admission essay

Here are the supplemental prompts for the Pomona College application this year:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Best wishes!


Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College.