Kenyon vs. Oberlin vs. Franklin & Marshall for Undecided please help me decide!

Hi! I am from the Bay Area in California, and I applied to 35 schools with an undecided major. I don’t know what I want to do after college, so a broad, liberal arts education appeals to me. (I’ll most likely end up majoring in a humanities-related subject and maybe go to graduate/law school?) I’ve visited all of the schools listed–and then some. I prefer a smaller school where most students live on campus all four years. I also prefer a campus where students are friendly and eager to collaborate, rather than compete.

I am multi-racial and have pretty liberal political ideologies. As for extracurriculars, I play softball and love to volunteer. I’m used to having easy access to organizations addressing unhoused populations, food insecurity, prisoners’ rights, etc., so that would be nice to have. I don’t mind some partying and wouldn’t choose a subfree dorm, but I don’t want a huge Greek system or to be in an environment where frequent partying is required to fit in socially.

I’m looking for any experiences with these schools, thoughts on these schools compared to one another, if the cost is worth it, etc. Or just any advice :relaxed:

Kenyon College

KEEP (Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program) late Jun. – Aug. for students from underrepresented/disadvantaged backgrounds. Take courses, meet peers, service-oriented activities. Includes scholarship ($5,000) and first year book allowance ($500), and removes loans and work-study from aid package, but I think I could request to take out loans.

Estimated COA: $76,620
After aid: $56,849


  • spot on softball team
  • stunning campus
  • nice outdoor areas to explore/exercise in


  • middle of nowhere (windy roads, confederate flags…)
  • expensive
  • Greek life (though not like at a UC…)
  • less economic and racial diversity


Estimated COA: $78,598
After aid: $49,099
Work-study: $2,700


  • spot on softball team
  • family members in Cleveland
  • off of freeway/main road


  • kind of middle of nowhere?
  • too politically active? (is that a thing?)
  • I would probably like it more if I played an instrument or could be involved in the conservatory. I took band from 4th to 10th grade (trumpet, horn, tuba). I’m sure there are opportunities to learn (guitar, piano), which I would be interested in pursuing!

Franklin and Marshall

Expected COA: $75,712
After aid: $35,632
Work-study: $1,900


  • LOVE the area & close to Philadelphia
  • relatively close to family in NJ


  • larger Greek system
  • no spot on softball team

Oberlin has a long history of welcoming multi-racial people. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad. But Franklin & Marshall is a fine school and I don’t see how either of the other schools are worth the extra cost.

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Three great choices, there is no “bad” decision here!

As the parent of a D3 athlete, since you have a roster spot at Kenyon and Oberlin but not F&M, the first question I would ask is – what are your priorities regarding the continued role of your sport in your college experience? Is it a nice add on? Or is it essential to your vision of your college experience? (Again, no right answer here, just what is right for you). The related question then is – what role do finances play? If a family can easily pay the difference between Kenyon and F&M, without loans or worrying about retirement saving, etc., then okay. But for many families, that difference in cost matters.

If you are committed to continuing your sport, then the larger size, proximity to family in Cleveland, no greek life (as at Kenyon and F&M) and lower cost of Oberlin makes it sound like the better choice.

But if continuing to play your sport is nice but not essential, then I wouldn’t hesitate to go to F&M for $25k per year less than Kenyon and $20k less than Oberlin. F&M has been working to build community through the dorms and residence life and to de-emphasize greek life.


Yes, I agree, it depends on how important softball is to you. I’d say Oberlin sounds like the best fit overall, based on your social justice interests and desire for a lack of Greek life. You don’t list any pros about Franklin and Marshall itself, which is concerning - even though you love the area, could you see yourself going to school there when you visited?

I know it’s very late in the game at this point, but have you reached out to appeal your financial aid awards at either Kenyon or Oberlin? I think there’s a possibility they would come down, maybe not to the Franklin and Marshall level, but far enough that you could justify the cost if sports and the atmosphere are more appealing to you.

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Oberlin would be my recommendation based on the criteria you listed here, provided the cost differential isn’t a deal breaker for your family.

Agree that Oberlin seems like it would be the best fit. As far as F&M’s proximity to Philly…it is a good 90 minutes by car or bus. Consider how often you would actually make the trip.

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And Baltimore and DC are almost closer to F&M than Philly is TBH.

I also would say Oberlin would likely be your best choice if you can swing the finances. Greek life is fairly big at F&M. There are many kinds of students there, and lots international students (Covid likely affected this though) but overall a fairly preppy vibe.

I visited F&M with my D In the fall of 2019. When we were there, there were large, in-your-face protests about racially-insensitive actions of some fraternity boys (I.e. coolie hat costumes, and some hate graffiti left on some student’s doors) and student perceptions that admin had not responded forcefully or effectively enough about this and other general diversity issues. My D, who is Asian, was a little shaken up by this…both by the very loud protests themselves (she had never experienced anything like this) and of course by whatever had inspired the need for the protests to begin with. The whole Intro to the college talk had been replaced by a panel of students of color discussing diversity issues at the school (a couple were mostly positive, though saying there was room for improvement, while another student was quite bitter. I will say that the students protesting appeared to be a thorough mix of white/students of color which seemed to be a good sign of solidarity among students. Also, the very fact that the protests were occuring could be a healthy sign that problems were out on the open and change occuring (as opposed to a stagnant place where problems are festering under the surface). My D still kept F&M on her list… but she ultimately chose another school she liked better for other reasons. I hope this is not a deal-breaker in and of itself… (we liked a lot about the school…(the freshman house system is pretty great) but take it as one more data point in making your decision. Good luck!

