Ask an Occidental First Year!

Hey all! I’m a current first year at Oxy and I decided to spend some time helping prospective Oxy students with their college choice. I’m not affiliated with the admissions office, although I did apply to be a tour guide for next year.

I know that the college process can be taxing and time-consuming, and I had a very difficult time choosing between colleges (my options ranged from British universities to Grinnell College in Iowa). Please feel free to ask me any question you’d like!

What is the party culture like? How a part of it do you have to be to still be involved in the social scene?

@chileanjesus It’s not much of a party school. The social scene is comprised of house parties, Greek life, club events, dances thrown by clubs or the school, etc. The school isn’t stratified into different groups (Greeks, jocks, etc.) like larger universities, and some of my closest and smartest friends are members of Greek life, although I am not.

Most weekend parties take place at houses near campus, and it’s helpful to have a group of friends who are interested. Although I’ll go to a couple parties now and then, I really enjoy exploring Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Pasadena, and greater LA. I’m part of a class which attends plays fairly often, and I’ve also gone skiing and rock climbing through various clubs.

I hope that’s helpful! I don’t know which other colleges you’re considering, but feel free to DM me and I can try to answer any questions as best as I can.

What is the dating culture like? Do Oxy students date students at other schools in LA (like CalTech or UCLA?).

@wechillhere To my knowledge, it’s all over the place. Some people have long-distance relationships, others date or hook-up with other Oxy students. My close friends who are in relationships are dating fellow Oxy students, however.

I’ve heard some people say that Oxy has a kind of bohemian, maybe even hippy, kind of vibe. Would you agree? Or is it more artsy/intellectual/preppy? What characteristics do you feel like you see more of? Do you see any weird/quirky kids?

How big are the arts on campus? Do a lot of people watch/participate in the improv club, read the literary journal, newspaper?

@dhume98 how liberal is the school? How would someone who is center or right of center fit in? I seem to remember something about how there weren’t enough Republicans on campus for a College Republicans Club (or whatever they call it).

@dhume98 thanks for doing this! My daughter is considering Oxy and if she attends, would major in Cognitive Science. We know someone who graduated from Oxy last year in that major but do you know anyone in the major and what do they think of it?

@AbyssmalArteries I wouldn’t see its a hippy school. In comparison, Grinnell (a school I was considering along with Oxy) definitely had a more hippie, alternative, “granola”-y vibe (if you didn’t reject the capitalist machine, you’d stand out sort of thing). I consider myself somewhat intellectual and quirky, but I wouldn’t label myself hippy, hipster, or preppy. There are definitely weird/quirky kids, but they do not define the atmosphere of the college (unlike the “granola” atmosphere of schools like Oberlin, with Bennington/Hampshire at the extreme). There is a weekly publication of Arts-related stuff going on around campus, and the school brings in around 2-3 local artists to Oxy every week. There are also film series (I attend the German-Russian movie series on Thursday evenings) put on by different departments and clubs if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Regarding @Emsmom1’s question, there are a fair number of fiscal conservatives/libertarians and a handful of Trump supporters. There is an Oxy Conservatives club, but I don’t think they are particularly active (I’ve been to a few Oxy Democrats meetings). However, some people find the “PC” nature of the campus upsetting (people are encouraged to say their gender pronouns, use words like Latinx, etc.). But I think you’ll find the same atmosphere at Barnard, Berkeley, etc. Ironically, Oxy used to be a fairly white, Republican institution only 40-50 years ago – so despite the incredible financial success of many alumni, our endowment remains relatively small since many older alums are reluctant to donate to a visibly liberal institution.

@dhume98 thanks for the info!

@CAtransplant I’m thinking about doing cognitive science myself! I was considering physics before, but have found my interests veering towards philosophy, linguistics, and computer science. I have a couple upperclassmen friends who are cog sci majors whom I could connect you with (just DM me) and they all have very positive reviews of the department. From what I’ve heard, there are a lot of very strong teacher-professors int hat department, who conduct innovative research but also excel at teaching (something I didn’t find as much in the Physics dept). I am taking my first cog sci class in the fall of my sophomore year, so maybe I’ll see your daughter in it :slight_smile:

@Emsmom1 No problem! Feel free to message me if you’d like to chat further :slight_smile:

@Emsmom1 I also found these links from a post in an Oxy thread about political diversity – the articles might be helpful to you:

@dhume98 thanks very much - I will DM you!

Oh another question I thought of: I see that students are expected to live on campus for three years - but they can petition to live off campus their third year which may or may not succeed, is that right? How many juniors do ask to live off campus and are most successful if they do?

@CAtransplant Responded to your DM :slight_smile: Regarding your question about living on campus, I have no idea. I know that fewer students are choosing to live on campus in the recent years, due to the improved housing facilities (the new apartment-style Berkus Hall is quite close to the lively York boulevard and was constructed in 2013) but I would imagine that a fair number choose to room together in a house near campus.

Thank you for offering to share your Occidental experience. What was your and some of your classmates experience of being admitted into Oxy? What made you choose Oxy over Grinnell? Do you know how much financial aid Oxy awards? Thank you!

Hi @NWmom00! Sorry for the late response :slight_smile: Oxy ended up being slightly cheaper (I received generous merit at both) and despite Grinnell’s better facilities (and marginally better reputation in academia), I decided I didn’t want to be in the middle of a very conservative town in the middle of central Iowa. Oxy is very generous with financial aid – most of my friends wouldn’t be here without substantial aid, and many chose Oxy over very selective schools (Ivy Leagues, UChicago, etc.) due to better financial packages.

However, I’ve also heard that fin aid can be a toss-up at Oxy. Some people get much less aid than they should get, and the endowment isn’t particularly large, so Oxy can’t throw out a huge amount of money to entice students to attend. Feel free to DM me for specific info :slight_smile:

You mentioned that you were interested in Comp Sci. I’m a CS guy myself, and I was wondering what your impression of the CS program is there. Thanks for doing this!

Hey @iiCapn! It’s not as strong as it could be, but improving quickly. Right now it’s more of an outgrowth from the very strong cog sci department. There is no CS major yet, but a very high chance that it will exist by the end of my sophomore year (I’m a first-year right now). There are 5 CS courses offered next semester and 17 courses in the full catalog. Students can historically supplement their course load at Caltech, but there should be enough courses in the coming year or so to fill out a fill CS major at Oxy.

My academic interests are more interdisciplinary, so I think I’ll approach a cog sci major from a more computational standpoint (but also take philosophy and linguistics courses). But who knows – maybe I’ll end up double majoring in comp sci or crafting my own major which mixes both together.

However, you can supplement the more programming-based CS courses (although there are also data structures & algorithms courses) with the more theoretical and big-picturesl Cog Sci courses, which include subjects like brain-computer interfaces, AI, etc.