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Winner of ABC TV’s “The Scholar” To Attend Pomona College in the Fall

Melissa Hanna, who will attend Pomona College this fall, won the top prize on ABC Television’s primetime reality show “The Scholar,” in its final episode on Monday night. The teen from the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana took home a full scholarship -- worth up to $240,000.

The program featured ten exceptional high school students in six episodes of competition that tested academic knowledge, problem-solving and leadership skills before a panel of three admissions officers. ABC promoted the program as the first primetime show to celebrate higher education as the ultimate American prize.

On Monday night, 140 friends and family members gathered at the Hanna family home to watch the finale. After a drum roll, the show's host revealed that Hanna was the winner. "Everyone who has invested in me their time and their faith, I hope I've made everyone proud," she said after the announcement.

The program concluded with information on which colleges the contestants would be attending -- including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Dartmouth -- culminating with Hanna's selection of Pomona College.

In real life, Hanna and her family had been keeping the secret about her win for months. The show was filmed over a two-week period at USC in the winter. "You have no idea how hard it was not to tell you guys," she said.

At one point, Hanna had to make an awkward phone call to Pomona College's Business Office to explain that she wouldn't be needing the aid package the college had offered. "I said, 'I can't tell you why, but I'm not going to be needing the money you offered me,'" Hanna recalled.

Pomona is one of only a handful of institutions in the nation committed to need-blind admissions and meeting the full financial need of every student accepted to the college. This ensures that the best students can attend, regardless of financial family income.

According to the show's Website, Hanna used a scholarship to attend a private school in the San Fernando Valley, where she earned a 4.2 grade point average and pursued extra-curricular activities such as community service and producing concerts. Getting onto the TV show may have been more difficult than the college admissions process. After filling out a lengthy application and submitting a video, she went through a two-month audition process, with five interviews and test screenings.

She enjoyed her two weeks living with the talented group of teens in a house near the USC campus. "I think you're finally in your element, Melissa," her mother told her as she dropped Hanna off for the two weeks.

Hanna expects to have that same feeling as a student at Pomona, one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. On a trip to check out the college, as part of Pomona’s Minority Student Action Program, "it felt so right," she said. "I knew this was going to be a place where I fit in." Since Hanna attended a private high school, she liked the idea of attending a small college with caring faculty and administrators.

She hasn't decided on a major yet, but Hanna does plan to use her musical talents in the orchestra and jazz ensemble.

Hanna said she has been getting some flack on the show's Internet message board for choosing a college relatively close to home, with people suggesting she should go see the world. "As far as I'm concerned, the world is right here in Southern California," she said. "It doesn't get any better here ... having all these resources."

Pomona College, founded in 1887, is located in Claremont, CA. The high quality education it provides is marked by small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, a range of opportunities for student research, and more than a hundred of events and speakers each year. For the last two years, Princeton Review has determined Pomona’s students to be the nation’s happiest.