I get the "why Oberlin?" question a lot, especially after I tell people I'm from about 5 different places. I don't have one of those 'I always knew I wanted to go' or 'I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it' stories, because I only found out about Oberlin probably around May of last year, and I never had the opportunity to visit my prospective colleges, apart from Oxford University and Columbia University, which I visited when I was 14 and 15 respectively while in the area for my brother's graduation ceremonies. And the Oxford visit was part of a Harry Potter tour to see the place where they filmed the Great Hall for the second movie, so that doesn't even count... much. That those two happened to be my top choices was sort of coincidental.
So I never got to see Oberlin, apart from the impressions I got from the student website and the blogs, and the interview I had with Chuck Grim which left me with a great impression. Later, when I chose it as one of my schools for the application process, I got rave reviews about it from just about anyone who'd heard of it--my aunt, who is a professor, my tertiary counsellors, and everyone who heard of the college, especially those who had visited it, had great things to say about it.
I ranked my schools according to what I know now to be a pretty inaccurate criterion: the average IB (International Baccalaureate for those who have not been tortured by it) score of students admitted by those schools. Thus, my 'chances', at least academically, of getting into that school, determined where it stood in my ranking system.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
First of all, I was doing myself a disservice by ranking according to grades. US schools care about IB/AP and SAT scores only up to a point. After that, it's all about you--and it is FAR more difficult to project your true personality in a way that really jumps off of the page for admissions deans than it is to write a good essay, because we're taught to write good essays, but no one in the world can teach you how to be yourself. Which, you know, is probably why they value the personal sections of your application much more than anything else.
Secondly, rankings are only useful in the initial stages, as they're extremely arbitrary. I based mine on things like financial cost, likelihood of aid, location (I applied primarily to New York as I have family there), courses offered, and 'standardised' rankings, not that that really exists. It was useful for me to get a picture of the kinds of colleges I was aiming for, but beyond that, the fit of the college, academically as well as personally, became the most important thing. That's not really something you or anyone else can rank in any systematic kind of way. With American colleges, you have to pick the one that feels absolutely right for you, even if, like me, you don't get a chance to check it out for yourself. Use your intuition--it's usually right.
I'll be perfectly candid, because I think people need to hear these kinds of stories. Oberlin was a safety for me at first; it was at the bottom of my first list which I made back in September or so of 2009. So was NYU, by the way, which gives you an idea of how skewed my initial ideas of where I wanted to go were. My initial reason for picking Oberlin was because I was (and still am!) interested in pursuing journalism as my sort of in-the-distance career goal, so I was looking for a strong creative writing program but also a place which fosters my other talents in music, art, and the humanities. Obviously, Oberlin fits the bill pretty well where I'm concerned.
So that's how I found out about Oberlin, and why I applied. The next question: Why did I choose Oberlin over schools like NYU, King's, Warwick and others?
The simple answer is that I knew it was right for me, and that I'd be stupid not to go. The honest answer is that there were a lot of incentives, including a grant and a scholarship, as well as the fact that it ticked a lot of boxes criteria-wise. It was a very long process of honest decisions. Honesty isn't easy, especially when it's with yourself.
I decided I wanted to go to America over Britain. I had no real idea what I wanted to do, aside from faint career paths like journalism or maybe advertising, those two being possibly the most consistent in a long string of mind-changing. I need to be allowed to explore the areas I have always been interested in, whether I'd studied them or not. That's kind of person I am and probably will always will be--sticking my toes into the waters of different subject areas, while trying to make connections between all of those interests. I love English literature and creative writing, but I would have absolutely hated doing it non-stop for three years. I'm a multidisciplinary person and I have to accept that as a big part of who I am.
Then I had to decide if I wanted the brand name to follow me around or not. This is the toughest decision a lot of college-goers face. Believe me, I wanted it. I'm an ambitious person, and also a proud one. I don't enjoy it when people smile politely when I tell them I'm going to Oberlin, and less so when they're like, 'Oberlin? Where's that again?' I just have to remind myself that I made the right choice. It's not an easy choice, and it isn't necessarily the right one for everybody.
As I keep saying, you just have to be honest with yourself and pick what's best for you. I've been here for almost three months and I can tell you without a doubt that I made the right choice.