The Inside Scoop – Pomona College
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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.