How to Write the Occidental College Essays 2019-2020

Filling out the Common App soon? Our free webinar will tell you everything you need to know about filling out the Common App and what mistakes to avoid. Watch the webinar. 

Occidental College is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California. With over 40 majors and minors, Occidental (Oxy) highlights research as a major component of an undergraduate’s career, and offers extensive experiential learning through interactions with the greater L.A. area. Senior comprehensives are required by Oxy majors as a capstone to a student’s academic career, like a thesis. Students are also required to complete a Two-Stage Writing Proficiency requirement, including submitting a writing portfolio. 

 

For the class of 2022, Oxy received 7,281 applications and accepted 37% of those students. The median unweighted GPA was 3.7 and the median SAT score was 1350. 

 

Hoping to become an Oxy tiger? Writing strong essays can certainly give you a boost. Here’s our advice for this year’s supplements.

How to Write the Oxy Essays

Why are you applying to Occidental? What are your intellectual curiosities and why do you think Occidental is the right place for you to pursue them? (200 words)

 

This is a fairly standard “why this school” essay, so it requires you to do some research into what Occidental is like. The university website is the best place to start; make sure to look into their programs, courses, clubs, and other opportunities offered. 

 

Once you’ve decided on a few aspects of Occidental that draw you to the school, think about why you’re interested in those things. Do they relate to your academic passions? Do they combine two of your academic passions? Is there a program you think will be extremely beneficial for your ultimate career goals? 

 

Be sure to pick aspects of Oxy that are relatively unique, and link back to why  If you’re too generic, admissions officers may not feel like you really are genuinely interested in Occidental. Linking your personal interests to what Occidental offers will solidify your interest. 

 

Here are some examples of things at Occidental that might be interesting, and why a student might be drawn to those:

 

  • FEAST (Food, Energy, And Sustainability Team) is a student-run organic garden. It’s home to not only vegetables, but also chickens. A student interested in environmental studies and sustainability might want to join FEAST.

 

  • The Food Studies minor is an “interdisciplinary, inherently politicized field of scholarship, practice, and art that examines the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience. This encompasses culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts.” A foodie who wants to learn more about underlying biological and social issues of the food industry might pursue this minor.

 

  • A student might want to join the oxSEA club to pursue their passions of marine biology and ocean conservation. 

 

The prompt asks why Occidental is the right place to pursue your passions. You can do that by pointing to the opportunities specific to Occidental that you would like to take advantage of. Be sure that your reasoning for your interest in thes easpects goes deeper than the superficial.

 

Since you have 200 words, you likely can’t discuss more than three different factors of Occidental. If you try to cram too many different things into your essay, it’ll end up feeling rushed and impersonal. 

 

Overall, you need to think about what draws you to Occidental. Even more important than that, you need to be able to explain why these things are important to you.

Oxy’s central mission emphasizes the value of community amidst diversity. What do you value in a community and how do you see your perspectives and life experiences enhancing it? (200 words)

This is a great question to show off your values and beliefs. Before you write, remember that there are two parts to this question: what you value in a community and how you see yourself enhancing that community. With only 200 words, you likely can discuss only one thing you value in a community and one example of how you would enhance it. 

 

The first part of the prompt⁠—what you value in the community⁠—should be something genuine, and something that you could find at Occidental. Saying you value the competitive spirit of a Division I sports team is nice, but Occidental doesn’t have any Division I teams, so you might not seem like such a good fit for the school.

 

What you value in a community can vary pretty widely: 

 

  • Being able to have your deeply-held religious beliefs respectfully challenged in a safe environment.
  • Multiculturalism and diversity of perspectives, whether political, social, etc. 

 

Once you’ve chosen what it is you value in a community, think about how you can pursue those at Occidental. 

 

  • Someone who values religion and multi-faith literacy might want to be involved in one of Oxy’s nine religious groups.
  • Those who value multiculturalism might want to live in Pauley Hall, a themed living community that aims to promote diversity and equip its residents to thrive in a globalized world. 

 

After you’ve figured out your answer to those first two questions, you need to turn to thinking about how your perspectives and experiences would enhance the community. Show us what role you might play on Oxy’s campus!

 

There are some ways you can do this:

 

  • Throughout high school, maybe you were an active member of a religious group that frequently hosted multi-faith discussions and events. You felt like these events were safe places for attendees to dissect their deeply-held beliefs, and respectfully present contrasting perspectives. You want to bring this open-mindedness to Oxy, especially when it comes to religious life.

 

  • Perhaps you grew up in a multicultural home, as your parents are from different countries. This allowed you to experience two very different cultures and meet people from around the world. You want to share the food and customs from those cultures, and promote diversity at Oxy.

 

Remember that this essay is about community, but it’s mostly about how you interact with a community. Once you’ve figured out what you value in a community, think about how you can bring your experiences to a similar community at Occidental, to enhance it.

 

Quirks, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities. They help differentiate us. What is one of yours? (133 words)

This unusual word count is quite short, so you’ll have significantly less space than you’ve had so far to explain your what makes your quirk. 

 

You’ll want to focus right away what your quirk is, the story behind it, and how it’s affected your life so far. Has it made you a more outgoing person? Has it helped you overcome obstacles? Generally, how does this quirk fit into your life and your personality? The key is to share more about what makes you unique.

