When you think about your “world,” any number of things might come to mind: your friends, your favorite TV show, your dog’s poop, the petrochemicals in your plastic water bottle, the bacteria in your gut — the list goes on. With an open-ended topic like this, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and slip into clichés. You might be tempted to start an essay saying, “My world was turned upside down when my grandmother died…” A good essay about the death of one’s grandmother can, of course, be written. But what you’ll want to do is focus on a more specific aspect of your world, that will be far less common, to share with your readers.
One way of approaching this essay is to ask how your own position in the world might help you see it differently. The trick is to take a step back and ask, what is distinctive about my world?
For example, maybe there’s a specific street corner where you play the violin for a few dollars on weekends. What’s it like to live alongside pedestrians, not as one body among many moving through the crowd, but rather as an observer and entertainer? What has your time as a street musician taught you about how urban planning succeeds (or fails) at moving bodies from one place to another? How does your position as a street musician help change the way you see the city? Maybe buildings are not just places of commerce, but rather part of a lively acoustic ecosystem.
Though you are supposed to talk about your “characteristics, beliefs, and values,” the story you tell need not include a sentence where you say, “I believe x, I exhibit characteristic y, and I value z.” Instead, by sharing a story about your own personal experience you should help your readers see how and why you see the world the way you do.
One particularly effective way of introducing your readers to your own distinctive self is to share something from your “Locker.” The Coalition App’s Locker system allows you to store different multimedia art projects in your application.
If you are a painter or a musician or a spoken-word poet or a video artist, this is your moment to shine. No matter what your intended major is, Pomona says that it is looking for students who have “an appreciation for the visual and/or the performing arts.” If you are majoring in engineering, maybe you can share something that shows how your interest in art and science are two halves of the same coin. Maybe you have a short video showcasing a marble machine that you’ve made?
No matter what innovative or strange project you share, you should include a short artist’s statement that shares with the admissions committee “what you hope they will learn from this submission.”
Ideally, this statement should not be more than 200 words. It can be as simple as telling the committee what inspired you to take up this project. The role of this statement should not just be to explain the work itself but to explain how the work says something about you and your values and experiences. In the marble machine example above, maybe it was playing miniature golf with your dad that first got you interested in mathematics and physics, and you thought this machine would be a fitting tribute to the role he played in your intellectual formation.
What if you cannot think of anything particularly distinctive about your life? What if you are not a particularly talented multi-media artist? Another tactic is to try writing an essay that helps us see a banal aspect of your life in a new way. Remember when I mentioned dog poop a few paragraphs ago? There might be a good essay in that. What do you learn by picking up your dog’s poop every day? How does that small ritual of care structure the rest of your day? There can be something deeply meditative about tending to an animal. When we care for our fellow creatures (be they human or animal) that means dealing, perhaps lovingly, with their filth.
The “dog poop” essay probably pushes the limits of acceptability. You should avoid being vulgar and provocative just for the sake of being vulgar and provocative. But Pomona’s website says the college is looking for students who are “risk-takers.” One way to demonstrate that is to take risks in your writing. In the stack of essays about dying grandmothers, a thoughtful essay on dog poop (or a similarly peculiar topic) can stand out.
Pomona College Application Essay Prompts
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).
At its core, this prompt is a “Why this major?” essay, so there are some straightforward guidelines to follow when crafting your response. However, keep in mind: the word count is limited to 250 words, and this prompt goes out of its way to explain that they understand if you don’t feel committed towards a single major.
Many students feel compelled to deliver that ‘hard sell,’ and convince the admissions department they were born for that major, even if their interest may not be that strong. In other cases, school supplements often ask “Why X major?” and expect that you are committed to that field, especially at STEM schools and applications to specific engineering/business programs.
This prompt, on the other hand, emphasizes a more open approach to which major you are considering, so keep that open-minded mentality as you write this essay. If you genuinely feel passionate about a field, whether that be the future of machine learning or foreign relations, then great! You’ll be able to address this question with ease and fluidity.
To those that don’t have much of an idea what they want to do, take advantage of the leniency in this prompt and explain why you may be undecided. This is in keeping with Pomona’s philosophy of discovery through a liberal arts education.
Since this is a “Why this major?” essay, and your application as a whole is likely shaped around some specific interests (even if you are undecided or between several options), make sure to explain those passions or expand upon them if you have already discussed them in your personal statement. Beginning with an anecdote is by no means necessary; simply let the reader know what major(s) you are considering and why on an introductory level before delving into the body of your essay.
If you do have a good anecdote that explains your choice of major, then start with that. Reference the major name in regards to Pomona — you will look silly if the major you mention doesn’t exist (Pomona does not offer majors in pre-law, pre-health, and pre-engineering, but does have similar paths and special programs) or is under a different name, e.g., “biomedical engineering” vs. “bioengineering.”
