Leyth - Pomona College - Class of 2016

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I honestly never thought of attending a small liberal arts school over an Ivy. But I discovered that the "best" schools are not necessarily the best for everyone.

Fifteen. That's how many schools I was going to apply to by January 1. Call me crazy, but that was my strategy: to spread my eggs into a lot of baskets, hoping to get one of them.

Hometown: Philadelphia PA

High School: Public

GPA: 4.0

ACT: 28

Major: International relations

Goal: A career in international diplomacy

College

Status

Pomona CollegeAttending
American UniversityAccepted
Dickinson CollegeAccepted
Duke UniversityDenied
Emory UniversityWaitlisted
Georgetown UniversityDenied
Harvard CollegeDenied
Johns Hopkins UniversityDenied
Penn State University ParkAccepted
Princeton UniversityDenied
Stanford UniversityDenied
University of MiamiWaitlisted
University of PennsylvaniaAccepted
West Chester UniversityAccepted
Yale UniversityDenied
Freshman Year Update

I was not ready for the overwhelming amounts of reading, writing, and discussion at a liberal arts college. I stayed up late every night doing homework, wondering if I could finish all that was due the next day. After getting help from the writing center and my advisor, I'm learning to manage—and not start papers the night before they are due. At first, it was hard knowing I was a stranger to everyone. But making friends was easy. There is a real sense of togetherness here, and my friends are like my family. What's strange is I have nothing to spend money on! I eat in the dining hall and rent textbooks from the library. The gym, concerts, and movies on campus are free. So are campus-sponsored trips to Hollywood, skiing, and the beach. I have thought about how life would be different had I gone to Penn. But I am completely happy here, and that's all that matters.

Sophomore Year Update

Last semester, I was too involved: I had two work-study jobs, a research assistantship, an internship at the United Nations Association, and I was president of the Muslim Student Association. Things got better after I quit both work-study jobs and decided to take macroeconomics pass/no credit. I declared an International Relations major and this summer I will intern at the Department of State in D.C. Then I'll study in Jordan while interning with an international organization in Amman. I love Pomona, but I crave an urban space, fast food, and stores open past 9:30 p.m. Still, the tight-knit community and endless opportunities to get involved in my passions constantly remind me why I traveled 3,000 miles to be here.

My meticulously planned life takes a detour
for the best

I had my whole life mapped out, and I mean all of it, down to how many kids I wanted. I was going to graduate near the top of my class, go to name-brand schools for undergrad and grad school, and have a fabulous career with the Department of State.

Visits to campuses and presentations by college reps resulted in a huge college list. I included a bunch of top colleges, including my favorites: Stanford, Emory, and Georgetown. Then I was awarded visits to Pomona and Wesleyan through the Center for Student Opportunity, which is a national program for first-generation college-bound students. At first, these were simply vacations. I had no real interest in these schools. I was Ivy-obsessed.

But here's the surprise. You don't realize the value of something until it's gone. In this case, it was Pomona College in Claremont, California. I was actually homesick for it when I got back from my visit. Even though I stayed for only a weekend, I met some amazing people there and just didn't want to go back to Philadelphia. From the weather (where I was wearing flip-flops in October!) to the overall comforting atmosphere, I felt as though I fit in. Also, Pomona's situation next to four other colleges seemed brilliant. I would be able to have the best of both worlds: a small, intimate setting with resources like those of a major university. I added Pomona to my short list of colleges that I would be thrilled to attend.

The last hurdle: convincing my parents it was okay to turn down an Ivy

To make a long story short, everything came down to six acceptances, seven rejections, and two waitlists. I was shut out by all of my original dream colleges, and accepted at only one Ivy: University of Pennsylvania. But when the Pomona acceptance arrived, I knew everything that I had done—from late nights at my job, to all-nighters finishing major papers, to cramming for tests, to seeking out new opportunities—was worth it. And that's how you know that a school is right for you. You can't stop thinking about moving in and the next four years of your life.

To my parents, however, Pomona was a school in faraway California. To them, it was an easy call: go to Penn. Ivy League, prestigious, great financial aid, and ten minutes away from home. That's all that mattered to them. After arguing about my refusal to stay in Philadelphia for the next four years, I was finally able to persuade them that Pomona was just as great as Penn. I took them to an accepted students' reception in New York, where they talked to the Dean of Academics. After that, they were convinced, or at least convinced enough.

My ups and downs

Bam! I felt like superman as soon as I hit the "submit" button to my last application on January 1. Then came the hardest part: waiting. When I received my first acceptance to West Chester University, a local state college, I jumped up and down and ran to my parents with the exciting news, even though it was a safety school. But the feeling one gets when one has been accepted somewhere can't be beat.

My application for a scholarship from the Emory Scholars Program was denied in January, but I had some hope I might still be admitted to Emory. It was my second choice after Stanford. I anxiously logged onto my account on decision day: Waitlisted. I actually thought that I had a chance at that school, especially since its acceptance rate was around 30 percent. Unfortunately, I didn't.

What I learned

Throughout the ups and downs of my 12-month adventure in applying to college, I have learned to expect the unexpected. In my case, Pomona went from just a name that could be easily mistaken for "Panama" to my number-one school. I honestly never thought of attending a small liberal arts school since a famous name was everything to me.

The money factor

Coming from a background with modest means, I was offered generous financial aid by Pomona. There's a gap of about $4,500, which will come from my work savings, my summer employment, and scholarships.

I am still attracted to American University and to Washington D.C. in general, but American's financial aid came nowhere close to Pomona's generous award, which included no loans because the school has a no-loan policy. I can still attend graduate school in D.C.

My advice

I discovered that the "best" schools are not necessarily the best for everyone. Even though it feels risky to reject an Ivy League school for a smaller college that is unknown to many people, risks like these make the best life stories and bring the most rewarding experiences.

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