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Doing time in the Inland Empire

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JUNE 16, 2017

When I think of Claremont McKenna College, I feel nothing. I feel neither sad nor glad that I left after just one year. I don’t miss being on campus, yet I don’t harbor ill will toward the institution.

I became a Claremont McKenna student by circumstance.

After I finished up at Northwestern University and Pierce College, I was only a whopping three-fourths of the way through my freshman year. This meant I was not yet eligible for a UC or a CSU, as they only accept junior transfers.

Being in a bind, I did the opposite of what was logical. Instead of staying in community college and finishing up my general education requirements, I decided to apply to another batch of private schools. Sure, I didn’t like Northwestern, but I credited that to the football games, the sorority formals and the incessant charity events. I’d find a private school I deemed less cheesy, I had thought.

So I applied to small schools that boasted about their professor-to-student ratios and showed off sterile, modern facilities with all the pomp of a Hermitage docent.

Through a very quick Google search, I found the Claremont University Consortium, an alliance of five undergraduate and two graduate institutions. I read “Only 30 miles east of Los Angeles!” and I was sold. But which of the five colleges would be right for me?

I didn’t bother with Harvey Mudd, the engineering school. My utter lack of science and math skills coupled with my aversion to intense studying made me a particularly unideal candidate.

Pomona was the Harvard of the consortium and Pomona knew it. I practically begged the school to let me in. I did an overnight visit to show my commitment, which included sitting on a blowup mattress in some nice girls’ dorm, eating white-washed burritos at the dining hall and attending a social event where I drank Natty Light with standoffish guys in button-ups and flip-flops.

I was waitlisted and ultimately rejected. I appealed my rejection and was rejected again.

Still, I had options. There was Scripps, the all-girls school, and Pitzer, the school that puts “liberal” in liberal arts. I liked them both and thought I’d fit in.

Scripps wasn’t taking transfers that year and Pitzer outright rejected me.

All hope wasn’t lost! I still had Claremont McKenna, the economics and political science school.

I almost didn’t apply, having heard rumors that sexism and racism was rampant within this school known for breeding politicians, consultants and wannabe big bank accountants. However, because the application just took another check mark on the Common App, I applied.

I got in.

Again, I did the opposite of what was logical. I decided to go to a school that accepted me, not a school that I had accepted.

I moved into my single dorm on the seventh floor of one of the towers, chosen for its low-key social scene. Instead, I got a batch of freshman girls that were stoked to be at Claremont McKenna. They made their enthusiasm abundantly clear by spending every waking minute in the common area listening to dubstep and cackling at one another’s jokes.

To make friends, I joined the school radio station. The station is shared by all five colleges but only one other girl from Claremont McKenna worked there. Luckily for me, she had pegged my application, surprised that anyone from CMC had an interest in playing old CDs in a cluttered basement. The first time we met was at a toga party. I was wearing two old pillowcases held together by shoelaces when she flagged me down and made me her friend.

She became one of my only friends at school, a reality I was comfortable with. We took every opportunity possible to make the 30-mile drive into East Los Angeles, hanging out with pals in the music and art scene. She’d usually drive in her beat up hatchback, pleading with me to sleep on her new boyfriend’s floor so we could stay out late and drive back before my 9 a.m. classes. I always obliged.

The year went by slowly. My attitude worsened month by month, as I became increasingly critical of higher education. In a film studies class, I took an essay question which asked us to explain the nuance of the male gaze and used it as an opportunity to write a feminist manifesto. Ironically, I wrote an essay about the hopelessness of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley.

I was expected to declare my major by the end of the spring term but I had yet to choose from a list of uninspiring options. I was a fat, undeclared question mark that needed solving before junior year started.

Instead of picking my major, I decided to quit for real this time. I got a summer job as an associate producer at WGN Radio in Chicago. Come August I could figure something else out.

The only plan I needed, I was sure, was not writing another goddamn college application.

Samantha writes the Friday column on undergraduate myths. Contact her at [email protected].

JUNE 13, 2017