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Occidental College

How this student rated the school
Educational QualityA+ Faculty AccessibilityA+
Useful SchoolworkA Excess CompetitionA+
Academic SuccessA+ Creativity/ InnovationA+
Individual ValueA+ University Resource UseA
Campus Aesthetics/ BeautyA FriendlinessA+
Campus MaintenanceA Social LifeA+
Surrounding CityA Extra CurricularsA+
Describes the student body as:

Describes the faculty as:

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Not so bright
Lowest Rating
Useful Schoolwork
Highest Rating
Educational Quality
He rated most things higher than other students did.
Date: May 22 2004
Major: Chemistry (This Major's Salary over time)
Besides having a name that results in frequent puns about morons and the ever-popular pimple cream, Occidental College is a small, unique, liberal-arts college tucked away in the not-so-presitigious Los Angeles neighborhood known as Eagle Rock. I was a student there from 1995 to 1999, and I enjoyed my four years so much that I still come back to visit my friends and enjoy what I can of the college ambience. It left me with a good education (in Mathematics, no less, as well as a minor in Philosophy), not to mention an incredibly durable network of friends who will probably be in touch with me (in one fashion or another) to my grave. True, it has its quirks, and its elements that just plain annoy me. But it was a college experience I wouldn't trade for anything.

Probably the most appealing aspect of Occidental for me was dorm life. I lived in the dorms all four years, and each of those years I found myself surrounded by primarily freshmen. I chose it that way - freshmen were usually the most social, and my study schedule allowed liberal amounts of time for socializing (I considered myself fairly good at getting my work done during breaks between class or weekend afternoons, etc., when not as many people were out being social). Oxy loves freshmen - when you arrive as a new student, there will be an army of over-caffienated O-Team leaders (the "O" stands for "Orientation") to ensure you get acclimated as painlessly as possible. Not every dorm was as rife with social activity, of course - for students who preferred a little more peace and quiet, there was a dorm especially designated as the "Quiet Dorm", as well as a fair number of single rooms on campus tucked away in typically quieter halls mostly populated with busier upperclassmen. So how social you are at Oxy is really up to you. It's just hard to not want to be social. With all of the clubs, sports, and other activites surrounding you, the typical freshmen experience is to throw yourself into everything and later panic when you realize you've overcommitted yourself. While I could do without the attitude that you have to be involved in as many activites as possible to be a well-rounded student, there is definitely ample opportunity to explore your hobbies, faith, talents, etc., and I regard that as having a mostly positive impact on students. You will find an extreme emphasis on diversity at Oxy (you hear that word and "multiculturalism" until you are blue in the face) that may be a little preachy and in-your-face at times, but often, just existing in the surroundings of so many students of different backgrounds will teach you a lot. You have to be pretty stiff-necked to not have at least a somewhat open mind after just a few months there. Which is not to say that the school will drive you away from belief you once held to. I came out with my personal beliefs stronger and much better defined, understanding better who I really was. The students around me didn't drive me to drinking or drugs or atheism (well, maybe a little drinking, but by my choice). The school is fairly good at accepting you for who you are, while simultaneously challenging you to better understand others. For students with specific needs/preferences, there are dorms with co-ed floors, "smoke-free" dorms (in which students cannot smoke in their rooms; in other dorms, this is allowed with roommate's consent), a "substance-free" dorm, and even a "multicultural" hall (there's that word again!) So you're sure to find your niche. And if dorm life's not for you, it's not to hard to get into a fraternity/sorority house (if that's your element; Greek life isn't as dominant as on other campuses) or a nearby apartment or house with some of your friends in subsequent years. But all freshmen must live on campus. I think it provides a more close-knit atmosphere, personally. Couples get together at almost an alarming rate, and gossip sperads fast through the "Oxy grapevine". While this may mean high drama in your circle of friends at times, it mostly amounts to a high degree of comraderie between students. (And Oxy isn't known for its high graduate marriage rate for nothing!) As an example, my girlfriend lived downastairs from me in one of the dorms when she was a freshmen and I was a junior. We became close friends simply due to seeing each other around a lot, and around the beginning of the following year, we started going out, and have been together ever since. It's a great place to find someone - just don't look too hard, because everyone will know what you're up to (and possibly even know about your failed attempts at it!).

