Application Do’s and Don’t’s From the Experts

This is a special group post, with Oluyemisi Bolonduro, ’23 Bryce Kelly ’23, Chris Meng ’23, Nelia Perry ’24, and Sonam Rikha ’24 conversing about their college application processes, in hopes you can benefit from their wisdom (and their mistakes).

Bryce Kelly in front of a lake

Bryce: What’s the strangest piece of advice you got when you were going through the college application process?

Sonam: Be funny, but don’t be too funny. Try to appeal to your admissions officer, but don’t appeal too much.

Nelia: They always say, “don’t try to write a funny essay if you’re not funny,” but how do you know if Charlie Chaplin with a dogyou’re funny? I might think I’m funny, my sister might think I’m funny, but I don’t know about the admissions officers. So maybe no one should try to write a funny essay unless they’ve had success as a comedian.

Sonam: I don’t think my application was funny, but I thought it was funny when I was writing it. I wrote a Dora the Explorer essay about having a really good skill of getting lost. I thought that was funny, but I don’t know…

Chris: I tried to inject bits of personality. People were telling me “be personal, but not too personal.” I feel it was really hard to strike the balance between the two. At the time it felt like, “oh my gosh, how am I going to get this right,” when, in retrospect, there’s really no one way to get it right.

Bryce: My college counselors went in front of our entire grade and begged us, practically on their hands and knees, not to write about our dogs. Your dog is not applying to college, you are.

Nelia: I’ve heard the grandma one: don’t write about your grandma because she’s not coming to college.

Chris Meng with his admit letter

Chris: How much did you compare yourself to your peers during the application process and how did you deal with that at the time?

Nelia: It’s really hard, especially if you are applying to competitive schools, and you want to be supportive of your peers. Especially on days when people knew decisions were coming out, and the next day everyone would be texting about who got in. There’s a lot of pressure about sharing everything with everyone. I think it’s finding the balance, knowing you don’t have to share everything with everyone. You don’t have to tell everyone where you’re applying, or what your decisions are, or what you’re writing your essay about.

Oluyemisi: I did not tell anyone I was applying to Pomona except those in my inner circle. Keeping to myself senior year was one of the best things I did. In the case of other people applying to the same school, I feel like what’s meant to happen will happen. If one door closes, another will open.

Sonam: My high school was also very competitive. I got in to Pomona through Posse, and it was difficult to see classmates at different stages of the interview process and then they wouldn’t make it to the next round. Comparing yourself to others is hard to avoid, but my advice is to focus on yourself and just get through the process.

image of college application with coffee cupBryce: I kind of convinced myself I was going through the process logically. What percentage of students are admitted to this school with these test scores or GPA. Of course, in the end, it’s impossible to look at yourself objectively. In the end, there were people with better numbers who didn’t get into schools I got in to and vice versa!

Chris: I went to a pretty small school, and my “competitors” got in to schools Early Decision, where I was applying Regular Decision. It was easy to let the doubts creep in because they were done before me.

Nelia: The typical area of comparison is grades and scores and final acceptances, but there was also comparing college lists. Trying to deal with the pressure of where I was “supposed to” be applying to and not applying to—just try not to compare those with others.

Oluyemisi head shotOluyemisi: Not applying to too many colleges if you have no interest in them! My list was pretty small because I knew I didn’t want to go to a college in a cold climate. The thought of applying to 20 different schools and possibly being rejected by 15 is exhausting. Applying to that many schools is exhausting, but also that much rejection is really intense to go through, especially if you’re in a really competitive environment. Also, I got good advice to start early.

Bryce: Starting in the summer to make my list was huge.

Nelia Perry

Nelia: How did you form a connection with your admissions officer?

Oluyemisi: Bryce and I had the same admissions officer: Tom. No shade to the officers at the other Claremont Colleges, but I went to a 5C event, and Tom’s aura just vibed with me. It was the man bun. I feel like Pomona admissions’ aura is just really friendly. Tom remembers stuff from my application I don’t even remember. I never felt like I had to impress him. When I met him, I didn’t feel like he was looking into my brain, thinking “ok, here’s a 1600 SAT score.” He was just looking at me, thinking “here’s Oluyemisi, and I want to get to know her.” Big plug for Tom!

Tom CampbellBryce: Everything Oluyemisi said about Tom. I had just come back home from another college’s admitted students’ program and sat my parents down and told them I’d decided to go to Pomona. About an hour later, I got a package. It was a poster from Tom, with a quote from my college essay over a picture from Pomona, personalized for me. At that moment I knew I’d made the right decision.

