How to Write the Occidental College Essays 2020-2021

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 opportunities in the greater L.A. area. Senior comprehensives are required 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 2023, Oxy received 7,501 applications and accepted 37% of those students. Accepted applicants’ median unweighted GPA was 3.7 and the median SAT score was 1350. Oxy is rated as the 39th best liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News.

 

Hoping to become an Oxy tiger? Writing strong supplemental essays can certainly give you a boost. Here’s our advice for this year’s supplements. Want to know your chances at Occidental? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Oxy Supplemental Essay prompts

Essay Questions

 

Prompt 1: 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)

 

Prompt 2: 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)

 

Prompt 3: Quirks, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities. They help differentiate us. What is one of yours? (134 words)

 

Prompt 4: Please answer one of the following questions (300 words max):

 

  • Option A: Research is an integral part of an Oxy education. Completing a senior comprehensive is a requirement of every Oxy student. Additionally, there are opportunities with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, the International Richter Grant, the Summer Undergraduate Research Center, and other departments to conduct research. What is something you would like to research and why?

 

  • Option B: Briefly describe a current event or social movement that is affecting a city, town, or place that is important to you. Describe its significance to the community as well as its future implications for that community.

 

Short Answer

 

  • What is the first song you would play for your roommates on move-in day? (150 characters)
  • If you had your own food truck or restaurant, what would it be called? (150 characters)

Prompt 1

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 College?” 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 specific 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 that would be extremely beneficial for your ultimate career goals? 

 

Be sure to pick aspects of Oxy that are relatively unique and wouldn’t be found at other schools, and link back to why. If you’re too generic, admissions officers may not feel like you 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 them:

 

  • 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 and study what you are intellectually curious about. 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 these aspects goes deeper than the superficial. Be straightforward, but avoid making the essay into a list.

 

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. Here is an example response to the prompt:

 

Here in Macon, NC, not much goes on. Our largest attraction is the post office, and we have more pine trees than people. I want to study at Occidental College because it will break my bubble.

 

Oxy’s Intercultural Community Center events and MSI course would give me a unique quirk-friendly environment to meet people I could never engage with in Macon. While I would immerse myself in domestic diversity, I would expand my horizons internationally through workshops at the McKinnon Center and a semester abroad studying drama at the University of East Anglia.

 

Part of the reason why Oxy’s diversity and drama opportunities pique my intellectual curiosity is that I’d like to major in Theater. As a potential Theater major, I aspire to gain the tools to showcase the human condition on stage. My dream since my small 9th grade theater class has been to produce plays that showcase the humanity of those hard of hearing like me. No other place could offer me Professor Angell’s Comedy and Social Change course, the humorous inspiration of Fantasiprov, all in one of the most artistic cities in the world. No other place would pop my Macon bubble like Oxy.

 

Prompt 2
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 the classic Diversity Essay, and  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. 
  • Collaboration and bouncing ideas off of each other
  • Supporting the more vulnerable members of the community
  • Advocating for change as a collective force

 

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 what role you might play on Oxy’s campus.

 

Here are some examples of 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 not only about community, but 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 and enhance it.

 

 Prompt 3

Quirks, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities. They help differentiate us. What is one of yours? (134 words)

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

 

You’ll want to focus right away on 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. You have a chance to share your personality and be lighthearted with this essay, so definitely take advantage of the opportunity! Here is an example of lightheartedness in action:

 

Yes, I eat noodles with my hands. I started the tradition when I was 13 and interested in competitive eating. Ramen noodles were my practice food, and I quickly found out that utensils only took away from my eating time. I performed the best with nature’s utensils, and have been eating noodles this way ever since. 

 

My hand eating has made me a more confident person. After breaking one social norm, I feel empowered to question all of them. I now take stares at restaurants to mean that I’m likely doing something right in this world. My questioning, and eating, and questioning about food, have compelled me to live a life asking “why not?” rather than “why so?” Picking up noodles has inspired me to encourage myself to stray from the norm.

 


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Prompt 4

Respond to one of the following in 300 words:

 

Option A: Research is an integral part of an Oxy education. Completing a senior comprehensive is a requirement of every Oxy student. Additionally, there are opportunities with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, the International Richter Grant, the Summer Undergraduate Research Center, and other departments to conduct research. What is something you would like to research and why?

 

Option B: Briefly describe a current event or social movement that is affecting a city, town, or place that is important to you. Describe its significance to the community as well as its future implications for that community.

This prompt is essentially asking you one question ─ are you more research oriented or more passionate about social justice? Decide by thinking through your activities list and career direction.

 

For either option, introduce your essay with a brief anecdote that explains the what and why of your interest. Here is an example for Option A:

 

The 2008 financial crisis hit my family hard. After both my parents lost their jobs, my family had to make sacrifices to keep a roof over our heads. My meals came to consist of rice and beans and beans and rice, and on Sundays bologna with pasta. My frequent grumbling stomach was the one lifestyle adjustment I had trouble powering through, and so I learned about food insecurity. I would like to research solutions to make healthy food more accessible to all, so others can stay hungry for knowledge rather than protein.

 

Beyond the introduction is where the responses to each option will differ. Though these prompts are both “Why X Interest” essays, Option A is about an academic research interest which you would take to Oxy, whereas Option B is asking for what social justice direction you would bring to campus.

 

Answering Option A is straightforward ─ explain what project you would like to take on for your senior “comp” as well as what research opportunities you would take advantage of in one of the departments listed in the prompt. Take your time to look into past senior comps and research opportunities, so you can pitch a plan for how you would utilize specific Oxy resources ─ professors, grants, classes, and access to LA ─ for your own research. For example, the student interested in food insecurity could talk about how they want to create rooftop gardens as their senior comp, in addition to researching ways to increase healthy donations to food banks at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute. 

 

Option B is about connecting yourself to the bigger picture after you have described a current event or social movement and why it is important to you. Make sure that you have a deep, genuine connection to the movement you write about ─ passion will make your message more convincing. Explain what change for good your chosen movement could bring about and why others should care about it like you. Conclude the essay by describing the “future implications” of the movement, not only in the place you have chosen, but also for Oxy. How could Oxy’s resources help the movement make a larger impact? Here is part of an example essay by a student with a Uyghur background about the Uyghur human rights movement:

 

The movement for Uyghur human rights is so crucial to me because the world is so silent. Xinjiang may be far away, but it is close to my heart ─ it is where my grandparents live, where I have fond memories of mutton rice and open fields and Eid. It is an interconnected place, where the Silk Road was once traveled and where humanity’s destiny lies today. If the world does not stand up for human rights, the human mosaic will lose one more piece, and more pieces will fall. The Uyghur human rights movement, and the advocacy work I have done with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, are significant because they are some of the only voices we have to make our voices heard on the world stage.

 

Oxy can help amplify our voices through its exceptional Kahane United Nations Program, which could allow me to intern at the UNHCR. Coupled with the interdisciplinary Diplomacy and World Affairs major, I would be empowered to influence the world’s decision makers of the need to support justice for the Uyghurs. From Professor Chase’s lectures on human rights and the transnational Muslim world to the campus’s uplifting activist culture, Oxy has unique resources and opportunities which would make the future of the Uyghur human rights movement much brighter.

 

Short Answer 1
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

 

Short Answer 2
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.

 

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)

 

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

 

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