The College was founded in 1887 by a group of Presbyterians and became independent of the church in 1910. Although initially located in Boyle Heights, the college moved to Highland Park in 1898. The current campus was occupied in 1914 after the previous campus burned down. The Eagle Rock campus covers over 120 acres, much of it undeveloped land on a hill known on campus as "Mt. Fiji."
Occidental offers undergraduate degrees in Humanties, Arts, and Sciences. The Department of Education prepares people for teaching k-12 and offers a M.A.T. degree. The Biology Department offers an M.A. degree. Approximately 70% of the students are liberal arts. The school sports an excellent student-to-teacher ratio, particularly in its science departments (Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Biology and Geology).
The school is often considered part of the so-called west-coast ivy leauge, which includes schools such as the Claremont Colleges (Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer) and Pepperdine University. The college has received positive press in recent years, making admission difficult - only 44% of recent applicants were admitted. The student body is highly diverse.
Myron Hunt designed the original buildings in a Mediterranean style, with covered walkways and tile roofs. The three original buildings of the 1914 reconstruction still stand today, although seismic concerns have limited them to classrooms and academic offices. Most of the rest of the buildings match the original style with a few exceptions. The most notable of these is Stearns Hall, which has been described as "Barbie meets Escher" for its angular, post-modern style and its shrunken scale (it is supposedly built at 90% of scale, an idea supported by the feeling of clausterphobia often encountered there).
The college competes in SCIAC NAIA Division III sports as well as other non-conference sports such as Rugby. The school's teams are called the Tigers.
Alumni and alumnae of note include Jack Kemp, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame), Ben Affleck (who attended for 1 year), and any number of schoolteachers, ministers, coaches, diplomats and scientists. Alumni/ae gatherings have historically been minimal outside of the LA area.
The campus has been used for various television and movie shots. The entry fountain is seen as part of Vulcan in the Star Trek movie "The Search for Spock". In "Beverly Hills 90210", the campus was called "California University." It also appeared in the films "Real Genius" and "Clueless."
It has a student bookstore, with a large selection of gel-pens. A long-time favorite student activity is "tunneling", or exploring the utility tunnels that link many of the older buildings in campus.