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How to Write the Pomona College Essays 2019-2020

Pomona College, one of five undergraduate schools in the Claremont Consortium, frequently tops the charts as one of America’s premier liberal arts colleges, and for good reason. Pomona boasts a diverse student body, tight-knit community, gorgeous campus, and most important of all, an incredible tradition of engaging intellectualism.


Another important perk is that Pomona allows students access to resources at all five Claremont schools, providing boundless opportunities for growth and discovery. In this regard, attending Pomona provides an undergraduate experience that maintains both the tender closeness of a liberal arts college, as well as the expansive offerings of a larger university. 


With an acceptance rate of 6.9% for the class of 2022 (they have yet to release the acceptance rate for the class of 2023), Pomona’s selective admissions process measures up to its prestigious name and high quality educational tradition. Admission into Pomona is no small feat; the median ACT score for the class of 2023 was a 34, and the median SAT composite was a 1490. 


A competitive academic profile is a must-have for any student wishing to receive admission into Pomona. Nonetheless, academics aren’t everything, and only through an equally-strong supplemental essay portfolio will your application shine among thousands of qualified applicants. 


Writing a strong essay is crucial to any successful college application. In this guide, we will walk you through how to tackle each and every one of Pomona’s supplements. In doing so, our hope is that your application will shine! Want to know your chances at Pomona? Calculate your chances for free right now.

How to Write the Pomona Supplements


For students submitting the Common Application, Pomona requires three additional short essays. Applicants will choose to answer two of three questions for Prompt 1, in responses of 200-250 words. They will also be required to explain their academic interest selections (300 words) in the “Academics” tab of the Pomona supplement. There is also an optional 50-word essay for any aspects not captured in the rest of your application, and an optional personal statement for the Theatre Program.


Prompt 1 (Required)

Option A: Imagine having a 1 a.m. debate/discussion with your peers in college about an issue you care about. What is that issue, and what is the discussion?


Option B: Share your favorite quote, and tell us what it means to you. The quote can be from an author, leader, musical artist, family member or other source—famous or not. (The quote does not count toward your word limit.)


Option C: We want to understand you better! Tell us about a skill you have (useless or useful) and what it says about you.

Pomona’s essays more unconventional than typical supplements. At their core, these prompts are intended both as an opportunity for you to show admissions readers additional facets of your personality, and as a test of your creative prowess and writing capabilities. 


Strategically speaking, you’ll want to be quick and to the point with these required prompts, as each one only permits 200-250 words. Quick anecdotes and compelling metaphors will do the trick better than long winded narratives or elaborate schemes. Nevertheless, the length of 200-250 words isn’t so short to the point that it doesn’t permit space for a deeper dive into your values and beliefs. Make sure each response isn’t just telling the reader something surface level, but also speaks to your deeper self. 


Additionally, since you have both of these prompts, as well as 1-3 more Pomona supplements on top of your Common App essay for the Pomona application, you will almost certainly need to approach the Pomona supplements as a portfolio. Each response should highlight something different about you that somehow ties back to a central theme or idea. 


These two supplements in particular, since they are lumped together on the application, should complement each other with their contrasting style, subject matter, and tone. It can be difficult to strike a balance between internal cohesion and contrast, but in doing so effectively, you’ll be able to elevate your application beyond competitor applicants with similarly strong test scores and grades. 


The main supplemental prompts are meant to be enjoyed, and their primary purpose, above all else, is to help provide you with an easy opportunity to showcase some of your personal qualities that wouldn’t otherwise shine through in the rest of your application. Be bold, be courageous, and most important of all, be yourself! 


Below, we’ve broken down each individual prompt, providing specific advice, suggestions, and examples for how to tackle each one. 

Prompt 1, Option A:

Imagine having a 1 a.m. debate/discussion with your peers in college about an issue you care about. What is that issue, and what is the discussion? (200-250 words)

The beauty of this prompt is that your response to it can range widely: anything from intellectual musings to silly banter. The downside to that flexibility, however, is that it makes it difficult to find clarity of direction for your response. Although the specific topic of debate/discussion is ultimately up to you, what you should most certainly highlight with this response is your ability to think creatively and analytically about solving problems, no matter their severity. 


Additionally, since this is framed within the context of a 1 a.m. discussion with your friends, which implies a sense of camaraderie and community, your response should have friendly undertones amenable to improving the community of a small liberal arts college. Pomona wants to see not only that you are an astute scholar capable of thinking on your feet and thinking critically, but also that you will be a suitable roommate, classmate, and friend to your peers. 


