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Occidental College

Occidental College (Oxy) is located in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, making it one of the few traditional liberal arts colleges located in a large coastal city with mild, sunny weather. Oxy’s location provides students with access during the academic year and summer to experiential opportunities within the vibrant and culturally rich Los Angeles area.

Oxy is known for its personalized education and faculty research, providing its students with many hands-on opportunities under the direct guidance of a professor. It also has joint degree partnerships with Art Center College of Design, Caltech, Columbia University and its law school, and Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges. See the “Academics” section below for more information.

Oxy has a long tradition of preparing students for careers in politics and world affairs, with its unique Campaign Semester and Oxy in the UN programs. Oxy is also known for its most famous student, President Barack Obama, who attended Oxy for his first two years of college and credits his time there with awakening his interest in public service and politics.

Quick Info

Students who thrive

Students who thrive at Occidental College are those seeking a personalized academic environment. Oxy students learn in small classes with professors who enjoy teaching, and they get to know their classmates well. They are also comfortable living in a large city and are interested in taking advantage of opportunities available throughout Los Angeles to explore and become immersed in the unique mixed culture of Los Angeles and the many cultures, languages and foods that are celebrated there. Most students who are admitted to Oxy have the ability to thrive academically, given the personalized approach to education and close connection to professors.

Students deeply interested in learning about other cultures and languages through academic majors and minors, coursework and experiential opportunities will likely find an Oxy education stimulating.

Erdman Hall, Occidental College, 2022.
Erdman Hall, Occidental College, 2022.

Students who may have challenges

Students who are seeking some degree of anonymity in larger lecture courses or simply want a larger college experience may find the very small size of Oxy limiting. At a campus with such a small student body and classes, being unprepared for class will be obvious to all, including (most importantly) the professor. Oxy courses provide a healthy balance of rigor with a reasonable workload for the typical student, but very strong students who are deeply intellectually curious may not experience enough academic rigor at Oxy.

The Oxy student body is quite politically liberal, and conservative students’ views may not gain much traction with other students. Students looking for a traditional college town also may be disappointed by the urban/suburban location of Oxy, which is surrounded by homes, edged by a transitional urban area. Students who can’t or don’t want to bring a car to campus may have a hard time exploring Los Angeles and the neighborhoods around campus.

Some communities of color are underrepresented at Oxy, in particular the Black and Latinx/Chicanx communities, relative to the population of Los Angeles and California. In addition, Latinx/Chicanx faculty are significantly underrepresented at Oxy. As a result, some students of color may not easily be able to find faculty of a similar background or other students to connect with. The campus offers many resources and dedicated spaces for students of color, but some may still feel a bit isolated.

Successful applicants

Successful applicants are A-/B+ students (or stronger) who take rigorous or fairly rigorous classes in high school, such as AP and honors classes. Two-thirds of admitted Oxy students have a high school GPA of 3.50 or higher, with an average of 3.63. Oxy expects students to take four years of English and math and three to four years of social science, science, and a language other than English. Admitted students are also fairly deeply involved in purposeful extracurricular activities and value diversity and equity.

Oxy is test optional, meaning that they will consider SAT or ACT scores if they are submitted as part of the application for admission, but they say that applying without scores will not disadvantage applicants. Scores for admitted students are typically in the range of 1350 to 1470 for SAT and 30 to 33 for ACT. Oxy will also consider AP and IB scores, and strong scores can help an application, especially for students attending high schools with tough grading policies.

Oxy considers applicants’ “demonstrated interest” and “demonstrated understanding” during the period leading up to and through the application submission. The binding early decision process and five short-response supplemental essay prompts reflect Oxy’s interest in admitting students who are truly interested in Oxy.

Oxy also considers legacy status as part of the admission process, although they say that it plays a modest role in admissions decisions and is mainly considered for siblings of Oxy students or graduates. Student athletes who want to compete on a varsity team at Oxy are encouraged to describe their interests and capabilities in their applications, but Oxy ultimately admits all students based on a holistic review of academic qualifications. A Recruit Form is available to interested students so they can get in touch with coaches during the application process.

Herrick Memorial Chapel & Interfaith Center, Occidental College, 2022.
Herrick Memorial Chapel & Interfaith Center, Occidental College, 2022.

How the application process handles majors

As a liberal arts college, Occidental does not admit students by major or place a strong emphasis on intended major in the application process. Students who are strongly interested in a given major should feel free to describe their interest in their application and explain why Oxy would be a good fit for them on that basis—but every student nevertheless enters undeclared. All students are still required to complete a broad liberal arts education program regardless of major.

