April 22, 2011 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Grinnell or Oberlin?

Younger relative is choosing between the two. Wants to run track and go to med school. Pros & Cons of each?
posted by leotrotsky to Education (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Has said relative visited both schools? I was able to cross out some schools from inside information received from professors and students there about the department I was curious about as well as outward attitudes by some professors; and I was able to think better of other schools for the same reason.

I'm not familiar with what is good for a person who's looking into medical school, but I know I was excited about potentially attending a school like Grinnell or Oberlin. My best wishes and congratulations to your relative as they make their decision.
posted by SollosQ at 8:25 PM on April 22, 2011

My only information is that I had a friend from high school who went to Grinnell. He lasted one year, became an alcoholic and came home to sell shoes. He chose poorly in colleges because I don't think he realized just how small the town and the school was. We were from a pretty large metropolitan area in the mid-Atlantic. YYRMMV.
posted by Leezie at 8:29 PM on April 22, 2011

This is second-hand, but I have been researching this because our son is a junior this year.

Oberlin is more prestigious than Grinnell. It's #1 on the list of liberal arts colleges that faculty members send their kids to. On the other hand, a friend just told me that her daughter wanted to go there until she visited, and found people there to be dogmatic. (My friend and her daughter are liberal, and Oberlin has a reputation for being very liberal.)

A friend at work attended Grinnell and told me that while he got a good education, the college and town are tiny (as Leezie said), and didn't seem to think my son need include it on his list of possibilities.

College Confidential is an excellent resource for comparisons like this.
posted by lukemeister at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am Oberlin townie! I grew up there, and only just left less than a year ago (I am 21). I have family who are on the faculty. I'd be more than happy to help your relative by giving an in-depth description of the school and what it is like to live there. Memail me if you'd like.
posted by DeltaForce at 8:39 PM on April 22, 2011

am an*
posted by DeltaForce at 8:39 PM on April 22, 2011

Oberlin is somewhat better-known. Both will offer a terrific education. I don't know detailed comparison info between their science offerings. I know one student who went to Oberlin who was able to do publishable science research with a professor which gave him a leg up in admission to science grad programs.

The advice to visit both is excellent. Your relative might also see if s/he can get numbers on med school placements from each, and details of how they handle their pre-med students (what courses do they take, who is the pre-med advisor, how many pre-med students are there usually in each incoming class).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:50 PM on April 22, 2011

"Oberlin is somewhat better-known".

It depends on where you live. Minneapolis has Grinnellians, not Obies. That said, Carlton, Mac, Obie, Grinnell are all variations on a theme. If money is no object, why not suggest the usual course of "visit both, and see what vibe you like". I chose Grinnell over Oberlin myself, so I am biased!

The variation between students (in their ambition, skills, etc.) will probably matter more than which of these top-tier liberal arts schools they attend.
posted by gregglind at 9:00 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

True - it depends which is better known in whatever place your relative wants to go next! I know people who graduated from and loved both schools, so didn't mean to be slagging either.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:28 PM on April 22, 2011

I graduated from Grinnell in 1995. Fantastic experience. I came from Maine and it was a wonderful place to attend college. Feel free to email.
posted by miss tea at 10:02 PM on April 22, 2011

I went to Oberlin! I had a great experience. Small classes, engaged faculty. The students can be overly political at times but they mean well! The arts are amazing--there is at least one musical performance EVERY DAY.
I would strongly suggest, no matter where they go, that they spend a year abroad. Going to a small liberal arts college can get claustrophobic after a while, and study abroad is an amazing opportunity to live in a different country that is very hard to get once you graduate.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:42 PM on April 22, 2011

P.S. Oberlin has a great neuroscience program. No idea what the track program is like, but at a small school it's always easier to get involved in sports if you want to.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:43 PM on April 22, 2011

Both schools are terrific, but Oberlin's hard science research opportunities are better. Congrats to your younger relative.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:20 PM on April 22, 2011

I'm from Ohio, and I chose Grinnell over Oberlin.

That being said, everyone is looking for something different. Your relative reeeeally needs to visit his options before deciding, if at all possible. As soon as I set foot on Oberlin's campus I knew it wasn't for me. The atmosphere was wrong, and the people I met didn't quite mesh with me. Whereas at Grinnell, sitting in on a class and listening to the students, I *knew* I had found my spot.

