Oberlin's known for being quite liberal - and that showed. From man buns to an all-sex system for bathroom usage in dormitories, the school definitely inspires a tree hugger type feeling that you get when walking across the better known UC Berkeley (Cal). But, there's a more casual feel to the culture as compared to schools like BU, Tufts, Middlebury, Amherst. It's similar to how ballet dancers, perfect and tidy during performances, wearing gritty, ripped clothing during practice. Perhaps in the perfection of performance, Obies (as they call themselves) turn to a grittier, more laid back version of themselves as they walk through campus.
The school is composed of 2 schools - liberal arts & conservatory. I do believe that the conservatory's culture spills over into the rest of the school's culture. The tour guide even said that although she was a violinist, her goals weren't to pursue music in college, but wanted to be around performance (and she will be minoring in dance). However, from conversations with students and actions of the students at graduation - there is a clear differentiation of the two programs. As there were only about 700 graduates total, each name was announced. The conservatory was first - and not too long after the completion of the dual degree students, the conservatory students began to leave their seats. Ok - 3 hour long graduation, I'd be tempted, too! But, if one of my best friends was in the liberal arts college - I'd stay put and get ready to cheer for him/her. This was telling for me. Not in a negative way, but to share with prospective students that the two are separate entities and with as much muddling there is between them, there is still a clear divide between conservatory and liberal arts students. It all makes sense - you'd be spending a lot more time in classes with those in the same school.
Overall, Oberlin has an excellent academic reputation. Some of the newer buildings are LEED certified, the spaces are beautiful, the campus inviting. For the right student, what an awesome undergraduate experience! I would heavily consider the liberal arts school if you fit into the following categories:
- Progressive & social justice minded - most students are quite liberal
- Interest in environmental studies or ridiculously talented in music (they have excellent programs in both)
- Enjoy performing or can really appreciate performances
- Love a culture that is more relaxed in dress and appearance
- Looking for a smaller school and fit most of the above points
- The campus houses the most Steinway pianos outside of the Steinway factory
- Finney Chapel has an amazing organ
- Instead of eating clubs or Greek life, they have co-ops for living/food - a good chunk of which slant toward vegetarian and vegan diets
- Historically part of the underground railrod