The Beautiful Flexibility of a Small(ish) School

By Chris Meng ‘23

Pomona College has all the amazing perks of a small school without sacrificing the overwhelming variety of resources of a bigger college. If it weren’t for the flexibility and spirit of exploration built into the values of Pomona, I wouldn’t be here today as a first-year student. Let me tell you about my winding path to Pomona.

To begin, I wasn’t accepted to Pomona. That’s right—I was on that dreaded waitlist. It was disappointing as Pomona was one of my favorite schools, but I was lucky to have a great list of colleges to decide among. I ultimately committed to Carleton College, another liberal arts school, and considered taking a gap year.

Luckily, Pomona uses the waitlist sparingly, meaning they want to admit you but didn’t have the room between all the amazing applicants from ED1, ED2, and Regular Decision (RD). As fate would have it, I was taken off the waitlist!  Unluckily, Pomona has a policy that doesn’t let you take a gap year if you’re offered a spot off the waitlist. A few days earlier, I had been accepted to my gap year program, so I also had to decide if I wanted to take that opportunity at the same time as I had to decide about my college destination. I was super excited but also knew that I had a couple big decisions to make in one week.

Chris Meng with his admit letterIt was a hard choice. Did I want to give up Carleton, a place that I had visited and knew that I would love, for Pomona, my secret first choice since the beginning but a place I hadn’t even had the chance to visit? Was it worth giving up my gap year to go to Pomona? Did it really matter what I chose in the end?

I came to a decision. While I thought Pomona would be a better place for me than Carleton, taking a gap year would be better for me than going to any college. I would gain experience and perspective outside of a school setting that would serve me in college and for life.

However, I saw from the trusty College Confidential that Pomona had reached their target class size for the year, so I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to check with admissions if I could take a gap year and accept my spot off the waitlist. Lo and behold, they were happy to have me defer my admission for a year! After all the stress over decision-making, everything worked out, though honestly, there was no going wrong with the choices that I had.

I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the caring admissions staff at Pomona or the flexibility that they were willing to grant me. Their response speaks volumes to what the overall institution stands for.

Pomona values curiosity and exploration. A common misconception about a liberal arts curriculum is that students have to take many classes that they don’t want to in order to fulfill arbitrary requirements. This could not be further from the truth! If anything, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of classes that I wanted to and was allowed to take during my first semester. This was not helped by the fact that even as a first-year, I could take classes at any of the five Claremont Colleges. There are no specific courses that are required, and while Pomona does have area requirements to allow students to explore different kinds of thinking, they are broad enough that students can find courses that interest them in order to fulfill the area requirements.

Students running through Pomona's gatesDuring orientation, several talks preached the value of trying different classes and new activities. I’ve heard people talk about how that acting class they signed up for on a whim has turned into their most valuable class this semester. I’m currently taking an intro to Asian American Studies class that is teaching me history that was noticeably missing in my high school curriculum. I’m learning guitar for the first time (fun fact: music lessons are included in tuition!).

I could go on, but honestly, everyone creates their own journey here because, at Pomona, students have the flexibility to tailor their experience to what they want it to be. Pomona doesn’t limit the things that you can do but, rather, Pomona supports you in whatever you want to do. Have an idea for a new club? Get some friends together and pitch the idea. Have a sustainability initiative that you want to implement? The President’s Sustainability Fund sets aside money specifically for students to do that. Two months into the fall semester, I have no regrets about my decision Pomona is the best place for me to learn and grow as a human being.