What is it Like to Attend Oberlin College?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Alexandra earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Oberlin College and is pursuing a master’s degree in elementary education at John Hopkins University. She lives in Chicago and specializes in ACT Science tutoring, ACT Reading tutoring, writing tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Oberlin College:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options at Oberlin College.

Alexandra: Oberlin College is in the very small town of Oberlin, OH, about 40 minutes west of Cleveland. The campus is small, and all academic buildings are located within a few square blocks of each other. All student housing is within one mile of campus, but most is a lot closer than that. The campus is extremely safe. I am female and felt completely safe walking by myself at any time of day, including in the middle of the night. There are no campus buses because the campus is so small. You only need a car if you want to leave Oberlin very often. A car is not necessary because most people know at least one person with a car who can take you to the store when you need to go. Things like CVS and the grocery store are all within walking or biking distance of the school.  A lot of students at Oberlin have bikes because it makes it easier to get around the campus more quickly. They also have free bike storage during the winter.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Alexandra: My professors were always very available to students and willing to meet outside of class, either during office hours or at a mutually agreed upon time. They were responsive via email, and a lot of professors even invited students to their homes. Academic advisers were also easily available by email and appointment. One nice thing about Oberlin is that the school is so small that all of your professors and your adviser know your name and remember things about you. All of the teaching assistants I had were very helpful and held study sessions multiple times per week outside of class. I was also a teaching assistant for multiple years and made an effort to get to know my students and make myself available to them.

How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Alexandra: Dorm life in Oberlin is good. The dorms are old, but they are usually clean and have everything you need. I lived in two doubles, a single, and in a room in an on-campus house, and I was satisfied with all of those living situations. I liked most of the people who lived in my dorm, and there were constantly campus events and concerts at the Conservatory that we went to together. There are two main dining halls on campus (Stevenson and Dascomb) and one takeout/convenience store-type place (DeCafe). Athletes and people on north campus mostly ate at Stevenson, and everyone else ate at Dascomb – mostly because of physical proximity. Stevenson and Dascomb had pretty decent food options, and the school is vegetarian/vegan friendly. At DeCafe, you can order smoothies, sandwiches, and salads, as well as buy other snacks and groceries. The food at DeCafe was awesome, but you cannot use meals there – you have to pay cash or use your meal plan flex dollars. If you do not want to eat in dining halls, you have the option of joining a co-op. There are several co-ops on campus – they are generally cheaper than eating in the dining hall, and you have to do co-op work duty on a regular basis. You cannot eat both in co-ops and in the dining hall. You have to decide to either eat all of your meals in a co-op or eat all of your meals in the dining hall.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported at Oberlin College?

Alexandra: I studied biology so I am biased in answering this question. Oberlin has strong science programs – biology, chemistry, physics, and neuroscience. The environmental science program is also large and well-known. Beyond that, I would ask an admissions representative because I do not know much about non-science-related programs. I studied biology because I was premed until the fall of my senior year. I have always loved science – I had a hard time deciding between neuroscience and biology at Oberlin because I loved both of the programs so much. I also have a chemistry minor. I felt very supported in my major by both professors and students.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Alexandra: One of the reasons I chose Oberlin was that it has NO Greek life. It was easy to meet people freshman year because everyone was looking for friends, and they also had a lot of freshman socialization opportunities, especially during freshman orientation week. Clubs are really big at Oberlin, so people make a lot of friends through clubs and other activities they do. I was shy and did not find my core group of friends until the beginning of my junior year, but they became like my family. I live hundreds of miles from all of them now, but I have seen everyone at least once since we graduated, and we all talk on a regular basis.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? 

Alexandra: The career center helped me find the job I am currently at today. They were very helpful when I was writing my resume and looking for summer opportunities, and they told me about the job I ended up applying for and getting. I know of a lot of students who had similarly positive experiences. My professors were also very helpful with ideas for job/program hunting and resume help. I do not know which companies recruit on campus. The Oberlin alumni network is very strong, and I know a lot of people who got jobs and internships from other Oberlin grads.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Alexandra: There is an endless supply of study space at Oberlin. There are large common rooms in dorms, multiple libraries, and various nooks and spaces in several academic buildings. You choose your study space based on the environment you are looking for. If you want to hang out with friends and talk while you do work, you might go to the library café or a dorm common room, but if you want somewhere silent you can go to the science library. The science library is generally less crowded than the main campus library, but I was always able to find space no matter where I wanted to study.

Describe the surrounding town.

Alexandra: Oberlin is a very small town and is split into the student side and the ‘townie’ side. The main green space in downtown Oberlin is called Tappan Square. The campus is located mostly on one side of Tappan, and townies live on the other side. The main strip with all of the stores and restaurants in Oberlin is located along Tappan Square. Not very many townies set foot on campus property because college security discourages this. Townies and students intermingle in downtown Oberlin and there is no major tension. There are several restaurants in town and one main bar, The Feve, which is awesome. Oberlin gets a little small and boring after a while, so it is nice to befriend someone with a car who will periodically take you off campus. Students go downtown very often (there are also two coffee shops for studying) because the campus and downtown are so close to each other.

How big or small is the student body at Oberlin College? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Alexandra: I think there are about 2,200 undergraduate students at Oberlin. I went to a high school of 400 students and wanted to go to a small college, so the size of the student body was perfect for me. I was always very happy with my class sizes. Intro biology had over 100 students, and that was by far my largest class. Most of my classes had 15-25 students.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Alexandra: My absolute favorite class at Oberlin was Vertebrate Structure and Evolution, a biology class with Professor McCormick, who is now retired. It was so difficult – we had to memorize so many facts and bones and structures – but I learned more from that class than any class I have ever taken. We also got to dissect several animals, and I really enjoyed that.

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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.