Academics

Occidental College is a small university with small class sizes averaging 18.3 students, and a low student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. This allows students to form close relationships with instructors and faculty and gives each student more time to ask questions and participate in class discussions. Oxy offers several class types, ranging from seminars to lectures to labs and field research opportunities, depending on the course matter.

Undergraduates have access to many research opportunities at Oxy throughout the program and as a component of some major’s required senior capstone projects (“Senior Comps”, see below). Oxy is also one of the few institutions to offer fully-funded overseas research opportunities to undergrads. Campus-level undergraduate research opportunities are centralized under the Undergraduate Research Center.

Many classes engage broadly with the City of Los Angeles: the city is used as a model for instruction in different fields, such as politics, government, cultural studies, and more; and students regularly take field trips to different parts of the city to explore their course material in person and in depth. Many professors also have second jobs at other institutions, such as the LA Times or LA Philharmonic.

Senior Comprehensives, known as Senior Comps, are Oxy’s mandatory senior capstone projects. They can take the form of a library/archival or field research project, art exhibit, presentation, or creative work as determined and required by each academic major. US News & World Report recognized Oxy as one of the top twelve institutions with “stellar examples of senior capstones” for its Senior Comps program.

Exchange & Joint Degree Programs

Some of Occidental’s most interesting academic offerings are its exchange and joint degree programs with Art Center, Columbia, Caltech, and Keck Graduate Institute:

  • Art majors in their sophomore year and above can take courses at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena free of charge.
  • Biochemistry students interested in biotechnology with a GPA of at least 3.2 are guaranteed admission to the Master’s in Bioscience program at Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges.
  • Oxy students have access to Caltech courses in applied science, astronomy, engineering, and other fields not taught at Occidental free of charge.
  • 3/2 Combined Plan: Engineering students have access to a 3-2 Combined Plan in Liberal Arts and Engineering with either Columbia University or Caltech. Students in this program receive a BA in the Combined Plan from Occidental after 3 years, before transferring to either Columbia or Caltech to complete a 2 year program to receive a BS in their selected field of engineering.
  • 3/3 Legal Education: Students who want to go to law school can participate in Oxy’s joint program with Columbia Law School. After completing a 3-year BA program at Occidental, students enroll in Columbia’s Accelerated Interdisciplinary Program in Legal Education and complete their JD in 3 years.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that admission is highly selective to the 3/2 engineering programs with Caltech and Columbia and the 3/3 law program with Columbia. So although these rigorous and prestigious programs are open to all Oxy students' applications, only the highest achieving students are likely to gain admission.

Thorne Hall, Occidental College, 2022.
Thorne Hall, Occidental College, 2022.

Academic support

Oxy offers several academic support services and programs to help students manage their coursework and improve their academic skills. Because the campus is so small, Oxy can ensure that students who are struggling, either academically or personally, never fall through the cracks. Each student is paired with one faculty advisor upon entering, and another once they choose their major, so there are always two faculty members for students to check in with. In addition, there are several other support and advising options available to students.

The Advising Center provides support on a broad range of academic matters, from explaining academic procedures to assisting with Core Requirements, placement exams, credit transfers from other schools, and other support services. The Center also helps undecided students in choosing a major or minor.

Oxy’s Writing Center offers students assistance and resources to improve writing skills at any stage in the writing process, and offers 1-to-1 support with peer advisers or faculty members.

The Student Success Dashboard centralizes Oxy’s many support options, from academic and professional development resources to health and community support, in one location.

Support for learning differences

Students with physical, learning, or other disabilities or differences can receive services and accommodations through Occidental’s Disability Services. The college’s accommodations list is extensive, though not exhaustive, and tailored to each student’s unique needs. It includes extended exam times, authorized breaks during exams and classes, note-taking services, course substitutions, reduced course load, and more.

Oxy has established and published processes for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, psychiatric or psychological disabilities, and medical or physical disabilities, to document their disabilities and receive accommodations. Housing accommodations may be granted for some disabilities with documented need, though medical or psychological conditions do not automatically qualify students for such accommodations. Housing accommodation requests must be made early in the prior semester or before July 1 for incoming students.

Oxy does not have special services or accommodations for students with ASD. Capstone recommends that such students request accommodations through the learning disability process linked above. Because of the lack of official information or published services, students with ASD may have difficulty connecting with service providers or peers with similar experiences or needs.

Students or their families can contact Disability Services at accessibility@oxy.edu to ask specific questions or seek additional information.

Collins House (Admissions Office), Occidental College, 2022.
Collins House (Admissions Office), Occidental College, 2022.

