The generosity of Pomona College’s financial aid program is indisputable. Committed to meeting 100 percent of its students’ demonstrated need, Pomona offered an average of $57,311 in need-based scholarships in 2019. This generosity is accompanied by Pomona’s need-blind admissions policy, whereby the admissions process does not take into account applicants’ need for financial assistance. This need-blind policy allows students from all financial backgrounds to apply without jeopardizing their chance of admission or reducing the affordability of their education.
Nevertheless, things are different for international students, who must undergo a need-aware admissions process. While Pomona still covers their full demonstrated needs upon successful admission, the college considers their financial aid requests when evaluating their applications. A mandatory section on the application form compels international students to inform the college whether or not they wish to apply for financial aid.
Though Pomona has not disclosed how exactly the financial aid application affects international students’ chance of admission, one can reasonably expect that students requesting financial aid will have, to some extent, a lower chance of getting into the college. In essence, one qualifies for financial aid not just by needs, but also by competitiveness — they must be extra competitive to compensate for the unfavorable implications of their aid request. This makes Pomona’s need-based scholarship de facto merit-based for international students.
This arrangement has obvious drawbacks. It subjects international students to an unresolvable dilemma, where they must choose between the massive financial burden of paying full tuition and the possible jeopardizing of their chance of admission. Essentially, the student must either bear the burden or risk rejection. Neither option is desirable.
In addition, an international student’s decision to apply for or relinquish financial aid is binding — if the applicant chooses “no,” they are effectively disqualified from receiving any need-based aid from Pomona in the future. This deters international students from low- and middle-income backgrounds from applying for financial aid at Pomona, or from applying to Pomona altogether. Should international students choose “no financial aid” on the application form out of the fear of rejection and gain admission, they would forever lack the resources available to their domestic peers.
To reimburse the imminent financial burden brought about by Pomona’s $80,492 annual cost of attendance, many of them might have to discard their true academic passion and seek more lucrative and financially rewarding alternatives. For instance, one interested in art history or classics might encounter the pressure to choose majors conventionally associated with higher immediate post-graduate earnings, like economics or computer science. One might also enter the workforce immediately after graduation rather than attending a graduate school that aligns better with their actual interest, so as to start earning back their hefty educational investment as soon as possible. Therefore, Pomona’s need-aware admissions policy limits what international students can do with their liberal arts education. This contradicts Pomona’s mission to “enable [students] to identify and address their intellectual passions.”
Pomona should make its admissions process need-blind for everyone, not just for domestic students. Pomona is likely capable of overcoming the budgetary implications caused by this policy change with its substantial financial resources. Data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers indicates that in 2020, Pomona ranks 9th in endowment market value per full-time student among all U.S. colleges. Furthermore, the college will most likely maintain its robust financial profile and its exceptional balance sheet strength in the years to come. It is time for the college to devote some of its vast endowment into expanding need-based financial aid for international students.
Pomona’s Strategic Vision states that “access to a Pomona education regardless of family income remains a bedrock value of the college.” Despite Pomona’s alleged commitment to affordable education, the status quo for international students tells a different story. Unless Pomona extends its need-blind admissions policy to our fellow international students, this promise will always remain unfulfilled.
Yifei Cheng PO ’24 is from Nanjing, China. He enjoys hiking, reading (especially fantasy literature), and playing Starcraft 2.