Walking onto Pomona’s campus, it is easy to see the similarities between Pomona and
the New England liberal arts colleges that inspired it. Los Angeles filmmakers have often
used the college as a “stand in” for the campuses of East Coast colleges, featuring Pomona’s
architecture in Pearl Harbor and episodes of The Gilmore Girls. Of course, the students
sunbathing, studying, and throwing Frisbees on Pomona’s main quad in January illustrate one key difference between this college and its peers. Moreover, the Doric columns of the
Carnegie Building are not far from the solar panels and rooftop greenhouses of the Seaver
biology building, a testament to the meeting of old and new taking place at Pomona.
In 1887 a group of New England Congregationalists founded Pomona College. Their
hope was to bring the intellectual rigor of the finest colleges of the East and Midwest to
California. The unfinished hotel that housed some of Pomona’s first students still stands
today, serving as Pomona’s admissions building. Like a traditional liberal arts college,
Pomona prides itself on small classes, discussion-based education, and the relationships
between students and faculty. Walking through Pomona’s tree-lined walkways, it becomes
clear that Pomona is a small school with big resources. The college builds or renovates at
least one academic building and one dorm every year, and the administration has committed
itself to building only LEED standard green buildings since 2003.
Pomona College is a coed, residential, nonsectarian liberal arts college located
thirty-five miles east of Los Angeles. At Pomona, talented students enter a dynamic community
with first-class faculty, melding some of the best qualities of small schools and
research universities. The college brings together world-class teachers, a diverse student
body, and an administration committed to its students, and places all of this in the sunshine
of Southern California.
One of the keys to Pomona’s ability to combine big school resources with small school feel
is the consortium of colleges to which it belongs. The college grew significantly in the
early twentieth century, and administrators faced the challenge of expanding Pomona to
serve a larger and more diverse group of students while maintaining the character of a small
school. While the liberal arts schools of the East gave the first model for Pomona, the college
used Cambridge and Oxford as models to found a consortium of colleges that was new in the
United States. Today, Pomona is the largest and most academically diverse of the Claremont
Colleges, which include four other liberal arts colleges and two graduate schools. Not only
can Pomona students walk to the adjacent schools, but they can also enroll in classes at the
other colleges and take advantage of consortium resources such as a 2.5 million-volume
library. The consortium also allows Pomona to feel more like a large or small school, depending
on the student. Some people spend four years focusing on getting to know 1,520 at
Pomona, while others branch out to the more than 5,500 across the consortium.
One of the things that most people applying to Pomona have to overcome is the “what’s
Pomona” experience. When you’re having the recurring “so, where are you applying to
college?” conversation and you list the schools you’re applying to, your Great Aunt Harriet
is going to tell you she’s never heard of Pomona. Considering that it often competes for students
with the big-name colleges, it is a surprise that more people haven’t heard of
Pomona. Still, let’s remember that this isn’t a popularity contest: you’re choosing a place to
spend four years of your life and finding the right place is going to determine what those
four years are like. Clearly the college guides know about Pomona. Clearly graduate schools
know about Pomona. The fact that Pomona’s retention rate is often the highest in the country
means that students know that Pomona is something special.
Probably the most significant thing that separates Pomona from some of the other
schools in this book is the size of the college. With only 1,500 students total, Pomona is a
small college. At Pomona, the average class size is fourteen students and there is one faculty
member for every eight students. Even introductory science classes, which are “large”
by Pomona standards, break out into small lab sections. The classroom dynamic can vary
quite a bit, depending on the professor and the students in a given class, but the vast majority
of classes place a premium on student participation. If you learn best by being involved
in the process, you want to be at a school like Pomona.
One slogan that speaks to the Pomona College education is ‘size matters!’
In my second semester at Pomona I took an English class with twelve students
and a computer science class with five people. Beware, though: with only
four other people in the class, there is no ‘back of the classroom’ to hide in!”