Financials

Occidental’s direct cost of attendance is relatively high, at $81,000 per year, which is common for private schools. However, Oxy commits to meeting 100% of the difference between the total cost of attendance and each student’s expected family contribution (EFC). Most first-year students with demonstrated need, as determined by the FAFSA and CSS Profile, will receive $5,700 in need-based loans and $3,100 in work study options. Oxy will cover any remaining need with grants and scholarships.

Oxy awards merit scholarships to first-year students who are the strongest academic achievers in the applicant pool. There are several scholarships available, including Honors Scholarships of $10,000 per year, Trustee Scholarships of $15,000 per year, Community Impact Scholarships of $15,000 per year, and more, ranging from $500 to $30,000 per year. Most scholarships are renewable for the following three years, conditioned on progress toward the degree with a minimum specified GPA.

Other financial assistance programs are available, including need-based grants and opportunity grants, state and federal grants such as the Cal Grant (more below), veteran benefits, and outside scholarship options. The Barack Obama Scholars Program offers loan-free financial aid for high-performing students who demonstrate a commitment to the public good and seek the opportunity to effect meaningful social or political change.

Starting with the Class of 2026, Occidental covers 100% of the tuition for any student qualifying for a Cal Grant. For eligible students, a significant portion of the cost of room and board may also be covered.

Housing & transportation

Students are required to live on-campus for the first three years, while about 50% of fourth-years choose to live off-campus. In total, about 85% of students live on-campus each year.

Oxy offers multiple types of residences for students:

  • first year residential halls;
  • mixed first year and upper division halls;
  • upper division halls;
  • Sophomore Experience Halls for sophomores;
  • Themed Living Communities;
  • four recognized Greek houses for interested fourth-year students;
  • other off-campus housing options for fourth-year students;
  • gender-inclusive options for students who want a residential experience that isn’t segregated by gender.

Housing is very limited for transfer students, so transfer students interested in on-campus housing are advised to commit to Oxy as early as possible and immediately submit a housing application to maximize their chances.

Oxy’s Themed Living Communities are interest- and identity-based residences. First year students have access to three: Baldwin House, for trans and queer students; Women’s Scholars, for students who identify as womxn; and Multicultural Hall, a mixed first year and upper division residence that supports students of color. Upper Divison students have access to six Themed Living Communities, for Black, APIDA, Latinx, and queer/trans students, for students interested in environmentally and socially aware lifestyles, and for students who want to live in a substance-free environment.

Transit

Public transportation options at Oxy are limited. There is public transit via LA Metro buses to Pasadena, Hollywood and Downtown LA, and the campus operates the Bengal Bus service to and from LAX and local commercial areas. Students receive free TAP cards to ride on LA Metro buses and trains.

Parking is free for visitors who want to take a campus tour.

"Arc Forms Three Axis" by George Baker in front of Samuelson Campus Pavillion (also known as Tiger Cooler), Occidental College, 2022.
"Arc Forms Three Axis" by George Baker in front of Samuelson Campus Pavillion (also known as Tiger Cooler), Occidental College, 2022.

Social life, recreation & campus spirit

Although Oxy’s small size prevents it from creating the kinds of expansive social and recreational opportunities that a large public school can, students here have no shortage of things to do outside of class. Oxy students can join or create student organizations; participate in sports, including at varsity level; write for the student newspaper, The Occidental; participate in dance productions; join a religious or spiritual group; work in the campus organic garden, FEAST; explore the LA metropolis; and more.

Because of its close-knit communal environment, high proportion of varsity athletes, and strong club, intramural and recreational athletic offerings, students at Oxy share a strong sense of campus spirit and pride.

Oxy has a recognized Greek community comprising four houses:

  • Sorority Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha (ΑΛΦΑ)
  • Sorority Delta Omicron Tau (ΔΟΤ)
  • Multicultural Sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma (ΣΛΓ)
  • Fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (ΣΑΕ)

Greek life is a small aspect of campus life at Oxy and does not dominate the social scene.

Athletics

Oxy has 20 varsity teams that compete in NCAA Division III SCIAC and was a founding member of SCIAC in 1915. Athletics are very popular at Oxy, with approximately 25% of undergrads competing on varsity teams. Although Oxy cut its football team in 2020, it has other major, competitive sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, and more. Student athletes interested in recruitment should fill out Oxy's Recruit Form in order to make contact with coaches during the application process.

Oxy also has several student-run, staff-supervised club sports that students have the opportunity to join and help manage, as well as intramurals for more recreational athletics. For unstructured activity, the college offers a large fitness center with workout equipment and several exercise classes.

Intercultural Community Center, Occidental College, 2022.
Intercultural Community Center, Occidental College, 2022.

Health

Oxy students are automatically enrolled in the Occidental Student Health Insurance Plan (OSHIP) unless they actively waive the plan by presenting proof of comparable private insurance.

