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A Great Swarthmore Essay Example

Swarthmore is a prestigious liberal arts college in Pennsylvania that is highly selective. With small class sizes and an abundance of eager applicants, it’s important that your application stands out with strong essays. In this post, we’ll share a real essay a student submitted to Swarthmore, and outline its strengths and areas of improvement. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).

 

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

 

Read our Swarthmore essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

 

Essay Example 

 

Prompt: Swarthmore students’ worldviews are often forged by their prior experiences and exposure to ideas and values. Our students are often mentored, supported, and developed by their immediate context—in their neighborhoods, communities of faith, families, and classrooms. Reflect on what elements of your home, school, or community have shaped you or positively impacted you. How have you grown or changed because of the influence of your community?

 

My school library is decorated with models of human anatomy. Stretching from the structure of eye muscles to the visual display of the digestion route, these figures reflect my school’s medical love and is well represented in rows of books: “Dean Vaughn’s Essential Medical Terminology”, “Anatomy for College Students”, and “ Review of Medical Physiology”

 

While glad to have access to this realm of knowledge, I could not help but feel disempowered. I never found a book representing latine heritage nor attended a class where the importance of racial inclusion was not skimmed over. I found, however, the more adamant I spoke on the issue, the greater my message resonated within the minds of students. Empowering my peers, we decided to tackle this issue. Researching ways we could influence our educational experience, we found not only were ethnic study courses approved for campuses but within our state’s educational code stood a clause dictating a course’s addition when sizable student interest is established. Running with newfound knowledge, we rallied to support a class that promised diversity of thought crossing traditional eurocentric boundaries.

 

We ended up establishing the course and our sense of belonging, but our problems were not magically solved. Without funding for books, we fundraised to collect sets of literature. It may not match the sheer number of medical books in our library’s arsenal, but it was a start in representing who we were and for the first time since our freshman year, we felt empowered to learn.

 

What the Essay Did Well

 

This is a good essay because it doesn’t follow the structure and story of a traditional “Community” essay. Many times, students will talk about a cultural identity or club they are part of and how being in that community helped them grow and learn more about themselves. This essay takes a different approach.

 

Rather than showcasing their growth and leadership by describing their place within a community, this student turns that idea on its head and presents themself as an outsider. The imagery of the medical books in the library helps the reader understand the pervasive community within the school, which the student juxtaposed as someone interested in racial inclusion and ethnic studies. We get a sense that this student doesn’t feel represented in their community, so they took it upon themselves to become a leader and build their own community.

 

This student comes across as a real leader in this essay because they helped form a movement to increase diversity and inclusion in their school community. Without the student explicitly telling the reader, it is clear that they grew as a person and had a positive impact on those around them as a result of feeling like an outsider to the medical community in their school.

 

What Could Be Improved

 

One major way this essay could be improved would be to focus a little less on the process of getting a new class adopted and a little more on the emotional journey the student went on. 

 

At the beginning of the essay, the student tells us they felt “disempowered” at the lack of diversity in the library, but they don’t go further to explain why that made them disempowered or how that feeling influenced other aspects of their experience. Did they feel like their interests weren’t valued by administrators? Did it make them question whether there was something wrong with them for not liking medicine? It’s important to elaborate on feelings and emotions mentioned in an essay to really show the reader the impact something had on you.

 

Further into the body, we hear that this student empowered their peers, learned the policy for adding new classes, established the class, and raised money for books. While it’s good to get a sense of the undertaking this student championed, we don’t learn a lot about the emotional journey. Including details like the camaraderie they found pouring over the school code with their peers, the elation and feeling of belonging that came from learning the class was approved, or the anger and disappointment that the school bought so many medical books but wouldn’t fund their class texts, would provide more depth and reveal more qualities about how this student handles a challenge. 

 

Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay 

 

Want feedback like this on your Swarthmore essay before you submit? We offer expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with one of our experts to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers.

 

Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Our advisors also offer expert college counseling packages. You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.