Claremont McKenna College
BackgroundInterview Date:January 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Gay
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public magnet school in Los Angeles, CA with a graduating class of about 265 people. There was a culture of going to college, but a lot of people also went to the local community college.
First Generation College Student: No
Sequence: Public Policy Sequence
Extracurricular Activities: I’m part of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance; College Knowledge, which is an outreach club that works with a local high school; and I have three jobs on campus.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
College Knowledge has been the most impactful organization I’ve been a part of on campus. It takes up a lot of time to coordinate everyone and it’s also nice to get away from the Claremont Bubble. Claremont’s a pretty affluent town and the people who go to the Claremont Colleges are, for the most part, really affluent. It’s nice to get off campus to work in the local community, especially because the 5C’s can be a little insulated. I love doing it and I love working with the students. [The median household income in Claremont, CA is about $94,000 and there is a 9.5% poverty rate. The median family income at Claremont McKenna is $201,300 and 20% of students come from the socioeconomic 1%.]
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
It’s a lot of reading. This past semester I took three Government classes. For a class called Policy Lab, I had to turn in a policy memo once a week. It was cross-registered as an Economics course as well, so I had a few problem sets. My normal coursework is a lot of reading, speaking up in class, and also a lot of essays. I’ll have three or four, if not more, essays for each one of my Government classes.
Is there anything you feel the Government department does especially well or poorly?
I think they do a really good job of emphasizing practical work. There’s a lot of work using statistical analysis and doing things that are actually helpful for the future. CMC emphasizes the pre-professional twist on the liberal arts, so everyone’s supposed to be able to find a job and use some of the skills that you learn in school. Something they do poorly is that it’s not a super diverse department. A lot of the professors are really old, fairly conservative, White men. On the flip-side, that’s nice because a lot of other liberal arts schools tend to be really liberal and CMC is a more moderate place. We get a lot of good discussions going on in our classes because of the department demographics.
How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
I wouldn’t call it competitive. I would say it is way more collaborative. People are really chill and easygoing when it comes to classes and people help each other a lot. Especially in the Government department, people are really relaxed and you can work with one another on essays or whatever you need. For one of my classes this semester the entire class is one big collaborative project. The emphasis on collaboration extends to other classes as well. I almost fulfilled an Economics major and those classes weren’t that competitive other.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes. I am extremely liberal, but I think people here are more open-minded to some other ideas on the political spectrum. A lot of the people at CMC are more moderate and are really receptive to one another. There isn’t a lot of judgment going on unless you are extremely radical to the left or the right.
What made you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’m kind of happy. I chose it because when I came to CMC I wanted to be a Government major and I wanted to work for the government. Since then, my career aspirations have changed, but I stuck with the major. I don’t regret sticking with the major because my classes have been amazing and they taught me how to think critically about different situations, which has been really helpful for different work experiences that I’ve had. On the flip side, I now wish that I had thought about doing something more practice because I’m someone with student loans and would prefer to go into a stable career. If somebody is interested in Government, the major’s been a really wonderful experience and the courses have been really fantastic.
How was transitioning academically from your high school? Were there any resources to help you adjust?
It was a really hard academic transition. My high school never really prepared me for college-level classes. At CMC there is a certain expectation that you know how to study and write papers, but a lot of those things I never learned until I spent my first semester here. There’s a writing center on campus that I would to frequently for feedback on different papers. The Freshman Writing Seminar and Freshman Humanities Seminar were the most helpful because the professors who teach it are super helpful and give you a lot of feedback on what you’re doing because they are supposed to dictate how you’re writing for the rest of your time at CMC. The professor I had for my Writing Seminar was amazing and sat everyone down individually to go over each paper that we submitted. He taught me how to write a really strong paper.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived during college?
Freshman: Mid Quad in Marks Hall in a triple. It’s a dorm-style building and has a really tight-knit community.
Sophomore: Claremont Hall in Mid-Quad. Claremont Hall is gender-neutral, so I was able to live with a girl. It was also a really nice space.
Junior: Claremont Hall in Mid-Quad for the first semester and then I went abroad.
Senior: Senior apartments, which are technically on campus but about a 10-minute walk away from the main campus. I live with three of my friends and we each have our own room. There are four bathrooms and a full kitchen. It’s the only place where people can go off the meal plan because there are full kitchens. I got off the meal plan my senior year because it was a lot cheaper.
How was transitioning from your hometown in Los Angeles to Claremont, CA?
