Admissions Officer Insight: Five App Tips from Pomona College

If you’re working on your application, make sure you review Ashley Pallie’s top five application tips … including her bonus tip at the end!

Ashley Pallie, Pomona College, Associate Dean of Admissions

1. Tell your truth. As you’ve all probably heard many, many times, the QuestBridge application is an opportunity for high-achieving, low-income students to apply to some fantastic colleges and universities across the United States. Take a moment to think about the power of this process; some of the best institutions in the country are saying that the unique life experiences you have lived are important to the fabric of their schools. At Pomona, diversity of experiences is at core of our institutional identity. The QuestBridge application gives you the opportunity to talk about who you are, to delve deeper into your background and how you’ve come to be the person you are today, and to tell an admissions officer what excites you intellectually.

Bring us into your world. We want to know you. We want to know your truth.

This doesn’t mean that you have to share everything with us; read the essay prompts and select a focus. Whatever the prompt you choose or what you write, be proud of the application you’ve put together and what you’ve decided to share.

2. Proofread, proofread, then proofread again. Don’t skip past this bullet point. Writing is a large part of college; we hope you will graduate with the ability to think critically and to articulate yourself well. As such, every part of the application is an opportunity to showcase your writing abilities. Please don’t forget to capitalize classes on the course list, and don’t write like you’re instragramming for the short answers. Treat your application like your college application and spend time re-reading the things you’ve written. If you need help, QuestBridge has published two enormously helpful essay guides: the first is a Detailed FAQ on essay writing mechanics. The second is a QuestCast of college admissions officers, a current QuestBridge Scholar, and some QuestBridge staff discussing “What Makes a College Essay Stand Out?” You can see a list of questions asked and get some advice from some of the people who will actually be reading your essays. Also, it’s immensely helpful to have a second reader, maybe a trusted teacher or mentor.

3. Believe in yourself and hit submit. This one comes from personal experience and from my many years in the field. When I was a senior in high school, I had a dream school that I really, really wanted to attend (fun fact: it was a QuestBridge Partner College!). I told everyone from my teachers to my grandmother that I wanted to go to this school. However, a couple of days before the application deadline, I started to get cold feet. “What if they don’t let me in? Everyone will know that I failed and I couldn’t live with that.” So I decided not to apply. Better to never apply than to be denied, right?

Luckily, one of my teachers stopped me in the hall the day the application was due to ask if I’d submitted it yet. When I explained why I wasn’t going to apply, she pulled me into the college counseling office and sat with me while I hit submit right in front of her. For some of you, admission to this group of colleges may sound too good to be true and you may get cold feet on September 27th. I encourage you to push through your fears and hit submit.

4. Everything counts. I realize this may sound overwhelming, but holistic admissions means that we read your entire application closely – the whole thing. Every essay, short answer, and check mark.

I have traveled all across the country for Pomona and I am often asked, “What part of my application is most important?” It’s a fair question, but the answer truly is – all of it. We care about your transcript – what classes were offered in your high school, which classes did you decide to take, and what grades did you earn in those classes? We care about what you do outside of school, including babysitting for siblings, a part-time job, volunteering at your church/temple/mosque, playing on a sports team, or writing code on weekends. We care about your letters of recommendation because we want to hear teachers describe who you are in the classroom and what intellectually excites you. And yes, unless we are a testing optional school, we will look at your test scores. Everything in the app is important, which leads me to my final point…

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This one comes straight from the Director of Admissions at Pomona. He was recently traveling throughout the South meeting with prospective students. A family he met asked what Pomona students eat when they are on-campus. The family did not understand that room and board meant a bedroom and food. That is such a fair question! Why do colleges call meal plans “board?” For many students, there will be times throughout this process when you run into something you don’t quite understand or that confuses you, and I am letting you know now that you are not alone. When I was applying to college (and to be honest, even when I was in college), there was so much I wasn’t sure about. I didn’t even know the questions to ask half the time! How could I? I’d never applied to college before, and I assume you haven’t either. Trust me when I tell you that the reason these 36 colleges are QuestBridge Partner Schools is because we are committed to seeing more high-achieving, low-income students earn a college degree. That’s it. So send us an email. Pick up the phone and give us a call. You won’t be the first to have a question, and you definitely won’t be the last.

Bonus tip: My final piece of advice is less about college admissions and more about life: you may not be low-income for the rest of your life, but if you’re first-generation, that never goes away. I grew up both low-income and first-gen; the heritage of my family is deeply ingrained in the person I have become and I am immensely proud of that fact. However, after graduating, I was surprised to realize being first-generation to college also meant that everything post-college was also going to be new territory. This meant that applying for jobs, choosing a career, deciding on which graduate school to attend, or building a robust retirement plan would also be new experiences for me, and I had to continue to utilize my network of mentors after college. I will always be first-gen, and that’s a pretty powerful thing. Embrace it, see your first-gen status as a strength, and know that your unique perspective on the world has a place in higher education.

Develop a strong support system, build mentorships with faculty and staff on-campus, and continually remind yourself that you can and will be extraordinarily successful in your future endeavors.  I wish you all the best.

– Ashley Pallie, Associate Dean of Admissions, Pomona College