Help us choose- Oberlin, Kalamazoo College, etc.- unique circumstances

We’re trying to narrow down college choices, but would like some input because we have fairly unique circumstances.

We live in Kalamazoo, Michigan where we are lucky enough to receive The Kalamazoo Promise, which is free tuition to any public or private in-state college or university. Because my son only went to public school for high school, he is eligible for 65% of tuition.

He’s been admitted to both Kalamazoo College and Oberlin, was deferred at U of M, and was also admitted at some other schools he isn’t planning to attend (Michigan State Honors College, etc). He’s waiting to hear from Kenyon, Wesleyan, Reed, NYU and U of M.

He’s an intellectual, liberal kid, and is most interested in small liberal arts colleges. He plans to study writing- English or journalism, and possibly film, specifically documentary film making.

He’s been the editor of his school newspaper for 2 years, on staff all 4 years, and he has a 4.2 weighted, 3.9 unweighted with 1410 SAT’s (took once). He’s very social in an artsy and musical teen scene locally, and has a passion for music, particularly writing about music. He does play the guitar and dabbles in a few other instruments, but definitely not conservatory level.

In addition to the Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo College gave him enough merit to make him whole on tuition, so we would only be responsible for room and board. He was admitted today to Oberlin, and they gave him a merit scholarship that would make our family contribution about $50,000 annually. U of M would be about the same as K College because of the lower cost of a public institution. I think both K and U of M are about $18,000/year total for us when counting the Promise Scholarship.

We’ve saved about $100,000 per kid for college that goes towards whatever the Promise doesn’t cover. Our daughter is less academically ambitious, so an in-state school will likely be fine. We can afford some additional out of pocket each year, but an additional $27,000 for Oberlin would definitely affect our lifestyle.

My son is supremely practical and likes the idea of graduation debt free and struggles to see the value that Oberlin would offer for the additional $27,000. He loves Oberlin though, and it definitely felt like his kind of place on our all day visit. Their unique arts offerings (musical concerts) are very interesting to him. We also loved their film program, it felt much grittier and more hands-on than the U of M program.

Also, obviously, Kalamazoo College is in our hometown. He seems like a young person ready for an adventure, so I’m hesitant for him to stay here (although he would live on campus). He also has several friends at K College.

The reason he is interested in the small liberal arts colleges is because of the open curricula they offer. He is very interested in deep learning, not hoop jumping for distributional requirements at a large university. If he goes to U of M, he would likely join the residential college to make the experience more intimate. He also loves Ann Arbor. Their film program felt kind of bland to me, but I’m sure the alumni connections would be great.

Lastly, for those familiar with the book, The Alumni Factor, graduates of Kalamazoo College are highly satisfied, while those at Oberlin aren’t overly satisfied.

So, is Oberlin worth the extra $27,000 a year for my particular kid? Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

I forgot to mention that K College doesn’t have a film program, although it has film courses.

I think Kenyon could be a great match for your son’s interests and they can be generous with aid. Hopefully the decisions come in the next few days.


Of the two and a kid who wants to be a writer or in film K - College.

Now Oberlin the stronger choice but not for $100k with those majors.

You can purposely not see your son so it’s like he went away to school. He’ll need mom and dads support… hence the $100k savings…when he’s struggling to find or are in low paying internships and jobs.

Those majors are difficult no matter the school.

UM…if he wants small…while prestigious but is it right for him ?

Congrats. Free tuition is awesome.

Good luck to him.

I was just going to suggest that you should wait for all the results. For my daughter (high school class of 2020) Kenyon ended up being 10K less than Oberlin; Oberlin gave her a larger merit scholarship, but Kenyon calculated our need more generously.


I would also wait for all the decisions. Agree too that Oberlin sounds like too much of a financial strain.

I would also encourage your S to compare covid policies among his acceptances. I don’t know if he wants relatively more or less restrictive, but oberlin has been among the most restrictive LACs. Currently masks are required everywhere indoors with the exception of one’s own room. Dining has been in person only since Mar 7 ( grab and go only prior to that), and is still restricted capacity. Just another factor to consider when analyzing pros and cons of each of his schools.

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Michigan State Honors College may be worth more serious consideration as your son’s current options all have significant weaknesses.


Can you say more?

The extra 100k is only worth it if he’s absolutely over the moon with the opportunity; there are few such passages in life: a high standardized test score, a great job, your offer gets accepted for that first house. Those are goosebump moments. If Oberlin isn’t giving him goosebumps, give it a pass. The question is whether it’s worth waiting for the others?


I would also consider putting MSU back on the list. I don’t think that there are any requirements to “hoop jump” to fulfill core requirements. Some my try to minimize their displeasure with core requirements. Someone that is interested in deep learning usually has no issues with the requirements because they are of actual interest to them.


I’m curious why Michigan State Honors is not being considered. What are the reasons?


He isn’t, for example, looking to get out of math. He just has so many interests that he wants to pursue them to the best of his ability. Like, take as many of his passion subjects as possible. I personally went to a large state school (IU) and really do feel like all the random requirements can be a distraction. Not necessarily deal breaker though.

His socks just weren’t knocked off by MSU. We toured RCAH (residential college) and like it. He was admitted to the Honors college without application to it, so we don’t know much about it. Do you have opinions about it? I’d love to know, if so.

But that has nothing to do with the size of the university. It has to do with the concept of a liberal arts education. An LAC doesn’t get you out of gen eds. A professional degree may.


I think we’ll wait for the others, but I anticipate the packages at schools similar to Oberlin to be about the same, so I feel like we’re sort of choosing between the 3 I mentioned. I could definitely be wrong though. That’s why I’m asking here, I don’t have tons of knowledge about the process.

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I don’t have recent personal experience with Michigan State honors, but there are others on this forum who do! Hoping they speak up!

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K College has no Gen Ed requirements aside from freshman seminar, and I think that Oberlin doesn’t have them either.

I just realized I did some fuzzy math. I meant $25,000, as in, the difference between the $50,000/ year family contribution and the $25,000 we’ve saved. Obviously, there’s an even greater difference between Oberlin and K or U of M.

This tells me that the budget is $100k for your son’s college, perhaps a bit more if you were planning of paying out of your current expenses. Just because your daughter may not be as academically ambitious does not mean that she may not want or need to have the same flexibility in choosing a college that a $100k budget would offer. Providing uneven opportunities, especially if you have indicated to both children their expected college budgets, can lead to a lot of family strife.

Kalamazoo falls within the budget. Oberlin most definitely does not. It’s as though you’re looking at rings and one is pretty but there’s a different one that’s bigger and shinier but double your budget. You might like the bigger and shinier one, but if you can’t afford it, you get the pretty one that’s within your price range.

It sounds as though you might want to investigate Michigan State and its honors program some more. There are often some very nice perks with an honors college like a nice dorm, priority registration, special programs, etc. I would at least learn more about it before nixing the university from your list.

If you’re debating about Kalamazoo since it’s in his hometown, you may want to read this thread: Going to college in one's own hometown?

Also, your son doesn’t need to decide until May 1 and he still has responses pending from several colleges. Wait and see how everything shakes out in the end.

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Oberlin does. They can be found here.