Questions and Answers

In honor of Candidates' Weekends, I have brilliantly Google searched for "questions to ask on a college tour," stolen such questions from other websites, revised them, and answered them from my perspective. (Don't let that stop you from asking others, though; I am certainly not representative of the entire student body.)

Candidates' Weekend is a time not just for us to find out more about you, but for you to find out more about us--to find out if you really do want to spend four years of your life here. Talk to students. Ask lots of questions. This post is meant to serve as inspiration for you, so you can make the most out of your time here. Good luck!

I borrowed the first part of the list of questions from's "Questions to Ask on a Campus Tour" page.

1. Are the dorms spread throughout the campus or clustered in one area? Is there any kind of shuttle service between classroom areas, the library, the student union, and dorms? How late does it run?

If you know Olin, this question seems silly at first. There are 5 main buildings. They are all right next to each other. Having a shuttle would be laughable.

Olin College campus

Olin's campus, as viewed from the soccer field. (Photo courtesy of the olinimages flickr account--and probably Michael J. Maloney.)

However, we are allowed and in fact encouraged to cross register at Wellesley College (and also Babson College--right next door--and Brandeis University, accessible by car or taxi), and there is a shuttle that runs regularly during weekdays between Wellesley, Babson, and Olin.

Olin does not have a student union.

2. Is there any security system to bar outsiders from entering dorms?

Yes. Dorms can only be opened by key or prox card. All students have access to both dorms by prox card, but your key will only let you into your own dorm. Maintenance staff, public safety, and the Office of Student Life also have access to the dorms.

Living between Needham and Wellesley doesn't put us in much danger of break-ins and the like (ask about our campus crime statistics--they're quite low), but these security measures exist nevertheless.

3. How large is the campus security police force? Does it patrol the campus regularly?

It's sufficiently large for a campus of 300 students, and it does patrol the campus regularly. Public Safety officers, however, are not allowed to enter the dorms unless called in by either students or the Office of Student Life--in general, an officer in the dorms means something has gone wrong.

4. What services are offered by the campus health center? How large is it?

Olin doesn't have a health center, but we're allowed to use Babson's (it's really close by--definitely walking distance). I've only ever been there to get my (free) flu shot. If you have concerns about this, you should make it a point to ask Olin's staff about it while you're visiting.

We also get free mental health care at Colony Care, which is a group of psychologists and psychiatrists in nearby Wellesley, and at a psychiatrist's office in Needham.

5. Does the student health center refer students to the local hospital? Is there a nearby hospital? How large is it?

I think the answer to this is yes, especially if it is on the weekend and it is an emergency. There are several hospitals nearby, and which one you get taken to depends on which side of campus you are on when Public Safety/the ambulance picks you up.

6. How many of your courses are taught by a big-name professor and how many by a teaching assistant?

No courses are taught by teaching assistants. Many courses have course assistants, and it is rare (though not unheard of) for a course assistant to stand in when the professor cannot make it. Additionally, certain first-year courses have extra (required) sessions that meet outside of normal class time and are taught by upperclassmen.

I don't know that any of our faculty are "big-name," though they are not without impressive qualifications (and varied enthusiasms). All professors hold a Ph.D., and I believe that all of them do research of some form.

7. Is the teaching innovative and project-oriented, or is it mostly lecture-oriented?

The former. If you've heard anything about Olin, you've probably heard that. That, and the tuition scholarship, of course. I encourage you to ask current students about projects that they're working on now, or cool projects that they've worked on in the past. You're guaranteed to get at least some sort of interesting answer.

8. Do most freshmen class lectures take place in an amphitheater?

We have an auditorium, and it is the preferred venue for class-wide lectures (75 students in total). It's scarcely an amphitheater. My freshman class fit (comfortably) into the first four rows.

SCOPE students, spring 2008, Olin College Auditorium

Students in Olin's auditorium, spring 2008. (Photo courtesy of the olinimages flickr account--and probably Michael J. Maloney.)

9. What are the strong majors? The weak majors?

There are only three majors (Mechanical, Electrical, and General), and as for the strength of each, I am not qualified to comment, given that I only have direct experience in the most varied one (General). This is certainly a good question to ask students and faculty members while you are visiting.

10. How hard do you have to work for your grades?

Rather hard. Olin's not at all cutthroat or competitive, though; grades mostly only matter (as long as you're passing) when you're applying for internships, jobs, REUs, grad schools, and the like. We have some of the happiest and most hardworking students in the country (if you believe the Princeton Review).

11. What's the reputation of the _____________ department?

We don't have departments.

12. How adequate for your needs is the campus computer network?

Every student is issued (and pays for, one way or another) a laptop when they arrive, which is covered under a warranty for four years (except the battery, which only has a one year warranty and invariably becomes useless at about the end of one's sophomore year). Olin has wireless internet, as well as ethernet ports all over the place (especially in the dorms and the Academic Center). I would say that it's more than adequate for my needs, though wireless can get a little slow at certain times.

13. Do fraternities and sororities dominate the social life of the college?

There are no (official) fraternities or sororities. If this interests you, though, I encourage you to ask current students about unofficial social groups.

