Think one person can change the world? So do we.
When a pair of Yankee missionaries founded Oberlin College in 1833, they envisioned
an institution built on high intellectual standards, a liberal education for all, excellence in
teaching, and a commitment to the social and moral issues of the day. For the past
171 years, Oberlin has honored this mission, encouraging students to use their liberal arts
education and change the world, one Obie at a time.
Today, Oberlin College’s 440-acre campus sits next to, and has inexorably meshed
with, the city of Oberlin, Ohio. A small town by definition, Oberlin (with a population of
8,600) is thirty-five miles west of Cleveland, Ohio. At first glance, the town’s tree-lined
square and old-fashioned business district may evoke memories of a sleepy Mayberry, but the
annual fall migration of college students revitalizes the town with their youthful energy.
The most impressive aspect of an Oberlin College education is the genuine
rapport that exists between the diverse student communities. Obies come
from every corner of the globe to share an intellectually stimulating atmosphere,
where they are encouraged to be socially and civically engaged through a myriad
of extracurricular activities.
The small-town atmosphere is an attractive draw for many students, who (because of
the town’s proximity to the college) often forge lasting bonds with local residents. Whether
it’s over a cup of coffee at the Java Zone, participating in annual events such as the Big
Parade, or during a city- and campus-wide effort to register voters, students and “townies”
band together to form an experience that is uniquely Oberlin.
Oberlin is a small community. On or off campus, it’s easy to get to know your classmates
and professors, and to form lasting ties with local residents. While some people
might find a small-town atmosphere confining, a visit to Oberlin and the surrounding campus
would most probably change their minds.
With a world-class Conservatory and some of the most forward-thinking members of
their fields teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences, life at Oberlin is anything but dull.
The constant stream of concerts, operas, theater productions, dance recitals, poetry readings,
distinguished speakers, and other campus visitors creates a cosmopolitan climate that
rivals that of a university in a big city. Not to mention all the impromptu gatherings and
groups that evolve as students come and go, creating a vibrant, intellectually charged environment
that is uniquely Oberlin.
An Obie’s connection to campus doesn’t stop after graduation. Oberlin alumni are a
fiercely loyal crew, returning year after year to celebrate Commencement/Reunion
Weekend and staying in touch with classmates through regional alumni groups. It’s an old
joke that an Obie can spot a fellow Obie a mile away, but there is some truth to that statement.
Oberlin graduates can be found in all walks of life and at all corners of the globe, and
they are always happy to share their memories about their alma mater with prospective students,
or to reminisce about sunny afternoons in Wilder Bowl.
Oberlin College’s commitment to the surrounding community has introduced countless
students to the idea of service and learning. In fact, the college’s addition of academically
based community service courses to the curriculum encourages students to take what
they have learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world service situations. Students
in these classes work with local community partners to strengthen the programs that are
vital to Oberlin’s diverse population.
With its emphasis on academics and social justice, it’s no surprise that countless
Oberlin grads have gone on to make a significant impact in the fights against poverty,
racism, gender inequality, and other important social and political issues. Whether as doctors,
lawyers, business executives, educators, politicians, or volunteers, Obies have left
their mark on society by holding themselves to a higher standard and living Oberlin’s ideals
long after they’ve graduated.
Oberlin’s founding fathers would be proud.
Oberlin’s many departments and programs offer a mind-boggling number of courses,
allowing each student to design a personalized educational program. Students can choose
from more than forty disciplines (majors), or create a specialized course of study through
the Individual Majors Program.
Selecting a major encourages students to study a particular discipline in depth. At
Oberlin, students are not required to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year,
which gives them time to explore new areas of study and discuss their interests with faculty
advisors. The most popular majors at Oberlin are English, politics, and biology.
Students in the College of Arts and Sciences are required to take and pass 112 credit
hours before receiving their B.A. Approximately half of these credits must be earned in the
student’s major field of study, while the remaining half are divided between the Divisions
of Arts and Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Natural Sciences and
Mathematics. In addition, students must earn writing and quantitative proficiency certification,
take a minimum of three courses dealing with cultural diversity, and complete three
winter term projects.
The Honor System
Every student at Oberlin is familiar with the college’s Honor Pledge, which reads: “I
affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.” This pledge, formal
and archaic as the phrasing may sound, is a very real part of campus life.
