Academically, Occidental is a dream school for those motivated and dedicated to education. I have yet to be in a class of more than 20 people and I have one class with only 9,; most of my classes contain 15 students. Because of the small class size, class participation is not only encouraged, it's pretty much mandatory. The professors expect that each student come to class prepared to articulate their ideas and defend their positions. The professors know everyone's name within a week, and will remember you for many semesters past. All professors have office hours where they are requried to stay in their office and be available to you. I have never waited to meet with a professor, and had more than enough opportunities for indiviudal attention. Professors are extremely nice and flexible, they respond to email roughly any time a day (or night) and are happy to help you whenever or however they can. I recently met with my Chemistry professor out of class for 3 hours to review a laboratory procedure. I am a Biochemistry major, which is really a hybrid department between Biology and Chemistry (it has no physical location). As a liberal arts College, Occidental ensures that you are well prepared for a modern carreer spanning multipile fields and requiring many cross-disciplinary skills. Everyone has to take a substantial amount of art/history/english classes as well as science/math/logic classes in order to graduate. It's really fantastic. Although I'm a die-hard science major, I still develop excellent writting and critical reading skills from my Imperial China history class. Occidental also ensures that you have a high degree of competency in your own subject area of expertise. In Biochemistry, there is a set of senior requirements called comprehensives. These consist of a series of rigorous standarized tests that must be passed (in our case the ACS Biochemistry Exam) and an hour presentation on a research topic in which fellow students and professor's cross-examine you afterwards. A poor preformance will result in failure to matriculate from the college. Although very stressful, Oxy seniors become students with graduate level depth knowledge and intuition to boot. While both the major requeirements (especially in the sciences where many classes are very sequential) and the general college requirements can seem a bit onerous, especially for the courses outside of my comfort zone (art/history/english) I feel confident in my ability to think critically in any field and articulate myself effectively. One of the best things about being a science major at Occidental is the Undergraduate Research. The college places a huge emphasis on research at Oxy; at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research the way we are represented you would think that Occidental is the size of a UC. Nearly every science major is engaged in research during the school year and/ro the summer. It is truely a priviledge to get to work several hours a week one on one with my professor outside of class. The professors really become more than just advisors, they become friends and mentors. I honestly look forward to asking my professors for letters of reccomendation because I feel that they know me well. The other unique component of our research is that it is primarily student driven. Research isn't just work as minions of the Professors' project; we come up with our own projects, write our own proposals, and research what we're interested in! Education at Occidental is divergent from many larger research universities in that I view Occidental as a prep-Graduate school. If you're only planning on going to college for four years and then going on to a job, Occidental may not be for you. The environment is geared towards learning for its own sake with a strong emphasis on continuing higher eduation. One of the things that drew me towards Occidental, is that students are much more about teamwork than they are about competition. Everyone really works to help everyone succeed. In my chemistry class, for example, everyone gets together before a problem set and we go over the problems together, correct and help each other, and learn (and the Professors encourage collaboration!). I don't think I've yet had a class where I am not frequently engaged in intellectual discussions with my classmates. Although the academic environment may seem relaxed, Professors hold students to high standards. Occidental is known to have grade deflation, or a higher proportion of B's and C's than is the norm.
