My Experience at Pomona College

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Miranda received her Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Pomona College. She is currently a tutor in Seattle specializing in Reading tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, Writing tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Pomona College:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Miranda: Pomona College is one of the five Claremont Colleges, and our campuses basically blend together – you cross the street, and suddenly you are on a different campus. Each campus has a different architectural style, but that is pretty much the only way you can tell them apart. Pomona College is California Spanish style, with a lot of terracotta and stucco, as well as a lot of greenery. It is very beautiful.

You can walk everywhere on campus, and it is only about a mile from the edge of Pomona College to the edge of the most distant sister school. If you are injured, you can get a ride in a golf cart from designated injury drivers. That being said, a lot of people have bikes or skateboards, and cars are necessary if you want to go anywhere that is not Claremont. Claremont itself is also within walking distance. It has a few nice restaurants and vintage stores, but there is not a lot to it. Very cute, though.

The campus is not urban at all, and it is incredibly safe, though we do have a bit of an issue with bike thievery. Otherwise, I felt totally safe walking around alone (even in the wee hours of the morning).

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Miranda: The professors (who are also the academic advisers) are very accessible. Everyone holds office hours, but a lot of instructors are also willing to meet at whatever time works for you. Nearly everyone I met with was willing to spend a huge amount of time talking through whatever I came to them with, whether it was a paper, a class dilemma, or just to chat. In fact, a few were so willing to talk that I almost missed other appointments because I did not expect to spend an hour and a half there.

There are no teaching assistants, but there are mentors who run homework/study sessions for the math/science classes. They help students work through problem sets or study for midterms. I almost never experienced this as a humanities major, but many of my friends were mentors, and they spent a ton of time on their mentor sessions, staying until the last person felt confident. The one time I had a mentor session, for my geology midterm, my mentor stayed for ages and answered every question several times over. So, basically, everyone is all about teaching and is very accessible.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Miranda: Pomona College’s dorms are palatial. Not everyone has awesome housing their first year, but nothing is awful. I had a lovely single that overlooked a courtyard filled with birds of paradise, so it was pretty nice. The next year was my worst housing – a smaller single that was less nice but still a single... and after that, just more large singles. In my senior year, I lived in a suite of four singles with my best friends. It had two bathrooms, a big balcony as a common space, and a working fireplace in my room. This overlooked a grassy courtyard that was a great gathering place for everyone who lived around it, and we hung a hammock there for a bit and studied on the steps.

The dining options are pretty good. Four years in, you are going to get bored of dining hall food no matter what, but compared to any other school, our food was great. There were always tons of options for all dietary restrictions and taste preferences. I am vegetarian, and it was no problem. There is always bread, and peanut butter, and hummus, and cereal, and a big salad bar, and at least one vegetarian hot option – usually more. There are also cafes and grills on campus for food outside of normal dining hall hours. Four days a week, there is a free snack at 10:30 p.m. in the dining hall to fuel your late-night studying. If you get bored of Pomona College’s dining halls, or want something other than what they are serving that night, you can use your meal allotment to eat at the dining halls on any of the other four campuses.

The dorms attempt to run events to help everyone meet each other, but that pretty much ends after your first year. In your first year, though, all the students are placed in “sponsor groups,” and each group has two sophomores living with them, to provide advice. They tend to hang out a lot and socialize together, and it is an easy way to meet your first friends. There are plenty of ways to meet people outside of that, though, so even when the dorm events peter out after your first year, there are classes, clubs, parties, talks, etc.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Miranda: Pomona College is pretty good across the board, and it is very supportive of all of its majors. Our Math major is particularly good, and there are a lot of Economics majors. I also think my department, Religious Studies, was amazing. I chose this field because it was what I was most interested in, and it turned out the course offerings were fascinating and the professors were both incredibly intelligent and just all-around great people – funny and imaginative and great communicators.  

The college did a fine job of supporting us. While not the most popular major, we had some of the most popular classes and professors, who consistently won student-voted awards. We have a beautiful building, and the professors in my major had amazing and huge offices, with big windows and ceiling-high bookshelves with ladders. It made you feel wise just to walk in.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Miranda: It was pretty easy to meet people through my sponsor group and my dorm, as well as through other activities. Of course, like nearly anywhere, you have to put yourself out there a little bit, and you have to be willing to approach people or go to events. But if you do, people are outgoing and welcoming, and they make it easy.

