Occidental College is a lovely and clean little campus 8 miles north of Los Angeles, California. Occidental is in a suburban neighborhood of tree-lined streets, well-kept and charming middle class homes, and local businesses. There is a slightly urban feel to the neighborhood, which seems very accessible and convenient.
Just over 2100 students attend Occidental. Representing 42 states and 26 foreign countries, they make up the third most diverse nationally ranked liberal arts college, according to US News and World Report. Fifty-six percent come from outside California. Fifty-five percent are women and 45% are male. Students are required to live on campus the first three years. They are guaranteed housing all four years. Eighty percent of students live on campus in 13 residential halls. Freshmen live in all freshman dorms. The room that was showcased on the tour was a double that had been converted to a triple. The dorms showed signs of the weekend with a smell of beer and Febreze. They were fine, but not luxurious by any standards. Occidental is not a commuter campus. Most students remain in town on weekends. However, there is not a great deal going on on-campus, according to a student. She said that students are much better off when they have a car to access LA and Pasadena, or a friend with a car. She said that on the weekends, students mainly study or just hang out in their dorms. The campus is lovely, but there is not a lot of energy on the campus. No students were seen until around 11am, and even then there just wasn’t a lot of energy. We couldn’t get a cup of coffee until 8am, and they didn’t have artificial sweetener. So it’s a rugged campus.
Freshmen are assigned housing so that they will live in the same dorm and close to all the other students in their same Cultural Studies seminar. This seminar class is required for all freshmen. It is a writing-intensive class that is capped at 16 students and that gives new students the opportunity to delve into critical analysis and examination of human culture from multiple perspectives. Freshmen all also take a global issues seminar in the spring that is team taught by a colloquium that emphasizes research-based writing.
Occidental offers 31 majors across 40 departments and programs. There is a core curriculum at Occidental. True to its mission of preparing students for a complex, interdependent, and pluralistic world, the core is focused on global literacy. Students choose three geographic areas and take 3 courses in each. Each course must represent a specific time period in that geographical area. There are also a few requirements in the natural sciences and foreign language. Occidental is clearly a school that focuses its liberal arts curriculum on the study of other cultures.
The learning at Occidental is discussion and research based. It seems that most of the research happens in the summer. In the past 6 years, 680 students have participated in summer research. Is that 15% of the student population? There is also the Undergraduate Research Center, which helps students connect with research during the school year. Small grants, from $50- $300, are available to help fund this research. Occidental is proud of the “Off Campus” programs it offers students as well. The venues for this type of learning are as follows: Study abroad; Richter Fellowships that fund 4-12 week summer research abroad; the Oxy-and-the-United-Nations internship which is open to seniors in their fall semester; the “Campaign Semester” which offers full academic credit for work on a Senate, House or Presidential campaign throughout the US; and Disaster Politics which is a community-based learning opportunity in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Award. Students frequently get internships in the LA area.
Occidental has several exchange programs with neighboring colleges. There is a 3:2 liberal arts/engineering program with Caltech. Another exchange program between Occidental and Caltech permits full-time students at either school to receive credit for courses taken at the other institution during the fall or spring semesters but not during the summer. The option does not apply to courses that are equivalent to those offered by the home institution but is designed to enlarge the range of course offerings a student may take. Thus, Occidental students may enroll in such courses as applied science, astronomy, or engineering. Students can also participate in an exchange program at the Art Center College of Design. There’s a highly competitive program with Columbia School of Law. There’s also a track that leads to a masters degree in science from the Keck Graduate Institute, which is one of the 7 campuses in the Claremont Consortium.
Occidental has a theater department that welcomes auditions but doesn’t require them. They share their symphony orchestra with Caltech. There are pre-professional programs in pre-health and pre-law as well as a career development center.
Occidental addresses learning disabilities and provides accommodations with appropriate documentation. The Center for Academic Excellence provides writing and discipline specific help as well as workshops on study skills.
The admissions office was pretty unfriendly. The tour guide was self-conscious.
For the class of 2016 the overall acceptance rate was 39%. Most are in the top 20% of their graduating classes.
These stats are for enrolled students.
The median GPA is 3.67 unweighted.
Mid Range Scores
Freshman retention rate: 94%
4 year graduation rate: 80.7%
The 2012-13 cost-of-attendance was $60,633.
Occidental meets almost all of demonstrated financial need. The average is 100%, but not quite 100% of students with need are awarded aid. They do not report being need-blind in admission. Occidental offers merit awards to 17% of students with no need. The average award is $9,500. Also 14% of need recipients also get merit awards.