Why I chose Swarthmore

On January 9, 2018, my junior year of high school, I created a list on my Notes app called “College Must-Haves.” Reflecting back on it for this post for the first time since I enrolled, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Swat checked off every single one of the criteria I listed at 16 years old. Today, I’m going to go through all of them and explain how Swat gets a 10/10.

  1. Ability to choose courses: This is a no-brainer. There are no required courses at Swat, except for some pre-requisites for the major(s) that you choose, so every class you take is hand-picked by you or your hand-picked area of study. I’ve taken all sorts of kooky classes ranging from “World of the Pharaohs,” “Internet Lingusitics” (both First Year Seminars), “Philosophy of Religion” and “Latin American Politics.” I’ve researched each professor, course description, and asked around before picking each course, which has given me the luxury of never walking into a class and thinking I need to drop this like a hot potato!
  2. Study abroad: Ironically, I actually don’t want to study abroad, but not for lack of opportunity. I was actually planning on going to Argentina or some other Latin American country to study abroad, but missing so much of the college experience due to the pandemic made me want to cherish my time at Swat instead of traveling. When I was looking to apply, however, I was so pleased by how many opportunities there were to go abroad and how helpful the Off-Campus Study office seemed to be.
  3. Campus activies/traditions (like an annual bonfire or something): Eerily similar to First and Last Collections, right? Okay, maybe 400 kids in the kind-of-woods holding candles isn’t exactly the same thing as casually hanging out aroung a fire pit, but technically there is only one fire in both! Swat has so many traditions, and I actually wrote about wanting to witness Screw Your Roommate firsthand in my supplement. Screw Your Roommate is one of the most highly attended Swat traditions (there are so many, who can really keep track?) where you set up one of your friends on a blind date in Sharples on Valentine’s Day, and the way that they identify their date is by their costume (i.e. dress like peanut butter and look for jelly… although Sharples is a nut-free facility, so I’m not sure if that’s legal). I love the bonds that are created through these traditions because they really solidify Swat as a unique place that only Swat students really understand.
  4. Beautiful campus (lots of trees, vast libraries, dedicated and well-maintained student spaces (good lounge)): Clearly, scenery was pretty important to me in the search, as it should be! To address this point by point, I was completely blown away by the greenery on campus when I first visited. I remember calling my mom from a bench behind Parrish and I said, “it feels like a botanical garden.” The significance of that beauty during my time at Swat is something that I cannot emphasize enough; it’s made me more peaceful, grounded, grateful, and happy as I walk through campus. Almost as beautiful are the libraries. While definitely not as large and magnificent as those at some larger institutions, the libraries at Swat bring a sense of relaxation and community togetherness that makes my energy as I study steady and uplifted, rather than anxious and stressed. I love the bright, colorful spaces in McCabe, the natural light and cozy upstairs furniture in Cornell, and the silence and private rooms in Underhill. I truly do use all three spaces frequently. A lot of times, I like to study in lounges, especially during the day when I have time between classes/activities. Every building has a lounge where students can work, hang out, and most importantly, eat. Whether it be Essie’s, Sci Commons, Kohlberg Café, BEP/Singer study areas, or dorm lounges, there’s always somewhere with natural light, a big table, and hopefully, a coffee bar where I can set up shop and get to work with my friends or by myself with some headphones.
  5. Large alumni network or career center: Swat alumni are awesome. Really, most small liberal arts colleges have dedicated alumni, but we’re talking about Swat specifically. In my experiences and from what I’ve heard, Swat alumni are always willing to help out a fellow Swattie because they’ve been in our shoes! I worked for the Swarthmore Fund, which entailed cold-calling and asking for money, and literally being the worst call anyone ever wants to get. Still, I found people to be so kind and excited to share their experiences with me. As for career services, they’ve been willing and happy to meet with me in the past when I needed advice or had questions, and they have plenty of services where they read your resumé, help you prepare for interviews, case studies, and grad school admissions test. I have absolutely zero doubt about finding a job after school, and I think most Swatties (who use the resources at their disposal) would agree!