But gregglind is right. (Hi fellow grinnellian!) They're both part of a larger group of schools that attract the same types of kids. I'm not sure there are many differences you can find as far as typical stats go-- both have small class sizes, liberal attitudes, midwest small towns, etc. I know you've cited an interest in med school, but your relative's major/interests could change over 4 years. I would put more of an emphasis on finding a place that will make him/her feel comfortable than will only serve him/her in an academic sense.

But I do want to address that Grinnell isn't THAT small. Kenyon has it waaaay worse. ;)

feel free to MeMail if you'd like.
posted by elleyebeebeewhy at 11:56 PM on April 22, 2011

I think these two are going to be pretty similar. Oberlin has a marginally better reputation and is probably better known by nonacademics, but there's not much in it between them. Grinnell is pretty well known by anyone in academia, as it produces a lot of academics (like many other small liberal arts schools).

Track/cross-country has a very strong community at Grinnell, and everyone in the program seemed to love it. They've had some pretty good success at nationals over the years, I think.

And Grinnell's science particularly bio/neuro, is very strong. Facilities are very, very good for a small school--the benefit of being, by some measures, the wealthiest college in the country*--with ample opportunities for research. Very good support for study abroad and summer internships, too. All told, it should be good for pre-med.

But yes, do visit both if you can. It's really the only way to tell. And memail me if you want to know more about Grinnell.

*Of course Oberlin's rich, too, so this may not be a good point of differentiation.
posted by col_pogo at 1:34 AM on April 23, 2011

I visited both during my college search and found the visits invaluable. Before trekking to Grinnell, it was my first choice. Although I think that the education I would've received there would have been great, I found the social scene quite drinking-focused and pushy.

The take-home lesson is, make sure your relative visits each (preferably including a stay with a current student!)

--Ms. DeucesHigh
posted by DeucesHigh at 5:07 AM on April 23, 2011

As a Grinnell grad, I've always considered Oberlin a "sibling" school. The students I met there were awesome in their own way and kindred spirits to my compatriots at Grinnell. I don't think you'd go wrong with either school.

That said, Grinnell is the best choice for highly motivated, work-a-holic students. They pride themselves on a true liberal arts education (meaning if your relative is set on med school, they will likely be asked by their advisor to consider taking classes outside the sciences to 'round out' their education, which frankly I think is a good thing!). They are strong in science, but also in music, theater, as well as other academic disciplines like mathmatics.

Although probably less isolated these days, Grinnell is about an hour in either east-west direction from major cities, with Iowa City offering perhaps more than Des Moines would. There is historical animosity from townsfolk, but I've heard this has improved over the years (I, personally, had only isolated incidents of this, more being treated with hostility, but the positive connections I made with Grinnell residents far outweighed this and some lasted beyond my years of studying there). Much of the animosity was to mainly to economic disparity (rural Iowa residents with few economic resources vs. global students, mostly wealthy students at that).

I went to Grinnell sight unseen and was just darn lucky it was life-changing and opened many doors in life. It would be better to visit, make faculty connections, get a sense of the campus, and then make an informed decision. Grinnell students are critical thinkers, think of this as your relative's first step in seeing if they are Grinnell material!!
posted by kuppajava at 7:11 AM on April 23, 2011

I majored in neuroscience at Oberlin, class of '06. I can't compare it to Grinnell, but I can tell you that coursework at Oberlin is considerably more rigorous than what I've seen from students I've tutored at Harvard, Columbia, and NYU. Both the classes and the campus community continually offered opportunities for me to learn and to challenge my pre-conceptions of everything from history to gender to food. When I was in grad school, I was bored out of my skull most of the time because I'd already learned everything we were supposed to be doing at Oberlin.

Athletics at Oberlin are not as highly regarded by the rest of the campus as most other schools, but within the programs there's a really nice sense of community. In my experience, the coaches were really committed to the well-being of their team members.

And outside of athletics is also a wonderful and supportive community. Especially in the co-operatives.

