My College Admissions Decision: Claremont McKenna College


In fall ’07 I will start at Claremont McKenna College!

What is Claremont McKenna College?
CMC is a small, liberal arts college in Southern California. Statistically, it is one of the most selective colleges in the country and, with Pomona College, represents the west coast in the top tier of liberal arts colleges. But the beauty of CMC is its qualitative characteristics.

Unlike many elite liberal arts colleges which all blend together, CMC is distinctive. It has carved out a niche in higher education and, frankly, dominates it. Claremont is all about leadership, government, business, and public policy. The College embraces "life entrepreneurship" more than any other school I visited.

Why Did I Choose Claremont?

First, I believe in the liberal arts college model. Second, the College’s mission fits my life mission perfectly. Third, I love California. Fourth, my Dad had a great experience at CMC. Finally, I had a good visit — the students I stayed with were impressive. My host was an undergraduate doing deep research on the WTO and Taiwan (he chose CMC over UC Berkeley for its economics program), his good friend was involved in political life (he chose CMC over Georgetown for its personalized approach within the famous government department). Also during my visit, the professor of a class I audited asked me if I wanted to have lunch afterwards. She cared.

The Consortia — Claremont McKenna is literally across the street from Pomona College, Pitzer College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont Graduate University, and a variety of research institutes. All the colleges share resources which means students can take classes at any of the colleges. This means CMC, for example, can have a government department of 40 professors — an insane number given the 2,000 students at the school — and not offer any arts or engineering. Students who want art and engineering take their classes at Pomona or Harvey Mudd (arguably the best liberal arts college in the country for engineering students). Moreover, while you receive the personal attention of a liberal arts education, you are in a town with over 6,000 students, faculty and staff of 3,300, and 2,500 total courses. The Claremont Colleges is perhaps the only place in the country where you can get the best of both worlds in such close proximity — personal attention on the one hand, and the resources and feeling of a university on the other.

Curricular Focus — Among the top 10 liberal arts colleges there is little to distinguish a college like Swarthmore from Amherst, or Carlton from Pomona. CMC has taken a different approach. They have branded themselves as a school devoted to educating leaders. The Kravis Leadership Institute, the Drucker School of Business, and a variety of other programs on campus promote a theme of leadership, business, exploration, and impact.

Peter Drucker — Perhaps the greatest management thinker of our time, Peter Drucker taught at Claremont for the last 40 years of his life. Hence the Drucker School of Business; not a terribly prestigious business school, but an energetic one, with expert faculty, research output, and high level business courses.

The Government Department — After Harry Jaffa, a protege of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, went to Claremont and founded his "Sousa" school of Straussianism, the Claremont government department has attained national profile. As the chair of the dept wrote to me, "CMC’s government department is the largest and wisest of any liberal arts college in the country." One Government major actually dropped out of CMC a couple years ago to be George W. Bush’s personal secretary (he’s now going to be the first HBS student who doesn’t have an undergrad degree).

Faculty — You probably haven’t heard of many of Claremont’s professors. After all, they focus on teaching undergraduates, not appearing on CNN. This is fine by me — I want a professor who I can have dinner with! That said, there are a couple people on-campus who fire me up by name alone. David Foster Wallace, one of the best American writers in his generation, teaches at Pomona. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of the Optimal Experience, one of my all time favorite books and a landmark in positive psychology, teaches at Claremont Graduate University. A friend from my high school is a freshman at CMC and his government professor is Charles Kesler, the famous head of the Claremont Institute and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, a conservative counterweight to the New York Review of Books. His economics professor served in an advisory capacity to the current Bush administration. (The faculty and student political split is 50/50 liberal and conservative.)

Athenaeum — CMC hosts guest speakers for lunch and dinner four days a week, every single week of the academic year. Definitely the most guest speakers in an organized fashion than any other liberal arts college, and probably most large universities too. Top speakers — Janet Reno, George Will, etc — are invited for dinner inside the Athenaeum dining room. You must make reservations, wear nice clothes, and not only listen to the speaker but discuss the relevant issue at your table. This is one of CMC’s shining points and given my propensity to meet new people and discuss all sorts of issues, it suits me perfectly.