Oberlin’s Honor Code is part of its studentadministered
Honor System and is based on the
assumption that academic honesty lies at the heart
of academic enterprise. The system applies to all
work submitted for academic credit, including
quizzes, exams, papers, and laboratory assignments. Each assignment must include the
Honor Pledge and the student’s signature in order to affirm the integrity of their work.
First-Year Seminar Program
Oberlin’s first-year seminar program (FYSP) gives students the opportunity to experience
liberal arts learning at the onset of their college careers. Each seminar brings
together faculty members with a small group of students to investigate specialized topics.
This format encourages students to test new ideas, learn from their peers, and get to know
professors well in a small classroom setting, while at the same time honing their critical
thinking, writing, and discussion skills.
Oberlin students spend the month of January pursuing projects of their own design.
Individual or group-oriented, on or off campus, career-related or just for fun, winter
term projects provide an opportunity to fully explore a unique educational goal. Winter
term encourages students to discover the value of self-education by emphasizing creativity,
intellectual independence, and personal responsibility. Many of the concerts, theatrical
productions, films, lectures, forums, and discussion groups that take place during January
are part of on-campus winter term projects.
The Experimental College (ExCo)
Oberlin’s Experimental College, or ExCo, began in 1968 as an experiment in alternative
education. Four decades later, ExCo is still an integral part of campus life, with more
than sixty courses offered each semester.
ExCo is a student-run organization, headed by a volunteer committee that is responsible
for choosing the curriculum and maintaining the integrity of the program.
ExCo is open to everyone in the Oberlin community, including students, faculty and
staff members, and townspeople. Likewise, anyone who proves to be an expert in a particular
subject can teach a class, as long as it is judged to have educational merit and a reasonably
ExCo reflects the current academic, intellectual, social, ideological, philosophical,
political, emotional, sexual, and fashion trends of the Oberlin community. The most recent
ExCo curriculum has included courses on grassroots organizing, environmental justice,
Cantonese language, Indian film, Hip-Hop dance, sketch comedy, vegetarian cooking, knitting,
and rock climbing.
Students may receive up to five credits toward graduation through the Experimental
College, or they may take as many courses as they’d like for no credit. ExCo instructors
receive credit for teaching ExCo courses.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Oberlin’s competitive admissions process attracts a cross section of intelligent,
forward-thinking students, including the 5,824 who applied for one of the 742 coveted spots
in the class of 2008. With sixty-seven percent of first-year applicants in the top tenth and
eighty-five percent in the top quarter of their senior classes, prospective Obies have all
their academic bases covered.
Oberlin’s application process is fairly standard, calling for transcripts, recommendations,
and a personal essay. The average test scores among successful applicants are
690/660 for the SAT I and 29 for the ACT. Oberlin requires the writing sections of both the
SAT and the ACT. (Note: Oberlin requires either the SAT or the ACT, but recommends the
SAT Subject Tests.) International students who apply to Oberlin must submit their TOEFL
scores. Oberlin’s admissions counselors (who are often Oberlin alumni) also consider a student’s
advanced placement and honors courses, leadership record, and extracurricular and
Although Oberlin does not require its prospective students (“prospies,” as they are
affectionately nicknamed) to schedule an on-campus interview, one is strongly recommended.
Oberlin’s admissions counselors are more likely to recognize the intangible qualities
that define an Obie during a face-to-face interview. All prospies are encouraged to visit
Oberlin during the academic year, to meet current students, and attend the classes that
interest them. This candid look at campus life offers prospective students a clear picture of
the Oberlin experience.
Students unable to schedule a campus interview can arrange one with Oberlin alumni
in their hometown. Simply call Oberlin’s Office of Admissions (1-800-622-OBIE) to request an
off-campus interview or visit the office’s web site (http://www.oberlin.edu/coladm) for further
information. All alumni interviews must be scheduled by January 2.
When applying to Oberlin, all prospective students must submit a two-part application.
The easiest way to complete the first part of the application is to submit it online. But
you can also submit an online request for information, e-mail an admissions counselor, or
telephone the office directly to ask for an application packet.
