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SWM, NS, likes long walks on the beach

April 9, 2008

My name is Will Mason, and I'm currently a sophomore at Oberlin College and a freshman in the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. I originally came here intending to major in English; I dropped that for politics after taking a great course during my first semester of freshman year (Post-Soviet Politics with Professor Crowley). I auditioned for the Conservatory that spring, having arrived at the conclusion that to not attempt to get in would be to squander a unique and significant opportunity. Due to blind luck, or perhaps a clerical error, I was admitted, and I began the curriculum this past fall. (This is not an uncommon practice; many college students arrive here and decide to switch to the double degree program or to the conservatory, and conversely many conservatory students decide to change their status as well.)

I was also hired freshman year to work for The Grape, Oberlin's alternative newspaper. The Grape and The Review have a bit of a friendly rivalry despite serving two very different functions on campus; what attracted me to The Grape was the subject and treatment of its reporting. The Review is what people read if they want to hear how a particular convocation went, or find out what's up with the construction of the forthcoming jazz building. People read The Grape if they want to read an interview with the rock band Explosions in the Sky, or read a page of shamefully vulgar jokes at the expense of then-recently-dethroned Republican senator Rick Santorum (alas, I wrote most of them, and should I ever decide to run for public office they will present a significant liability). And so on and so forth. Campus journalism is alive and well here, and the atmosphere at both newspapers is pretty relaxed; writers can contribute as frequently--or infrequently--as they wish.

I'm from Maine, which means that I find winter in Ohio pleasantly mild, a welcome respite from the brutal and protracted winters that made my long march through grade school even more laborious. I actively hated applying to colleges, and complained with great vigor and enthusiasm throughout much of the process. (My parents have somehow managed to remain on speaking terms with me.) I worried that I was being dishonest on my application and thus selling out my principles in the name of admission, and I also worried that college was going to be just like high school, only in a different town and with expensive buildings. I didn't even visit Oberlin prior to freshmen orientation, but upon arriving realized quite quickly that my anxieties had been misplaced.

Today my roommate mused aloud about the impact college has had on him. (This after I spent a considerable amount of time seated at my desk cursing and trying to think of a way to talk about Oberlin without sounding phony or pretentious. Fat lot of good that did.) "I guess that actually I would have turned out really different if I'd gone to another school instead of Oberlin." This succinctly touches on a number of important points; first, college is more or less what you make of it. You can be as active or as sedentary as you like, and either way you'll likely end up with a degree. But you can't make programs and facilities appear, and so no matter how gung-ho you are about studying, say, Chaucer, you probably aren't going to be able to learn much about him if you go to an engineering school. I now believe that it's best to think of the college application process as an opportunity for you to filter out poor matches and end up at a school where you can maximize the number of skills learned and friends made, the understanding being that these formative experiences will leave you more than adequately equipped for life after graduation.

For me, and for my roommate (another double-degree jazz student, interestingly enough), that meant coming to Oberlin. There would be no way for me to have known it prior to enrolling here, but if I'd gone to any of the other schools I considered I would have turned out dramatically different. Oberlin has been, and will continue to be, a profoundly important influence on me as a musician, a scholar, and a person. It's my hope that by blogging about my life here at school I can show you how I'm benefiting from my time here, and leave it to you to construe whether or not you'd fare the same.

I'm happy to answer any questions you have about college life (it's great), the double-degree program (it's not as daunting as it sounds), the conservatory (it's more daunting than it sounds), how I take my coffee (black, brewed in a French press at a strength such that consumption necessitates a fork and knife), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Responses to this Entry

hi, i'm seriously considering Oberlin, especially the double degree program offered. just read over your blog, and i was wondering about the whole application process, cause im a junior, and totally dreading it. any suggestions? thanks a million :) --gabie

Posted by: Gabie on November 7, 2008 3:20 PM

Hey Gabie, thanks for reading. The application process is pretty broad and multi-faceted, so I might be able to give better answers if you have more specific areas that concern you. My biggest suggestion based on my personal experience would be for you to take everything in small pieces so you don't get overwhelmed come November. I'm pretty big on making lists and schedules, and I definitely don't think it would hurt to make a calendar of important dates and try and budget out when you're going to write your essays, etc.

As you probably know, the applications for the college and conservatory are completely distinct, so you'll have more paperwork to do and you'll have to write a few extra essays (though the ones on the conservatory application are pretty easy and straightforward--"Why do you want to be a musician?" and so forth, and, because of the importance of your audition, they don't matter as much in the grand scheme of your application as they would for the college). I find auditions nerve-wracking but that's mostly the product of my having only performed a few of them. The more often you perform in that setting, the less of an obstacle it'll be. If you have any more questions let me know. Good luck with everything. --Will

Posted by: Will on November 7, 2008 3:21 PM

Hey! I'm going to Oberlin this fall (I guess it would make more sense to say I'll be there in about two weeks - wow), and am planning on taking advantage of the conservatory in a college-music-major setting, taking lessons (voice) and classes as I can. If I do decide, as you did, to convert to a double-degree deal, is it essentially the same process applying from within as from outside (i.e. as a high school senior doing the application process)? Obviously it's mostly about the best auditions, but are there advantages or disadvantages to switching in that way? thanks! - Molly

Posted by: Molly on November 7, 2008 3:22 PM

Hey Molly, the application is exactly the same as it would be if you applied as a senior. You won't be afforded any explicit advantages as far as your audition goes, but because you'll have some time to become familiar with the faculty and the department you might be able to cater your performance to their expectations. I'm of the opinion that your application/audition can really only be helped by already being a student here. If you do decide to audition, be sure to meet with Dean Alegant, as she'll be able to help you immensely. (And she's a singer herself.) Best of luck and enjoy orientation!

Posted by: Will on November 7, 2008 3:23 PM

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