Among the people that know about Swarthmore, it’s common knowledge that the academics are pretty demanding. I’m only in my first year at Swat, and I’ve already had weeks where it seems like a million things are due and I also have to study for an upcoming quiz. I’ve managed to survive it all (so far), largely because I take advantage of the different resources the college provides.
Going to your classes is super important for doing well, but there are also tons of different support structures outside of class. While they’re not usually mandatory, I highly recommend taking advantage of them to help master course material, writing skills, and getting to know more people.
A.k.a. Writing Associates, WAs are your best friend when you’re working on a paper. Whether you have an outline and want help with how to start the paper, or you want help going over a draft, WAs are there to help you make your writing the best it can be. WAs are so helpful that some classes even incorporate them into the homework. For example, for Bio1 and Bio2 (the two intro biology courses), we had to write some lab reports. Each time, I would submit a completed rough draft, and then sign up to meet with the WA assigned to that class. When we met, the WA went through my draft with me and helped me figure out how to improve it. Then, I had time to edit it before handing in a final draft that was graded for the class. I’m pretty sure that without the help of the WAs, my grades on papers would be about a letter grade lower.
I LOVE office hours. Seriously, they’re fantastic. Every professor has office hours, which are a set of times during the week when you can drop by their office to ask questions, talk about class material, or just chat. I’ve used all of those reasons. Sometimes, you might be confused about something that the professor went over in class and you want to make sure you understood. Go to office hours! Or maybe you thought a particular subject in the latest lecture was really interesting and you want to learn more about it. Go to office hours! Maybe you just really like your professor and want to talk to them about careers/life/Swat? Go to office hours!
Some of my friends actually build office hours into their schedule because they enjoy them so much. Of course, you don’t have to go to office hours if you don’t want to. Last semester, I only went to office hours a few times. I’ve tried to go more this semester though, because they can be really helpful and it’s a nice way to connect to your professors. Just recently, I went to office hours for my Spanish professor, and ended up spending an hour talking about Spanish poetry we both enjoyed.
Sometimes, you won’t need help with a paper or you won’t have time to go to office hours, and you’ll just want another student to help you study or understand lecture material. We got you covered! Each class has a different name for them, but a lot of classes, especially STEM classes, will have student assistants (kind of like TAs) that attend lectures and host study sessions. For example, computer science classes have ninjas that host ninja sessions, chemistry has alchemists that host alchemy sessions, and biology has SAs (science associates) that host SGM’s (study group meetings). Yeah, I know, we really should have a more interesting name for biology (personally, I think they should be called Darwins).
For biology, SGMs are held twice or three times a week, and I usually go once a week. Even if I feel that I understand the lecture material pretty well, it’s nice to talk about it to other students. Talking about it out loud is a great way to make sure you actually understand, and can help you figure out where there are gaps in your understanding you didn’t know about. The SAs are super nice and helpful, and there are always snacks, which is a plus.
Even though Swarthmore classes can be really intense and feel tough sometimes, I take a lot of comfort in knowing that there are lots of opportunities for me to reach out for help anytime I need it. This list doesn’t even cover all of them. Some of the other great resources at Swat, which I didn’t talk about because I have less experience with them, are SAMs (student academic mentors), several different mentor programs, and the deans. Expect to be challenged at Swat, but also expect to be supported by everyone here.