The Inside Scoop – Pomona College
Published on August 11, 2016 by ThinkTank Learning
#ThinkTankLearningInside ScoopPomona College
Pomona College ranks #4 in US News & World Report’s “National Liberal Arts Colleges” category, and in the top 10 in Forbes’ “America’s Top Colleges” (#1 in 2015). Its list of notable alumni include: Roy Disney (Executive Director of Walt Disney Co.), Alan Cranston (U.S. Senator for California), Brian Schatz (U.S. Senator for Hawaii), Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D. (biologist: discoverer of CRISPR gene editing system, and likely to win the Nobel Prize), Kelly Perine (actor/comedian: Under One Roof, The Drew Carey Show), George C. Wolfe (playwright/director), Twyla Tharp (dancer/choreographer), and Rosalind Chao (actress: AfterMASH).
What are the key features that you seek in an undergraduate candidate?
At Pomona, we are constantly looking for students who have “daring minds.” Of course, we always want students who are excelling in the classroom by taking on the most challenging curriculum available. Of course, we would like to see students who are testing well on the SAT and ACT. But, when we’re reading an application, we’re most interested in students who are getting outside of their comfort zone. It’s beautiful to see chemists who are heavily involved in social activism, or historians who love theatre. Many colleges in the United States want students to display passion and talent in one academic area. We, however, love to see students who explore.
What would be the biggest or most common mistake that students make on their application?
Our supplemental essay is where we get to know a student. If you spell Pomona “Ponoma” or you re-use an essay you submitted to a different school, we’re not going to be happy. It may surprise you, but we see the aforementioned scenarios more than you might think. Outside of these simple mistakes on our own supplemental essay, I find students focus on topics in their essays that are far too cliché. Admissions Readers have heard some essays a million times: the, “I Overcame a Bad Grade and the Subject Became My Passion” essays or the, “I Volunteered and Learned So Much from the Kids I Worked With” essays tend to be PRETTY boring. These essays (common application and the supplemental) offer an opportunity for you to show us who you really are. Don’t waste that opportunity!
What advice do you have for high school students who plan to apply in the future?
Have MULTIPLE passions visible in your application. Unless you are Einstein or Beethoven, you can’t simply care about one thing. If you are too angular as a student, we as an admissions committee won’t view you as a good fit for a small, liberal arts college. Display your feminist edge IN ADDITION to your passion for Computer Science. Prove that you have a knack for photography IN ADDITION to your love of Economics. We get plenty of applications from students who are “one-track minded.” As a committee, our interests are oftentimes piqued by students who display two or even three legitimate passions. We want students who will come on campus and be dynamic, holistic contributors to our community.
What is the most common misconception that people have about your admissions process?
You don’t need perfect testing or grades to be admitted to Pomona! While a significant portion of our applicants have straight A’s or perfect test scores, these two factors don’t make or break an application. In fact, we have admitted students with significantly lower-than-average academic profiles. Your circumstance, story and passions can make up for a lackluster academic performance. If we admitted a class full of valedictorians, we would have a pretty boring school! Remember that during the application process.
There is a trend of rebellion against standardized testing. Some say that standardized tests help make the process faster/easier, but adds bias and inaccuracy when assessing a student’s future potential. What are your thoughts on this subject?
There’s multiple, legitimate perspectives to this topic, but I am not a huge fan of testing. In my opinion, testing gives the advantage to students and families with a greater amount of resources. A student’s score on the SAT or ACT is not linked to how smart a student is; rather it is linked to how wealthy a student is. That is unacceptable. Education should be a way for us to “level the playing field in this country.” With standardized testing, I believe we are actually promoting an even greater achievement gap between differing socio-economic groups.
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What are some of the more popular/selective majors at your college?
Economics and Mathematics tend to be our most popular majors, with Computer Science and Neuroscience close behind. In the humanities, English and Politics tend to be on top. Pomona does not have any pre-professional majors. So business, pre-med, pre-law etc. are out of the running.
How does major selection impact your assessment of an applicant?
I would say, “It depends.” If you are the right fit for Pomona College, I earnestly believe that students will be admitted regardless of the major you choose. That being said, there are some years where a copious number of students select Economics or Chemistry or Computer Science as their declared major. Since we need a balance of majors in our incoming first-year class, it will be inherently marginally more difficult to receive admission if a student selects one of those “impacted” majors.
How “transfer friendly” is your school?
We LOVE transfers, however, it’s a very competitive admissions pool. Last year, we admitted 8.03% of our transfer applicants, which is not significantly lower than our 9.1% general student acceptance rate.
