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The PAYS Program at Pomona College: Is It a Good Fit for You?

Participating in pre-college programs can be a strategic move for high school students looking to enhance their college applications. These programs offer insights into the college experience and can provide a competitive edge.

One such program, the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS), has garnered attention for its potential benefits.

In this review, we'll objectively examine the PAYS program, shedding light on its structure, eligibility, and overall value.

What is the PAYS program?

The Pomona College Academy for Youth Success, commonly known as PAYS, is hosted by Pomona College in Claremont, California. Pomona College is a reputable institution known for its academic excellence and picturesque campus.

PAYS is a completely free program dedicated to empowering high school students from low-income backgrounds. The program's mission is to prepare these students for admission to and success in highly selective colleges and universities. PAYS primarily serves students from the surrounding communities of Pomona College, with a significant percentage of participants being first-generation college-goers.

PAYS offers a comprehensive multi-year approach, supporting students from the end of their first year of high school until graduation. During the summer, participants engage in a rigorous four-week liberal arts curriculum, including Critical Inquiry seminars and math workshops taught by Pomona College professors. College teaching assistants provide guidance, and students also work on hands-on exercises.

Throughout the academic year, PAYS continues its support by offering SAT preparation courses, college advisors from Pomona College, and bilingual financial aid workshops to ensure students and their families have the knowledge needed for a successful college application and financial aid process. Despite challenges like budget cuts and underfunded schools, PAYS remains a vital resource, empowering disadvantaged students to gain admission to selective four-year colleges and universities and thrive there.

As a participant in PAYS, you can anticipate a comprehensive set of responsibilities. These include engaging in a rigorous academic curriculum, actively participating in SAT preparation, undertaking research projects, and immersing yourself in enriching co-curricular activities. These responsibilities are designed to provide a holistic and transformative pre-college experience.

Where is it held?

PAYS unfolds on the Pomona College campus nestled in Claremont, California. The serene surroundings provide an ideal backdrop for your pre-college experience.

Important dates and deadlines you should keep in mind

The application timelines for PAYS can vary from year to year, so it's crucial for prospective applicants to regularly visit the official website to stay updated with the latest information. Keeping a close eye on deadlines ensures you don't miss your chance to be part of this transformative program. The dates for the 2023 selection process are as follows:

  • Application Opens: Monday, November 7, 2022

  • Application and Transcript Deadline: Monday, February 27, 2023

  • Recommendation Form Deadline: Monday, March 6, 2023

  • Notification of Decision: Friday, April 21, 2023

How many students are selected for PAYS each year?

PAYS maintains an intimate and close-knit community, enrolling just over 90 students annually. This limited cohort size fosters a supportive environment where you can form meaningful connections with fellow participants and mentors.

Who is eligible to apply?

To qualify for the PAYS program, you must be a current 9th-grade student residing in specific California counties. Additionally, it's important to note that COVID-19 vaccination is mandatory, reflecting the program's commitment to safety and public health.

Is it prestigious?

One of the critical questions surrounding PAYS is its prestige. While precise acceptance rates are not publicly disclosed, PAYS benefits from its association with Pomona College, which lends credibility to the program. Pomona College is a selective private liberal arts college with an acceptance rate of less than 7%.

PAYS distinguishes itself by its commitment to financial accessibility. Unlike many pre-college programs, PAYS covers all costs, including housing, meals, activities, and field trips, making it accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds.

Participating in pre-college programs can significantly impact a high school student's journey toward higher education. These programs offer a glimpse into college life, academic challenges, and the opportunity to enhance one's college application. The Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS) is one such program that has drawn attention for its potential benefits. In the section below, we'll examine the PAYS program’s pros and cons, and help you make an informed decision.

Pros and Cons of the PAYS program


1. You will get the chance to participate in a fully-funded program

Perhaps the most significant pro of the PAYS program is that it is fully funded. This means that all program-related expenses, including housing, meals, activities, and field trips, are covered. The absence of financial barriers ensures that students from various economic backgrounds can participate without any financial burden. This commitment to financial accessibility sets PAYS apart from many other pre-college programs and ensures that you can focus on your academic growth and personal development without financial concerns.

