The Life-Changing Decision Pants

We see you!

My first ever visit to Pomona!
My first ever visit to Pomona!

‘Tis the season for prospective students, and sure enough, here you are! You’re walking around campus, going on tours, clutching maps, and carrying or wearing admissions paraphernalia. You are equipped with your nicest business-casual interview outfits and nervous-looking parents, trying to get a read on different schools and whether you might see yourself there. Right now, maybe you’re facing the first life-changing decision you’ve ever had to make. Many decisions have undoubtedly been made for you growing up, regardless of your background, and now here’s a decision that is — at least partially — yours.

My awesome friend/boss Feather Flores recently wrote a post about what Pomona isn’t, and I wanted to follow up on that. It’s decision time for the Class of 2019, so I’ll take this opportunity to tell you why I chose Pomona and why you shouldn’t.

Before you get confused, I’m not saying that Pomona isn’t amazing. I’m not saying that I don’t like it here — quite to the contrary, I’m thriving here and have never regretted my decision for even an instant. You will get a fantastic education here, have life-changing and life-enhancing experiences, and very likely find a sense of belonging. What I am saying is that the Pomona I know and love values informed, individually constructed decisions, and that your mature, enthusiastic commitment to whatever institution you choose is far more powerful and far more important than which institution you choose.

When I was a high school sophomore, I began my college search with one of those obnoxiously bulky The Best [Large Integer] Colleges books. I made an Excel spreadsheet called “Eschools” and, with my parents’ help, narrowed things down based on descriptions, geographic location, and academic programs. From the beginning, I was determined to find the school that was The Best Fit for me. I scoured websites and books and forums and every resource I could find. My spreadsheet list started at 500 schools. By October of my junior year, it was down to 70, then 40. By the time I got to 20, it was the spring of my junior year, and the spree of college visits began. I saw conservatories, liberal arts colleges, and small universities. I was basically a pro at college visiting. My dad and I made a game out of the visits: he would have to guess what I thought of the college before I said anything, and — more fun — we had a bingo card for things tour guides would say at different colleges.

We have a low student-faculty ratio! There are so many research opportunities for undergraduates! You can start your own club if we don’t have the one you want! This building is where you go if you need your Hogwarts moment! You can go talk to the professors at office hours! We’re going to be carbon-neutral by 2097! (My dad’s favorite was when the tour guides would say something was “very unique.”) Sometimes, even if these things were cool and visibly true, they would start to fall flat. I found myself judging mostly on the feel of the campus and the students I met, and I always preferred college tours and stories telling me why the college in question was a good fit for the person speaking rather than why this college was The Best Ever And All Other Colleges Suck.

When all was said and done, I submitted twelve applications and was accepted to a decent number of them. Some gave me more financial aid than others, which helped narrow things down, but I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t been expecting so many options. In mid-April, I did my final round of visits and narrowed it down to three, then two, small liberal arts colleges, and my parents gave me until April 25th to make a decision.

Right up until that deadline, I wished and washed and worried constantly about which school to choose. I kept waiting for more reasons to pop up, but here’s the secret: my decision ended up having to be a little arbitrary. There were amazingly awesome reasons to pick either school. Both answers were right, which somehow made it all the more difficult. Honestly, most of the reasons I chose Pomona happened in retrospect, after I’ve come to know this place and love it and learn more about it. Now, I’d choose Pomona for everything from life-changing courses to comparing socks with my oboe-playing physics professor friend. I wish I could tell you why I chose Pomona, but at that point, I just kind of went with a gut feeling, and I’ve never looked back to question that.

Me, wearing my Life-Changing Decision Pants, announcing my college decision to my parents
2012 me, wearing my Life-Changing Decision Pants, announcing my college decision to my parents

You’ve probably been wondering about the title, and here’s where that comes in. When I was in early high school, my grandmother made me a pair of flamboyant colorful pants, which I promptly named the “Standardized Testing Pants.” I wore them for SATs, ACTs, and APs, and when those were over, I promoted them to the higher calling of Life-Changing Decisions and Events. The morning of April 25th, I put on the Pants and set up my announcement to my parents. They came up the stairs, saw my whiteboard, and then there were lots of tears and congratulations and encouraging “what a wonderful decision”s and “we’re so proud”s. I was going to college! I was going to Pomona! I was going to make new friends and have a sponsor group and date Harvey Mudders (my S.O. actually goes to Pomona, but ah well)!

Cheesy memories aside, here’s my two cents for you: make the decision that fits you best and stick to it. If you’re waffling between two or three schools, it’s crucial to remember that you can get a good education wherever you put your mind to it, and that you’ll likely have a fulfilling college experience at any of these places. You’re picking an institution that will define you and that you will play a part in defining for future classes.

So please, don’t come to Pomona for a shiny prestigious name with a single-digit ranking. Don’t come to Pomona because a tour guide told you everyone’s happy here and you can ski on the beach or something. That’s like choosing a spouse because they’re wearing expensive clothing. Come to Pomona because you like it here, because you want to know more about what there is to love and what there is to help improve, because you feel comfortable here or meet cool people or something just says this might be a great place for you. No matter what, you’re not going to get exactly what you expect, so make the decision yours — not the rankings’ and not mine. This is a wonderful place, but only you can decide if it’s the best place for you.

You know what? That wasn’t the last time I wore my Life-Changing Decision Pants. I wore them when I left for college, for my final exams every semester so far, and whenever I’ve had to make a difficult or big decision. I’ll wear them again, most likely many times, during my coming senior year. This decision is a big one for you, but it is a wonderful, fun, and exciting one, and, more importantly, it won’t be your last. So when you put on your own life-changing decision pants sometime this month — whatever that means for you — wear them proudly and don’t look back.

Three years later…

P.S. If you’re reading this and you’re coming to Admitted Students Days, I’ll be at the student lunch wearing a ridiculous vintage green jumpsuit. Come find me! I would love to meet you and talk to you.