{ An Admissions-Sized Surprise }

Dear Reader,

Surprises land on my desk all the time. That's just the nature of a job that has "other duties as assigned" built into the job description.

Sometimes the surprises are a bit terrifying (there's a horrible, garish painting that gets passed around our office whenever someone is absent for a while that made its way into my office last February and was perched on the filing cabinet, RIGHT ABOVE MY EYE LEVEL, for about three hours before I looked up and screamed).

Other times they are wonderful (like the time my colleague left a bagful of Patricia C. Wrede books on my desk to read over Winter Shutdown. Liz, I love you forever).

But mostly they are downright magical.

Case in point: Last December, I received an email from two elementary school teachers at a dual language school in Texas. They were starting a conversation with their second graders about college and wrote to ask for materials for their classroom. I sent a poster, some bookmarks, a few other materials with lots of pictures, and thought I was done.

January arrived and reading season happened. And committee. And then the madness of April with all of our programs for admitted students. And then we heard back from our admitted students, went a little bonkers in the office as we grew increasingly excited about the class of 2018, and started in on waitlist activity. I went on a trip to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida (where, by the way, I managed to crash the inaugural conference of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. Talk about surprises!).

Proof! Shaky camera work courtesy me.

When I returned to the office, I was mentally cringing. Would that hideous painting be back in my office? Would I find my desk decorated entirely in post-its? Would there be streamers of scrap paper dangling from my ceiling? (I did that to another coworker in April, so I was half expecting revenge.) But no: no such tomfoolery to be found.

Instead, I had a packet of letters waiting for me. The second grade class in Texas had given presentations on the various colleges that responded to their teachers' letters--and then picked their favorites and wrote a version of the "Why College X" essay.

I got a total of seven "Why Oberlin" essays from second graders. Seven! They are charming. They are wobbly and earnest and misspelled. They detail how, at a small college outside of a big city, students can "meet their professors more." They'll be able to "lay on the grasse" and "do their homeworks." One wants to play college basketball "because it is a sport." Another wants to be an "artest" in college and "draw all the characters of Frozen."

Most importantly, they are looking at college not as a far-off, crazy, random, foreign thing, but as something probable and reachable. They're building imaginary landscapes for themselves, writing themselves into a narrative that includes college and higher education. In a school district that sees a 4.6% dropout rate among Hispanic high school students, these students are thinking about the communities they want to find and the directions they intend their lives to take. It is magical, and this is why I work in admissions. Inspiring this--encouraging conversations exactly like this--is the meaning I find in my work, and the joy that fills my days.

The two teachers will be working with the same students next year. In the packet of letters from their second graders, the teachers included another letter, this time asking if our admissions office would send a reply:

Students wrote a persuasive letter to admissions offices in order to explain why they chose the college and what they plan on doing in the future. They worked on these for several weeks! They are very excited to be sending these letters. We would really appreciate a response so that we can share it with our students when they enter third grade.

I am so delighted that these scholars wrote us letters and that they took the time to imagine themselves at Oberlin. And I want to encourage them back, and perhaps send them a surprise of our own.

So join me, please, in sending an awesome message of inspiration back to these rising third graders. Leave a little encouragement in the comments section, and I'll compile everything in August and send them a packet from the Oberlin family.

In joy and in love,


Bookmark and Share

{ Responses To This Entry }

My words of encouragement: keep on trying new things and keep on asking "why?" That's how we learn what is happening with ourselves and with the world, and it makes us better people.

Also, YAY OBERLIN we do have really nice grass and our professors are very kind!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on June 4, 2014 10:47 AM

Dear certain members of the Oberlin class of 2028 (or thereabouts):

I'm the editor of the Oberlin alumni magazine. In case you don't know what an alumni is (okay, it's really plural--what alumni ARE), it's a word that means the people who attended and (often) graduated from a specific school. By the way, I didn't know what alumni meant in second grade. Or third. Probably not even seventh. Maybe not even 10th. Eventually, I learned.

When I was in second grade, I had never heard of Oberlin College. But one time in high school a teacher told me I should look into Oberlin (her exact words were: "You should go to Oberlin; Oberlin or Antioch"--referring to another interesting college), and because my parents hadn't gone to college and I didn't know much about the whole thing, I thought, well, I should check out this Oberlin place. I'm really glad I did.

I'm also really glad you're looking into it--not just Oberlin, but college in general. And I'm glad you're looking into it so early in your careers---second grade! That's a very good start.

Although I hope you keep Oberlin in mind for the next 10 years or so, where ever you end up going to college I think you'll really like it. I know I did. First, it was really cool because once I got to college nobody told me how much chocolate milk I was allowed to drink. But then I forgot all about the chocolate milk when I started going to classes, and learning about history, and government, and art, and reading all sorts of stuff I never knew before. I really liked learning from my classmates, in class discussion and even outside of class. I used to think they were so much smarter than I was, but then I found out later some of them thought I was smarter than they were! Turns out we just knew DIFFERENT things and we learned from each other.

From what I heard, you impressed our admissions office--I hope you keep it up and apply for real when the time comes. And then I'll be SO happy to write about you when you become Oberlin alumni!

Good luck in third grade. I hear the homework doesn't get really hard until middle school, so good luck with that, too!

All best,

Jeff Hagan (class of 1986)
Editor, Oberlin Alumni Magazine

ps: I still love chocolate milk.

Posted by: Jeff Hagan on June 4, 2014 11:29 AM

Dear Future College Students,

I'm thrilled that you are interested in Oberlin College! I attended Oberlin as a student, and now I teach here. I think it's wonderful that you are already thinking about your future education, and so I thought I'd share a few more details about Oberlin College with you.