Additionally, do your research on the major program(s) at Pomona, including the kinds of classes, the professors in that field, ongoing research, programs and opportunities available, etc. Wrap it up by saying what you would do with a Pomona degree in that field.
If you are undecided, make sure to explain why you would like to explore your options at Pomona in particular, and be careful to still mention some opportunities, classes, and potential majors you will explore during your early years at Pomona. Remember: if you are in doubt in regards to your major, express your interests in relation to what Pomona provides. For example, if Pomona provides a unique program in finance and you are undecided but have some interest in economics, you can mention this program.
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?
This is an uncommon type of prompt, since the Great Debate is unique to Pomona and professors at Pomona encourage lively discussion and the clashing of opinions. Don’t be intimidated by this option; this is really a way for admissions officers at Pomona to further assess your thought process, your views and values, and your ability to develop nuanced perspectives and understand both sides within an argument.
Since most of your application is built around your intellectual capacity and academic prowess, this is a chance for the admissions officers to see a new side of you. Pick an issue that is relevant to you and your interests, but don’t feel the necessity to choose an issue just because it’s global and humanitarian, e.g., widespread poverty. The issue can be small-scale if it is important to you, e.g., influence of certain dress code rules at your school. The more nuanced, the better. If you have taken Speech and Debate in high school, you might feel most comfortable with this prompt!
You can approach this prompt in several ways. Consider beginning with a narrative or anecdote that relates to the issue before explaining the issue and stances, in a way where the narrative reveals the nuances on its own. For example, you could write about rapidly changing lifestyle in the ocean from the perspective of a whale before explaining the controversy over climate change, and whether or not we are causing the global rise in sea level and ocean acidification.
You could also initially state the issue and give background on both sides of the argument before explaining why this issue is important to you, what perspectives one could take on the issue (no issue is inherently binary, so this part is important), and how this issue has relevance to fellow Sagehens.
Don’t feel the need to take a side yourself; while you may agree with one side, neutrality might be beneficial when exploring all sides of the argument. The most difficult (or most obvious part) may be connecting the issue to why it’s important for Pomona’s student body, but be sure to talk about specific aspects of the school or students. If you take on the controversy surrounding the current presidential election, for example, you can state how necessary it is for current students to express their opinion and vote.
Tell Us About…
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?
This prompt is best if you have a profound interest that isn’t necessarily mentioned elsewhere in your application, and you have the passion and excitement to write in depth about it. There may be some topics you have a strong interest in and can’t stop reading about, or that you have spent hours researching for the sake of self-interest.
This could take the form of online literature on string theory, a certain video series on Khan Academy, or a book that was so engaging you spent entire nights reading without realizing. Or maybe a YouTube subscription on medieval history, or a new musical artist or photographer you stumbled across two years ago and have pursued since. While the prompt seems to limit you to online searches or books you dove into, feel free to divert from this path a little.
Whatever this interest may be for you, a solid vehicle to frame your story would be a narrative. Begin in the heat of the moment, describing your reading or researching with intensity, and use figurative language to convey feelings and sensory detail. You can mix in a twist introduction, or employ creative language and writing to display your writing prowess, before zooming out and explaining your topic in a more general sense.
For example, you could describe in detail your mental process as you watch a science video before explaining what you are watching and why it interests you. You want to emphasize why it fascinated you, and why that fascination fits into your overall story and the theme of your application. Choose something genuine that you are interested in, whether it is quirky or oddball or completely unrelated to your academics and extracurriculars, and have fun with it!
Write About A Time…
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?
This prompt is best for you if a specific experience with this difference played a formative, consistent role in your life. This difference doesn’t have to be racial, an issue of sexism, etc. — don’t feel compelled to make this difference one of controversy, but one that has genuinely affected you.
If you are an immigrant and the language or cultural barrier was the difference, or your ethnicity caused you to feel different, be sure to take a nuanced and unique approach, since many applicants may have similar stories, thus rendering your theme cliché. This difference can manifest in skill-level disparities when you first joined a team sport and how you persevered, in a pronounced difference between you and a sibling that guided your family dynamic, etc.
Whatever it is, avoid broad clichés and generalizations that will weaken your overall message. Avoid saying something along the lines of “I overcame that difference and won” or “I put aside that difference immediately and was able to work things out.” It’s OK to be vulnerable here, and establish how you changed as a person by recognizing that difference and using it as a stepping stone in the right direction.
Keep in mind the first part of the prompt emphasizes diverse backgrounds and valuing differences. The key message you want to convey is that this difference has taught you valuable lessons in understanding who you are as an individual and how you will present this side to the student population at Pomona.
For personalized mentorship and one-on-one guidance through the application process, check out CollegeVine’s mentorship program and application guidance services. Good luck with your essays, and go Sagehens!