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How to Write the Swarthmore College Essay 2016-2017


Beginning with its founding as one of the nation’s earliest coeducational institutions of higher learning, Swarthmore College has a long and rich tradition of academic excellence. Founded in 1864, Swarthmore is often ranked among the country’s top three liberal arts colleges, and with good reason. Small class sizes, extensive course offerings, and excellent research opportunities make this Pennsylvania school a top choice for many students every year.


Swarthmore College has an undergraduate population of approximately 1,581 students and approximately 178 faculty members. That makes for an extremely impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1, which means that students benefit from direct access to top academic minds and enjoy intimate, personal classroom settings.


However, Swarthmore’s size certainly does not impact the range of its offerings. This college offers 40 different courses of study, and is notably one of the few liberal arts colleges with an engineering program. Swarthmore also boasts a robust course catalog, from which students can choose from over 600 courses.


If in spite of this, a student cannot find exactly what they were looking to study, there’s no need to worry. Swarthmore has fantastic partnerships with other top colleges in the area, in which students are allowed to cross register and take classes at multiple schools. The college is a member of the Tri-College Consortium, along with Bryn Mawr and Haverford, and a member of the Quaker Consortium, which includes the University of Pennsylvania. This means that students have a plethora of exciting academic opportunities readily available to them.


Considering Swarthmore’s strong academic offerings, it comes as no surprise that many students choose to continue their education after graduation. In fact, approximately 90% of grads eventually attend a graduate or professional school, further giving credit to the school’s reputation as a deeply intellectual institution.


Though Swarthmore is largely renowned for its academics, the campus culture is also extremely rich and exciting. Students can choose from over one hundred extracurricular organizations, including the award-winning Mock Trial team and its several a cappella groups. Greek life has a small but still notable presence on this campus, limited to one sorority and two fraternities.


Swarthmore’s strengths make it a top choice for many applicants every year. According to the most recently available data, approximately 7,818 students sought admission to the Swarthmore Class of 2019. Of those, approximately 976, or 12 percent, were admitted.


As admission grows more and more competitive, it becomes all the more important to craft a strong essay to impress admissions officers and bolster your chances for acceptance. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different strategies, tips, and tricks you need to help you write a fantastic Swarthmore supplemental essay.


In 150 to 250 words, please write about why you are interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore.


Luckily for most applicants, Swarthmore’s supplement is relatively short and straightforward. This prompt is asking for your basic “Why X School?” essay. These kinds of questions are extremely common in college admissions, and aren’t all too difficult to answer. That being said, we’ll provide some tips to help you make your Why Swarthmore essay stand out among other applicants.


The first thing to consider is the word limit. With 150-250 words to work with, you need to be succinct. This means that there isn’t a lot of room for flowery language, eloquent extended metaphors, or overly complicated anecdotes. You need to get to your point, and you need to get to it quickly and clearly.


Every “Why X School?” essay should begin with a whole lot of research. Before you bring pen to paper, it’s your job to find out as much relevant information about the school you’re applying to – in this case, Swarthmore – as you can.


This means more than just the cursory scan of the school’s home page; check out the biographies of faculty members in your intended department, browse through course offerings, learn about what kind of research is being conducted, see what clubs and student groups are on campus.


You should also try to get as much of a student perspective as you can, whether you get in touch with a current Swarthmore student, read through one of Swarthmore’s two main student news publications, or take a visit to campus. In short, you need to make yourself as much as of a expert on Swarthmore as possible.


Once you’ve completed the research phase, think about what facts have stuck out to you. What about Swarthmore excites you the most? What, above all else you’ve learned, stands out? Find one or two things about Swarthmore that are most compelling to you, and then demonstrate exactly why these items are compelling by connecting these details back to who you are as an individual.


Bring in personal anecdotes or past experiences to elucidate why you are interested in Swarthmore specifically. Remember, you should not just show admissions officers that Swarthmore is a good fit for you, but also why you are a good fit for Swarthmore. Once they’re done reading your essay, Swarthmore admissions officers should be able to picture you on their campus.


Let’s think about a broad example. Perhaps while you were conducting your thorough research on Swarthmore, you discovered that Swarthmore has an extremely strong Mock Trial team that has won many national awards, and this was something that particularly excited you. You then reflected on why this was exciting to you, and identified two main reasons: first, your time as a defense attorney on your high school Mock Trial team was a defining experience for you, and second, you aspire to one day work as a civil rights attorney.


You should then explore these concepts in further depth, showing why Swarthmore is the ideal place for you to pursue your passions and aspirations. You can also then discuss how you see yourself as a member of the Swarthmore mock trial team, and can picture yourself taking specific social justice-oriented courses as a Swarthmore student to pursue your interest in civil rights. In doing so, you give admissions officers a clear idea of what kind of student you will be at their university, and now they can see you as a member of their larger community.


Above all, it is vital to ensure that your essay is unique to Swarthmore. Be extremely wary of including broad statements that could apply to any number of schools. For instance, saying that you want to attend Swarthmore because it has “spectacular academic offerings” isn’t specific enough. You want to customize this essay so that it applies Swarthmore exclusively. You can make this kind of statement more effective by tailoring it more specifically, and discussing Swarthmore-specific offerings, like it’s Oxbridge tutorial inspired Honors Program.


With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to writing an effective Swarthmore essay. We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck!


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Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.