International Student Life at Pomona College


Can I stay on campus during breaks?

Many students stay on campus during shorter breaks like Fall Break in October, Thanksgiving Recess in November and Spring Break in March. A dining hall remains open during Fall Break and Thanksgiving Recess, but students must purchase food on campus or in Claremont during Spring Break. If you cannot go home during Spring Break, there are alternative ways to travel like Alternabreak by the Draper Center or outdoors trips.

Residence halls close during Winter Break and summer. If you cannot return home during Winter Break, contact the Office of Housing and Residence Life for assistance. In summer, you may apply for housing on campus if you have a job at Pomona or are working on a summer research project. Summer housing does have an additional fee.

How can I get a driver’s license?

If you have a valid license from your country, you may drive in California. Getting an “international driver’s permit” (IDP) verifies that you have a valid license in your country of residence; it is not a replacement for a California’s drivers license. The IDP, which is slightly larger than a passport, is a multi-language translation of the driver's license from the issuing nation, complete with photograph and vital statistics.

If you expect to drive a lot or buy a car (which also requires automobile insurance), we recommend you obtain a California license, which requires both a written test and a behind-the-wheel test for which you must borrow a car.  Please note that first-year students are not allowed to bring a car to campus.  A driver license or a California identification card, which is also available at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), is also a useful form of identification for writing checks and for other instances in which you require a “government-issued ID”. A California Driver’s License is valid throughout the United States.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the state agency responsible for driver licensing and vehicle registration. If you would like to obtain a California Driver License, and have never been licensed to drive anywhere else in the United States, you must take both the Written Test as well as the Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test. You may go directly to the DMV office for the written test, but must have an appointment to take the Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test. Making an appointment online to take the written test will always save you time.

Preparing Your Application

You will need the following:

  • Passport
  • I-20/DS-2019
  • Your most recent I-94 information
  • If you have been issued a Social Security card you must present it. A Social Security number is not required if you have not yet been issued one (most new students are not eligible for a social security card unless they get an on-campus job).
  • Two proof of California residency documents (For the list of the acceptable documents, please visit DMV’s website.)

The Written Test

Before you take the written test, you should study the “California Driver’s Handbook,” which is available on the DMV website. It paraphrases the vehicle code and explains the rules of the road. If you study this handbook, you should be able to pass the written examination. Also available on the DMV website are sample tests are extremely helpful, as they familiarize you with the language of the written exam questions. You may also find the interactive Driving Knowledge Tutorial helpful. Once you pass the written exam, you will obtain a driver permit that is valid for one year, please be aware of the limitations of this permit. 

The Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test

After you pass the written test and get the driver permit, you must take the behind-the-wheel driving test within one year. An examiner will accompany you on a driving test, so you should be familiar with the car you are driving when you go to be tested. You must show proof that the car is properly registered and insured at the time of the test. You may borrow a car from a friend or sign up with a local driving school for a fee. You may also rent a car for the test. After you pass the test, you will receive a temporary license valid until your license arrives by mail within one to three months.

For more information about the driver's license or identification card, please visit the California DMV website.

How do students normally get around campus?

Most students use bicycles, skateboards or scooters, or they walk. The Claremont Colleges are in a one square mile area. For example, it takes about 15 minutes to walk from classes at Pomona to Harvey Mudd. To rent a bike visit the college's Sustainability - Transportation page for information on the Green Bike program.

To travel off campus, you may rent a Zipcar or use public transportation. To ride the train into Los Angeles and other areas, take the Metrolink train from the station on First Street in Claremont. The last stop going west on the Metrolink is Union station from which you can transfer to other transportation services including the Metro light rail lines and Amtrak. For other locations consider taking a Foothill Transit bus. You can ride the bus for free when using the Claremont College Class Pass 

What is substance-free housing?

While there are regulations regarding alcohol and drugs on our campus (see our Student Handbook), alcohol is permitted for students over the legal drinking age of 21 years old. Some students prefer to live in areas where no substances of any kind are allowed. If you apply for a substance-free hall, all students in that hall agree not to use any alcohol or any other substances in that area.

Do I need to file taxes? How do I get started?