14. What do students do on weekends? Do most go home?

Most of Olin's students come from out-of-state; few go home on weekends. Weekend activities are many and varied; you should ask students this when you arrive on campus.

On the weekends, I generally do a mix of fun stuff and work, where fun stuff may include shopping, trips into Boston, restaurants, bars, movies, cooking, napping, parties, and so on.

15. How is the advisement system? Do you feel that your professors really care?

Every first year student is assigned an adviser; this adviser may be changed at the end of each year (but in truth, probably at any time if there is a compelling reason to switch). I personally do feel that my professors care--quite a lot--and I would imagine that you would be hard-pressed to find an Olin student who feels differently. I may be wrong. Find out for yourselves.

16. There are a lot of organizations on campus. Are they dominated by a few groups or is anyone welcome?

Anyone is welcome. Olin has something like one club per 5 or 6 students, and starting a new club is incredibly easy. There are many other opportunities for involvement, as well--Honor Board, CORe (the student government), and SERV (the community service board) are all elected positions. Committee positions (there are also many committees, including my own, the illustrious Student Activities Committee) are appointed by CORe, for the most part. Additionally, there are many more organizations that are volunteer-based.


The Council of Olin Representatives (CORe) General Assembly at our retreat in the Massachusetts State House, fall 2008.

The ACT website's college planning section offers further questions (note that I am polling selectively):

17. What activities and services are available to help students get settled (academically and socially) during their first year?

All the first-year technical courses have course assistants who hold regular office hours and are very willing to help. Additionally, faculty members hold regular office hours, and frequently respond to e-mail requests for help, even at odd hours.

Each floor in Olin's dorms where students live has at least one R2, or Resident Resource. They are available to talk, especially to first-year students who are having a difficult time adjusting. And, as mentioned previously, free mental health services--including plain old counseling--are available to all Olin students.

18. How big are the classes?

It varies a lot. Some classes have 75-student lectures (always with a smaller, 25-student studio/laboratory session), and some classes end up having, say, 2 students in them by the time the course ends. I would say that in my experience, the average class size is probably in the 15-20 students range. Ish.

19. How easy is it to meet with faculty?

It depends heavily on the faculty member, but with most faculty members, it is quite easy. They usually have office hours at some point during the week, and are often more than willing to set up meetings by e-mail. Also, they sometimes eat lunch/dinner with us in the Dining Hall, which is nice.

20. Are students able to register for the classes they want?

For the most part, yes. It is a very small school, and some classes are only offered once every two years, or once every three semesters, and it can get a little tricky. I have not had any huge disappointments or frustrations though, no.

21. What activities are available for students?

So many! I mentioned ways to get involved before, but it's also possible to enjoy activities put on by clubs and SAC and such without actually joining. Clubs put on events mostly irregularly (last week, for example, I helped Cheese Club make macaroni and cheese--and it was delicious), and SAC generally puts on about one event every week or two. This Friday, for example, is a movie kick-out to see "Watchmen."

Wintry Mixer, January 2009

Olin's winter formal ("Wintry Mixer," put on by Student Activities Committee), at the beginning of the event. The crowd in the back is for the casino games (we gave everybody $100 in play money to gamble away).

22. How successful are the college's graduates in finding jobs?

In general, very successful. This year... Ask again later.

23. What services (such as transportation and shopping) are available locally?

Besides the shuttle and taxi service (taxis will take you to our mental health facilities and Brandeis University for free, and you can always pay for one to take you elsewhere), you're mostly stuck bumming rides off your friends, or driving yourself (parking at Olin is free!). There are several grocery stores (of varying quality) within a mile or two, including a Trader Joe's (more like 2.5 miles, but close enough) and a Whole Foods (more like 3.5 miles away). Needham and Wellesley both have a number of restaurants (Italian food, Thai food, Indian food, pizza, bagels, Starbucks, etc.), and Wellesley has a few retail stores (like the Gap, for example). There's also an extensive mall about 20 minutes away in Natick.

Finally, my own questions:

24. What is your least favorite thing about Olin?

It comes down to a few things: Dining Hall dinners where the vegetarian options were thoughtlessly paired (angel hair pasta with tomatoes, for example, when the side is rice and the meet entrees are curries, or tofu stir fry when the side is linguini and the meat entrees are chicken parmesan and the like), the therapy mailing list (as you may know, I hate it quite a lot, though I am, for the record, now unsubscribed), and too much snow. Snow was all well and good when I was a freshman, but I'm getting pretty sick of it at this point. It's getting to be time for a change of scenery.

25. What is your favorite thing about Olin?

This answer varies depending on my mood and what I'm thinking about at the time. I usually say it's the supportive, close-knit community. The full-tuition scholarship doesn't hurt. I find the curriculum interesting (and hands-on and innovative and worthwhile). I like knowing the names of my professors, and having them (for the most part) know my name. I also really like the Dining Hall's cheese tortellini (usually served at brunch every other Sunday or so--yummm).

More questions? Just ask!



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