Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Reality Pomona
The winner of television's The Scholar causes an Internet furor with her choice of Pomona

When first-year student Melissa Hanna won the top prize—a full-ride, four-year scholarship worth up to $240,000—on the reality show The Scholar and chose Pomona College, she caused quite a flurry of discussion on the show’s Internet message board.

“I don’t get it … Pomona College?” wrote one blogger, who apparently thought the show’s other contestants made more appropriate choices in Ivy-league institutions like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

ABC, which billed The Scholar as the first primetime show to celebrate higher education as the ultimate American prize, pitted 10 high school seniors in a test of academic knowledge, problem-solving abilities and leadership skills before three admissions officers during six episodes that aired this summer.

Hanna, from the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana, got some flack for choosing a college so close to home, with bloggers suggesting she see the world. A fellow Sagehen, Class of 1999, retorted: “Whoever thinks that Pomona College is a second-rate school has obviously not done their homework. I grew up on the East Coast but skipped out on schools closer to home because I was sick of the snobbery and competitiveness I saw among my Ivy-obsessed classmates. I’ve never made a better decision in my life. Not only does Pomona have some of the brightest students and most esteemed professors around (like author David Foster Wallace—who wouldn’t die to study fiction with him!?) but it’s got a certain mellow, curious environment that can’t be beat.”

Hanna has no doubt she made the right choice. On a trip to check out the College, as part of Pomona’s Minority Student Action Program, “it felt so right,” she said. “I knew this was going to be a place where I fit in.” Since Hanna attended a private high school (on scholarship), she liked the idea of attending a small college with caring faculty and administrators. “As far as I’m concerned, the world is right here in Southern California. It doesn’t get any better here … having all these resources.”

Sworn to secrecy on the college of her choice until the final episode aired July 18, Hanna had to make an awkward phone call to the College’s Business Office at one point, explaining that she wouldn’t be needing the financial aid package the College had offered. “I said, ‘I can’t tell you why, but I’m not going to be needing the money you offered me,’” Hanna recalled.

Of course, the College’s need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid policies ensure that Pomona meets the financial need of every accepted student, allowing the best students to attend regardless of financial income.

“What did distress me at the outset of the program was the premise that these extraordinarily talented students—or strong students in general—wouldn’t be able to afford college without this remarkable scholarship opportunity,” said Dean of Admissions Bruce Poch. “Whether or not Melissa or any other student offered admission could pay our full price tag is something we deliberately make irrelevant. If a student has financial need, we will meet it.”

Poch said The Scholar confirmed what Admissions already knew about Hanna: “Hanna’s application read like a class act, and it was an unusual opportunity, and ultimately a treat, for us to have a real look at an incredibly extended ‘interview.’”

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