@mamaedefamilia ? Can you help wrt Oberlin?

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From how you describe your preferences, it looks like you prefer Oberlin for fit and F&M for cost. I don’t see how Kenyon provides an advantage over Oberlin, other than the summer transition program. BTW, Gambier, OH is tiny. Really tiny.

I have a kid who is a senior at Oberlin. It is not “too political.” Most of her friends are kind and idealistic, not in-your-face SJWs who do nothing but protest. But if you are looking for folks who care about food and housing security and prisoners’ rights, you won’t have trouble finding them. You also will not feel out of place if you are not a musician. The town is kind of Main Street, USA, with art galleries, vintage shops, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars, and a movie theater. It’s integrated with campus via a large park called Tappan Square. Cleveland is pretty easy to access. It is fairly diverse and very inclusive. A good amount of students come from CA and from the NJ-Boston corridor.

If the cost is too much for your family, you could probably find your people at F&M.

To echo @Midwestmomofboys - how important is your sport to you?

Good luck!

Hello everyone! Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses; I so appreciate your input! I should’ve mentioned that when I wrote this, I was leaning towards Kenyon. I got the impression that the Kenyon student body was a good middle-ground with regard to preppiness and social justice involvement. I’ve talked with a few students who transferred out of Oberlin because the pressure to be politically involved was too intense for them. I also got the sense that the Greek life presence at Kenyon is minor (I think there’s only one major organization and the rest are local).

Softball is important to me because it provides immediate community, a structured schedule, regular exercise, and travel (so I wouldn’t always be in Gambier or Oberlin). I think it would be beneficial for my mental and physical health.

Franklin and Marshall is my last choice out of the three, but I’m worried about my mom borrowing so much money. I should also add that I am waitlisted at Wellesley and Grinnell. It’s so complicated, but I love hearing everyone’s thoughts. Thanks again!

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My daughter was acccepted at both Kenyon and Oberlin. From the sound of your post, I agree with those who suggest Oberlin would be the better fit. BUT, if you are on the waitlist for Wellesley, I would consider this your “even better” fit if you are able to come off the waitlist. My daughter ended up there, as an athlete, and had the time of her life. The Athletics department can’t be beat and the sense of community on campus is unparalled.

My daughter is finishing her first year at Kenyon, and she absolutely loves it (she chose it over Oberlin, Grinnell and Macalester last year, among others–but Kenyon also happened to be a little less expensive for us than the other three). You’re right about the Greek life not dominating the campus culture at Kenyon. My daughter is not into Greek life at all; in fact, Kenyon was the only college with Greek life on her list, and it didn’t end up being a problem (she said, other than getting some emails about it, she didn’t feel its presence very much).

She’s also a humanities person (declared History as her major, also enjoys foreign languages, literature, and theater). She loves all her courses and professors. Since you mentioned music, there are opportunities for various ensembles and private lessons: my daughter played in the wind symphony in the fall and continues with piano throughout the year, even when being remote in the spring. She made a great group of friends very quickly and finds the community there to be very warm and supportive. Was involved in the freshman theater club this semester–there’s a lot going on campus, she has been very busy even during this unusual year.

This being said, our financial situation was a little different, with Kenyon being less expensive than Oberlin (which we liked a lot, too). But if the money is not a huge issue, I have only great things to say about Kenyon.

I would also add that Kenyon is very liberal, according to my daughter. There’s some racial diversity, although not huge; a couple of her friends are biracial.

35 schools - I like your style!! My kid thinks I’m insane for 21!! Congrats to you and your efforts.

F&M is D3 and I see they have a team - so if you are on the team at Kenyon and Oberlin, why not F&M? Can you try out once you are there. What did the coach say? Why wouldn’t they at least let you try out? Is there an adult competitive rec league in Lancaster. They have co-ed

Adult Sports – Lancaster Rec – Competitive Adult Teams

The cost differential is huge. The other thing is you mentioned confederate flags. Truth is, you can see them anywhere - North, South, East, West. I live in TN - and it bothers the heck out of me. It’s always on your mind - you see it on homes, trucks, buildings, etc. You’ll mostly be on campus so probably won’t experience that as much as you think but when you’re in and of school, you might see it. It is less likely but could happen further North and in PA as well.

Just based on $, I’d say F&M - especially if you are unsure of major. If you were leaning English/Writing, I could see the other two.

Your mother is borrowing money?


Just to be clear–I’m not suggesting Kenyon is necessarily worth the extra cost, I was just sharing our very positive experience with the school. Everybody’s financial situation is different. Most of my daughter’s choices were more similar than different, and we had a budget, so money was one of the important factors for us.

How much is your mother planning to borrow?

How much can your family afford without borrowing?

Are any of these schools actually affordable without more than $27k debt (which is the max YOU can take out)?

For an undecided major with an undecided career path and possible prof/grad school on the horizon… I’d suggest you need to look cold and hard at the financials rather than parsing relatively small differences in ‘fit’.

I say all this with the utmost kindness as a parent who had to radically limit their children’s choices of college due to our budget. But I’m so glad I did for our financial wellbeing - and the kids are thriving where they ended up.


We did the same, so our daughter had to apply to our state flagship and only those LACs that give merit (but she liked them, so it wasn’t hard). I missed the reference to borrowing in OP’s post.


Most definitely NOT F & M. I think Oberlin sounds like a good fit for you. Yes, there are activists type people, but not everyone is out marching in the streets.