Emmons Wellness Center is Oxy’s professional student health center. Emmons provides comphrensive health services to all students, regardless of whether they have private insurance or the Student Health Insurance Plan. Students are encouraged to make appointments, but walk-in services are also available.

All counseling services, other than psychiatry, are free of charge, and include short-term individual therapy, ongoing group therapy sessions, walk-in appointments and informal chats, case management, and general consultation services. Counseling services are offered on a hybrid model, which allows students to choose whether they want to be seen in person or remotely. Emmons also offers specific reserved times for athletes, students of color, and students in other minority groups.

Black Voices is a drop-in chat program Emmons offers for Black students, through Counseling and Psychological Services. It is designed as a welcoming space centered on Black wellness where students can be heard, validated and supported, and hosted at the Intercultural Community Center (ICC). Black students may find this program particularly helpful given underrepresentation on campus.

Oxy’s Student Success Team (SST) is another service designed to provide critical interventions for students who are struggling. Friends, faculty, staff, or family can refer students of concern to the SST in order to develop holistic, personalized responses to help struggling students find the care and support they need to survive and thrive.

You can find more information about all of Oxy’s support services, including academic, professional development, health and community support, at the Student Success Dashboard.

Graduation requirements

Students are required to complete the Core Program and all requirements of their major, and minor if applicable, as well as completing a minimum of 124 semester units.

Oxy’s Core Program is a comprehensive liberal arts education structured to provide “an intellectual foundation for Occidental’s commitment to excellence, equity, service, and community.” In each of the first two semesters at Oxy, students are required to take a 4-unit First Year Seminar, which provides partial credit for completing the campus’s Writing Proficiency Requirement.

All students are also required to take up to 40 units of Culture & Fine Arts, Science & Mathematics, and Foreign Language courses to complete the Core Program. High school coursework can provide some credit towards the Foreign Language requirement, but Oxy courses are required to complete the Culture & Fine Arts and Science & Mathematics requirements. Depending on major, some courses may provide credit for both the student’s major and a Core Requirement, but no single course can provide credit for two Core Requirements.

Transfer students are not required to complete First Year Seminar requirements, but are otherwise required to complete the entire Core Program. Some Core Requirements may be credited through work at institutions prior to transferring to Oxy, to be determined by the Core Program and Registrar’s Offices.

Seal of Occidental College
oxy_colors

Los Angeles, California
Est. 1887
Motto: Occidens Proximus Orienti
(The west is nearest the east)

Tigers
Mascot: Oswald the Tiger
NCAA Division III SCIAC

Private liberal arts college
Urban/suburban setting

2,000 undergraduates
194 full-time faculty
9:1 student-faculty ratio
18 student average class size

120 acre campus

Semester system:
Two 15-week terms per year

Mild, temperate climate with hot summers, cool-to-warm winters, and mostly sunny days

Application Deadline

Early Decision: November 15

Regular Decision: Early January

Finances

$81,000 / year
Total cost

Tuition (2022-23):
$60,000 / year

Housing & Meal Plan:
$17,300 / year

Fees:
$600 / year

Personal & travel expenses:
~ $3,000 / year

Student Health Insurance Plan:
Additional $2,854 / year if not waived

Notable Majors & Programs

Campaign Semester (unique in the nation)

The William and Elizabeth Kahane United Nations (Oxy in the UN) Program

3 year AB/2 year BS Combined Plans in Liberal Arts and Engineering with Caltech or Columbia University

3 year AB/3 year JD through early admission to Columbia Law School

Biochemistry AB/MS Biotechnology from Keck Graduate Institute

Area and cultural study majors and minors in American, Black, Chinese, Classical, East Asian, Food, French, Gender, German, Japanese, Latino/a & Latin American, Religious, Russian, and Spanish Studies, and Critical Theory & Social Justice

Natural sciences and math with the opportunity to take additional courses during regular sessions at Caltech

Art courses from Art Center College of Design

Global and governmental studies in Diplomacy & World Affairs, Economics, History, Philosophy, and Politics

Equity & Inclusion

Transfer Equity

  • Transfer housing guaranteed: No
  • Separate transfer housing: No
  • Transfer housing very limited
  • Transfer Student Union (student organization)

Racial Equity

LGBTQ+ Equity

After Graduating

Hameetman Career Center provides career services, pre-health advising, and fellowship awards.

Career insight nights provide a forum for students to discuss career opportunities with local employers, such as engineers at JPL or writers at the LA Times.

Occidental is one of the top institutions producing Fulbright scholars.

Jacaranda tree in bloom outside the library at Occidental College, 2022.