How We Found the Ideal Small Liberal Arts College for My Daughter

Occidental College Dorm Room

How We Found the Ideal Small Liberal Arts College for My Daughter

Published December 18, 2023

Occidental College Dorm Room

Parent Meg A. discovered that a college she had never heard of was the perfect fit for her daughter. Here’s her family’s college journey and how it led them to an unexpected place.

This story was originally published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) group. It has been edited for clarity and flow. 

When we started really trying to narrow down our daughter’s list at the beginning of senior year, I had no idea Occidental College (Oxy) even existed. I happened to see a post on the Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) group about how Oxy asks on the application what song a student would play for their roommate upon move in. Then they use those songs as the playlist for move-in day. That cute little comment sent me on a Google search.

All the Reasons We Loved Occidental College

If it weren’t for the PFC101 group, this small liberal arts college with only 2,000 students wouldn’t have been on our list. However, once I investigated, I learned it was total box checker for so many reasons:

  • Needs met (We only had a budget of $9,000 per year)
  • Urban, but still has an actual campus
  • Small class size
  • Reputation of strong faculty/student relationships
  • In California (my daughter dreamed of attending a college in California since elementary school)
  • Research internship and co-op opportunities
  • Study abroad options at the same cost as being on campus
  • Emphasis on diversity

Other Reasons to Love Occidental College

In addition to all of the above qualities that made the college an excellent fit for my daughter, there were three more factors that were important to us.

Member of College Exchange 

Occidental College students can take classes at other nearby institutions including Cal Tech and Art Center College of Design.

Accelerated Programs

Students can also opt for accelerated and partner programs in engineering and biotechnology. In addition, students can get an AB from Occidental and a JD from Columbia in 6 years.

Campaign Semester

Oxy has a politically active student body, which is supported by their campaign semester: Every two years students volunteer full-time in a key presidential, Senate, House or gubernatorial campaign of their choice for the first 10 weeks of the fall semester, then return to campus for the academic and reflective components. They get a full semester’s credits for the work.

My Daughter Wasn’t Convinced

I sent the school website link to my daughter and told her this college might actually be “a fit.” She shrugged it off and told me that she saw on a subreddit that not all the dorms had air conditioning.

Luckily, despite that comment, she researched the college and applied. We were delighted when she  was accepted, got a great financial aid package, visited, loved it, and sent in the deposit. She found a roommate on their Insta.

Summer Perks

Once she was accepted, the summer perks came rolling in:

  1. She could move in three days early to attend L.A. Engage, an opportunity to meet other first years and learn more about LA. Students can choose between three trips that help familiarize them with Los Angeles.
  2. She had the opportunity to apply to take four credits during the summer and move in early. She opted not to as she wanted to work, save money, and spend time with friends and family. However, she took a free one-credit virtual course this summer to get an idea of some of the academic expectations.

Freshmen Year Holiday Break

My daughter came home for the winter holiday a few days ago, and we both know that a  small liberal arts college (SLAC) was definitely the right choice for her. 

She entered her senior year of high school thinking she wanted to major in nursing or cognitive science, but not REALLY knowing AT ALL. She got into a few nursing programs but was mostly waitlisted. 

She ended up at Occidental College and took a Comp Sci Trio which included: 

  • a first year seminar in the concept of Man VS. Machine, 
  • Intro to Comp Sci, and 
  • a comp Sci internship in one of many fields 

She took the trio plus another course, and guess who is now leaning towards Comp Sci as a major? I never thought my girl who was intimidated by the “power-boy” table in her AP Physics class, who hadn’t done code since the hour of code in middle school, would want to be a Comp Sci major.

Now, if she went to a big public university, she would have never discovered Comp Sci because there would be no room in those classes and chances are she would be overwhelmed and catch a case of imposter syndrome.

I’m here to say don’t rule out smaller liberal arts schools for some of those competitive majors. If the college doesn’t have a grad school, all the research opportunities go to undergrads. In addition, SLACs prepare students in ways that large universities may not. At Occidental, most of the Comp Sci majors who graduated so far (it’s a young program) have gotten great positions because Comp Sci Majors who know how to write and communicate and not just code are in demand.

In Conclusion:

  1. Your kid doesn’t have to know what they want to major in going into college.
  2. If your kid didn’t get into an impacted major, there are always paths forward.
  3. Make an affordable choice where your kid can envision themselves thriving.

As always, Hunger Games Salute, may the odds be ever in your favor.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Our Family’s Journey Applying to Small Liberal Arts Colleges

10 Reasons to Consider Smaller Schools with High Acceptance Rates

Colleges That Change Lives: The List of 44, Comparisons, and How to Choose




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