You might initially interpret this prompt as asking about a political or scientific issue. Perhaps you and your friends frequently talk about healthcare policy, discussing the merits of single payer versus multi payer universal systems. Perhaps you and your friends like to discuss which economic sectors will see the most dynamic job markets in light of increasing levels of automation. These are both highly intellectual (and heavy) topics for high schoolers, but if this is reasonable, and you are sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic at hand, don’t hesitate to write a response that’s more lofty and mentally stimulating. 


On the other hand, if you want to make the topic of discussion something more lighthearted, that isn’t a bad approach either, especially if you’re able to treat it with the same level of intensity as something more serious. For instance, a debate about which Disney princess would be the most likely to win a Nobel Peace Prize opens the door for a more creative and humorous discussion, but one that could potentially also display stellar deductive and argumentative capabilities. 


Your discussion could also be a mixture of heavy and lighthearted, injecting humor into an otherwise grim topic, or discussing the unexpected consequences of something seemingly insignificant. Maybe a discussion of whether crunchy or creamy peanut butter tastes better with strawberry jelly could quickly evolve into a thought-provoking investigation into the environmental impacts borne by the chemical manipulation of mainstream food processing companies. 


Whatever your chosen topic, at the heart of this prompt is a simple task: 


1. State a topic of conversation, briefly explaining why it is a disagreement worth resolving, or why it is an inquiry worth pursuing. 


2. Depict all sides of the ensuing discussion, whether that be through real-time dialogue or through an explanatory overview of the main points of contention. 


3. Draw a clear personal connection as to not only why this question matters to you specifically, but also what your thoughts are on the matter. Even if the discussion in question doesn’t result in clarity for you, the reader should still see that you are being thoughtful and observant as you endeavor to form an opinion on a potentially complex topic. This is a crucial skill, both for academic success, and in life as our society becomes increasingly saturated with conflicting narratives and information. 


As long as you accomplish those three key steps, your topic of choice could be anything from the physics behind Tom Holland’s acrobatics in the new Spider Man movie to the empirical basis for human free will. Don’t hesitate to be witty, charming, and visionary in your response; you might find the admissions office appreciates it. 

Prompt 1, Option B:

Share your favorite quote, and tell us what it means to you. The quote can be from an author, leader, musical artist, family member or other source—famous or not. (The quote does not count toward your word limit of 200-250 words)

Similarly well suited for a myriad of responses, this prompt is arguably more versatile and more flexible than the previous prompt. While the above asks you to dissect a problem (albeit “problem” is quite open ended), this prompt asks you to explain why a quote is important to you. Thus, you could write quite nearly anything for this supplement. That’s both exciting and terrifying! Hold onto your hats folks, it’s gonna be a doozy. 


The trick to this prompt is in the wording. Your response should consist of a short contextualization of your chosen quote (including a possible explanation if it’s from something or someone more obscure), and then pivot into a deeper discussion of how you derive meaning from that quote. The quote you choose doesn’t matter that much in and of itself, so your goal should not be to impress the reader with an obscure literary reference or woke tweet just for the sake of it. The importance of the quote lies in the significance it bears on your own thoughts and feelings. 


That said, you should try to avoid quotes that might come off as cliché, such as “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This quote is just so hackneyed that it may cause admissions officers to roll their eyes, even if you have a unique story to go with it. You’re better off finding a lesser-known and more precise quote that embodies the message you want to send.


You might find it helpful when approaching this prompt to think about what values or personality traits you want to convey to the reader, and then look up quotes related to that topic or concept. You could think of novels you’ve read that have central messages pertinent to your own, or characters you relate to. You could think about world leaders that inspire you. You could think through songs whose lyrics resonate the most with you. Regardless of the source, once you’ve decided on a quote you believe encapsulates the essence of what you want to display, you should easily be able to break down how it pertains to your personal ideology. 


Conversely, maybe you have a few favorite quotes from various sources, and while you aren’t sure exactly what that says about you, this your chance to think long and hard about it. Maybe your grandmother had an encouraging phrase she would always tell you as advice. Maybe your town’s public library has a mural outside with a message that has always spoken to you as you’ve come and gone to check out books. Whatever the case may be, try to think critically about why you adore this quote so much, and what that might indicate about your own personal form of wisdom. The key to this prompt is in the elaboration and reflection. 