There was SO MUCH to do, all the time. Innumerable theater companies and music ensembles and political advocacy groups and publications to join, and that's not counting the AMAZING professional performances, speakers, and screenings that would travel through every single night of every single week. And for free/cheap!
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2011

Before deciding, I would check to see whether Grinnell has any relationship with the University of Iowa med school as far as internships, job shadowing, summer programs, or whatnot. If so, it's proximity to U of I would definitely be a consideration for me since it's such a highly ranked med school.
posted by BlooPen at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2011

Whichever one is cheaper.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:08 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I taught at both Grinnell and at Oberlin in the past five years. I would echo the sentiments of people here who say they are very similar in character. Here are a few points to consider:

-Rankings: While US News and World Report isn't the end-all-be-all, Grinnell is #18 and Oberlin is #23 of small liberal arts colleges. Among people who have heard of both, Grinnell has a reputation for being more academically rigorous. But this is only a slight variation. More people who aren't in academia on the East Coast have heard of Oberlin than of Grinnell. In the Midwest, Grinnell might be better known. But if you are applying to med schools, that doesn't matter as each has a fine reputation.

-Both have great science departments. Both have new facilities (Grinnell finished a new science building in 2008, Oberlin's was done a little before that, I think). I met more science majors at Grinnell than I did at Oberlin. I taught in a humanities/social science discipline. Both places have a robust undergraduate research program into which they pour a lot of money. A good student would be able to do research with a professor at both places (during the school year and in the summers). Opportunities for publishing (again for really good students) would be available at both.

-Grinnell seemed to have a more proactive medical school admissions system. I was asked to provide letters of reference to the med school admissions committee and they followed up with me about their students--this was for any student I taught that was applying to med school regardless of whether the student themselves would have asked me for a letter of rec. I did not experience this at Oberlin (but maybe I did not know any students applying to med school there).

-As people have noted above, Grinnell is slightly more isolated than Oberlin. The two towns are similar in size, ~10,000. Oberlin is closer to other towns and cities. Grinnell is a solid hour and ten mins to Iowa City. Des Moines (an hour away) is getting more and more interesting every year. I enjoyed living in both places. As a student, I'm not sure that location would have mattered that much to me. I went to a different small liberal arts college myself and didn't leave campus that much, anyway. Both campuses are very nice. Grinnell has better food (imho).

-The students at both places are academically serious and involved in about a million extracurricular things. Stress levels can be high on both campuses. I thought that Grinnell students were a bit more intellectually rigorous than Oberlin students, but the difference is pretty slight. Students from both places can stand among the best students, anywhere.

-The library (both the main library and the science library) is larger at Oberlin. Both science libraries are nice spaces with rooms and tables for collaboration and individual study.

In conclusion, both are great schools with similar offerings and characteristics. Your relative would need to visit both to really see which one is best for him/her. Also, both schools have great non-science offerings as well for when your relative changes his/her mind 14 times and ends up designing an independent major in saving the world! :-)
posted by Librarian2012 at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

As another recent Oberlin alum I can vouch for very strong programs in both the sciences (I was also a neuroscience major) and the arts and humanities.

The deciding factor me going to Oberlin was that I thought the college and the student body both encouraged a really great balance between academics and activities. Most students were genuinely very passionate about their classes and their academics, while also being very active in extracurriculars and organizing fun things to do on campus.

I found that there were lots of opportunities to do things like learn sitar (tell your prospective student to check out Oberlin's Experimental College- or ExCo- offerings) or take a crash course in Ancient Greek (winter term projects) or the films of David Lynch while also having the opportunity to participate in research.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2011

Two of the women I went to vet school with were from Oberlin. They were possibly the smartest and coolest chicas I've known. I would have been thrilled to spend 4 years with a campus full of people like them.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 11:43 AM on April 23, 2011

Whichever one is cheaper.

amen. medical school is EXPENSIVE. i seriously think i'm suffering from chronic, low-grade anxiety just from the amount of debt i'm already in, and knowing how much longer i'll be racking it up and how long it will be until i pay it off. (i'm in my 1st year.) every time i spend money on something, it feels almost physically painful. on top of that there's the anxiety from all the changes going on in healthcare now, and the very real possibility that doctor salaries will drop a lot by the time i'm going to be gainfully employed and paying off my huge loans. i shudder to think how much worse i would be feeling if i had more undergrad debt than i do (i went to a state school.) who knows what things will be like when your relative is at the same point. it's scary to think that med school tuition is at an all time high, at the same time that doctor salaries have a very good chance of dropping a lot in the near future. just something to keep in mind. (to be explicit- my 'cost of attendance' this year was nearly 70K. that's tuition plus living expenses. that's for ONE year. I have three more to go. this is on top of my debt from undergrad. and the whole pile will accumulate interest during my residency, since the salary you get as a resident is too small to really make a dent in it.)