Now onto the academic life, which is also pretty good. As I mentioned earlier, I majored in mathematics, which is a fairly easygoing department at Occidental (as are most, other than Physics and Politics). Class sizes are small (often ranging from 5 to 30), and professors generally have sufficient office hours in which you can go to them for help on homework, reviews of paper drafts, or advice on surviving collegein general, and sometimes get to know them more as a person. A lot of bigger colleges just aren't made for this sort of thing - to professors there, you're just another number. You are also matched up with an academic advisor during Orientation - a professor in your estimated major (whom you may change if you change majors) whose job it is to help you plann your future class schedule, and other aspects of your college experience such as a semester abroad, independent study, comps (senior project/thesis), and even your future career path. The usual class-load per semester is 16 units, which is usually 4 classes, each meeting for 3 hours per week. That's way less time than you spent in class during high school, but the work is left more up to your own methods of study. If you're doing math or physics, you'll have a good number of problem sets due on a regular basis. If you're doing English or politics, you'll be writing a lot of papers and reading a lot of books. That's true anywhere, but from what I understand at Oxy, if you find the study methods and environment that works for you, you should be able to keep your time spent studying and in class to 40 hours in the average week - so it's like a job with weird hours. If you have a million outside commitments (see above), or have elected to take extra classes (which you may do with some faculty approval), then of course it's gonna be a lot trickier. But it's your life - fill it up with as much as you want. Oxy is fairly good at keeping your class schedule well-rounded, requiring all freshmen to take a core cultural studies class (they usually get to elect between at least four choices), all math/science majors to take some humanities, and vice versa. At times this is annoying, especially if you're an art major and you just want to paint, knowing you'll never use calculus again in your life, but once again, this is common at most schools. Given the network of random students you bump into on a daily basis, and the small class sizes, it's usually not too hard to find people to study with to help you along on the troublesome subjects. Some students can study easily in their dorm rooms with moderate noise and potential distractions (I was one of those!), and some need a quieter environment like the library, which has enough nooks and crannies to ensure that no one will ever find you. Some of the more earthy types can go sit on the quad and get a tan or just take in nature while they study. Some bring their work to the dining hall or Tiger Cooler with them (though I personally find this to be a bit anti-social, since mealtimes are prime opportunities for catching up with people you may not see in your dorm or your classes). Whatever your method, you can get stuff done effectively at Oxy if you put your mind to it, and graduate with a Bachleor's degree and a fairly decent idea of where to head next (in terms of either grad school or a job).

Possibly the one truly disappointing element of Occidental is its administrative departments. The attitude of most administrative staff at Oxy seems to be, "Well, we've got your money now, so we're gonna concentrate on the people who haven't given us money yet." Campus Dining, though they offer a decent array of food options (grill, miniature coffee shop, pasta bar, etc.) that are honestly better than a lot of college food out there, aren't exactly experts in customer service. The hours of various food stations are unpredictable, and the staff are only marginaly cooperative. "The customer is always right" just doesn't fly here. All meal plans are pre-paid, and everyone on campus must have a meal plan, so you'll keep coming back whether you like it or not. They'll hop right to it when catering a special event or making food available for faculty or anyone else who might pay real cash. That's how they profit. But they don't really have to put much effort into the students, so they don't. (Sidebar: A good way to get them back for this is to feed your friends who live off campus or have graduated. A typical meal plan has enough money on it to be more than you can spend on yourself. It's also common to see students carrying entire pies or flats of Coke back to their dorms toward the end of a semester.) Campus Safety does a fairly good job of keeping things safe (patrolling the campus at all hours, making sure doors aren't propped so strangers can't get into the dorms, giving students escorts across campus or to nearby locations at night, etc.), but they can be slowest people in the world when you need to get into a building for some reason. If you ever lock yourself out of a room during the day (at night, a Resident Advisor will be on duty to let you in for a small fee), they will take a while to show up, and charge you a little more for letting you in than your RA would have. They do their job, as do most of the administrative staff at Oxy, but they don't exactly go out of their way for anyone. Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to have to make a trip to Coons (the administrative building, which is ironically named for anyone who recalls the L.A. Riots), expect to get a run-around which may make you late for class. (One notable expection is the Career Center, which is fairly nice to people and does a good job of helping them with the post-college job world, or summer internships. They're just a vastly under-used resource, so they like it when people notice them.) I realize this is true of many beaureaucratic departments on any campus. But it's not fun. And the mandatory accounts clearance that everyone has to go through every semester (even those whose accounts are already clear) ensures that everyone remembers how frustrating it can be. It's a lot like the DMV - there's no competition and you just have to wait in line, and you can't really do much but complain about it.

Don't let this last bit scare you away from Oxy - if you want to integrate your social life with your academic life and learn a lot both inside and outside of the classroom, it could well be the college for you. Just understand that what makes it such a great school is the students and the professors. Everyone else is simply there to keep the school running, even if the often forget who the school is ultimately there for.

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