The second part of Oberlin’s application includes the Common Application and its
personal essay, as well as the “Why Oberlin” essay and some supplemental forms. Prospies
may submit the Common Application and the “Why Oberlin?” essay online.
What do Oberlin’s admissions counselors look for in a prospective student?
- Secondary School Record: Very
- Class Rank: Very Important
- Recommendation(s): Important
- Standardized Test Scores: Very
- Essay: Important
- Interview: Considered
- Extracurricular Activities: Important
- Talent/Ability: Important
- Character/Personal Qualities:
- Alumni/ae Relation: Considered
- Geographical Residence: Considered
- State Residency: Considered
- Religious Affiliation/Commitment:
- Minority Status: Considered
- Volunteer Work: Considered
- Work Experience: Considered
Admissions Deadlines for
If Oberlin is your top college choice, consider
applying as an Early Decision candidate. The
admissions committee considers the enthusiasm of
Early Decision candidates a plus during the selection
process, giving these applicants a slightly better
statistical chance of gaining admission to Oberlin
than a Regular Decision candidate.
Oberlin offers two Early Decision options.
Early Decision I candidates must submit their applications
by November 15, while the applications for
Early Decision II must be postmarked by January 2.
Students applying under the first program will
receive their notification (admission, deferral, or
denial) by mid-December. Early Decision II applicants
will receive their notification by February 1.
All first-year, Regular Decision candidates
must apply to Oberlin by January 15. They will receive notification of their status from the
Office of Admissions by April 1.
Admissions Deadlines for Transfer Students
Oberlin enrolls first-year students during the fall semester only; however, transfer students
may enroll during either the fall or spring semesters. Oberlin College defines a
transfer student, for admissions purposes, as a student who has been enrolled in a degree
program at another college or university or who has earned more than thirty semester
hours of college course credit.
Transfer applicants must apply to Oberlin by March 15 for enrollment the following
fall and by November 15 for enrollment the following spring. Notifications for these applicants
are mailed in mid-December and at the beginning of April.
Oberlin also offers a deferred enrollment plan. Students admitted to the Division of Arts
and Sciences can request deferred enrollment for up to one year. A written request for
this status should be submitted to the Dean of Admissions, detailing the student’s plan for
the coming year. Approved deferral requires the student’s commitment to enroll, as well as
a deposit to secure a place in the following year’s class.
The Oberlin Conservatory of Music
In addition to the College of Arts and Sciences, the campus is home to the Oberlin
Conservatory of Music. Founded in 1865, the Conservatory is known throughout the
world as a professional music school of the highest caliber. It is the oldest continuously
operating conservatory in the United States, and is the only major music school in the country
linked with a preeminent liberal arts college.
The Conservatory provides preprofessional training in music performance, composition,
music education, electronic and computer music, jazz studies, music theory, and
music history to approximately 595 students. The Conservatory offers the following degrees:
Bachelor of Music, Performance Diploma, Artist Diploma, Master of Music in performance
on historical instruments, and unified five-year programs leading to the BMus and MM in
conducting, teaching, education, and opera theater.
Oberlin also offers a double-degree program for students admitted to both the
Conservatory and the College of Arts and Sciences. Students in the five-year program earn
a BMus in the Conservatory and a BA in the College.
The Conservatory is housed in a complex of three soundproof and air-conditioned buildings
designed by Minoru Yamasaki that includes Bibbins Hall (the teaching building), the central
unit (the rehearsal and concert hall building), and Robertson Hall (the practice building).
The central unit also houses the Conservatory Library—one of the largest academic music
libraries in the country. It includes a collection of more than 121,000 books and scores, 47,000
sound recordings, forty-two listening stations, and six audiovisual listening rooms.
Admission to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music
Like students applying to the College of Arts and Sciences, those seeking admission to
the Conservatory of Music must submit their scores from either the SAT or ACT exams.
Applicants whose first language is not English should submit the results of the TOEFL
exam. Unlike the College of Arts & Sciences, however, the deadlines for the Conservatory
application, as well as all supplemental material are November 1 for Early Review and
December 1 for Regular Review.