Sorry for the slight derail, I just thought Civil_Disobedient's answer was great and i wanted to elaborate on it. if she's lucky and money isn't an issue, then feel free to disregard.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2011

oops, you didn't specify gender. if he or she is lucky and money isn't an issue.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:59 AM on April 23, 2011

I went to Grinnell. It's a great school and you will meet some of the raddest people ever there, both students and faculty. Nearly everyone I know from Grinnell has gone on to do seriously amazing things.

That said, I never really found my groove there. I think this is a danger with many small colleges: there's often a strong feeling of community in the student body, and it's harder to get by if you don't feel you fit in. The people who go to Grinnell tend to really love it, and for whatever reason, that deep connection didn't materialize for me. I think that's a big reason I'm one of the few Grinnell grads who's not doing something awesome; I wasn't quite comfortable enough to really open up and explore everything the school and its people had to offer. I'd like to emphasize, however, that I am very much in the minority here; I've never met another Grinnellian who didn't wholeheartedly love it.

I visited Carleton, Macalester, and Grinnell all in the same weekend. Before I visited, Carleton was my first choice. After the visit, Macalester was the school I fell in love with. Grinnell didn't feel right to me when I visited, but I went there because they gave me the most generous scholarship. To this day I wonder what would have happened if I'd chosen with my heart instead of my wallet.

So my advice would be to forget how they look on paper, and to the extent that you can afford to, forget the money. Visit and go to the one that feels better. If you are happy where you are, you will create your own good fortune.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Grinnell alum (2007) here. My top choices as a senior were Grinnell and Oberlin. What set apart Grinnell for me was a nice disconnect between the fact that Grinnell is really well-ranked and the fact that Grinnell is in the middle of nowhere and has less name-cred (though I've found as an alum that pretty much everyone involved in small-liberal-arts networks has heard of it and knows it's good). I felt that there was a relative lack of pretension at Grinnell compared to its peer liberal arts colleges. You know you went to a good school, but the amount of times you say "no, not Cornell..." makes you more humble. I liked that it seemed like people went to Grinnell because they liked it, not just for the name. But I do think, in general, that there's a significant overlap of traits in people you'd find either place.

Grinnell has a good track program and I think we did well the years I was there in our conference. I know a lot of alumni in medical school, so I assume it prepares you well. One thing I also really liked about Grinnell as a prospie was that there is only one required class, Tutorial, and even those you can pick from a lot of different themes every year. I didn't realize how rare this was until talking to friends from other colleges. You get encouraged, and most people choose, to take a broad curriculum, but I really liked the atmosphere of it being an individual choice.
posted by nakedmolerats at 3:13 PM on April 23, 2011

Oberlin has the best chairs.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 3:18 PM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

Grinnell's library doesn't have spherical chairs, but their jungle gyms kick ass.

Despite my earlier comment about not really fitting in, this thread is making me wax nostalgic for a lot of things about Grinnell. The library was great, the food was great, the open curriculum was fantastic, there were plenty of off-campus programs to choose from, there was zero pressure to dress or look a certain way, and I already mentioned there were and are some great people there. And even though many of the students are very driven, there's remarkably little competitiveness or academic snobbery. Rather, students are grateful and excited to be among so many others who genuinely enjoy learning.

And yes, people will say "Wow, you're going to Cornell??" Others will assume you're going to some piddly no-name school. But people who have heard of Grinnell regard it highly.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:52 PM on April 23, 2011


Did your family member get to visit Grinnell and Oberlin? Ironically, I thought we'd be visiting Oberlin in early June as part of a college tour, but we're visiting Grinnell instead on this trip.
posted by lukemeister at 1:45 PM on May 9, 2011

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