How to Write the Occidental College Essays 2022-2023
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.
Oxy is pretty selective and it’s consistently ranked in the top 40 liberal arts college in the country.
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.
Read these Occidental College essay examples to inspire your writing.
Oxy Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Why are you applying to Occidental? What are your academic interests and why do you think Occidental is the right place for you to pursue them? (200 words)
Prompt 2: 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, its significance to you, and future implications for that community.
- Option C: 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?
- What is the first song you would play for your roommates on move-in day? (150 characters)
Why are you applying to Occidental? What are your academic interests 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 reflect on your academic goals and then do some research on how Occidental can support those goals. The college website is the best place to start; make sure to look into specific programs, courses, clubs, and other opportunities offered.
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 points. Do the resources you mention combine two of your academic passions? Is there a program that would be extremely beneficial for your ultimate career goals?
Here’s an example of a hypothetical student and the resources they might mention in their essay:
A student who wants work in sustainable agriculture would be drawn to the Environmental Science concentration and Food Studies minor. 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.”
This student hopes to one day run their own regenerative farm, so they especially look forward to joining FEAST (Food, Energy, And Sustainability Team), a student-run organic garden with chickens, to get hands-on experience. They also plan to take the course Sustainable Oxy: Urban Agriculture and Sustainable Landscape Practicum since food access and security is important to them; having grown up in an urban, low-income environment, they want their future farm to fund urban community gardens to bring fresh, nutritious food to the locals.
Formatting-wise, your essay can begin with a short anecdote related to your academic interests. When did you first realize your academic passion? What are the thoughts or emotions you have as your participate in this activity/interest?
From there, you should explain what your academic goals are and why you have those goals.
Finally, show how Occidental College can uniquely support your academic interests, mentioning specific courses, research opportunities, programs, and extracurriculars.
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, its significance to you, and future implications for that community.
Option C: 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?
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 any of the options, 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 Options A and B 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.
Option C is 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 300 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.
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.
Where to Get Your Occidental College Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Oxy essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!