Oberlin Blogs

Three college essays

January 30, 2010

Chris Gollmar ’10

Visiting my parents over winter break, I took the opportunity to pull a lot of my old documents and photos off the family computer. I’m sure I had them on a CD somewhere, half-archived, half-labeled, but I didn’t want to take any chances, didn’t want to lose any of my high school essays or 3.1-megapixel photos. That computer is on its last legs, and it won’t be long before it refuses to cooperate altogether.

Back in Oberlin, I started sifting through the old files. It turns out there really wasn’t too much stuff worth saving. I don’t particularly care to read three-page essays I wrote when I was 16 (though I find it surprising I wrote more then than I do now), and it hasn’t been long enough for me to feel nostalgic looking at the photos. Still, the whole folder just takes up 2.25 gigabytes. That’s practically nothing these days, so I might as well keep these files around a bit longer.

I did manage to find my college admissions essays, however. I find them to be strangely relevant now, as I’m about to enter my last semester as an undergraduate and as 17- and 18-year-old students around the world anxiously await news of admissions decisions from the institutions they have applied to.

I completed three college applications: Oberlin College, Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and Lawrence University. I wrote three essays: a standard personal statement essay, an essay describing my interest in music, and, of course, the “Why Oberlin?” essay. Over the next several days, I’ll be publishing these essays on this blog, complete with annotations and updates.

By the way, I’m saving the best for last. First, my “Why Oberlin?” essay.

Why Oberlin?

Editor’s note: footnotes and snarky comments are after the essay à la Chicago style citations Wikipedia.

I won’t go so far as to say that “Why Oberlin?” virtually means “Why breathe air?” but in searching for schools to apply to, Oberlin College seemed fit me well. [1] I suppose most students go though a similar process, but before actually finding schools to apply to, I came up with a set of criteria that any prospective school must fit. Oberlin was among a few schools that met my criteria: it is small, has a great conservatory and has a double-degree program. [2] I was still not convinced that it was the school for me, however. Then, this past September, I had the opportunity to stay with an acquaintance of mine on campus for a night. [3] I spent the day like any prospective student would, touring the campus, attending information sessions and interviews, sitting in on classes and generally becoming better acquainted with the school. The campus and school had a good feel to me; everything was open, warm and welcoming; everything was moving, dynamic—there was real intellectual activity going on here. [4]

I was impressed by Oberlin. This was the school I was looking for; it met my criteria and felt like an exceptional fit for me. But it was afternoon, and I was staying on campus the entire night. That evening, my host showed me more of Oberlin. By my departure the next morning, I had dined and slept in a co-op, [5] rendezvoused with some of my host’s friends and listened to a short story, [6] attended an Organ Pump (who would have thought organ majors could be so fun at midnight?), and hiked into the local arboretum before dawn the next morning. [7]

My point is not that Oberlin is an all-around fun and exciting place to be. While it may be so, my perception of Oberlin was more that it was an invigorating, stimulating environment. It was hard to leave the campus, and I would have stayed as an Oberlin student if given the chance. Unfortunately, I had to return to life in high school, though now with a glimpse of what my life and education could be like very soon. This is why I decided to apply to Oberlin College. [8]

Over the past months, I have begun to explore various options and goals for my future. This will no doubt continue while I attend Oberlin. [9] Academically, this may mean changing majors or discovering increased flexibility in designing my education. [10] I will probe deeper and deeper into what I am studying. High school has thus far not sufficiently allowed me to do this. One question I will continue to ask in all my studies is “why?” [11]

Because I will be able to take greater ownership of my education at Oberlin, my education will take greater ownership of me. [12] Sophocles once observed that “we are what we know.” I would like to add to this: Oberlin will allow me not only to expand myself through what I know, but also to expand what I know about myself. [13]


[1] I still wouldn’t go so far as to say “Why Oberlin” means “Why breathe air?” but after 4.5 years of studying here, I do firmly believe that Oberlin is an excellent match for me and that this institution has profoundly impacted my worldview.

[2] I believe the only schools that matched my criteria exactly at that time were Oberlin and Lawrence University. Seeing as I haven’t been playing the undergraduate admissions game for some time now, I really can’t verify that claim.

[3] In Harkness…

[4] Plus, my mom said she saw a wizard on a unicycle on College Street!

[5] A somewhat confusing experience.

[6] It was something by Dave Eggers. We also drank cheap wine. Or they drank it, and I sipped it and decided I didn’t like it.

[7] Drum circle. At the time: cool. Looking back: lame.

[8] I’m not convinced this paragraph says anything of substance.

[9] …and the rest of my life.

[10] Unfortunately, a side effect of being a double-degree student is that you lose some flexibility in terms of course selection and so on.

[11] e.g., Why study at all? Why don’t other people like non-tonal music? Why do co-ops smell that way? Why do people keep voting Republican? Why shower?

[12] Case in point: no free time.

[13] Not a terrible ending, I have to admit.

Overall reaction:

Not too shabby. Also not too great. Clearly, this essay could apply to just about any college out there. It’s more like a “Why liberal arts college?” essay.

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