Oberlin Blogs

Why Oberlin?

June 21, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

This was going to be a thoughtful, well-planned entry about why I picked Oberlin, but when I sat down to write it, all the memories from my senior year of high school came flooding back. More specifically, the memories from April of my senior year came flooding back: April, when I was supposed to pick a college. And what did I learn from those memories? Well, first of all, I have no clear idea why I picked Oberlin.

Now, applying made all kinds of sense. From the beginning, Oberlin was always a possibility. My aunt is an alum, as is my one cousin (who's eleven years and three hundred sixty-three days older than me), and a close family friend. I'd gone to my cousin's graduation, seen a few concerts, and just generally knew that Oberlin existed, which is a lot more than I knew about most other schools.

Besides the family connections, there was also the music factor. When someone asks me why I picked Oberlin, this is my standard answer. Oberlin has the Conservatory, which sets it apart from other small liberal arts schools. This is a pretty good answer. I knew there would be an intense classical music environment, which wouldn't necessarily exist at other colleges, even ones with a performance degree. By senior year, I'd been playing violin for eight years, and I wanted music to continue to have a big role in my life.

But a good music program, especially because I wasn't planning on actually majoring in violin performance, wasn't enough of a reason to pick a college. At this point, I could list the general factors that every person considers when picking a college, the most notable of which being size. Very early on, I knew I wanted to attend a fairly small school. I applied and was accepted to bigger schools as well, but just the thought of a school so much bigger than my high school was a bit terrifying.

Again, size isn't the end-all of reasons to pick a college. During senior year, I visited Oberlin, and when I got back to my high school, I told a privileged few this story. As I was walking by the benches that I now realize are between the library and the student union (at the time I was completely lost), I stumbled upon two people talking. "You know," one of them said, "Chewbacca is the only one in his family with a normal name." As it happened, I couldn't agree more.

So that's an example of the intellectually stimulating conversation that you'll get to experience at Oberlin, but still that wouldn't be enough to sell my parents on Oberlin. I went through all these reasons before I figured out why my parents--and me, too, though mostly subconsciously--settled on Oberlin. At Oberlin, there are opportunities. Now, I know this sounds cliché, and I also know that many colleges can be described by this simple sentence, too, but I'd like to posit that Oberlin has some unique opportunities. (As an aside, I'll point out that other colleges have unique opportunities, too. This is a bit like a marriage--there's more than one person out there that's right for you, and there's more than one college that's right for you. I hope I don't get fired, now.)

What are Oberlin's unique opportunities, and did I really know about them at the time? To answer the second part of the question first, no, I definitely didn't know about all of them at the time. I knew the basics. I knew that there was a good science program, with ample laboratory space, and I knew that there was a strong creative writing department, as well as a good Chinese language program, both of which were also aspects that were important to me. I also knew about ExCo's, at least to a certain extent.

This just touches on the opportunities at Oberlin, though. There's more than I can talk about in one blog post, which I guess is the point of having the blogs at all. Let me go over, though, some of the things that I've been able to take advantage of so far.

As I mentioned, one thing that Oberlin has is ExCo's. ExCo's have been discussed before, but briefly they're classes taught by either a student or a member of the community. They're on topics that aren't offered as regular classes, such as fencing, and students receive credit both for taking and teaching them. As is probably common knowledge at this point, my first semester, I took an ExCo in Bharatanatyam, a form of classical dance from southern India. Chances are extremely good that if I hadn't picked Oberlin, I would never have taken up this dance form.

There are also many different opportunities I've had as far as music is concerned. Getting to play in pit orchestras is one example, but I'll save the rest for later. I plan on writing a whole entry on music opportunities for non-music majors at Oberlin.

Then there's opportunities for scientific research. Usually, all you have to do is find a professor whose research you're interested in and ask him or her about working in the lab, and chances are good that you'll get to. I can't say enough how completely great this is--experience in a lab not only looks good on your resume, but it's a really good way to find out whether or not you're actually interested in research as a career.

I'll say it again: when I picked Oberlin, I didn't know what specific opportunities I would find. I didn't know that I'd find a great full orchestra to be a part of, I didn't know that I would join the Chinese Students Association and learn how to make more Chinese food than I ever have before. I did know, though, that there would be opportunities of some sort, and I guess, in the end, that's why I picked Oberlin. So, prospective students, what you have to figure out is if Oberlin will offer the kind of opportunities that you're looking for, and that's why these blogs exist.

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