It was really easy for me because I only live an hour away and I’m a really adventurous person so I like being away from home. It was super easy because it was close, I was used to the weather
What are the pros and cons of being located in Claremont, CA?
1) The weather is amazing. It is rarely gray and, because it’s normally sunny, people are really happy. Everyone is outside all the time and people can take advantage of the outdoor areas.
2) There’s a lot to do outside.
3) The town is really cute. You can easily walk to it from campus and there are a lot of good restaurants.
4) There is a Metrolink train to downtown Los Angeles.
1) It’s really far out of downtown Los Angeles and the cultural amenities of Los Angeles. [It takes about an hour to get to L.A. on the Metrolink.]
2) When you’re in Claremont, you’re in Claremont. Unless you want to spend a lot of money on an Uber, it is hard to get out of the area.
3) The town is boring. It pretty much closes down at 10PM, which means people stay on campus the entire time.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Claremont McKenna?
I’ve gone through a lot of different phases. There are a ton of parties across the 5C’s and anybody can go to any party on the other campuses and a lot of the parties serve alcohol. Freshman year I would go to those parties pretty much every weekend. There is also stuff that happens on Tuesday and Thursday nights, but I wouldn’t go to that because I was focused on schoolwork. Sophomore year I got a little sick of it so I would go out with friends from UCLA and USC in downtown Los Angeles. Junior year I stopped going out altogether and I made some friends at Pomona who I would just hang out and watch TV with. That was really nice because I had a really intense course load that semester. Now I maintain that relaxed lifestyle. I’ll go out for drinks with some friends at some of the bars in Claremont Village with some friends on some of the weekends. For the most part, we’ll stick around on campus and hang around with my roommates and drink wine or something.
How has being a person who identifies as gay influenced your nightlife experience?
That is actually why I ended up going into Los Angeles a lot my sophomore year. Across the 5C’s there are a lot of gay people, but the LGBTQ community at each school is small and specific to each school. At CMC I have a couple of really close gay friends, but the dating scene is not great. I also really like going to a gay club for a night out, and that is not an option in Claremont. That is actually one of the reasons why I became less satisfied with it over time. For the straight world, it’s a great place to be because everyone’s really pretty [laughs].
How happy are you with the weekend options at Claremont McKenna? Is there anything you would change about it if you could?
I used to be really happy with it, but I’ve become less satisfied with it as I’ve gotten older. It’s gotten really repetitive and can be really boring. I appreciate that the 5C’s have parties for us, I just wish that they’d be a little more creative or play better music, but I really can’t complain too much.
How did you meet your closest friends?
CMC does a program called Wilderness Orientation Adventure and I made almost half of my closest friends on that trip. Everybody goes on different sites to do different things depending on how outdoorsy you want to get. I was lucky enough to make some really good friends on that trip. After that, I met a lot of people in my classes in my first year and beyond. Everybody is really nice so it’s really easy to make friends.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s what you make of it. You can do almost anything at CMC because you have the other schools as options as well. If you never want to spend your time CMC you can do that. It’s a fairly fun scene, so people are really social on the weekend.
I’ve heard that CMC is one of the more insular 5C colleges, do you agree with that?
I would have never said that – that’s so weird to me. I have friends from across the 5C’s, so I think it depends on the person. CMC gets a bad reputation because of the handling of [an incident surrounding a pro-police speaker on campus that lead to 5 students being suspended], but people seem to be friends with people across the schools. A lot of people take classes on the other campuses, so I wouldn’t call it insular.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think everyone mixes fairly well. I think things are a little harder if you’re a person of color here. I say that because of some of the experiences of my friends who are students of color. There are difficulties they’ve had with adjusting to the school because, even though Claremont McKenna is a very diverse school, it doesn’t look like it. It looks very White. However, people are very nice and people don’t tolerate any racists, homophobic, or transphobic behavior. Recently I overheard somebody say a slur about the Queer community and someone else told them not to say it. Things are improving for everyone and people are mingling more. [In the 2018-2019 academic year, Claremont McKenna has a student population of about 41% White students, 16% international students, 15% Hispanic students, 11% Asian students, and 4% Black students.]
How would you describe the student body?
Ambitious, really smart, and also extraordinarily privileged. People are also a bit narrow-minded professionally. People are focused on finance, consulting, and stuff like that. There’s a big emphasis on a handful of industries that don’t make up a big portion of employment in the United States. [The median family income at Claremont McKenna is $201,300 and 20% of students come from the socioeconomic 1%.]
How do you like the size of Claremont McKenna in terms of undergraduate enrollment?