What it really takes to be successful at Pomona is the willingness to take advantage of
the relationships and opportunities that the college offers. Walking into a professor’s office
to discuss a paper assignment can be the beginning of a relationship that leads to a summer
research opportunity, and it is the student who is willing to take advantage who takes the
most out of Pomona. You see, there aren’t any graduate students at Pomona, which means
two things: One, every single class at Pomona is taught by a professor, not a grad student;
two, Pomona undergrads end up working as research assistants for their professors, which
becomes a huge advantage when they apply to graduate school. In fact, Pomona further
encourages student research by funding summer research performed by students and
Pomona professors. Students spend their summers at Pomona doing everything from synthesizing
experimental pharmaceuticals to translating Frenchwomen’s Civil War diaries.
One of the things that I didn’t appreciate about Pomona until I got there
was the influence that small, discussion-oriented classes had on my education.
When I compared notes with friends at other prestigious schools, I found out that
they expected to spend their first year or two in lecture halls where professors
spoke through a microphone to a crowd of note-takers. To most university students,
a discussion session means a break-out session led by a graduate student.
At Pomona, academic dialogue is the norm. My college education took place
around a small table with faculty and students who were interested in hearing
my voice, and it made all the difference.
For a school that prides itself on its small size, Pomona offers its students a surprisingly
wide array of academic options. The college boasts forty-five academic majors in the
natural sciences, huamanities, social sciences, and arts. Of course, Pomona students can
also design their own major with the help of an advisor and the approval of the college, which has led to the creation of such innovative programs as Peace Studies and Social Justice through dance. Even the “standard” majors at Pomona benefit from the college’s
broad strength. Majors such as cognitive science, environmental analysis, and politics, philosophy,
and economics take advantage of Pomona’s versatility and ask students to think
beyond the conventional boundaries of academic disciplines.
The academic breadth available to Pomona students is increased by Pomona’s membership
in the Claremont University Consortium. This partnership of five colleges and two
graduate schools opens up the possibilities to Pomona students. Students at Pomona register
for classes at the same time as students across the consortium and have access to most
of the classes being offered at all seven schools. Students use cross-registration in a variety
of ways, from looking for a specialized computer science class at Harvey Mudd to shopping
for a statistics class at Pitzer that doesn’t meet as early as its Pomona counterpart. Pomona
students can take up to half of their classes off Pomona’s campus, though the average student
takes only a few beyond Pomona’s gates.
Given the broad strength of Pomona’s programs and the diverse interests of the student
body, it shouldn’t be surprising that Pomona’s most popular major changes virtually
every year. Pomona students tend to move around as well: it takes only a one-page form to
change a major, so the average Sagehen changes major 2.5 times!
When they enter Pomona, first-year students are paired with an academic advisor
based on his or her academic interests as well as personality. While many students go on to
change their major and their advisor several times (it’s the same one-page form to do both),
the relationship between student and advisor is usually a special one. It is not at all unusual
to see academic advising taking place over a milkshake at the Coop Fountain, where faculty
are given coupons to take students out to eat.
After dropping into my psychology professor’s office hours a few times,
I found myself with an offer to join her research lab as a second-semester freshman.
The ability to get involved with research as an undergrad is one of the best
parts of being at a school with no graduate students.
Pomona recently revised its general education requirements with the goals of providing
the most possible openness to its students while maintaining the breadth of a liberal arts education. As a result, Pomona enforces a Breadth of Study requirement for its graduates.
While at Pomona, students must take one course in the arts, one in the natural sciences,
one in the social sciences, one in mathematics or formal reasoning, and one in history,
culture, or ethics. Pomona’s academic departments are grouped into these five areas, and
students can take any class within the area to satisfy their breadth requirement. For example,
one could satisfy the science area requirement by taking “Biology, Gender, and Society,”
“Topics in Neuroscience,” or “The Physics of Music.” Likewise, Pomona students can fulfill
their math requirement with a course in calculus, statistics, or formal logic. There is no such
thing as a GE course at Pomona, so students have a choice in every course that they take.
The result of the broad-based general education system is a lot of freedom for
Pomona students. Pomona requires thirty-two course credits for graduation, and thirty of
those courses have to be taken at the Claremont Colleges. It is often possible for students
to fulfill several general education units within their major, freeing up time to minor, double
major, study abroad, or take classes for interest. Beyond five general education classes,
Pomona students must show proficiency in a foreign language, which can be demonstrated
by passing an upper-division course or with an AP, IB, or SAT exam score. Students must
also take a semester of physical education, which can be fulfilled by taking anything from
ballroom dance to Pilates to archery.
