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.
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!