From 2,800 to 10

By Sonam Rikha ‘24

When I was first asked by my program manager if I wanted to be nominated for Posse, a full-tuition leadership scholarship, I hesitated to answer. The Posse application process consists of three interviews, which includes group and individual interviews, where Posse staff and partner college administrators ultimately select a diverse group of 10 students for each partner institution. I’d heard about the rigorous yet unique selection process and wasn’t sure if the scholarship was for me. The idea of possibly making it to the final round of the scholarship selection process and signing an early decision contract terrified me. I told my program manager to give me a couple of days to think about it.

When I told my mother that I could be nominated for the Posse scholarship, she was ecstatic and encouraged me to apply. After countless hours of debating on whether I wanted to go through with the process, I decided to give it a try. I mean who wouldn’t want a full-tuition merit scholarship to some of the best colleges in the nation?

I remember the first-round interview vividly. I entered a large room with around fifty other kids who were just as nervous and jittery as me. Initially not recognizing anyone in the room, I decided to go up to talk to random people. As an introvert, this was hard for me, but I knew that Posse was all about working with others and showing leadership–so I pushed myself.

When the Posse trainers walked into the room and started telling us to act as if it was raining, I bent my head and used my arms to block the invisible rain that was now “drenching” my outfit. When they told us to act as if we’d just won the scholarship, I jumped in joy and hugged a stranger. When we had to lead and participate in discussions, I spoke my truth and made sure others spoke theirs.

The first-round interview was definitely the most fun and least nerve-wracking of the three. When I made it to the second-round interview, the stakes felt even higher.  The second-round interview for Posse is an individual interview with you and two other Posse trainers or volunteers just getting to know one another. I don’t remember much of the interview besides rambling about my love for random dance battles and internally regretting my choice to wear sneakers for the interview instead of the nice dress shoes other students wore.

The wait to learn whether I would move on to the final interview felt like centuries. I was constantly replaying my second-round interview in my head, thinking about all the ways I could’ve said “X,” “Y,” and “Z” better. When I finally got the email that announced I was matched to the top school in my Posse ranking and would move on to the last interview, I dropped my phone and ran to the living room with a wide smile on my face as I told my family the news. Screams of joy and the warm touch of hugs filled the room. I was one step closer to attending one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation: Pomona College.

It was a couple of weeks before the final interview, and all students who made it to the final round had to gather to sign an early decision form for the school they were matched with. If I signed the early decision form and then passed the last round, I’d be a Posse Scholar bound to attend Pomona College. As much as I loved Pomona after visiting through the Perspectives on Pomona (POP) fly-in program, the idea of signing a contract that I couldn’t back out of scared me. So, while other students in the room eagerly signed the contract, I decided to think it over. I only had three days to email Posse to let them know if I was going to go through with the last round or just walk away from the scholarship.

As a person who likes to consider all of my options, early decision seemed like a red flag. I wanted to reach out to my teachers and counselor for advice, but I couldn’t contact them because Chicago Public School teachers and faculty were on strike during that time. It was up to me to make my own decision. No matter how much I valued keeping my options open, I just couldn’t turn down the opportunities that Pomona and the Posse Scholarship could give me.

Posse Chicago 2020 cohort
Posse Chicago 2020 cohort

In the last interview, there were around 25 of us, and only 10 of us would make it into the Posse Pomona cohort. Seeing Pomona admissions officers and faculty members in the same room with me only heightened my anxiety. As the interview started, and everyone in the room introduced themselves, I couldn’t help but compare myself to others. Everyone in the room was so accomplished, and the fact that only less than half of us would make it into Pomona caused me to doubt myself. After finishing the interview, I tried distracting myself by watching videos on my phone and procrastinating on my homework.

Shaking hands with the Dean of Admissions, Seth Allen

While in the middle of watching a video, I all of a sudden got a call from a California number. I picked up. Professor Le, who had been helping admissions officers conduct the interviews, told me that he had lost his phone in the interview room. Had I seen it? Exhausted from the long day and confused about how he was calling me when he “didn’t have his phone,” I answered “No.” I heard muffled laughter, and all of sudden he said, “Welcome to Pomona!” Everything felt surreal as I just stared at my phone in shock. I WAS GOING TO COLLEGE. Me, a first-generation college student, was going to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation with a scholarship.

I’m so happy that I decided to sign the early decision contract and give the Posse Scholarship a chance. The amount of resources, number of connections, and abundance of support that Posse provides surpasses any other scholarship I’d heard of. It’s wild how 2,800 students were nominated for Pomona’s Posse Chicago cohort and I miraculously became one of the ten to make it into Pomona.