One of the best teachers I experienced at Pomona was Zayn Kassam.
Zayn’s religious studies classes were exactly what I wanted from my education:
her challenging discourses that regularly spilled out into lunch tables, or the discussion
board on the class Web site. Of course, Zayn openly refused to lead class
discussion, asking every student to take a turn moderating a class. Though she
is a nationally awarded teacher, Zayn understands that her strength is not organizing
others, but pushing the interpretations and biases that students bring
into the discussion. Zayn became the most spirited participant in her own
classes, making each person consider their role in the communal meaningmaking
that we participated in.
The most unique, and well-loved, of Pomona’s academic requirements is the Critical
Inquiry Seminar. During their first semester at Pomona, students must take one of thirty or so
seminars offered exclusively to first-year students. The topics for Critical Inquiry Seminars are chosen by the professors who teach them. Often these professors will choose to teach something
that they are passionate about, so topics for seminars include “Baseball in America,”
“Music and the Order of the Universe,” “The Graphic Novel,” and “Light, Perception, and Art.”
Though the topics can be lighthearted, first-year seminars are designed to be an introduction
to academics at Pomona. Critical Inquiry seminars have low enrollments, usually fewer than
fifteen students, and ask students to engage with each other in discussion.
One of the particularly strong opportunities that Pomona offers its students is its study
abroad program. Every year, about half of Pomona’s juniors spend a semester abroad
in one of fifty programs in thirty-one countries. Pomona also allows students to petition to
study in non-Pomona programs, opening the doors for Pomona students to go virtually anywhere
on Earth. Pomona’s study abroad office keeps a library of books about the countries
that it serves, as well as an extensive list of program reviews from past students that
include course evaluations, budgets, and recommendations for travel.
During my junior year, I spent a semester at Cambridge University
in England. The program was a great combination of an academic challenge, a
cultural experience, and an opportunity to travel through Europe during the
For students studying abroad, Pomona tries to make the program as simple and
seamless as possible. There is no added cost for studying abroad: just pay Pomona tuition
as usual and the study abroad office will take care of tuition, housing, and fees, and they
will write you a check for your plane tickets. Unlike some other study abroad programs,
Pomona also makes sure that your courses from study abroad translate into Pomona credits
when you return.
For a number of students, the journey to studying abroad begins in Oldenborg.
Oldenborg, or “the borg,” as it is more commonly known, is a combination of a dorm and an
international studies hub. Oldenborg houses mostly sophomore students, who live in “halls”
grouped by language. Russian hall, for instance, houses students interested in Russian language
and culture. These students meet regularly for conversation classes with a foreign
language resident who is a native speaker. The hall might also meet to watch a soap opera in Russian or to cook some perogies. Pomona offers language halls for Spanish, French,
Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and German, and there are two “theme halls” that students
propose each year (past themes include “Middle Eastern Language and Culture” as well as
Even for those who don’t want to spend a year living in the “borg,” Oldenborg offers
an international relations speaker series, an international movie theater, summer travel
grants, and a dining hall where the only language that is not allowed is English. And yes,
“the borg” is said to be the inspiration for the twisting halls of the Borg Cube in Star Trek.
Most Popular Fields of Study
One question that comes up often on Pomona tours is “How competitive is Pomona?”
The answer depends on what you are asking. As an elite liberal arts school, it is no secret
that admission to Pomona is competitive. However, the competitive side of Pomona’s applicants
seems to be left in the admissions office, as Pomona students are often found studying
in groups or serving as subjects for each other’s psychology studies. It is challenging to
get into Pomona, but the campus atmosphere is laid-back once you get here.
Starting with the basics, Pomona requires the
Common Application, official transcripts, SAT or ACT
scores, and two teacher recommendations. Pomona
has its own supplements to the Common Application
for both the applicant and the applicant’s high
school. The individual supplement asks for a little
more personal data as well as one more writing sample
that the college strongly encourages students to
submit. Pomona also provides the opportunity for
applicants to complete special supplements for the arts, sciences, or athletics. Videos of theater
performances, slides of paintings, and athlete profiles are assessed by Pomona faculty,
who then submit their evaluations to the admissions committee.