Here’s an example of a good start to this essay:


In his infinite wisdom, Dee Hock, the CEO of the Visa credit card association remarked “Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.” To me, this quote represents my own unique method of mindfulness. I started meditating when I was seven years old, and since then, the connection between my mind, body, and psyche has strengthened drastically. I often feel as though our culture perpetuates norms such as more is better and quantity over quality. We fail to leave space for ourselves and become comfortable with our own thoughts. However, I’ve found that I do my best growing, thinking, and empathizing only when I’m able to collect myself and take time to digest my experiences in manageable doses… [proceed with real life examples]


Regardless of the approach you take to choosing a quote and answering the prompt, a successful response will do all of the following: 


1. Identify your favorite quote and contextualize it so the reader understands what it means and who said it. 


2. Explain what that quote means to you, whether that be a unique interpretation or a connection to your personal experiences. 


3. Elaborate upon how that quote speaks to your own unique personality and values.


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Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Prompt 1, Option C:

We want to understand you better! Tell us about a skill you have (useless or useful) and what it says about you. (200-250 words)

Consistent with the first two prompts, this lends itself to just about any topic you’d like. And again, the important thing is not the skill itself, but rather the message: what it says about you. There are various ways to approach this prompt, but the key to a successful answer will be displaying not only your uniqueness and competence with your chosen skill (if it is even worth being competent at), but also how well your personality shines through. Be quirky. Be serious. Be whoever you want to be. Just make sure it’s entertaining, and that your voice carries through nicely. 


Your first reaction to this prompt might be to write about a skill that is highly unique, hoping this will distinguish you from the crowd. For instance, maybe you write about something useful but unexpected like husking corn, which you then use as a segue to talk about the determination you’ve built helping your parents run their farm in rural Indiana. With an answer like this, which is individualized but also highly utilitarian, you’d likely want to adopt a more purposeful tone. Your chosen skill might interrelate with your upbringing or cultural identity, which is a great way to demonstrate how you would diversify the incoming freshman class. In cases like these, your response is a representation of your past, and how that informs who you are today. 


On the other hand, you might write about something completely outlandish, like UFO hunting or building pillow forts. In adopting this approach, your skill should function as a creative vehicle for deeper insights. With this approach to the prompt, you demonstrate not only your sense of humor, but also your ability to reflect critically on even the most seemingly mundane parts of life. For instance, maybe your abilities as a UFO hunter demonstrate how your idealistic imagination helps you chase dreams and stay positive during difficult times. Maybe your pillow forts are a metaphor for how you hold onto your loved ones and friends dearly, serving as a defender and supporter. Whatever the twist, backing up something sufficiently humorous or eyebrow raising with substance shows your ability to reflect introspectively, a surefire way to impress admissions readers. 


By no means is it necessary to write about a skill that admissions readers have never heard of. In fact, you might do well to write about a topic more familiar to admissions readers, as this could have a greater possibility of resonating with their own life experiences. In particular, if you are highly skilled at something competitive (perhaps you played the cello in the National Youth Orchestra or interned with a UN ambassador), this could be a good opportunity to give personalized insights as to how that experience impacted you beyond an otherwise bare activities section description. If you feel as though you gained the most growth from something more mainstream, be it useful or useless, don’t hesitate to use that as the main idea of your response. 


In reflective college essays, there are no wrong answers, just good ones and better ones. Your objective should be to show the admissions office that you’ve thought deeply about who you are, what your unique abilities mean, and how you’ve changed as a result of your skillset. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.

Prompt 2 (Optional)

If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below in no more than 50 words.

Before you dive into answering this question, remember that you are only given a 50 word limit. As such, you are not being asked to write another deep piece about your childhood or an issue that matters to you—you should have already covered such topics in your Common Application.


Instead, use this space to be straightforward and direct. Perhaps you have a hobby that wasn’t really explored yet or a quirk that all your friends have come to identify you with. Whatever it is that makes you the person you are, this is the space to put it into the spotlight.


In terms of formatting, due to the limited space, you may not have enough time to really go into an explanation about what this topic is or give much background. As an alternative, you can answer the prompt in the form of a list or short action-packed sentences. For example, if you love to solve hands-on puzzles like the Rubik’s cube, then you may write something like:

It’s one in the morning. Under the luminescent glow of my lamp, my hands are moving furiously. Finally, I glance at the stopwatch and slam the object onto the table. Twenty-five seconds. My new record. The completed Rubik’s cube stares back at me, beckoning me to solve it once more.

The “essay” doesn’t necessarily need to have a resolution like your other essays might, but it allows you to give the reader a small glance into your world and to show them what is important to you simply because it just is.


