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Your chance of acceptance
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the ‘Intellectual Risk’ Swarthmore Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Daniel Sheeran in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Swarthmore College asks its applicants to reply to one of three options for its supplemental essay. The prompt for option 2 asks:


“We are inspired by students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone. Reflect on a time that you were intellectually challenged, inspired, or took an intellectual risk—inside or outside of the classroom. How has that experience shaped you, and what questions still linger? (250 words)”


In this article, we will discuss how to approach the prompt as well as some tips for writing your essay and relating your experience to Swarthmore.


Approaching the Prompt


This essay is all about your academic and intellectual interests. Students who have participated in a research project or were involved in a unique internship will find this essay topic particularly useful for highlighting their experience. 


Swarthmore says it is inspired by students who are flexible in their approach to learning and comfortable with experimentation. When you approach this prompt, make sure to spend some time brainstorming about a time you were challenged intellectually or inspired outside of the classroom.


Writing About Your Experience 


When writing about a time you took an intellectual risk, focus on how that experience shaped you and led you to have more questions. Learning is a never-ending process and, sometimes, the answer to one question leads you to others. 


Swarthmore includes this prompt as one of their options because they want to know how this process works for you. As they say, Swarthmore students are inspired by intellectual risk, so the admissions officers are interested in hearing about your experience. 


You can identify a few specific topics in this prompt that you can focus on in your essay. Swarthmore asks about the opportunities or experiences that you’ve had that have forced you to think outside the box. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a successful experience, but your reflection of it should be. Our failures teach us a lot about ourselves, so we often learn more from those experiences than our successes. If you do talk about a failure, make sure to reflect on the lesson you learned from it. 


Different Topics To Write About


When it comes to intellectual risks, there is a lot you can write about. One angle you can take is to write about the help you received during the experience. Maybe you were part of a project that required a lot of help from other people and you learned how to take input from others. This is a great topic to write about because, throughout your college career at Swarthmore, you will be surrounded by professors and faculty who are there to teach you. 


While attending college, you aren’t expected to be the smartest person in the room. Students attend college to learn as much as they can in their time at Swarthmore, so the ability to learn from others is a very valuable tool. 


Another great topic to write about is endurance or persistence. Whenever you take an intellectual risk or try to learn a new skill, there is often a steep learning curve. It takes determination to continue learning a skill you are new at because it can be quite easy to feel defeated working on something you aren’t good at naturally. 


This is the best way to learn, however, so writing about your perseverance is a great topic. College especially takes a lot of dedication and endurance because you are learning new subjects constantly.


Relating Your Experience to Swarthmore


How Swarthmore Students Take Risks


Swarthmore is a residential liberal arts college, so learning that happens outside of the classroom is as important as the learning that happens inside of the classroom. Admissions officers are looking for students who are going to be involved in wider campus communities, whether that is through volunteering, a campus organization, or college internships. 


Students can get stuck thinking about their learning solely in terms of academics. However, Swarthmore students aren’t like this. Students at Swarthmore are very focused on involving themselves in the college community and learning with others outside of the classroom. 


Ending Your Essay


At the end of your essay, no matter what topic you wrote about, you want to relate your experiences back to Swarthmore. Try to bridge the gap between the topic you wrote about in your essay and how this will help you during your next four years at Swarthmore. Whether this relates to your classes or the extracurriculars you want to be part of, you should end your essay establishing a connection to Swarthmore.