 

Avoid explicitly stating “My quirk is…” to open your essay. One way to make this a compelling answer is to dive right into a vivid description of your quirk or peculiarity. Let your readers see what your quirk is before you explain its impact on you. 

 

Try to think of the most unique quirk or idiosyncrasy about yourself. It’s okay if you’re not the only person in the world with this quirk, but work to think beyond something that many people could say they have, such as being double-jointed or eating vegetarian.

 

Additionally, avoid anything that could have negative connotations. Being picky or having a keen ability to binge-watch Netflix could be a quirk, but you’ll need to work to spin that into something with a positive effect. 

 

Here are some good examples of peculiarities to discuss:

  • Refusing to take escalators or elevators. 
  • Only writing in purple pen.
  • Eating noodles with your hands.
  • Stretching for 20 minutes before bed.

 

These are all interesting habits that make readers curious about the underlying story, and they’re unlikely to be common amongst other applicants. This is a chance to share your personality and be lighthearted, so definitely take advantage of this opportunity!

 

Not sure how to get started with the Common App?

Our free webinar will teach you how to use the Common App, organize your activities, answer the essay prompts, and more!

What is your favorite word (in English or another language?)

As the prompt suggests, this is a one-word answer! Very simply, you need to find your favorite word, whether in English or another language. 

 

Since you’ll have to follow up this answer with an explanation, make sure you know why you’ve chosen this word. Do you have a personal story related to this word? Do you associate it with a specific, powerful memory? Is it just a funny word? Whatever your reason is, make sure you have one.

 

If you’re multilingual, this can be a good place to show that off. Your answer still has to be genuine, but if you feel an honest connection to a word in a different language, take advantage of your skill. 

 

Don’t choose a word just because you think it’s something admissions officers will want to read. They’d rather see authenticity, so don’t force yourself to pick something intellectual if you don’t actually like that word.

 

Ultimately, the word itself may be interesting, but the explanation you provide is what will show your readers who you are.

 

Why? (25 words, follow-up to the previous prompt)

Now that you’ve chosen a word, you need to explain why you love that word. Twenty-five words, however, is a very short response. These first two sentences were twenty-three words! You’ll have to be very concise, and very straightforward.

 

Weak: 

  • I like “effervescent” because it means being enthusiastic and cheerful, like I am.
  • The word “serendipity” is my favorite, because I like to believe that things work out for the best.

 

Strong: 

  • The word “différent” in French is the only word I can pronounce without an accent. Ironically, the word “différent” makes me feel like I belong.
  • “Muggy” reminds me of Miami summers, the thick evening air of my long runs, and the hot kitchen after baking a batch of vegan muffins.

 

The weak examples are poor because they simply restate the definition of the word, or offer a reason that almost any student could give. On the flip side, the first strong example evokes deeper themes of language and identity, and is an answer unique to that writer–not something that any student could say. The second example uses imagery to share moments of the applicant’s life, which is also very personal. 

 

You essentially only have one sentence to answer this question, so don’t waste space saying “I like this word because…” Readers don’t need to you to repeat the prompt back to them (this is also something that the weak examples get wrong). Focus on diving right into your answer and minimizing redundant language. 

 

What is the first song you would play for your roommates on move-in day? (150 characters)

This question is as simple and straightforward as it seems—what song would you play for your roommates? On the application, this is a one line answer; simply tell your readers what song it is. If you want to give a short explanation, that’s totally fine too, as you have up to 150 characters. Those extra characters would actually be a great opportunity to share more of your personality.

 

Again, avoid overthinking this answer and forcing something more “intellectual” or classical (unless you actually love classical music, which is totally cool to list!). Be as genuine with your answer as possible, though try to list a song that says something about you, rather than just listing whatever’s currently on the radio.

 

The song can be something that holds some meaning to you, or simply a song you really enjoy listening to. Either is acceptable! 

 

Here are some good examples:

 

  • Danzón No.2 by Márquez (my bandmates and I couldn’t stop swaying to the catchy theme during rehearsal)
  • Runaway (U&I) by Galantis (perfect for an impromptu dance party)
  • Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson (super chill song to make moving in less stressful; I also make killer banana pancakes)

 

Make sure to include both the name of the song and the artist. 

 

If you had your own food truck or restaurant, what would it be called? (150 characters)

This is another quick, easy answer that should showcase some element of your personality. 

 

Does the name of your restaurant evoke homey diner vibes? Maybe you’ve got a keen sense of humor and want to choose a punny name. If you have strong ties to your family, maybe you’d name your restaurant after a relative. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you’re genuinely happy with. 

 

Don’t try to force something that doesn’t come naturally to you. If puns aren’t your forte, don’t spend hours racking your brain for the perfect play on words. Not only will you waste your time, but you’ll be missing out on ways to showcase other aspects of your personality.

 

Like the previous question, this is as simple as it seems. Be genuine, and have fun with it!

 

Here are some examples of strong responses:

 

  • πr² (we’d only sell pies, offer math puzzles on our placemats, and hold a huge annual pi day celebration)
  • Just Pho You (specializing in homemade Vietnamese dishes, especially pho—my father’s secret recipe!)
  • Green Light (our concept is eco-friendly, offering vegan dishes and operating in a way that is zero-waste and carbon-neutral)

 

Want us to quickly edit your college essay? Submit it to our Rapid Review program, and we’ll get it back to you ASAP with comments from our expert team.

Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.


Short bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work. Learn more about our consultants