Cornell: Ithaca, NY; Oberlin, OH; Evanston, IL: During April vacation I visited three colleges, three very different colleges. My first stop was Cornell. Beautiful, striking, overpowering, intense, hilly. The imposing buildings of the Ivy League campus set the tone for studious traditional values. Although once I looked around the school and talked to some of the students, I found more than simply the statuesque facade. I found humor and a love of life among the students. Perhaps they didn’t express their wild side during the week, but after their work was completed, they “cut loose and partied hard,” as one resident put it.
Despite the rich social life awaiting the students, knowledge comes first. I overheard one Cornellian say to an approaching friend, “Don’t come near me! Don’t even talk to me until Thursday! Thursday at 2: 00. My last final, and then you may see me again. I’ll be free!”
Academics seemed important to everybody I talked to on campus. For the most part, the student body seemed to have a purpose, a goal, an ambition.
One of my favorite fun facts about Cornell is that to graduate you must take and pass a swimming test. Not every college can claim that its entire student body will never decline an invitation to a pool party because of lack of ability.
Oberlin. My second college was Oberlin. Although it is known for its music conservatory, Oberlin also houses a college of arts and sciences. The conservatory is incredible. And even though I don’t possess one iota of musical talent, walking through the conservatory was impressive and enlightening. I heard exquisite opera being sung in one practice room, jazz being played in the next, and so on, and so on, through a long hall filled with music. Regal organs were available to whomever wished to try. The Arts &Science college was also impressive in its own right. The most popular major being English, the students seemed very literate and studious. One gets the impression that they quote from books and articles and magazines as often as they can.
As opposed to the five-digit attendance at Cornell, Oberlin has a student body of 3000. This group is quite diverse and energetic despite its size. There are many activities and organizations on campus (which is necessary, considering the town life). Oberlin, Ohio exists for the sole purpose of the college. I found it to be very quaint and limited. According to one English major, “There is a movie theater in town which plays one or two movies about a month later than everybody else, but we don’t mind.” Most students get very involved in campus organizations which include a very large liberal faction and a six-member Republican Club.
The students seemed to love to argue, intellectually, of course, about social and moral issues. They are an opinionated and expressive group who are intent on making a mark on their world. The viewbook for Oberlin has a picture of the earth as seen from outer space with the words, “Do you think one person can make a difference? We do.” Creativity and intelligence run wild at Oberlin which is a blessing, because anything other than continual mental activity would mean boredom.
Northwestern University: My last stop brought me to Evanston, Illinois, and Northwestern University. This school was quite a contrast to Oberlin in that it is right outside of Chicago. To get there from the airport, one must drive through several large suburbs which melt into one another. Evanston, the location of the main campus, is, in and of itself, a small city.
The campus is literally on Lake Michigan with several of its buildings resting on lakefill. A common rumor at Northwestern is that the architects forgot to take into account the weight of the books when building the very modern and resourceful library, and it is sinking into Lake Michigan at the rate of one inch per year. This is not true (or so I am told). Speaking of which, a common joke is that the architects also forgot to take into account the weight of the actors’ egos and the theater is experiencing similar troubles.
Northwestern is known for its participation, actually its losing participation, in the Big Ten Football Conference. The students stand behind their team despite its record, and practically everyone attends the games armed with the chant “That’s all right, that’s OK, you’ll all work for us someday!” True to their cheer, the university is known for its winning academics in a wide range of subjects.
I sat in on a class called “The Analysis and Performance of Literature” which involved presenting works of literature that were never meant to be performed in a theatrical way. It was one of the most interesting classes I had seen in a long time.
All in all, many factors should be considered before a college is chosen. For example, 40% of Northwesterners go Greek while there are no fraternities or sororities at Oberlin. Cornell has the best parts of country life blended into a college town while Northwestern is more of a city school. Both Cornell and Northwestern have graduate schools and therefore another extension of social and academic life. On the other hand, one must be able to have the internal motivation and common sense to know when studying is more important than the frat party on Friday night. n
Review by A. S., Goffstown, NH
Reviewed in 1993