Oberlin College is a small liberal arts school located in Oberlin, Ohio. Though the town has a population of less than 10,000 and a student-body enrollment of 3,000, this school has a reputation as one of the most progressive, accepting, and creative colleges in the country. Alumni of Oberlin include Lena Dunham, Alison Bechdel (of the Bechdel Test), Ed Helms, and Liz Phair. That is some very hip company to keep.
Oberlin’s supplement is short and sweet at a mere 250-word maximum:
How did your interest in Oberlin develop and what aspects of our college community most excite you?
While this relatively straightforward prompt may seem like a relief after the emotional heavy lifting of your Common App essay, writing a great college supplement is just as important. We know you’re busy, but luckily for you, it’s fairly easy to crack the code on this type of “Why Us?” question.
Read Between the Lines
First, pay attention to the specific language of the question. They want to know how “your interest developed” in Oberlin. It’s unlikely there is a fascinating story about the first time you heard about Oberlin (if there is, then go forth and prosper), so here it is best to describe a current interest of yours, and connect it to a specific aspect of the school. Put your interests in the context of the school. How do you plan on pursuing your goals at Oberlin? Why did this school pique your interest?
The second prong of the prompt asks you to elaborate on their “college community.” Clearly, communal values are important to Oberlin’s personality as an institution. This is not a large state school where you will be merely a number, lost in thousand-person lecture halls until your junior year. It’s tough to tell a story in 250 words or less, but with this question, they mostly want to see that you’re a match for their school. Are you liberal, open, creative, and accepting? Find a pithy and telling way to convey those traits in as few words as possible.
Do Your Research (No, really. Do some research.)
The brevity of the Oberlin supplement prompt means it is all about research. Did you go on a college tour of Oberlin? Now would be the time to mention it. Stalk Oberlin’s website. Research their alumni. Watch the HBO show Girls, starring Lena Dunham. (Just kidding. Or are we?).
We know you might be unsure of what your college major may be. You’ve only had your driver’s license for a year, so we get that you may not know your exact future career goal. But for this purpose--pick one. Research your chosen program, and then mention one or two specific classes or professors that appeal to you. By showing specific knowledge of their programs, classes, or professors, you’re showing them you are serious about their institution. The admissions board want to know that you’ll be the type of student to show up on time to your 8 am Friday class.
Take it Outside (of the Classroom)
We know you’re not the type of student to spend your semesters sequestered in a study hidey-hole. But tell Oberlin that. Check out the Oberlin student activities page and pick one or two that appeal to you.
The biggest thing here is to make sure you’re not just re-stating a laundry list of extracurricular activities from high school. What do you plan on doing outside the classroom? Does Oberlin have a service-dog training program in their quad on Wednesdays that you would be dying to check out? Let them know that you will be an engaged, participatory student that actively contributes to their college community.
In conclusion, never begin a conclusion with ‘in conclusion.’ That’s just, like, against the rules. All you need to do is circle back to your main point and synthesize your thesis. Done-zo. Remember, you have 250 words.
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