Yes, you are required to file paperwork with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service each April even if you did not earn an income or receive a scholarship during the prior year. If you did work during the prior year and/or receive a scholarship, you will have to file an actual tax return with both the IRS and with the state of California taxing agency. Tax returns in the United States are due April 15 for the prior year. The college offers a web-based tax filing system, Sprintax, for no charge for international students and scholars to complete the necessary documents. You will get an email about this in February.

Can I get help with my writing skills?

If you need assistance adjusting to the academic writing style of the U.S., the Writing Center offers one-on-one consultations.

What are my options for paying tuition and other fees?

Please contact the Finance Office for information on making payments from international accounts.

How do I open a bank account?

During international student orientation, you will have time to open a bank account. There are 3 major banks  within walking distance in the Claremont Village. You will generally need to bring your passport, I-20 form, most recent I-94 form, and student ID or copy of admission letter.  Note: While we do not recommend any bank over another, there is a Bank of America ATM located on campus.

Types of Accounts

Most students have two types of bank accounts: checking and savings. A checking account is generally used for regular paying of bills and monthly expenses which allows you to write checks. You can also open a savings account which earns interest on cash which is not needed immediately. Banks offer various free services, such as free checking, automatic teller, online banking and more. You may want to check on these before establishing your account.

Which Bank to Use

There are quite a few multinational banks with branches in Claremont. Generally, banks will offer similar services such as online banking, check/debit cards, access to automatic teller machines, and other common financial services. Banks will have varying fees for services such as electronic transfer – you should check with both your home bank as well as the new bank to see what they charge to electronic funds transfer.  The three banks accessible from Pomona College are Bank of America, Chase Bank, and Wells Fargo.

Can I use my cell phone in the U.S.?

Some phones purchased outside the United States may work here, but regardless if you use your phone from home or purchase a new one, you should probably sign up with a U.S. cell phone service plan.  There are two basic types of cell phone plans offered by cell phone companies in the U.S.: prepaid plans and contract plans.

  • Prepaid (or pay-as-you-go) plans are convenient as they generally have a standard monthly fee and do not require a contract or deposit. Also, this type of plan does not require long-term contracts, deposits or penalties for cancellation.
  • Contract plans generally offer lower monthly rates than prepaid plans. However, since these plans generally require a review of the applicant’s credit history, they generally require a U.S. social security number or a fairly large deposit. Since you will pay a hefty penalty for early cancellation of a contract plan, please make sure that you understand the terms of the contract before agreeing to purchase it.

You should consult with your ISMP mentor about your best options.

Do I need to have health insurance?

All international students are required to sign up for The Claremont Colleges Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). You can find information on SHIP on the admitted students portal, Through the Gates, in mid-May. Additional information can be found on the college's SHIP page and on the actual Insurance Plan website.

Where do I go to see a doctor?

The Student Health Service, located in the Tranquada Student Services Center at 8th Street and College Way is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from l p.m. to 5 p.m. during the school year. Among its services are health education, minor outpatient surgery, immunizations, blood tests, X-rays, etc. They can refer you to specialists if needed. 

For general information on the health care system in the US, how insurance works, understanding insurance terminology, etc. visit the Gallagher Student Health & Special Risk website and view the short videos that provide lots of explanation.

Do I need a credit card in the United States? What is a credit score?

In the U.S., having a credit card can be useful when purchasing items online and when you do not have cash handy. It also allows you to build a credit history, which is reflected in a credit score that creditors look at to determine a person’s reliability in paying back a loan. It is difficult in the United States to rent an apartment (if you stay in the U.S. after Pomona) or purchase a car without a good credit history.

To obtain a credit card, you will need a Social Security number (see below) and income. When college students with little credit history apply for credit cards, usually the credit limit is quite low and the interest rate is quite high, so be aware of these pitfalls.  Also read your credit card’s terms and conditions, including the interest rate and penalty fees for late payments and overdrawn accounts. Not paying your bill on time can negatively affect your credit and you may be charged exorbitant fees.

To find credit card companies that will issue to international college students, seek recommendations from your ISMP mentor or their friends.

What measurement systems are used in the United States?

In everyday life, we use Fahrenheit for temperature and the imperial system for length, volume, weight and long distances (i.e., inches and feet; ounces, pints, quarts and gallons; ounces and pounds; and miles, respectively). You may find yourself using Celsius and the metric system in your science classes.