As a small college, Pomona prides itself on treating students as more than the weighted
sum of their GPAs and test scores. Students are encouraged to submit a photograph
with their application to remind admissions officers of the person who is applying to
Pomona. Perhaps the best chance to come off the page is by interviewing at Pomona.
Applicants can interview when they visit Pomona, though the most relevant conversations
usually occur after a student has completed junior year. Students interviewing on-campus
meet with an admissions officer or with a Pomona senior to talk about their high school
experiences, their passions, and what they hope to do in college. Those who cannot come
to campus can interview with an alum in their area. If you plan to interview off-campus, be
sure to make that appointment early in your senior year.
Just as there is no ideal Pomona student, there is no formula for getting into Pomona.
Pomona expects applicants to have taken four years of English, three years of math and
foreign language, and two years of lab science and social science. There is no magic number
of AP or honors courses, but most students who are admitted to Pomona have taken full
advantage of the academic challenges that their high school has to offer.
Talking with Pomona students, one is as likely to meet a semiprofessional cyclist
as a state Scrabble champion, so it’s not surprising that no particular combination of
cocurricular activities are the “right ones” for Pomona. Many of Pomona’s applicants have
been involved with high school sports, publications, arts, or clubs. More than a laundry list
of activities, though, Pomona looks for those students who have demonstrated a commitment
to their interests by creating something new or taking on leadership.
Last, know that you have some options when applying to Pomona. Pomona offers
three application deadlines: two Early Decision options and one date for regular decision.
Early Decision applicants get a decision within seven weeks of the application deadline,
while regular decision applicants find out in the spring. While Early Decision has a slightly
higher admit rate, the pool is also more competitive. The main benefit of applying early is
finding out where you’re going to college before everyone else does.
Pomona’s financial aid policy is very simple and it’s one of the best things about the
college. Even with the declining economy, Pomona has increased its commitment to student
aid, replacing the loans in their financial aid packages with grant aid. Graduating
from college loan-free means that Pomona graduates are able to immediately begin careers
and adventures rather than worrying about how to pay off their debts. Pomona admits its
students need-blind, meaning that financial need has no bearing on a student’s chance of
being admitted to Pomona. By putting its endowment to work, Pomona allows its admissions
office to choose the best students it is able to, then offers admitted students one hundred
percent of their demonstrated financial need.
Talking with Pomona students, many were attracted by Pomona’s reputation, but it
was often the financial aid package that sealed the deal. By the numbers, Pomona’s tuition
is over $46,000, but the average student pays under $17,000 after need-based aid. Pomona
offers a few merit-based scholarships through the National Merit program, but most of the
aid at Pomona is directed toward making Pomona’s education affordable to the greatest
number of students possible.
Student Financial Aid Details
The thing that eventually sealed my decision to come to Pomona was the feeling that the
college was not just a school, but a community. It’s hard to quantify, but when you take
1,500 smart, talented people and steep them in Southern California sunshine, something
special happens: for instance, no one really talks about grades at Pomona. Sure, there are
always a few whispered conversations when papers are handed back, but most of the time
Pomona students assume that everyone is working, that everyone is going to struggle with
something, and that everyone gets the grades that they get. Stress happens at Pomona too,
but Pomona students seem to have a sense of perspective that keeps things in balance.
When speaking about campus life at Pomona, it bears reminding that Pomona is a residential
college. That means that most students at Pomona live on campus all four years. As
a result, most of what happens at Pomona, well, happens at Pomona. The town of Claremont
isn’t a college town by any stretch of the imagination, though a new development at the west
edge of town has brought movie theaters and more nightlife to the sleepy community. Still,
the Claremont Colleges provide most of their own entertainment, which isn’t a bad thing. The
five colleges host a substantial number of lectures, guest speakers, and musical events during
the week, and the consortium opens up to feel more like one big college on the weekends.
The beginning of Pomona’s residential college environment is the sponsor group program.