Ashley PallieSonam: My first experience with my admissions officer Ashley was at Fall POP [a fly-in program for underrepresented students], and we just started talking about podcasts. During my POSSE interview, Ashley even remembered me from POP and remembered parts of my application. I just vibed with the admissions officers; it didn’t feel fake or forced. I was really shocked during my experience at POP how warm and kind the admissions officers were.

Chris: Looking back, I wish I’d reached out to my admissions officers, but I didn’t know I was supposed to. I didn’t genuinely believe they were accessible. So, if you’re like me, I’d encourage you to reach out to your admissions officer if you’re really interested in a college. Same thing for students. A lot of college students love to talk about their experiences, so if they offer to answer questions feel free to reach out to them.

Cris MonroyNelia: My parents work at the school I went to, so my dad would often stay late to lock up and make sure any visiting admissions officers knew where they were going after they left our school or they had a ride. So, my Pomona admissions officer, Cris Monroy, was there with five other admissions officers from different colleges, and I was in the car with them being driven back to their hotel. They were just regular people, laughing and joking with each other. It made me see they were interested in building a community. Cris was genuine and kind and made me sure I wanted to be at a small college, and I wanted to be at Pomona.

Chris: I remember interviewing a student for the IG series Sagehen Stories, and she first met Cris at a College and Career Fair, and, as a student at Pomona pre-Covid, she would pretty regularly meet for lunch with Cris.

Blake: I think it’s important to remember that every time an admissions officer pulls up an application to read, they’re rooting for you to be this cool person they can admit. They don’t want to reject you or disappoint you.

Sonam Rikha

Sonam: What was your self-care routine or things you did to help you get through the college process because I know I broke down multiple times.

Nelia: I told myself multiple times that, no matter what, I was going to go to college. So I decided to plan for college—no matter what the school was going to be. When I knew I should be thinking about college, but I needed a break from all the writing or all the stress, I’d spend time making Pinterest boards of what my dorm room was going to look like. It’s kind of sad now because I wasn’t able to move in to campus, but I still have the Pinterest boards! One day they will be put to use. Doing that helped me to feel focused but in a less stressed way.

Oluyemisi: I’m a big “never sacrifice yourself“ believer. Things like all-nighters never appealed to me. One of my self-care things was to never self-sabotage. So, starting in the summer, for example, was important. And not surrounding myself with people who made me feel like trash or didn’t want to do the things I wanted to do.

Chris: Once I submitted my applications, I just knew I couldn’t do anything else. Plus I went to a really great school and really treasured the time left in my senior year to do the things I enjoyed. Set yourself up for success if you can by starting early, asking for help when you have questions … those things help. If it’s bedtime, go to sleep. I was an athlete at the time, so I really prioritized sleeping and am big on routines. That helps me to this day. It can be easy to lose yourself in the craziness of college applications.

Nelia: My college counselor had internal due dates for when things needed to be done, and they were always a month before the actual deadlines. At the time, it was frustrating, but I think in the end I’d recommend setting earlier deadlines for yourself so you don’t have to rush at the end. I had friends who devoted so much time to their applications that they weren’t able to go to sports practices or turn in assignments—the same things that they were selling themselves on to colleges. Senior year is so much more than applying to the colleges.

Sonam: If I were to give advice to my past self, it would be to know my worth. I was in such a competitive environment in high school, my peers made it seem like your worth was determined by the schools you were applying to. I would tell my senior-year self to get more sleep, drink more water (like drink more water because you’re probably stressed and need to drink more water), and be grateful. You’ve already accomplished a lot.

avatar of Tina Brooks

Tina: Okay, now I want all of you to share something embarrassing about your college application.

Bryce: That poster that Tom Campbell sent me. I said there was a line from my essay on the poster. By itself, it seems kind of campy. In my essay, I was telling a story to my campers, and the line from my essay was, “I feel my heart beat in my chest as history comes alive.” So whenever my friends would come in my room and see that poster …

Nelia: I didn’t have a different email from the one I created in fourth grade except my school email, which I didn’t want to use for colleges. So that’s the email address I’d use at college fairs and to communicate with admissions offices. So that’s what my essay was about, what this email address said about me. I’m sure you can all envision the embarrassing accounts you make when you are very young. I still like the central idea of my essay and wouldn’t change it, but, looking back on it, I can just imagine admissions getting an email from me, that doesn’t have my name anywhere in the address. Every time I sent an email, there was a little part of me that wondered, “should I change my email to make it more professional?”

Dora the ExplorerSonam: The Dora analogy I used in my essay was the most cringeful part of my application. I don’t know why I wrote that, but it got me in.