Los Angeles — Even as a San Franciscan I can admit that Los Angeles is a tremendous city. My company Comcate works with many cities in LA County, including a big contract with the City of Pomona, CA. Claremont is an hour east of LA.

    • Weather — Incredible weather. BBQs and sandals. I’m told Claremont is sheltered a bit from the smog.
    • Platform — Great city for me to operate on. Tons of interesting people and companies.
    • VC/Entrepreneurship — Southern California may soon eclipse Boston as the #2 most active VC region in the country, behind Silicon Valley
    • Brains — UCLA, USC, Occidental, California Institute of Technology, and the Claremont Colleges all make Los Angeles full of bright students.
    • In-N-Out Burger — SoCal is home to the original In-N-Out Burger location, and there are two in the City of Pomona alone.

Networking — Because so many CMC grads go into business or the professions, the network of CMC alumni is incredible for a small college. I’m not even at the college yet and I’ve already tapped into it.  Every day I find someone new who’s a CMC alum — Patrick Lencioni, author of the popular business fable books, or Jonathan Rosenberg, one of the top Google executives.

Henry Kravis – Kravis is one of the most successful investment banker in U.S. history, with a legacy that will stand alongside J.P. Morgan as one of the titans in American finance, says Kravis, a CMC alumnus, is perhaps Claremont’s most notable patron. I hope to develop a relationship with him while I’m there.

If you don’t know much about Claremont, don’t worry, that will change over the next five years!

15 comments on “My College Admissions Decision: Claremont McKenna College
  • Hello,

    I really enjoy reading your blog and I must say congrats on selecting a great school. Good Luck and Keep Us posted! thanks!

  • Congratulations on finding a place that you’re excited about attending, Ben! It sounds like a really neat university structure and I’m especially jealous of the possibility of running into DFW. Quick question: do you think that this university is going to expose you to the “randomness” that you have regaled in the past as much as some of your other choices?

  • With 6,000 students the Claremont Colleges will offer plenty of “randomness”. Would a larger university that has, say, 20,000 students on campus offer more? Probably, but at some point increasing the size 5x doesn’t do much to the randomness quotient.

    Randomness is one piece of the puzzle.

  • Ben, I promise you this: I will visit you at some point during your time at CMC and introduce you to some of my wonderful friends in LA. My friends in LA have changed my life in totally unexpected ways, and I am positively bursting with the anticipation of connecting you with them.

    You’re the bomb, baby. Enjoy the hell out of college – you deserve to.

  • Congrats, Ben. You’ve made the most intelligent and discerining choice in colleges of nearly any high schooler I’ve known. The best thing about it is that you really get to “own” the place you’ll be going to. Plus, I’ve had a couple good friends go to the Claremont colleges–full of good times.

    Enjoy the remnants of pre-college life. You are, however, going to miss the finer points of San Francisco life, such as the ability to get around without a car. Let me know if you’re ever interested to explore the technoartistic-hedonistic fringe of SF.

  • Congrats on your college choice- I looked at the CMC website and saw that Maxine Hong Kingston is visiting there this week…I’m quite jealous – her novel Woman Warrior is one of my favorites.

    I wish I had looked more at some specialized liberal arts colleges rather than all inclusive research universities. My guidance counselor just kept telling me to go to the local state school…too bad she wasn’t more help.

    Enjoy the rest of your year off, and I can’t wait to hear about CMC when you get there. 🙂

  • Ben
    Again, you write English like it tastes good. I sent this to the mother of my college-bound goddaughter. Bet many of the people at your chosen college know about you now. What a warm-up to more face-to-face meetings there.

    Am eager to follow how your year of travel and book writing unfolds.
    – Kare

  • Ben,

    While others are Facebooking their new college, I have to tell you that your option by far is the most publicly announced. Congratulations and as a fellow soon-to-be-CMCer, I can’t wait to meet you this fall!


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