A plea to Pomona applicants–Be the real you

Mark Twain once said, "'Be yourself' is about the worst advice you can give to people.'"  It's witty, that's for sure, but with all due respect to Mr Twain, it's just not true at all when it comes to applicants at Pomona College. 

The pressure of college admissions has caused a lot of applicants to worry far too much about impressing colleges rather than just being themselves and selecting the colleges that fit them.  Safe, contrived efforts to impress almost certainly won't work at Pomona.  So here are a few things to consider before you apply.

1. Think hard about why you're interested in Pomona in the first place 

This is just plain good advice no matter where you're applying.  But frankly, Pomona prides itself on being a special place.  Applicants who just toss in an application "in case I don't get into an Ivy" aren't the kinds of students that are likely to be admitted.  Think hard about why Pomona would be a good fit for you.  If you were accepted, would you be genuinely excited about the opportunity to attend?  If so, why?  The more you think about that, the more likely you are to discover your true match with the college. 

2. Make the effort to visit and to interview.

Pomona says that interviews are "strongly recommended."  Here's a tip.  Whenever a college you want to go to says that something is "strongly recommended," you should probably do it.  If you really want to go to Pomona, take them up on the offer to interview.  And if you're unable to schedule an interview because one wasn't available, don't panic.  The key here is to make the effort.  Selective colleges like Pomona want students who are sincerely interested in the school.  Making the effort to schedule an interview (as well as demonstrating a thoughtful consideration of why you're applying) are ways to show that interest.  Visiting a college is always a good idea, too, if your schedule allows.  And if you live in Southern California, you really have no reason not to visit Pomona (if you're sincerely interested in attending).

3. Take advice from the dean.

Bruch Poch, Dean of Admissions at Pomona, has written some refreshingly candid articles to help students and parents better understand the admissions process.  Check out Don't Be Bland for his take on how to write a college essay, The Search for Authenticity where he reveals what colleges really want, and Keep It Honest, Keep It Real in which he discourages applicants from trying to game the system. 

Seriously, whether or not you want to go to Pomona, you should read these.

4.  Strongly consider doing the optional writing sample.

Pomona also "strongly encourages" that you respond to one of these optional prompts:

A) What experience in high school has mattered most to you? How do you see this experience influencing your decision-making in college?

B) Although it may appear to the contrary, we do know that people have a life beyond what they do to get into college. Tell us about an experience you’ve had outside of your formal classroom and extracurricular activities that was just plain fun and why.

As with most college essays, trying to write what you think sounds good, trying to be impressive, trying to give them what you think they want to hear–those are all terrible ideas.  Pomona, led by Bruce Poch, is all about authenticity in the admissions process.  They want to get to know the person behind the grades, test scores and activities.  They want to know what you care about, how you spend your time, and what makes you tick.  And most importantly, they want to hear those thoughts in your own words. 

So if volunteering at the Special Olympics really was the activity that mattered most to you in high school, tell them.  But don't hide behind contrived statements like, "Volunteering at the Special Olympics was an extremely rewarding experience that taught me to appreciate the value of helping others."  No teenager we've ever met talks like that.  Tell them the truth.  Tell them why it really mattered so much.  In your own words.

And if you and your friends really do enjoy playing video games together, and the Friday night you stayed up all night playing Madden 2010 was one of the best nights you've ever had, tell them!  Don't be ashamed.  You're a teenager.  This is what (a lot of) teenagers do.  The second prompt SAYS they want to hear about something that was just plain fun, so tell them the truth.  Your grades, test scores and activities are proof that you're not a lazy person who just plays video games all the time.  So you should feel free to give them a view of your downtime without fear of admissions retribution.  Be yourself.  Tell the truth.   

Frankly, this advice is valid for pretty much any essay on any college application.  But at Pomona, failure to follow it would mean that you're ignoring the advice their own dean put out there for you.  And that's probably not the best way to warm up to them. 

So relax, tell your stories, and most importantly, be the real you.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.