Prospective “Connies” must also audition as part of the application process. Students
audition in their principal medium (instrument or voice) unless applying for admission as
a composition or electronic and computer music major (in which case they must submit
their original compositions). All applicants are encouraged to audition in person, but may,
if necessary, attend any one of the regional auditions that are held throughout the country
during the months of January and February. Prerecorded auditions are allowed if travel to
Oberlin or a regional audition is cost-prohibitive.
With a price tag of $43,146 a year, many applicants may think that an Oberlin education
is out of reach. But that’s not true. Oberlin’s historic dedication to an economically
diverse student body means that nearly all funding from the Office of Financial Aid
has been committed to students and families in financial need. Financial aid at Oberlin is
need-based. It includes a combination of grants, loans, and student employment.
In a recent year, approximately sixty percent of Oberlin’s students received a total of
nearly $40 million in need-based financial aid. The average first-year award for that year
was $22,500, which included an average of $17,500 in grants and $5,000 in loans and workstudy
earnings. A student’s financial aid eligibility extends for eight semesters (ten for
double-degree students) or until graduation, whichever comes first.
Financial aid applications are mailed
to all prospective students with Oberlin’s
admissions material. Oberlin uses the
College Scholarship Service’s (CSS) PROFILE
form, as well as the Free Application
for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to calculate
family contributions and financial aid
awards for all first-time applicants. The
College also considers parental income and
assets, benefits, noncustodial parent information
(if appropriate), awards from outside
agencies, and a student’s expected
savings from summer employment when
awarding aid to each student.
Approximately fifty-seven percent of
all Oberlin students work part-time jobs on
campus or in the surrounding town. Many
opportunities exist for students to fulfill
their work-study contracts, such as shelving
books in the library, doing clerical work in
an academic department, or earning money
by working in one of Oberlin’s cafeterias.
The deadline for financial aid applications
is February 15.
Student Financial Aid Details
Oberlin is a residential campus; all first-year students and the majority of other students
live in the residence halls on campus. Housing options include single-sex and coed
dorms, on-campus apartments, language houses (i.e., French House), special-interest houses (i.e., Afrikan Heritage House), and co-ops (Tank Hall). On-campus housing is guaranteed
for four years and is assigned by lottery.
Student Cooperative Housing (Co-ops)
The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) provides students with an alternative
to traditional college housing and dining options. Student-owned and operated,
Oberlin’s co-ops cultivate community by encouraging members to take responsibility for
their own living environments. Co-op members share cooking, housekeeping, and maintenance
tasks, and use a participatory, demo-cratic approach to settling co-op policy and
resolving disputes. All co-op duties involve flexible hours and take into account students’
class schedules, interests, and skills..
With more than eighty student organizations to choose from, Oberlin has something for
everyone. Students can write for The Oberlin Review, sing a cappella tunes with the
Obertones, toss a Frisbee on Tappan Square with members of the Flying Horsecows, or get
active in politics with the OC Democrats.
Many student groups celebrate the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and identities
that can be found on campus. At Oberlin, student groups exist for those of African,
Caribbean, Chinese, Korean, Latino, and Philippine descent, as well as for those who are
Muslim or Jewish. Other groups exist for those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay,
bisexual, or transgendered.
Music at Oberlin
Music and Oberlin are practically synonymous. Each year, the Conservatory hosts more
than 400 concerts, including performances by faculty members and students, as well
as guest appearances by visiting artists. Oberlin’s annual Artist Recital Series brings premier, internationally renowned performers to campus, while alumni musicians frequently
return to perform or teach master classes.
But the Conservatory isn’t the only musical game in town. The Student Union brings
big-name acts such as Bela Fleck and Rufus Wainwright to Finney Chapel’s stage, while the
Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse opens its doors to popular folk artists such as Sujan Stevens
as well as to local and campus bands. And don’t forget the ’Sco, where Oberlin’s Djs spin
everything from rap to rock, and where ’80s night has achieved near-cult status.
Films, Theater, and Dance
An average year at Oberlin includes more than 200 film showings, two operas, and more
than 60 theater and dance productions. Aside from the performances sponsored by the
Theater and Dance program, many student organizations stage their own productions, and
student filmmakers regularly hold screenings of their original works.