2. You will gain access to college prep resources and expert mentorship

PAYS excels in providing robust support for underrepresented students who often face additional barriers in pursuing higher education. The program offers mentorship, guidance, and resources that are crucial for navigating the complex college admissions process. This support can make a significant difference for students who may not have access to similar resources in their regular high schools.

During the summer, PAYS participants immerse themselves in a challenging four-week liberal arts curriculum designed to expand their academic horizons and build a sense of community among students and college mentors. This intensive summer experience combines classroom instruction focused on enhancing quantitative, analytical, and writing skills with a residential group setting, providing close mentorship, and fostering ongoing networking opportunities.

3. The program is very prestigious

The PAYS program's association with Pomona College, a highly reputable institution, adds prestige to your participation. This prestige can significantly enhance your resume and college applications. College admissions officers often view fully funded, selective programs more positively than paid ones. Hence, being part of PAYS can set you apart and demonstrate your commitment to rigorous academic experiences.

4. The program gives you a solid taste of college life

PAYS offers a comprehensive college experience tailored for high school students. By participating in this program, you gain a genuine taste of college life, from rigorous coursework to research projects and co-curricular activities. This immersive experience equips you with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in higher education.

5. You will have access to a strong network that you can access

One of the standout advantages of PAYS is the mentorship you receive from faculty members and Teaching Assistants. These mentors can provide invaluable guidance throughout your academic journey. Importantly, they can write strong and personalized Letters of Recommendation (LORs) based on their first-hand experience with your dedication and academic prowess. Such LORs can play a pivotal role in your college application process.


1. Selection criteria are very strict and the application process is quite competitive

While PAYS offers valuable support, its stringent eligibility criteria can be a limiting factor. To be eligible, students must be current 9th-grade students residing in specific California counties. This restriction may exclude many students who could benefit from the program but do not meet the geographic criteria.

Getting accepted into the PAYS program can be highly competitive, requiring strong qualifications. The program's limited enrollment capacity compared to the number of interested applicants makes the selection process highly competitive. As a result, some deserving students may not secure a spot.

2. The program is quite the commitment in terms of time and effort

Participants should be prepared for a demanding workload during the program. The combination of challenging coursework, SAT preparation, research projects, and co-curricular activities can be overwhelming for some students. It's essential to assess whether you can manage the workload effectively while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Is PAYS a good fit for you?

In summary, the PAYS program presents a compelling opportunity with a range of notable advantages. It stands out for its commitment to underrepresented students, providing invaluable support that can significantly influence their journey toward higher education. The program's impressive track record of securing acceptance into selective colleges and universities is a testament to its effectiveness in preparing students for admission to college.

Moreover, PAYS offers a challenging and intellectually stimulating curriculum that not only prepares participants for the academic rigors of college life but also equips them with the skills and knowledge that can set them apart in the admissions process. Engaging in college-level coursework and research projects can be instrumental in acquiring strong college letters of recommendation, as professors and mentors within the program can attest to your academic abilities and commitment to higher education.

The robust support and financial accessibility ensure that students from diverse economic backgrounds can benefit from this transformative experience without the burden of financial constraints. This accessibility can be a significant advantage, especially for students who might not have access to similar pre-college programs.

However, it's essential to acknowledge the limitations of the program, including stringent eligibility criteria, a competitive application process, and the demanding workload that participants will encounter. These factors may pose challenges for some students and require careful consideration. In deciding whether PAYS is the right fit for you, it's crucial to conduct a thorough self-assessment. Consider your academic and personal goals, your current circumstances, and your willingness to embrace the program's rigorous demands. While PAYS offers numerous advantages, it may not align with everyone's aspirations and capabilities.

If you are prepared to meet the challenges head-on and are committed to pursuing higher education, PAYS could be a transformative stepping stone. It not only equips you with valuable skills and experiences but also positions you favorably for acquiring strong college letters of recommendation and standing out in the competitive admissions process. However, it's equally essential to explore alternative pre-college program options that cater to your specific needs and goals, ensuring that your journey toward higher education is both enriching and fulfilling.

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


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