The Pomona College housing form, in sharp contrast to other schools, is a full
three pages and includes multiple choice, ranking, and essay questions. No, this isn’t the last test from the admissions department, but rather the information that a group of juniors
and seniors will use to put together the housing for Pomona’s first-year students. Most firstyear
students get roommates, though about twenty percent of first years end up with single
rooms. Pomona takes things a few steps farther than “smoking or nonsmoking,” asking its
incoming students about their sleep schedules, study habits, and taste in music. Because of
the extensive housing form, Pomona has an extremely low rate of roommate “breakups,”
and most people get along well with their first roommate.
After the roommates are in place, Pomona places its first year’s “sponsor groups,” which
are groups of twelve to twenty students whose interests and personalities are similar.
The sponsor group is a sort of instant social group when you arrive on campus. Every sponsor
group is different, but often, sponsor groups will eat meals together and organize activities
throughout the first year. Some sponsor groups hang together through all four years at
Pomona. Also living in the sponsor groups are two sophomore “sponsors” who serve as informal
mentors through the first year.
Though sponsor groups are only set up for
first-year students, Pomona students are guaranteed
housing on campus for all four years. Most students
choose to take advantage of this because housing in
Claremont is not appreciably more affordable and
the majority of campus life takes place on campus.
For dorms, the housing at Pomona is pretty good,
particularly because Pomona renovates at least one
dorm every year. About sixty percent of Pomona’s
rooms are singles; there are no triples on campus.
Another reason why Pomona students tend to stay on campus is the food. No, seriously.
Obviously, eating in a cafeteria for four years is going to wear on everyone at some
point, but the overall quality of Pomona’s food is excellent. Every meal features a made-toorder
grill, salad bar, pizza, and soup, and some kind of exhibition like custom pizza or custom stir-fry. Make-your-own sandwich day is a big favorite, featuring freshly baked
bread, deli meats, and flavored mayonnaises.
The best part of Pomona’s meal plan is that meals can be taken at any of the dining
halls in the five colleges. Many students are willing to walk a couple of blocks to get a
change from the regular fare, and favorite dining halls is a common subject of debate on
campus. Many students try to hit the best of each campus, hitting Harvey Mudd for steak
night, Scripps for sushi, and Pomona for Sunday brunch. If that weren’t enough, the dining
hall menus for the consortium are posted online.
By far and away, though, the most important meal of the day at Pomona is snack.
Every weeknight, Frary dining hall opens its doors to give studying students a bowl of
Cheerios, some nachos, or a cup of coffee. For some, snack is a chance to grab free calories
and a break from the books, and for some it is the social event of the day. The seven a cappella
groups on campus take advantage of hungry students and the acoustics on the steps
outside Frary to give evening concerts. Picture yourself at Pomona, bagel in one hand,
watching Men’s Blue and White, the oldest all-male a cappella group west of the
Mississippi, performing Justin Timberlake. This is Pomona.
Honestly, I’m not even going to try to list the number of clubs and activities at Pomona.
There is a conscientious eating club and a meat club. There are numerous campus
publications, from poetry journals to newspapers. Pomona’s musical ensembles are a great
place to start understanding how campus activities work at Pomona. Like most small colleges,
Pomona graduates only five or so music majors each year. However, Pomona’s music
department produces a concert choir, chamber choir, orchestra, concert band, jazz band,
and Balinese Gamelan, as well as numerous student ensembles. At Pomona, most of the students
who play in the orchestra aren’t music majors, but just students who love music. The
same goes for programs such as theater, dance, and athletics. The Claremont Colleges
Ballroom Dance Company has won six national championships, but the only dance major at
the Claremont Colleges is at Scripps. Pomona is a place where you expect to see biology
majors writing entertainment columns and anthropology majors singing in a musical.
With Pomona’s proximity to Los Angeles, a lot of people want to know how often the
average Pomona student gets off campus. The answer depends on the student. Some
students take advantage of internships in the Los Angeles area, go to art openings downtown,
and regularly venture out to see concerts at the Hollywood Bowl or House of Blues.
Other students content themselves with working in a professor’s research group, going to
the Pomona College Museum of Art, and seeing Lewis Black, Gavin DeGraw, or Bill Clinton
when they come to campus.
For the student who wants to get out, Pomona is a great jumping-off point for adventures
in the Los Angeles area. Students can drive or take light rail into Los Angeles, and
Pomona offers a shuttle that takes students to sporting events, shows, and other events,
often with discounted tickets. Pomona’s biggest off-campus group is called On the Loose.