I think a lot of the first years do not even know that there are fraternities. There are, technically, but it does not look like Greek life usually does – there are no houses, and they have little social capital or sway on campus. There are also no sororities, though one of the fraternities is co-ed. (You are getting the picture now, right, of how non-traditional our Greek life is?) Each house throws a weekly party on school property, and they are regulated/overseen by the school. Basically, if you want Greek life, the Claremont Colleges are probably not ideal for you. If you do not want Greek life, you have found your place.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Miranda: I would say that the Career Center is not particularly helpful unless you are in a specific industry or looking at a specific job, for which you just want help with a cover letter or interview skills. Otherwise, they are very vague, and I have gotten advice like, “Have you looked at a job site online?” They are trying to improve. I think reputable companies do recruit on campus, but since I was not looking to go into consulting or any science- or technology-related industry, I do not honestly know.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Miranda: There are couches all over the place, as well as outdoor seating, plenty of room at the library, lounges in most dorms, student-run cafes, and so on. Many of the academic buildings have lounges and libraries, as well. There is plenty of space to study, and plenty of variety between crowded and not, quiet and noisy, etc. There is nearly always a seat, and nearly always someone napping in public.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Miranda: I already mentioned Claremont above, but its downtown is called the “Village.” So, as you can imagine, it is not big. There are a handful of restaurants, maybe two bars (more restaurant than bar), no clubs, a lot of vintage stores and boutiques full of kitsch, etc. There is a farmers’ market every Sunday. People do not really hang out in town, though people will go to the trivia night at the only bar anyone ever goes to. Our campus life provides enough – or it has to, because there is nothing else.

People will occasionally go into Los Angeles, but it is rare, in part because it is not easy. You have to have a car or take the train, and the train does not run late into the evening. It is not that cheap, and it is very slow. I am not saying people never go into Los Angeles, but it is not exactly a mainstay.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Miranda: The student body is very small – 1,600 total. There are the four other schools, so that expands it a bit, but they are all the same size or smaller than Pomona College. I would say all the campuses add up to around 5,000 students. This does mean that people you do not even know sometimes know who you are dating three hours after it happened, but it is not too claustrophobic. For the first two years, you still feel like you meet a ton of new people. To me, it felt kind of homey, even if gossip traveled faster than the speed of light.

Classes were also very small. Introductory classes might go up to 25 students, but most after that were 15 students or less. It was great. A few classes (like geology) are bigger, because people who hate science take that class to get their credit out of the way. But even the biggest classes get capped at 40 at the absolute most (usually less).

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Miranda: My favorite professor was my academic adviser and thesis reader. She is a snarky, whip-smart lady, but she also cares incredibly deeply about both her students and her subject, and I learned a lot of life lessons from her. I also house-sat for her cats.

I have numerous favorite memories of her, but perhaps one of the funniest was the first few days of Ritual and Magic in Children’s Literature. This sounds like an easy class, and a lot of people showed up looking to get a humanities credit out of the way. There were maybe 45 people in there, and they did not even fit in the classroom. My professor tells us that this first class will be short, and it is; she spends about 15 minutes talking about how high her standards are, how harshly she will grade, the heavy workload—not just children’s books, but lots of critical theory, as well. She also says that your childhood nostalgia might be destroyed by some of the analysis we will do on the classic children’s tales. About 18 people show up to the next class. During this class, we had to read a Freudian analysis of the classic fairytales, that argues, in typical Freudian fashion, that they are all about sex. A few people argue that this cannot be true, and she tells them that it certainly is, she is sorry if they are upset about it, and unless they can come up with a good argument against the theorist, they are just going to have to accept it. She also assigns a paper, due the next class, about this analysis. The next class, 12 of us show up, and things run smoothly.  

The class after, she asks us which paper we want to strike from the syllabus, now that she is done scaring people out of the class and has the most devoted students possible. A few weeks later, she has us over for wine and cheese. I also learned a ton from this class, made some great friends, and ended up writing my thesis on religious interpretation in children’s literature.

Another favorite collection of memories pertains to the Philosophy department. Once a semester, even when he was on sabbatical, one professor cooked a huge, fancy, multi-course feast at his house – he chose a theme each year, like Kenyan food or French cuisine. All the professors and any students involved in the department came over, mingled, talked, ate, and relaxed in a beautiful home. It was wonderful, and he was an amazing cook.

Check out Miranda’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.