All courses are taught by professors. Classes are at most 40 students large, but that's only the introductory courses. Beyond those course, the teacher-student ratio drops. I've been in a class with about 6 students, but it all averages out to about 12 students. Across the board (so regardless of classes for my major or ones to fulfill requirements), the best courses I've taken have been with professors who are excited about their subject. Oxy has a website to rate professors (www.oxyexchange.com) and a section within RateMyProfessors.com to find out what past students thought about particular professors. The ratio of in-class time to studying is generally a 1:2 ratio. So if a class meets for 3 hours a week, there's generally about 6 hours of work that you need to do on your own time. (I think that's the biggest difference from high school to college. The expectations are higher.) The library is a great resource for information/a fun hangout at night during exam time and has some great studying places throughout the four floors. Most classes encourage some sort of participation aspect, however it's less common in intro courses and science based course. All professors welcome questions both in and out of class. They are required to have and post their office hours and are easily accessable by email. Something that's cool about Oxy is that they help house all faculty to live within 5-10 minutes of campus. I've definitely seen some professors at the local eateries and grocery stores. It's common to continue class conversations outside the classroom itself, either with classmates or with the professor him/herself. There is a certain level of academic excellence expected by the school as well as within most students. However, the competitiveness usually stems from students themselves, so if you don't want to be then you don't have to. One of my favorite classes was Psychology 110: Intergroup Dialogue on Gender. It consisted of 12 students and 2 student moderators. We'd meet for 3 hours once a week and talk about our experiences through the lens of our gender while referencing readings. I had an opportunity to meet 11 other individuals and learn a lot about their perspective as individuals and in the context of their social identities (race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexuality). It was an elective course I took which also helped fulfill my major requirements as a psychology major. The psychology department as a whole includes an eclectic group of professors. They're generally very friendly, a bit quirky, each with different fields of interst and expertise.
Oxy offers a good spectrum of the class room dynamics. I've taken more than my share of smaller english courses (some classes as small as three other students, though the average is about 12-16) and larger lecture courses (sciences generally fall under this, I took psych and chemistry) of 50 or more students and in all of this I felt that the professor knew me as an individual (all of my professors have known me by name and have been friendly towards me outside of the classroom also) and for every course professors make themselves readily available for one on one help, whether in their open office hours, or by appointment. I'd say that the classes here in general are taught in engaging fashions. I have a friend who I recommended to take an English course with a particular professor. The friend resisted for a while on the basis that he is a "math guy" who "doesn't get english or literature in a deep way" but a week into the course he found a passion for the work because of the professor and got straight A's throughout the course and was always excited by the professor's lectures to readily share the material with me over dinner. Every department has the basic run of courses, the 101's and then 200's that are upper level division courses, but then professors also teach courses regarding their particular focus so that you can really study something unique in a deep way with a professor you may have an affinity for. It's this personality manifest in all the courses you can take that really makes the curriculum here a fulfilling enterprise. The requirements at Occidental force you to take a full quiver of courses, and probably something outside of your comfort zone (I had to take a math course for example even though I hate the stuff) but you will find the multiplicity of discipline exposure will affect you in some way positively and enhance your thinking and application of various concepts to a given problem. For example, thanks to the curriculum, I can include some basic science concepts into my work, and on a practical level: that math class gave me a good enough handle on basic statistics and probabilities that my poker game has improved immensely. Students are competitive to the extent of demanding excellence from themselves, but thankfully, there's none of that annoying grade comparison to see who got the highest score in classes when papers or tests are handed back. Everyone here I know is driven to do the best they can do, not for the person next to them, but for themselves.
Professors are always willing to make time to meet with students. They all have office hours and will make extra time if you can't come to them. Most of my professors have gotten to know me by name, even in some of my larger classes. I'm a film major and spanish minor, and I've been pretty pleased with both departments. A lot of the critical film classes focus on more abstract, experimental film rather than main-stream American stuff. The production classes let you do whatever you want, they are just loose guides to how to make a film. Spanish is pretty typical, we have some really great professors and a couple not so great ones, but there are conversation classes for every language so you can keep up your speaking skills and the upper-level classes are pretty interesting. Most students study every week-night, but amount of time varies depending on class schedules. I'd say I work an average of 12 hours per week outside of class. A lot of students do have intellectual conversations outside of class. If you learn something in a class that you think is interesting, most people are interested to learn about it as well and to discuss it. Class participation is pretty common. It depends on the class, but in general there are lots of opportunities to speak up or have a dialogue. Students aren't very competetive, everybody just wants to help everybody do well. I think for the most part, learning at Oxy is geared toward learning for its own sake rather than getting a job, but I've taken a lot of film, spanish, and physics classes, so I'm not so sure about the other departments. The requirements at Oxy are pretty easy to meet and they think they encourage you to take a wide variety of classes, which is great.