Prompt 3 (Required)

What gets you excited about your academic interest selection(s) above? (300 words, under the “Academics” tab)

Here, we have the all too common “Why Major” essay, this time primarily focusing on your personal academic aspirations based on intellectual passion and academic experiences. If you have a clear sense as to an intended singular discipline or academic focus, this is the place to tell admissions readers all about your love for that subject. On the other hand, if you’re debating between a couple disciplines or are undecided, you should still convey that you’ve devoted a significant amount of thought into your intellectual focus. There’s a clear distinction between being undecided between a few things you have thought about and being undecided because you’ve neglected to explore what’s available. 


One common mistake people make with these types of prompts is to discuss their subject analytically, rather than personally. For example, you may be interested in chemistry because the labs are exciting and you like knowing the building blocks of life. While those may both be true, using this reason to justify your choice doesn’t give the admissions counsel any more insight as to why you would choose chemistry over biology. The point is, you need to show that you have actively engaged with the major you have selected, and understand enough of the nuances in the field to make your informed decision. A better response to the chemistry example would be:


“I am currently interested in learning more about the human body at the cellular level, but in order to gain a full appreciation of the cell, I will also need a good grasp of the physics at play. As the central science, chemistry will allow me to build those connections between the two science disciplines and as a result help me become a better versed researcher.”


Remember that every essay you write should always circle back to you in some way, and “Why Major” essays are no different. Some questions to help get you thinking about your response are listed below.


1)    What is your earliest memory of interacting with this subject?

2)    When you are engrossed in this subject, what kind of feelings are evoked?

3)    What have you already done up to this point to pursue your interest in this subject?

4)    Where do you see this subject playing into your life after graduating college?


You may choose to answer one or all of the questions listed above, but take them more as prompting guidelines. You can definitely answer this question in a more straightforward manner, but you may also choose to convey your passion for a major in a more anecdotal manner.


Ultimately, what Pomona is really looking for in this essay is to see if you have academic passion. After all, this is a school widely known for the rigor of their classes, so they want to fill up the classroom with students who are driven and curious about the world around them.


Optional for Theatre Program Applicants

A personal statement describing your future plans is also encouraged.



Clearly, you should only answer this supplement if you intend to apply to Pomona’s Theater Program. While “encouraged” might seem gentle, you should view this as a required prompt, as for all “optional” essays.  Besides, if anything, this is another chance to give the admissions readers a better glimpse into your stellar personality. Don’t pass up an opportunity to bedazzle them with your ambition, intellect, and wit! 


With an unspecified prompt length, you might be tempted to write an extensive 2,000 word essay that details your life aspirations with painstaking precision. This is not advisable, as most admissions officers will not spend more than a couple minutes reading your response. Make it snappy, so the reader stays captivated. At the same time, don’t be so brief as to render your response uselessly vague or worse, redundant. You certainly want to say something, and (as per conventional wisdom) if you truly have nothing nice to say, just don’t say anything at all. 


As a general guideline to help you strike the right balance between brevity and substance, we’d recommend shooting for a word count of around 500 words. This should give you ample space to detail your future plans, while also personalizing them, without excessive information that threatens to bore the reader or dilute from an otherwise purposeful and deliberate response. 


One easy mistake here would be to write something about your interest in theater broadly, speaking to your philosophical love of the discipline. Instead, focus this response more on your future plans rather than your academic or even personal aspirations for applying to the Theater Program, as that would be repetitive with required academic interest prompt. Because this is a personal statement, your biggest priority should be to emphasize your own journey with theater and performing arts, how that intersects with Pomona’s unique offerings, and what that means for your success in the long run. 


The key to answering this prompt effectively is as follows: 


1. Briefly give an indication as to how the performing arts have impacted you. 


2. Describe how Pomona’s Theatre and Dance Department for The Claremont Colleges will suit your unique ambitions.


3. Detail your post-graduate plans, drawing a clear connection between your future success and Pomona’s offerings. You should devote at least half of your word count to this task. 


Pomona is an academically rigorous school with a strong theater/arts tradition, certainly, but another thing to consider when writing this prompt is how a liberal arts education benefits your interest in theater, rather than drama school or stage school. Surely if you are a student applying to this program, you have a unique array of interests and are well on your way towards a well-crafted future. Accordingly, your response to this prompt should reflect cohesive career goals that coincide well with the experiences at your fingertips as a Pomona undergraduate. 


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