  6. Less than half an hour away from a town with a decent amount of stuff (local food, shopping, etc.): Springfield mall? Media? King of Prussia? PHILADELPHIA? Is that you? Yes, it is. Only a 2 minute drive from Target, Starbucks, fast/casual food, the best nail salon, and some major department stores, Swarthmore is situated right on the edge of Springfield, PA. When that gets boring, which it definitely does, only a few more minutes away is the town of Media. The restaurants are great for a casual but fun weekday dinner for a moment off-campus, and there are some shops. I haven’t done much in Media besides eat and go to Trader Joe’s, but it’s fun to do both! Suburban Square is about a half an hour drive, but it’s so worth it! Located in Ardmore, literally across the street from Haverford, Suburban Square has some more familiar shopping destinations (Urban Outfitters, Madewell, and Sephora) and dining (Sweetgreen, CAVA, and the amazing vegan spot Hip City Veg), including an Apple store. Going definitely requires a little bit of planning because places do close pretty early, but the area has a great vibe and is bound to be lots of fun. Similarly, King of Prussia has all of the shopping than anyone could possibly need, as it is the second largest mall in America. Definitely bring your walking shoes if you’re planning a trip there. Lastly, Philly is an amazing college city. There’s museums, events, other campuses, restaurants, and nightlife to fill all four years and more with fun and excitement. I go to Philly about once a week if I’m not too busy, but definitely 2-3 times a month at least because of how great it is to be in a big city. I love that Swat isn’t in Philly but is only 25 minutes away by car or train. The convenience in location to all of these small town spots makes it easy and fun to explore southeast PA on a weekend.
  7. Available professors: Yes, yes, yes… and yes! Professors at Swat are truly amazing. They make themselves so available for students so that we can meet with them as much as we need to outside of class. Whenever I’ve needed help in a class, whether it be with the material or my own time management, professors have always created a safe environment for me to do my best and stay sane. Some professors invite students to their homes for dinner, bake for students on exam days, or host a supplemental class meeting in the Crum woods. I’ve found my professors to be so kind and down to earth in class, so to characterize them as simply “available” is an understatement!
  8. Double major/design your own: At different points through my sophomore planning process, I’ve actually done both of these. I’m now an Honors Political Science major and Honors Economics minor, and while that’s technically not a double major, it would be if I wasn’t doing Honors. When I was trying to design my own major, I found all of the faculty that I met with about it to be so open-minded and genuinely excited about helping me. Ultimately, I decided that my Special Major wasn’t “special” enough to justify all of the extra planning, and it was only with the help and attention from the faculty that I was able to come to that conclusion on my own; I’m a tad rebellious, so if someone had told me that before I reached the conclusion myself, I would’ve most likely pushed back. Almost all of my friends are double majors, and with the right planning, it can definitely be a fulfilling and exciting educational path for many.
  9. Small class sizes (not more than 30): To cap classes at 30 across the board was pretty unrealistic of junior year me, but the sentiment rings true at Swat. Yes, I was part of the well-known 110-student Psych 101 class (more on that later), but my classes have mostly been under 20. A lot of classes are capped at 35, which is big enough so that you can get away with not being on your A-game every time, but it’s also small enough that you can be an active participant. For some more introverted or quiet students, classes under 12 can be anxiety inducing because of how much space there is to speak, so not having all classes be that tiny is certainly a good thing. In my experience, I’ve had about 1-2 classes a semester be in that 35 area and 1-2 be under 12. While I actively participate in both, I do prefer the smaller ones because they create more of a community feeling in the class because you spend so much time speaking directly to your peers and professor to the point that everybody knows each other as a person. I’ve made so many friends in these small classes, and they really are a highlight for me.
  10. No lectures: Just today, I was talking to my sister (a rising senior in high school) about college classes, and she shared the same misconception that I did at the time of writing my list, which is that lectues = large, boring classes. While lectures can definitely be more boring than seminars with lively participation or small group prompts, “lecture” isn’t a bad word. A lecture is simply a teaching style where the professor is speaking to the class rather than with the students. Back to the Psysch 101 class, I took it with Andrew Ward, and he’s a brilliant lecturer. Asking the class virtually zero questions the entire semester and speaking to a room with over 100 students, Professor Ward kept all of us actively enhaged during the entire class. He showed us cool videos, experiments, pictures, and facts throughout the lecture and used clickers (remote control-like devices used to anonymously poll a class) to survey and surprise us with psychology tricks. His voice and presence were both high-energy and made it impossible to fall asleep or want to miss class. And yes, even my 12 person classes had lectures because there was information that the professor needed to present to us that we didn’t get from the reading. It was wrong of me to list “no lectures” in my criteria, but what I actually meant was “no boring, large classes where the professor doesn’t know who you are and a TA grades your work”—and I can safely say that doesn’t exist at Swat.

This list was definitely not your typical “Why I Chose Swat” post, but I hope that it provides some insight on how Swat measures up in some of the important criteria people look for in a college. It’s hard to discern between the school that most students experience and the school that the admissions office sells, especially when looking at the key words, such as small class sizes and available professors. Hopefully, my post makes that a little easier 🙂

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