What are your chances of acceptance?

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)

What Makes for a Good Essay at Swarthmore College?

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:



Many students wonder what makes a good essay. Each college has its own different mission and values, so it makes sense that you would wonder what traits the admissions officers prioritize at each college. In this post, we will discuss tips for improving your application essays and provide some specific advice for Swarthmore College applicants. These tips can help you not only in your Swarthmore essays but in all of your essays this application year. 


Major Errors Students Make


All of Swarthmore’s prompts this year have a 250-word limit. A big error would be to go over the word limit, so make sure your essay is 250 words or less; otherwise, your application could be disqualified potentially. 


In addition, if your essay is drastically below the word limit, that’s not a good sign and could also lead to a disqualification. It means you are not taking advantage of valuable space in your essay where you could talk about your accomplishments and passions, building a case for why you should be admitted as a student. Being either drastically below or above the word count is potentially an automatic disqualification. Any form of plagiarizing in your essay is also something that will get you a guaranteed rejection.


Another error you can make is having poor spelling or grammar. You are applying to an academic institution, so not proofreading for spelling and grammar errors will hurt your chances. To avoid this, you can use a website like Grammarly to find grammatical errors in your writing. You can also have someone read through your essay and point out any spelling errors or areas of improvement to help you become a better writer. Having a counselor who has experience proofreading college applications is a great idea, so if you have that resource, take advantage of it. 


Keep Your Reader in Mind


Writing About Sensitive Topics


With everything going on in society, you want to be cautious that you are not expressing any views that could potentially offend your admissions officers. The admissions officers reading your essay could come from any background, so writing about sensitive topics, such as politics and social justice issues, could be risky depending on how you frame them.


Swarthmore and other Northeastern liberal arts schools are especially cognizant of controversial topics. They are vocal about trying to provide a supportive learning environment to all students regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.


If you are writing about these topics, make sure to write with your reader in mind. It’s OK to include opinions that don’t align with the college’s view completely, especially if you are going into a political major, but tread with caution in your writing so that you do not potentially come across as being racist, sexist, or homophobic and offend any admissions officers.


How To Make Your Essay Easy to Read


A great tip is to show and not tell in your essay. Admissions officers sometimes read hundreds of admissions essays every week, so you should avoid blanket statements in your essay because they aren’t memorable. If you want to describe a personality trait or an event, write about it through your actions and dialogue instead of explicitly saying it. A general statement about your personality or skills could come off as arrogant, and admissions officers would rather read about a story where you demonstrated a skill or personality than read your opinion of yourself. 


In your writing, you should also double-check for run-on sentences and long paragraphs. If your essay has a lot of either of these, your reader could get lost and your message or story might not come across the way you wanted it to. 


Think about how you write when you’re writing an email. You will probably include a lot of line breaks and easy-to-read information. While your essay doesn’t need to be as structured as an email, you want to make it as easy to read as an email. Concise sentences and paragraphs give an essay a nice rhythm that the reader can follow. 


Another tip to make your essay easy to read is to make sure you use consistent verb tenses. This is a very common mistake many students make while writing about a memory or flashback. If you’re going to be switching between past and present, you want to be demarcating clearly where that transition is happening. This will help your reader to not be confused as to what time they are reading about.