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.