Tell us a fun fact, unique story, or piece of insider information most people don’t know about your school. In 1964, Mathematics Professor Donald Bentley produced a proof that demonstrates how all numbers are actually equal to 47. While the proof was more of a joke, 47 became Pomona’s unofficial “number.” We have 47 shirts, hats, signs… you name it! It’s pretty hilarious how engrained the number is in Pomona culture.
About The Author
Matthew O’Connor, M.B.A., is a former Admissions Reader at Pomona College in Claremont, California. On the admissions committee, Matt read for five different regions (PA, VT, NY, CO, Northern CA). On any given day, you can find Matt taking part in one of his various interests, including youth mentoring, working out, watching sports, reading political/business journals or exploring the outdoors. Matt grew up in DePere, Wisconsin (Go Green Bay Packers!) and Louisville, Colorado. He graduated from Pomona College as a Politics, Philosophy & Economics major, while also double-majoring in Theatre. He also received his M.B.A. from the Claremont Graduate University Drucker School of Management. At Pomona, Matt was two-time captain of the Pomona-Pitzer football team and was also a four-year member of the track and field team. Outside of sports, Matt performed in various theatre productions, founded a non-profit, was active in volunteering through the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and was a leader in Pomona-Pitzer Christian Fellowship.
Editor: David H. Nguyen, Ph.D.
#ThinkTankLearningInside ScoopPomona College
Here are the supplemental prompts for the Pomona College application this year:
- Most Pomona students enter the College undecided about a major, or they change their minds about their prospective major by the time they graduate. Certainly we aren’t going to hold you to any of the choices you’ve made above. But please do tell us why you’ve chosen the major or majors (or Undecided!) that you have (in no more than 250 words).
- Please respond to one of the following three prompts:
Option A: Each year, the Pomona Student Union hosts a “Great Debate.” Thought leaders with opposing views on a certain issue are invited to make their case in front of the student body. What is an issue that you think has two or more sides and what views would be important to capture in order to understand the nuances of the debate? Why do you think it would be important for the Pomona student body to be exposed to this debate?
Option B: Tell us about a subject that you couldn’t stop exploring, a book you couldn’t put down, or a Wikipedia rabbit hole you dove into. Why did it fascinate you?
Option C: Pomona has a long history of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds who want to push intellectual limits and who want to engage in a community that values difference. Write about a time when you were aware of your difference. How did it change you and what did you learn from the experience?
Back when I was in admissions, I had the privilege of traveling with two different admissions representatives from Pomona, a Dean and an Associate Dean, and the way they described their application evaluation process, it’s easy to see how they will use the information they are gathering from answers to these essay prompts.
In my view, the common thread throughout these questions is intellectual vitality. Pomona isn’t looking for the kids we often deem as “smart”—the straight-A kid who can regurgitate tons of facts, but can’t write very well, or gets lost in a debate about what those facts mean. Instead, Pomona is looking for signals in these essays that the student is interested in really understanding issues from multiple viewpoints. They want students that are actually interested in investigating their blind side. What don’t they know about an issue? How might their views be unsupported, or perhaps even wrong? It seems to me that Pomona is actively looking for students who are interested in tackling these tough questions.
The first question gets into this answer from the perspective of a potential major. What subjects pique your interest and why? What fascinates you about the field? Why can you read about topics in this field for hours and only get more excited and curious vs getting bored?
The second question then gives a student a variety of ways to demonstrate his or her intellectual vitality—pick the one that best demonstrates your curiosity and verve.
Option A gets at this question from the perspective of a national debate that you think is important for people to better understand. Trickle-down economics, Syria, Citizen’s United—what are the topics you think are important to get opposing views on so you can be as informed as possible about the many facets of the issue?
Option B has a similar goal, but looks at the answer from the perspective of your natural curiosity. What captivates you? I often think about this in terms of “flow.” I explain the idea of flow like this: What is it that you are looking into when, no matter how many times your mom calls you to dinner, you simply don’t hear? Or two hours goes by like two minutes and you have to be pulled out of your concentration to do something else? That’s “flow.” If you think back to the last few times you have been in this state of mind, what was it that took you there? Most likely this is going to be the thing you want to write about—that is, as long as it has intellectual depth and isn’t about bingeing a television show.
Option C reminds me of something those admissions counselors often talk about which was a student body that came from all walks of life to a single place in time. We can’t see how others think unless we have the opportunity to meet them and be in a safe environment where we can talk about issues. When were you the “other?” I think this essay wants you to write about a time when your way of thinking wasn’t the prevailing view and what you learned from that experience? How did that help you gain insight? How did the experience challenge you and why was that important?
No matter what you choose to write about, these are some of the things to think about as you select your topics for the Pomona College application supplement.