UC Berkeley vs Oberlin [undecided, most likely humanities]

My daughter has narrowed her search down to 2 colleges - Oberlin vs UC Berkeley. She’s torn as has visited both campuses and can see pluses and minuses of both. She grew up in London and LA so is used to city life. Coming from a small high school I think she finds the idea of such a big college daunting initially but can also see the potential/advantages. That said, she also likes the idea of the nurturing smaller LAC experience. So like I said, she’s torn! I’m curious to know how LA kids have found Ohio winters. Whether Oberlin can feel small/claustrophobic after a while? How well the experience of both prepares students for life after college (access to internships/work skills/career counseling - she’s not got a fixed plan/path of what she wants to do)? How are the respective alumnae networks? Also, how overwhelming are the academics at Cal? She’s an artsy kid, reserved initially but sociable and keen to have decent work/life balance after a high school experience that was dented by covid shutdowns. Not planning on Greek life. Most likely a humanities major but undecided. Maybe a visual arts minor. Also wondering about the Fall Freshman Program if she goes to Cal. Just trying to get as much feedback on those two options as possible to feed into the decision making. Thank you!

Most students I know who went from a warm to cold climate love the winters (Hawaii, Florida, Arizona.) Sure, it’s cold. But seasons are nice. I’m from LA myself and would never live there again, boring weather being just one reason.

Most people here know I am Team LAC, so I am biased. UC Berkeley is, without question, going to have huge classes. And I mean huge as in 1000 students is not unheard of. Getting to know professors, at least early on, will be extremely difficult, while at Oberlin, she will get to know professors right away. Professors are very important for recommendations and opportunities.

There’s an article somewhere about the growing pains at Cal and that it’s expanding too fast with resulting overcrowding issues, both in class sizes and living situations.

Now, of course not all classes will have 1000 students, but there is no chance of anything remotely close to that at Oberlin. My kid attended a college not dissimilar to Oberlin and her largest class ever was 60. @mamaedefamilia had a child at Oberlin and might have more insight. The culture at Oberlin is not going to be a competitive as that at Cal, and she won’t be competing against thousands of other kids for access to professors, internships, or jobs.

Oberlin has had its own problems lately, especially in regards to the recent lawsuit against it. So look at the problems both colleges have if you want to know the cons before making a decision. Both colleges are well respected and Oberlin, despite its recent controversy, is known for intellectually curious and interesting students, who are also interested in larger issues beyond their bubble. I’m sure there are plenty of kids like that at Cal too.

I think the old adage of big fish/little pond/little fish/big pond/little fish/little pond/big fish/big pond can be a good way of thinking about these two very different experiences. What kind of fish is she, and what kind of pond does she like? Personally, if my kid wasn’t feeling confident about the big pond, I’d steer her towards the little one. Less likely to get lost.

Edit: @Biniadams another thought I posted on a different thread in regards to my son who attends a public university— “The professors are the problem. They are mostly interested in research and not teaching. Many of his classes are taught by grad students, primarily those classes for his major.”

One important difference is that professors at LACs are focused on undergrads. They are not there primarily for research. This a large part of why students at LACs very often have a better class experience and certainly why they know their professors well. Cal is a big research Uni and there is no question that TAs will be teaching her classes at some point. Maybe the prof will be there too, but she will probably spend more time with the TA than the prof.


I don’t have a way to prove it, but I would put the academics at Oberlin at to slightly above CAL. Especially for a humanities type major.


I think you’re right. The difference will probably lie in the college environment itself, where smaller classes will be more conducive to interaction between students/students and students/professors. Both will be rigorous, but the rigor at Oberlin might be more “enjoyable” than the rigor at Cal. This certainly has proven to be the case for my child who attended a rigorous LAC and my child currently at a rigorous public U.

My daughter recently chose between UCLA and Kenyon and i posed a similar question. It started a great thread in which many helpful people talked about the big vs small of those two places. They have some obvious parallels to Cal and Oberlin so maybe it will help you.

My daughter chose UCLA. I was taken by Kenyon and she really liked it on her visit, but on Bruin Day at UCLA, she LOVED UCLA. She knows she’s going to learn to hustle and is looking forward to the challenge.

As a Bay Area resident, we have been to Cal a few times and it was our first official college tour when my daughter was a sophomore. She loved it. Great campus, fun surrounding area. People’s Park and a few blocks of Telegraph definitely have a homeless population. But there’s so much happening that it isn’t a defining characteristic of the Cal experience at all. Housing in the area is pretty insane. Friends kids have paid ridiculous amounts of money for crappy shared rooms, but also, no one seems to mind. A good friend’s daughter loved her time at Cal, graduated last year. She was in the triathlete club, a cognitive science club. Cal does have NIMBY problems, as made national headlines a few months ago but it’s worth seeking out other parents to see what’s really happening.

