How to Write the Pomona College Supplement 2018-2019

Pomona College is located in Claremont, CA and is home to 1,671 undergraduates. It’s a part of the Claremont Colleges, which include Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Pitzer. The Claremont Colleges are like the West Coast equivalent of the Five and Tri-College Consortium. This past year they received a record number of 10.2K+ applications and had an acceptance rate of 6.9%. Their supplement has two parts, one of which is sort of like a second Common App essay. Read on for our insight:

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, in no more than 250 words, please tell us why you’ve chosen the academic programs (or Undecided!) that you have listed.

First of all: you cannot be undecided. Please listen to them when they say that they aren’t going to hold you to any of the choices you indicate as a major or minor in your application. They are serious. They won’t. Which is why you need to pick an academic area, a major, a minor, a department of focus to talk about in these 250 words. This question is a bit of a sneaky “Why Pomona” and you should treat it as such. Do your research: find some hyper-specific course and talk about why majoring in that department is crucial for you to hone and expand your academic niche. There are many things that Pomona offers that no other school does, so it should not be challenging to find. Your reasons for applying to Pomona shouldn’t be something completely obvious like research opportunities (although they are plentiful at Pomona) or its proximity to the beach (that has nothing to do with academics, though it is a wonderful perk). 

Please respond to one of the three following prompts. We’d recommend an essay between 400 and 600 words, but yours may be longer or shorter.

Before we delve in and break down the pros and cons of answering each of the prompts, let us mention our stance on word count here. Don’t make it longer than 600 words, and don’t make it shorter than 400. We always say that longer is very rarely better and that it’s a good idea to embody the phrase “quality over quantity” here. Looking back on everything that we do, from emails and essays to handwritten notes, we always say: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Keep that in mind. Don’t use three words when you can use one. Pithy, succinct, and witty go a long way.

Prompt 1: For Pomona students, the College’s location in Southern California is integral in shaping their experience. Tell us about a location, real or fictional, that has shaped you in a meaningful way.

This can be a fun essay if you choose somewhere truly unique and genuinely one of your “spirit places.” Be creative. If you grew up on a cul-de-sac, don’t write about your neighborhood. Although you might find your neighborhood unique, challenge yourself to think smaller and write about one specific block or place along your walk to the bus that elicits meaning and nostalgia. If you’re from New York and grew up in Brooklyn Heights, we wouldn't necessarily advise writing about that. But, if you grew up in East New York and the closest subway is an 18-minute walk, you can write about that walk.

In the same vein of not writing about something predictable, we’d avoid places that people have a lot of opinions about. Particularly generic European cities or the Grand Canyon. People have their own ties to these well-known places and they don’t really care to hear about yours. They want to learn something from your essay, so teach them something about a place they have never experienced. Tell a story.  

Prompt 2: “Let only the eager, thoughtful and reverent enter here,” is inscribed on one side of Pomona’s College Gates. Dating from 1914, the gates remain a potent symbol today as we welcome every new class of students to enter them together. If you were to inscribe a fourth quality into the gates to describe students who enter Pomona today, which adjective would you choose? What quality would you want your Pomona peers to share, and why?

When we read this, the first word that came to mind is “lit.” But obviously don’t use that. We’d also advise staying away from generic words that might describe a “good person” but that don’t accurately describe a community, like compassionate or empathetic. They sound empty when applied to an entire class or community. This question is challenging. We think unnecessarily so, which is why we wouldn’t advise answering it if you think that you have a better topic to write about for either of the other two prompts. If you must, think less about versatility and more about specificity when you’re choosing a quality/word.

Prompt 3: Oscar Wilde said that there are two tragedies in life: not getting what one wants and getting it. Tell us about an experience of not getting what you wanted or getting it and why it was a tragedy.

Writing about failure is one of our favorite things to do because while we have all experienced it, it is a worthy task to challenge yourself to revisit and write about your failure. Re-immersing yourself in a time when you experienced intense negative emotions can be very hard, but we’ve found some of the most rewarding and impactful essays to be about just those moments. The moments when you felt truly out of sorts. We’ve written a lot about how to write about failure, so make sure to read all of that before you consider framing an essay around this question. It’ll be a great exercise, we promise. But it won’t be easy. This prompt takes some tenacity and vulnerability, which is exactly why we love it.


Let us know if you have any remaining questions or need some guidance on completing this application. We’re here to help.