It’s fantastic. I love having a small class size and getting to know everyone. It’s interesting to be able to walk around campus and recognize all these people that you’ve never spoken to. It’s funny because you’ll run into people you don’t know off campus, but you recognize each other and it’s a great way to start conversations. I interned in Washington, D.C. after my sophomore year and that’s how I made my friends there. The size is nice because you’re able to meet lots of different people and still know everyone. You’re never anonymous though, which also has its drawbacks. Gossip spreads easily and people know a lot about you even if you don’t want them to.
How strong is the LGBTQ community on campus?
It’s strong. In years past there was a girl who was the head of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance who really had an emphasis on community building and put a ton of effort into the club. Since she graduated, I think it’s become a weaker community because the people who have taken over the club haven’t done as much. On the flip side, I think queer people tend to find each other really easily at CMC so everyone become friends. I know everyone in the LGBTQ community at our school and we all say hello to each other. A lot of them are some of my closest friends.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
It did. CMC really encourages alumni to come to our campus and recruit or reach out to our career services center if they have job postings. I have a job lined up for after I graduate and I got it because a student came back to do a presentation on his company, and I got his email and information, and he helped me apply. I also know other people have worked closely with alumni. They do a lot of networking events throughout the year and also do [Networking Treks] to meet alums in different cities. A lot of people graduate loving CMC so afterward they want to come back and help people get jobs.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
They’re fairly helpful. I’ve used them for writing resumes and cover letters and not much else.
Have you learned any computer programs or computer languages that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’ve learned a little bit of Stata. Next semester I’m taking a geographic information system class.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
They give good financial aid, but the office is awful and I hate working with them. For example, I owed them $20 and they were so intense they made it seem like I owed $50,000. If you’re demanding and strong with what you do, they will be helpful. [75% of families in the Class of 2022 with incomes between $150,000-$250,000 qualified for need-based financial aid.]
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Claremont McKenna before you entered as a freshman?
How obsessed people would be with consulting and investment banking. CMC is a liberal arts school, so it’s weird that the entire school feels like it’s focused on a handful of industries. It seems like there’s a hierarchy of what people think is prestigious and what’s not. I don’t think that’s a great way to go about finding a career because people should be finding things they enjoy. If you’re a strong-willed person, which most people at CMC are, you can figure out what you want to do because you can’t please everyone. [The top three most frequent employers at CMC are Accenture, Ernst & Young, and Goldman Sachs. The two largest interest sectors are Accounting & Financial Services and Consulting.]
What is something a prospective gay student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
It can feel lonely just because you’re automatically in a limited dating pool. I do get somewhat annoyed that there are not that many queer people to meet. The dating scene can be difficult if you’re looking to have something long term. However, it’s not a homophobic place and it’s still really fun. There is also a community in Los Angeles. Some of my closest friends have spent a lot more time in Los Angeles this year because they made some friends in West Hollywood and have found a good group.
Reasons to attend Claremont McKenna:
1) Amazing academics. The classes that I’ve taken are amazing and they’ve opened my eyes to so many different things and ways of thinking. I feel like after going to CMC I could do anything because the work is really hard. I’m prepared for writing work and I also am able to do quantitative work even though my background isn’t in that area.
2) It’s nice going to a school with a small environment and small classes so you get to know your professors. At the same time, there are a lot of people to meet because you’re in the broader community of the 5C’s. It’s the best of both worlds. At the other colleges, there are clubs to join and other classes that you can take that really open doors to a lot of different places.
3) Even though I have my issues with the culture of going into consulting and finance, but the people at CMC are really nice and really ambitious so it pushes you to do a whole lot more. People push you to do big things, and it’s really cool to be in an environment where you know people are going to be doing amazing things after they graduate.
Reasons to not attend Claremont McKenna:
1) If you’re looking for a big city environment, the urban amenities are not there unless you’re willing to travel really far.
2) If you’re looking for a big school. Even though you have the 5C’s, everybody at Claremont McKenna still knows what you’re up to.
3) If you’re worried about being in a pre-professional community and you think you might not like being in that community, it probably isn’t the place for you. People have professional aspirations and they’re not learning for the sake of learning, they’re learning a skill because they’re going to use that in a job in the future. A lot of people do Economics and Computer Science because those are lucrative spaces even though it might not be their personal passion. [In the Class of 2017, some of the most popular majors were Economics, Economics-Accounting, and Mathematics.]
For the most part, it’s a really great institution and I don’t regret going there at all.