My daughter’s boyfriend’s sister graduated from Oberlin last year and she also had a great experience. Her advice to my daughter with choosing a liberal arts college was to really try to get to know who your classmates are, because they are going to be all you have for a social life and friendships in an isolated location. Follow the Class of 2026 pages, read the bios, look at the pics, DM them. Are they people you can imagine being around for the next 4 years?

Good luck! Great choices to have!

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UCB’s career survey results are at First Destination Survey | Career Center . Note that they can be filtered by major (which has a significant effect on major-related job and career prospects).

Oberlin’s career survey results are at Oberlin College Initial Career Outcomes | Oberlin College and Conservatory , but does not have a breakdown by major.

College Scorecard also has some information about post-graduation outcomes for each college by major, although there may be insufficient data for small majors or many majors at small colleges.

It is a special extension program with limited frosh-level course offerings for students formally admitted to start in the spring semester. While offerings are more limited, some of them do have smaller class sizes than the same courses on the regular main campus. Course Offerings | Fall Program for Freshmen

Specific classes and sizes can be found at https://classes.berkeley.edu/ . Size of classes does depend on the subject (popular majors like CS tend to have bigger classes) and level (upper level classes tend to be smaller).


I wouldn’t describe Oberlin as isolated. It’s not in a city, but it’s a real town and just over 30 minutes from Cleveland.

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Might be in the eye of the beholder. :slight_smile: However, in this context, his sister was referring to the fact that social life takes place on campus, getting to Cleveland is a hassle without a car, and so in a small school, it’s important to like the people around you because they are going to be your social life. This isn’t a dig. She had a great time. But there are obvious differences in location and opportunity for life outside the walls of campus.

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Thank you and yes good suggestion - she can do a deep dive into the admitted student Instagram

Many thanks - really helpful getting feedback from people who’ve experienced these choices/different options.

Thank you - just headed back to la from East coast college visits -I shall dig into these on the plane!

My son is currently freshman at Cal. He so far has great experience there. We are also from LA area and decided between Cal and UCLA last year and he finally picked Cal. I have read a lot about huge class sizes at Cal on this forum but that’ really depends. It really depends on your major and department and if you are able to waive general Ed’s with your AP. As for housing, he already found outside housing with reasonable prices for next year and he is the kind of person who doesn’t want to live at the dorm for the rest of his college years even if he has the options for the dorm. But if your kid prefers to live at dorm for all four years, then Cal may not be the good choice. And of course at big schools like Cal, no one is going to hold your hands. You need to learn how to reach out and how to ask people help. My son does become more mature. He was able to find outside housing without any of our help.

For a more intimate four-year housing experience at Berkeley, have her apply to Bowles Hall https://www.bowleshall.org/apply But, decisions don’t come out until after the commitment date, unfortunately.

I don’t think either school is objectively better than the other, for an undergrad humanities major; just very different experiences. I think studying abroad goes a long way toward relieving small-school cabin fever, and there are many pluses to the LAC experience.

If you were OOS, considering paying the OOS price for Cal, I’d weigh in harder in favor of Oberlin… but for the in-state price it’s more of a toss-up and really depends on the kid.


A factor that has not been clearly noted: does cost differ or matter?

Something else to consider is to have the student go through the catalogs of both schools and see how interesting the course offerings are in subjects of potential major.

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My son goes to Cal, graduating this semester, and all his courses have been taught be professors. And only one prof was not really good to amazing, according to him. The discussion sections are all taught by the grad students. It is true though that the lower level courses can be VERY large.

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Even though your daughter can see herself at either place which is good, these colleges are so different wrt to the campus feel, teaching style, demographics, location (CA and OH differences), social activities, that usually someone has a good idea on where they would fit in better. Assuming affordability is the same as others have mentioned, I would lean to Berkeley because if your daughter is truly undecided, UCB has a lot more majors to explore, especially if it’s in STEM.

Thank you! She’s a humanities student most likely, but will try and chat through all of those above criteria that will be different with her

That’s good to know

Hi, I don’t know if this helps, but my brother is currently at Berkeley and I am probably going to Oberlin so I have like a somewhat brief idea of what both schools are like. I think one major con about Berkeley is its resources for undergrad students. From what I’ve learned, my brother had a very difficult time getting the classes he wants and cus there were so many students there, he couldn’t really get much help from faculties or advisors. I think he almost couldn’t pursue the major he wanted or something like that. He also described all his current classes to be mediocre, mainly cus they’re intro classes taught by TAs. But, he is having a great time socially and enjoys his time there. Things will most likely be much better once he becomes a junior/senior when it comes to class registration.


Is there an update @Biniadams ?