor could get to know us personally, and you didn’t experience the nerves of asking a question in a room of 100+ people. Oberlin’s more common 25-30 people class sizes were almost exactly the same as my high school, so the transition was easy and comfortable for me. If you’re coming from a bigger high school, though, while the class sizes may be new, I think you’ll find them a welcome change of pace. You might think that a small school is more for people of a certain disposition, and while this may be partly true, people of all different personalities thrive at Oberlin. If you’re more extroverted, you have plenty of room to voice your thoughts in a smaller class, and if you’re someone like me who is more introverted, you feel less anxious when you have to give a presentation and participate in small discussions. Overall, in smaller classrooms you really get to know your classmates and teachers and experience a much more engaged academic environment.

Another pro of small colleges: everything’s within walking and biking distance! Lots of students ride bikes around campus, promoting a healthy and environmentally conscious community. You don’t have to worry about traveling what feels like halfway across the world just to get to the other side of campus; even though I live on north campus, I can fairly easily walk down to south campus when I want to eat at some of the other dining halls. You also get a sense of the layout and learn the locations of everything pretty quickly, lending to a smooth transition and quick sense of comfort. You don’t really need a car on campus, even being able to get to the downtown area in a short walk, and this really allows you to enjoy the fresh air and greenery. There’s none of the cold concrete and gray of big city schools, nor the hectic bustle; the compact campus allows for thriving wildlife and a high-spirited environment.

The small-town feel of the downtown area is one of my favorite parts about campus. The downtown area holds a vibrant culture for weekend outings without the chaos and bustle of a more populous city area. Colorful, unique, independent businesses line the streets to create a goldmine of one-of-a-kind finds. When my sister came to visit, we had a great time roaming through the stores and shops, not to mention dining at some of the restaurants and enjoying some delicious food! I’ve found some of my favorite clothes sifting through the thrift racks, and almost everyone at Oberlin carries with them a little touch from the area, whether that be a sticker on their laptop or a pair of earrings to tie together their outfit. It’s truly something you can’t find anywhere else, something only a small town could home.

When I was college searching, I applied to both big and small, unsure what size was my perfect fit. I didn’t get a good sense of what would suit me best until I actually visited some campuses, but in hindsight, a smaller school just made sense. I’ve gone to smaller schools my whole life, and they fit my personality and need for a quickly comfortable space. I have no regrets in choosing a smaller school; I feel like I can really thrive here and I enjoy the environment of the campus every day. Oberlin’s tiny, but doesn’t mean it isn’t big in community, charm, and academic excellence. In fact, its quaintness seems to create more space for all to be: there's no one big environment of status quo, so instead we can be tight-knit and accepting of everyone in all their unique qualities and charm.

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