Pomona College Application Essay Prompts
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).
At its core, this prompt is a “Why this major?” essay, so there are some straightforward guidelines to follow when crafting your response. However, keep in mind: the word count is limited to 250 words, and this prompt goes out of its way to explain that they understand if you don’t feel committed towards a single major.
Many students feel compelled to deliver that ‘hard sell,’ and convince the admissions department they were born for that major, even if their interest may not be that strong. In other cases, school supplements often ask “Why X major?” and expect that you are committed to that field, especially at STEM schools and applications to specific engineering/business programs.
This prompt, on the other hand, emphasizes a more open approach to which major you are considering, so keep that open-minded mentality as you write this essay. If you genuinely feel passionate about a field, whether that be the future of machine learning or foreign relations, then great! You’ll be able to address this question with ease and fluidity.
To those that don’t have much of an idea what they want to do, take advantage of the leniency in this prompt and explain why you may be undecided. This is in keeping with Pomona’s philosophy of discovery through a liberal arts education.
Since this is a “Why this major?” essay, and your application as a whole is likely shaped around some specific interests (even if you are undecided or between several options), make sure to explain those passions or expand upon them if you have already discussed them in your personal statement. Beginning with an anecdote is by no means necessary; simply let the reader know what major(s) you are considering and why on an introductory level before delving into the body of your essay.
If you do have a good anecdote that explains your choice of major, then start with that. Reference the major name in regards to Pomona — you will look silly if the major you mention doesn’t exist (Pomona does not offer majors in pre-law, pre-health, and pre-engineering, but does have similar paths and special programs) or is under a different name, e.g., “biomedical engineering” vs. “bioengineering.”
Additionally, do your research on the major program(s) at Pomona, including the kinds of classes, the professors in that field, ongoing research, programs and opportunities available, etc. Wrap it up by saying what you would do with a Pomona degree in that field.
If you are undecided, make sure to explain why you would like to explore your options at Pomona in particular, and be careful to still mention some opportunities, classes, and potential majors you will explore during your early years at Pomona. Remember: if you are in doubt in regards to your major, express your interests in relation to what Pomona provides. For example, if Pomona provides a unique program in finance and you are undecided but have some interest in economics, you can mention this program.
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?
This is an uncommon type of prompt, since the Great Debate is unique to Pomona and professors at Pomona encourage lively discussion and the clashing of opinions. Don’t be intimidated by this option; this is really a way for admissions officers at Pomona to further assess your thought process, your views and values, and your ability to develop nuanced perspectives and understand both sides within an argument.
Since most of your application is built around your intellectual capacity and academic prowess, this is a chance for the admissions officers to see a new side of you. Pick an issue that is relevant to you and your interests, but don’t feel the necessity to choose an issue just because it’s global and humanitarian, e.g., widespread poverty. The issue can be small-scale if it is important to you, e.g., influence of certain dress code rules at your school. The more nuanced, the better. If you have taken Speech and Debate in high school, you might feel most comfortable with this prompt!
You can approach this prompt in several ways. Consider beginning with a narrative or anecdote that relates to the issue before explaining the issue and stances, in a way where the narrative reveals the nuances on its own. For example, you could write about rapidly changing lifestyle in the ocean from the perspective of a whale before explaining the controversy over climate change, and whether or not we are causing the global rise in sea level and ocean acidification.
You could also initially state the issue and give background on both sides of the argument before explaining why this issue is important to you, what perspectives one could take on the issue (no issue is inherently binary, so this part is important), and how this issue has relevance to fellow Sagehens.
Don’t feel the need to take a side yourself; while you may agree with one side, neutrality might be beneficial when exploring all sides of the argument. The most difficult (or most obvious part) may be connecting the issue to why it’s important for Pomona’s student body, but be sure to talk about specific aspects of the school or students. If you take on the controversy surrounding the current presidential election, for example, you can state how necessary it is for current students to express their opinion and vote.
Tell Us About…
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?
This prompt is best if you have a profound interest that isn’t necessarily mentioned elsewhere in your application, and you have the passion and excitement to write in depth about it. There may be some topics you have a strong interest in and can’t stop reading about, or that you have spent hours researching for the sake of self-interest.
This could take the form of online literature on string theory, a certain video series on Khan Academy, or a book that was so engaging you spent entire nights reading without realizing. Or maybe a YouTube subscription on medieval history, or a new musical artist or photographer you stumbled across two years ago and have pursued since. While the prompt seems to limit you to online searches or books you dove into, feel free to divert from this path a little.
Whatever this interest may be for you, a solid vehicle to frame your story would be a narrative. Begin in the heat of the moment, describing your reading or researching with intensity, and use figurative language to convey feelings and sensory detail. You can mix in a twist introduction, or employ creative language and writing to display your writing prowess, before zooming out and explaining your topic in a more general sense.
For example, you could describe in detail your mental process as you watch a science video before explaining what you are watching and why it interests you. You want to emphasize why it fascinated you, and why that fascination fits into your overall story and the theme of your application. Choose something genuine that you are interested in, whether it is quirky or oddball or completely unrelated to your academics and extracurriculars, and have fun with it!
Write About A Time…
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?
This prompt is best for you if a specific experience with this difference played a formative, consistent role in your life. This difference doesn’t have to be racial, an issue of sexism, etc. — don’t feel compelled to make this difference one of controversy, but one that has genuinely affected you.
If you are an immigrant and the language or cultural barrier was the difference, or your ethnicity caused you to feel different, be sure to take a nuanced and unique approach, since many applicants may have similar stories, thus rendering your theme cliché. This difference can manifest in skill-level disparities when you first joined a team sport and how you persevered, in a pronounced difference between you and a sibling that guided your family dynamic, etc.
Whatever it is, avoid broad clichés and generalizations that will weaken your overall message. Avoid saying something along the lines of “I overcame that difference and won” or “I put aside that difference immediately and was able to work things out.” It’s OK to be vulnerable here, and establish how you changed as a person by recognizing that difference and using it as a stepping stone in the right direction.
Keep in mind the first part of the prompt emphasizes diverse backgrounds and valuing differences. The key message you want to convey is that this difference has taught you valuable lessons in understanding who you are as an individual and how you will present this side to the student population at Pomona.
For personalized mentorship and one-on-one guidance through the application process, check out CollegeVine’s mentorship program and application guidance services. Good luck with your essays, and go Sagehens!
The Inside Scoop – Pomona College
Published on August 11, 2016 by ThinkTank Learning
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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.
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