Academics at Oxy are truely centered on the individual student. All of my professors have known me by name, and most have frequent office hours, and are willing to meet with you whenever if you call or email them. The workload is tough, and students definitely study and work hard, and during finals the library is sure to be packed. The work is manageable however, and students have time for fun. Class participation, especially in the social sciences is all but required, and in many classes it will be a component of your grade. The freshman Living and Learning Communities are also unique to Oxy, and while opinions I have heard are mixed, my freshman writing seminar taught by Prof. Dumenil, head of the History department has been my favorite class at Oxy, and I'm not even a history major! The Diplomacy and World Affairs department which is my major, at the moment is a little bit of a mess. There are not enough faculty members and the classes are often concentrated in one discipline of a much broader realm of global affairs. If I were to suggest one department that really stands out as unique to Occidental, it would be Urban and Environmental Policy, which focuses on hands-on community based learning, and uses the resources of Los Angeles to its full advantage.
Academics at Occidental is amazing. Teachers know your name, research opportunities are available immediately after starting school, internships and study abroad opportunities are readily available, everything is set around the individual student. Amazing. Classes aren't always the best but that's how it is at every school, some teachers are good, some aren't. Students study a good amount of time, but nothing unmanageable, just a bit more than high school. Class participation is must because the classes are so small but because there is no cutthroat competition, participating is not intimidating. Unfortunately the Biology program at Oxy isn't as great as I wouldn't hoped so I am facing possibly transferring, but many of the theater and international programs are amazing. I hated the Core requirements and the world areas we had to learn only because I wanted more classes I was actually interested in if I was paying for a private education that was supposed to cater to me. Education at Oxy is split between job prep and actual, conceptual learning, so whichever your choice is, you will be happy. I struggled with the actual class options at Oxy for students just starting out but the setup of registration and everything was always smooth for me.
Professors definetly know your name, and the courses are not easy. All of my courses were under about 25 people. If you miss more than about three classes in a row, don't be surprised to get an email from your professor. You can't skip class for weeks in a row and not get noticted like in a large university class of 500 people. Students tend to study quite a bit and can be competitive. The biology department is fabulous! It is easy to get a job in a research lab that you are interested in. My favourite classes were vertebrate physiology, animal behviour, ecology, and biological oceanography. I also recommend taking an Art History course. It is a fun way to get your fine arts and history requirement done. Memorizing paintings and sculptures is much more fun than memorizing faceless dates in history. The only downside to a smaller schools is that there may not be as many specialized upper level courses( such as Advanced comparative physiology, or marine mammalology) because ther isn't a large enough student demand. However, you can always do an independent study and create your own course with a professor.
Classes are small, professors know your name. My favorite classes were my 2 core classes frehsman year, one about renewable energy strategies taught by Adrian Hightower, and Conflict and contact in Los Angeles taught by Raul Villa and Regina Freer. The academic requirements are not out of line. most students participate in class. I am a student in the Urban and Environmental Policy major, which I believed is too focused on community organizing instead of environemntal or urban policy. It is a very unique major and I have found the professors to be very helpful. All three full time professors are engaged in research and organizing outside of school, which also helps to give the students of the major work and internship opportunies during the summer and after college.
Classes are consistently small.The largest classes are in the Diplomacy.. department because its so popular. All of my classes this semester are 15 kids or less. It's very nice. There are a lot of radical, critical and progressive courses offered on campus, but at the same time, departments lack options and depth, leaving out ancient history and latin american art, etc. Professors are, from my experiences, very very good. I've followed the advice of an uperclassmen who suggested I pick classes based on the prof and not the title. They make themselves accessible too--good stuff. A lot of students don't give a shit about school and skip, while others have deep discussions about theory outside of class. Students aren't too competitive, just determined....some of us.
Professors are very accessible during and after their office hours. Most professors are easy to converse with and take an interest in their students' studies and lives. My favorite classes were usually my history classes, particularly my class that focused on the American Revolution. Other great classes were Islamic Thought, History of Medicine, Arabic classes. Students often discuss theoretical issues outside of class, particularly about the Race and Theory classes. The history department is a good size for the school and consists mainly of female professors. There is an emphasis on more current history, from the 1700s onward, and fewer classes on history before this time. I tried to take classes outside the department for history before the 1700s.