John - Pomona College - Class of 2013

student photo

In a way, I'm thankful I was rejected early by Stanford. I was able to give my application a test run and then make substantial improvements.

The college application process was a maelstrom of paperwork, deadlines, and contemplation. Choosing a college was one of my first major adult decisions, and it taught me quite a bit about myself.

Hometown: Phoenix AZ

High School: Homeschooled

GPA: 3.87

SAT: 2320

Major: Economics

Goal: To explore, academically and socially, and discover who I am

College

Status

Pomona College Attending
Arizona State University Accepted
Claremont McKenna College Waitlisted
Columbia University Accepted
Duke University Accepted
Georgetown University Accepted
Harvard College Waitlisted
Princeton University Waitlisted
Stanford University (EA) Denied
University of Southern California Accepted
Washington University in St. Louis Waitlisted
Yale University Denied
Freshman Year Update

My first year at Pomona has raced by and exceeded my every expectation. The classes are pretty intense and small, with an air of collaboration. One of my favorite classes last semester, Intro to Chinese, had only eight people in it.

Something that surprised me about college was how easy it was to jump into something new. With zero previous experience, I joined the mock trial team on a whim and started taking ballroom dance lessons. Not only did I end up discovering new passions, but I also met some of my closest friends. I find it a bit frightening that freshman year is already drawing to an end, but I can't wait for the challenges and surprises that next year will certainly bring.

Sophomore Year Update

Classes have become much more difficult. Last semester I found myself struggling through economics problem sets that would take 12 hours to complete. In spite of the challenge, or maybe because of it, I decided to declare a major in economics. There is something about using mathematical models to describe the world that I find fascinating and addicting.

On top of that, my mock trial team went to the nationals for the first time in our program's short history. I feel twice as busy as last year, but life has never been more fulfilling.

I'm still struck by how talented, happy, and friendly my classmates are. I don't like going home for extended breaks because I miss my friends here too much.

My college search game show

After I took the PSAT, my mailbox was flooded with pounds of viewbooks and letters. I used these to form my initial list. I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking for, so I ended up with a huge list of over 30 schools. As I devoured college websites, guides, and brochures, I gradually narrowed my list. I decided to apply early action to Stanford; if I got accepted, it would save me from applying to many other schools. Stanford has many qualities that attracted me, but I have to admit that my decision to apply was simply based on the fact that Stanford was a prestigious school in California that had a non-binding early action option.

When I was rejected by Stanford, I went back to the other 11 schools I was considering. I knew ASU would accept me with a large scholarship. I was a National Merit Finalist (and eventually a Scholarship winner), and I received many letters from ASU recruiting me with scholarship offers. So I didn't apply to any other safety or match schools, and instead focused on getting into a highly selective school. In a way, I'm thankful I was rejected early by Stanford. I was able to give my application a test run and then make substantial improvements before I sent it to other schools.

My ideal big city school turns out to be a small suburban college

At first, being undecided about my major and what I wanted in college, I was attracted to prestigious schools close to cities. I thought liberal arts colleges were too small. But the more I researched colleges, the more I realized that there are advantages to a smaller school, such as a tight-knit campus community, small classes, and professors who were there to teach and mentor undergraduates. At the same time, I still wanted the resources of a larger school. Since Pomona is part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate and two graduate colleges, it fit my needs perfectly in every way. It became my first choice.

My final decision came down to Pomona vs. Columbia. Pomona remained my first choice but it was hard to turn down Columbia, especially after they paid for me to visit. But the moment I realized that Columbia was tempting mostly because of its prestige, I was able to let go of it.

My ups and downs

Applying as a homeschooled student added additional challenges. My parents and I had to create transcripts, course descriptions, an outline of our homeschooling methodology, and even a counselor recommendation. Many schools had their own requirements for homeschooled applicants. Pomona and Columbia both required me to take four SAT Subject Tests. I found myself spending a significant portion of my interviews explaining my schooling.

What I learned

I made the mistake of initially writing essays based on what I thought the admissions officers would want to read. After my Stanford rejection, I decided to take a risk and write about a passion of mine: playing and designing computer strategy games. It worked. A month and a half before decisions arrived, I received an e-mail from Columbia informing me that their initial review of my application had impressed them so much that they wanted to tell me that I was a "likely" candidate for admission. I received a similar letter from Duke two weeks later.

The money factor

I only had one inflexible requirement, which was that the school had to offer substantial merit aid or meet my full demonstrated financial need. I'm very thankful to Pomona for its extremely generous financial aid, which provides me nearly a full ride.

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