Oberlin’s long history of social engagement lives on in today’s students, fifty-five percent
of whom participate annually in volunteer activities. The Center for Service and
Learning (CSL) organizes many of these service opportunities by pairing student volunteers
with local community partners. The CSL also develops programs that combine community
involvement with students’ intellectual and artistic pursuits, and sponsors conferences and
other events to nurture the relationship between the college and community.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Whether they’re playing varsity sports or intramurals, Obies find the camaraderie, competition,
and physical challenge of athletics the perfect complement to their academic
pursuits. The College sponsors twenty-two varsity sports (eleven for women and eleven for
men), fourteen club sports (including Ultimate Frisbee, scuba diving, martial arts, and cheerleading),
and an ever-changing roster of intramural for both students and college employees
Oberlin College graduates have gone
on to make lasting impressions in the sciences
and humanities, often receiving praise
and recognition along the way. Oberlin can
claim three Nobel Prize winners and seven
MacArthur Fellows as alumni, as well as numerous Javits, Mellon, and Watson Fellows, Marshall and Goldwater Scholars, and Fulbright
Many Obies have gone on to earn Ph.D.s at the nation’s most esteemed graduate and professional
schools. In the last two decades, more Oberlin students received Ph.D.s than did students
from any other predominantly undergraduate liberal arts college in the country. Not only
do Obies attend the nation’s top graduate schools, they teach there, too. Oberlin graduates can
be found teaching at almost every one of the nation’s top sixty colleges and universities.
- George Walker, ’41 (Composer)
- Carl Rowan, ’47 (Journalist)
- D.A. Henderson, ’50 (Director of The Nation’s Center
for Public Health Preparedness)
- Johnnetta Betsch Cole, ’57 (President of Bennett
- James Burrows, ’62 (Television Director, Cheers and
Will and Grace)
- Richard Baron, ’64 (President of McCormack Baron
& Associates, Inc. and Champion of Innovative,
Affordable Housing in Urban Neighborhoods)
- William Schulz, ’71 (Executive Director of Amnesty
- Jerry Greenfield, ’73 (Ice Cream Mogul)
- Bill Irwin, ’73 (Actor)
- Julie Taymor, ’74 (Director and Writer, Best Known for
Directing and Designing The Theatrical Production of
Disney’s The Lion King)
- David Zinman, ’58 (Music Director, Zurich Tonhalle
- Robert Spano, ’83 (Grammy Award-winning Conductor
of The Atlanta Symphony)
- Stephen Issevlis, ’80 (Internationally Renowned Cellist)
- Richard Lenski, ’77 (Biologist and MacArthur “Genuis”
- James McBride, ’79 (Musician, Composer, and Author
of The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His
- Billy Cohn, ’82 (Heart Surgeon and Inventor of the Cohn
- Tracy Chevalier, ’84 (Best-selling Author of Girl with
a Pearl Earring and The Lady and The Unicorn)
- Denyce Graves, ’85 (Opera Singer)
- George Smith, ’87 (ESPN Sportscaster)
- Bi-khim Hsiao, ’93 (Legislator with The Republic of
China/Former Advisor and Interpreter to China’s
President Chen Shui-Bian)
- Mike Heithaus, ’95 (Marine Biologist and Host of The
National Geographic Television Series “Crittercam”)
- Jennifer Koh, ’97 (Violinist)
- Sadhu Johnston, ’98 (Assistant to the Mayor for Green
Initiatives, City of Chicago.)
- Josh Ritter, ’99 (Folk Musician,
Oberlin’s professors are both scholars and teachers. Like professors at major research
universities, they contribute to their discipline through writing and research. But
unlike the faculty of major research institutions, Oberlin professors teach everything from
first-year courses to advanced seminars, without the aid of TAs. All professors keep regular
and frequent office hours, coordinate and supervise independent study projects, and view
the education of undergraduates as the most important role of their careers.
Faculty members also act as mentors to their students, especially when guiding their
academic development. Since the college’s founding, countless professors have collaborated on important research projects with their students. Some of the more recent collaborations
include the study of smog pollution, the use of three-dimensional imaging technology to
reconstruct archeological finds, and the publication of a dictionary that traced slang usage
on campus through a decade’s worth of students.
In a liberal arts setting, research is a pedagogical tool—not always just
an end product in itself. That research produces results is a good thing, but—
more importantly—it offers me an opportunity to teach students the substance
of the discipline, as well as its techniques.