OTL, as the club is commonly known, is an outdoors club that organizes and outfits student
adventures to go hiking, biking, climbing, camping, or even orienteering. The club trains
leaders for trips, provides gear rentals, and even has access to vehicles so that students can
enjoy the outdoor activities that Southern California has to offer.
Even for those who prefer not to sleep in tents, the outdoors has something to offer
every Pomona student. Many take advantage of the sunny weather to do homework outside or to exercise regularly. The real proof of Pomona’s fantastic geography is a tradition called
Ski-Beach Day. Once a year, a busload of Pomona students take advantage of Pomona’s central
geography by driving up to the mountains to ski in the morning, then down to the beach
for sun and a bonfire at night.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Like other activities at Pomona, sports are a place where Pomona students excel, but not
the only focus on campus. Pomona teams up with Pitzer College to compete as a Division III varsity program, and Pomona’s teams regularly play for national championships—
though you probably haven’t seen them on ESPN. Most of the people who fill the
stands at Pomona-Pitzer games are there to cheer on their friends rather than to take part
in a collegiate rite of passage.
The games that tend to involve the whole campus are games with consortium rival
CMS. Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps field varsity sports, and the games
between Pomona-Pitzer and CMS are hotly contested and well attended.
Outside the varsity sports scene, Pomona also fields a full complement of club and
intramural sports. A number of club sports draw from all five colleges, offering students everything
from men’s Ultimate Frisbee to women’s rugby. Finally, Pomona puts on several intramural
sports each semester. In these informal contests, friends, sponsor groups, academic
departments, and even a cappella groups face off in spirited competition. While dodge ball
and home run derby are enjoying upstart popularity, Pomona’s favorite intramural activity is
inner tube water polo. For those not familiar with the game, imagine two teams rowing inner
tubes across a pool while trying to throw a ball into a goal. You have to see it to believe it.
For those who are interested in getting out into the world, the CDO also offers comprehensive
career counseling to Pomona students and graduates. By taking advantage of a
network of alums, Pomona is able to offer its students advising, internships, and a lot of
information about the world beyond Ponoma. This office also brings graduate school admissions
officers, corporate recruiters, and informational panels about fields such as educaiton,
journalism, and finance to campus. The CDO offers mock interviews, career
inventories, and even etiquette courses to help students put their best foot forward as they
leave Pomona’s gates.
It is hard to generalize about what one does with a Pomona College education.
During the first year out of Pomona, I can remember checking in with
one friend who was teaching English in Korea on a Fulbright grant, one who
was doing research for National Science Association, one attending UChicago
Med School, one doing strategy for the presidential campaigns, one designing
educational computer games, and one backpacking through South America. In
recent years, the college has seen record numbers of students winning prestigious
Fulbright Fellowships. The Career Development Office (CDO) counsels and
prepares students to compete for this kind of post-baccalaureate fellowship, and
a surprising number of Pomona’s students spend a year doing research abroad
after they leave Pomona.
While students go on to do many different things, often a Pomona College degree
isn’t the last one. Many Pomona students find their way to graduate school within two years
after graduating, taking advantage of Pomona’s unusually strong reputation with graduate
programs and their hands-on experiences as undergrads. Programs such as Pomona’s
premed group start meeting with students as freshmen to talk about course requirements
and test preparation.
The relationships that one forms with faculty
at Pomona also prove helpful when applying to graduate
school as Pomona professors give great advice
and can write personal recommendation letters.
Particularly as they are graduating without student
loans, Pomona students now have even more freedom
to take interships or go on adventures in the wider
- Scott Olivet ’84—CEO of Oakley
Sunglasses and Fashion
- Bill Keller ’70—The New York Times
Columnist and Pulitzer Prize Winner
- Catherine Porter ’62—President of
the Modern Language Association
- Jim Taylor ’84—Co-Writer of the
- Roy Disney ’51—Former Vice
Chairman of Disney
- Kimberley Dodgson Labinger ’80—
California Teacher of the Year
- Kris Kristofferson ’58—Songwriter,
Singer, Country Music Hall of Fame