As you already know, Oberlin is a small town, so pretty much everybody knows each other. When you walk down the street, it's typical for ten or twelve people to say hello to you before you get to the corner. You usually end up chatting, and then you have to run in order not to be late to your next class.

And as you also know, Oberlin is pretty, full of green lawns and green trees, and you can walk or ride a bike anywhere in town. Did you know that in the autumn the leaves change color on almost every tree in the town? The trees go from green to orange, yellow, or red. A little later in the year it starts snowing, but we don't need to go into the details of that.

Most teachers (professors) at Oberlin are very kind people, and I'm not lying about that just because I'm a professor here. In fact, professors and students often spend time together outside of the classroom, on field trips or even going to restaurants together (the professor pays). Sometimes we have class parties. My husband plays basketball with students and professors and other people who live in town. So there are a lot of fun activities.

I commend you on your progress in school so far. Congratulations on starting third grade, and best wishes to you for the year.

I look forward to hearing from you in the future!

Claire Solomon
Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies
Oberlin College

Posted by: Claire Solomon on June 4, 2014 1:24 PM

Aw, y'all, I feel bad that I didn't write an actual letter so now I will do that, too!

Dear Current Students With Future Aspirations,

Once upon a time, long long ago, my dad attended Oberlin College. He met a lot of nice people there and stayed friends with them for a long time. When I was a little kid, I thought Oberlin was the coolest place in the whole world because he and his friends talked about Oberlin as this really fun place to be -- he climbed lots of trees and played lots of guitar while sitting in the grass and he was hockey player and a soccer player and a baseball player!

I had no idea what college was, but all the people I had met that graduated from Oberlin told such good stories that I decided I wanted to go there so I could tell my own stories about it, too.

So here is my story: I went to Oberlin. I met my absolute best friends in the whole world. I asked all my professors "Why?" a lot. I biked around all of Oberlin. I stayed up way past my bedtime. I ate pizza every single Friday with 100 really nice people who all loved pizza too. I learned how to walk on stilts and be a clown and make movies and take photographs!

But here is the best part: I knew about some of those things I did in college before I went to Oberlin, but with most of them, I didn't even know they existed until I came to college! And now that I graduated from Oberlin and work here, I know that there are even more things I can learn about and do and that is really exciting.

So here is my encouragement to you: keep on asking lots of questions, keep on being curious about the things that you are learning about in school, and keep on figuring out the ways that you can make the best world for you, your friends, and your family. College will help you do all of those things even more, but why wait? You're already doing it, and I am really excited to see what you all come up with!

Yours in excitement,

Ma'ayan Plaut
Manager of Social Strategy & Projects
Oberlin College

Posted by: Ma'ayan on June 4, 2014 2:45 PM

What fabulous and enthusiastic young prospective Oberlin students! I am thrilled by their interested and their college plans. How fortunate that they reached out to Oberlin and I hope that Oberlin will continue to reach out to them!

Posted by: Chloe Bird on June 4, 2014 8:47 PM

Dear future college students,

I am so pleased that Oberlin is a college that interests you! I love this place. Not only is it beautiful, green, and colorful, but also the teachers really know how to teach and there is a tremendous amount of support for all of our students. There are lots of clubs and communities, really interesting classes, and a ton of people to meet!

I can't wait to welcome you in 2028-ish!

Jan Miyake
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Associate Professor of Music Theory

Posted by: Jan Miyake on June 11, 2014 4:58 PM

Dear future college students,
I went to college, but not to Oberlin, and loved every minute of it. In fact, I loved being a college student so much that I never wanted to leave. And guess what – I didn’t because now I work at Oberlin College in the admissions office. We loved your letters and are excited that you are thinking about college!

I love to read and hope that you do, too. My favorite books when I was in third grade were Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Caddie Woodlawn. I also liked books that didn’t begin with the letter C. I thought Encyclopedia Brown mysteries were awesome and the author (Donald Sobol) graduated from Oberlin!

Believe in yourself and believe in your future. If you really want something, you can get it. The one thing that matters the most in school is that you try you best at everything you do.

And if you have a favorite book that you think I should read, please let me know!

Have fun in third grade,
Leslie Braat
Associate Director of Admissions
Oberlin College

Posted by: Leslie Braat on July 24, 2014 5:19 PM

Greetings Future College Students,

I think it's absolutely wonderful that you're already thinking about college. All I thought about in 3rd grade was whether I was going to have lemonade or chocolate milk with my lunch. And what I wanted to play at recess. My oldest daughter is in 3rd grade this year and all she thinks about is jumping rope (or is it jump roping?).

Why should you go to college? To meet your life-long friends. To learn lots of cool things. To cheer for your school's football/soccer/tennis/track team. To study with professors who will blow your minds with new ways to think about everyday topics. To eat whatever you want, whenever you want. To lay on the grass and look at clouds. To play in the snow or rain. To make a difference in the life of someone else.

College is a tremendous opportunity. We all hope that you continue to work hard in school, start to discover what you love, and take advantage of this opportunity. It doesn't have to be at Oberlin , although we would love for it to be.

Good luck with your year and we look forward to hearing more about your progress.

Josh Levy ’94
Associate Director of Admissions
Oberlin College

Posted by: Josh Levy on September 9, 2014 8:57 AM

{ Leave A Comment }

Oberlin College & Conservatory | Oberlin, Ohio 44074 | 440-775-8121 | College Admissions | Conservatory Admissions