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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Swarthmore College

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Swarthmore College is a competitive liberal arts college in Pennsylvania that thrives on the sharing of ideas and a social awareness. It was founded in 1864 (and one of the founders, Lucretia Mott, will be featured on the $10 bill!) and has an excellent reputation of academic rigor. As a result, it is hard to get into, with an acceptance rate of only 12%. Using this guide, however, you can learn everything you need to submit a great application to Swarthmore College!


Located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania Swarthmore College is a private college on an arboretum and has been described as “the most beautiful campus in America” by Adam Levine in Garden Design magazine. It is next to a village with plenty of coffee shops and food options within walking distance, and is only 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, so you can always hop on a train if you wish to visit the city.


Swarthmore is known for its small classes, given its student to faculty ratio of 8:1. There are more than 40 courses of study, along with an engineering program, and students have the opportunity to design their own major – with a lot of classes to choose from! Each year there are over 600 different courses offered. Additionally, Swarthmore College is part of the Tri-College Consortium, along with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. Cross-registration at the University of Pennsylvania is also an option.

95% of students live on campus in the 18 residence halls. Over 60% of students participate in community service activities – in its mission statement, Swarthmore hopes that students there develop a “deep sense of ethical and social concern,” in addition to their intellectual pursuits. There are 22 varsity sports teams, over 100 clubs and organizations, and seven libraries.  

What is the Honors program?

The Honors program at Swarthmore College, which has been around for nearly 100 years, is the ultimate experience of engaging with fellow professors and students around new, exciting, and challenging ideas. It is the only undergraduate program of its kind in the United States and is modeled after the tutorial system at Oxford University. It is centered around discussion and dialogue in small classes and seminars – to put it simply, sharing ideas.

About one-third of Swarthmore students participate. In the spring, at the end of the two years of this program, outside scholars visit the College and evaluate each student individually through oral examinations on their work. This gives students a chance to test their ideas with thinkers in their field of study. It is not mandatory, but it is certainly a special part of Swarthmore College tradition.


Tuition for the 2016-17 academic year at Swarthmore College is $48,720. Room and board together cost $14,446 and there is a student activity fee of $384. All together (but not including books and supplies, personal expenses, or transportation), attending Swarthmore College  for the 2016-17 academic year costs $63,550.

Financial Aid

If you need help footing the bill, do not worry! Swarthmore has many financial aid options – 52% of the student body receives financial aid. Each financial aid award is different and may be composed of state, federal, community, and/or Swarthmore College scholarships, along with a campus job opportunity. You may also decide to borrow to pay your contribution, but Swarthmore aid awards do not include loans.

Swarthmore offers financial aid to all students who have demonstrated need. Swarthmore admissions are need-blind, so your financial need will not impact your admissions decision. You must apply for aid on time, though, or you will not get your financial aid decisions in time for the May 1 commitment date.

For fall early decision, you must apply for financial aid by November 15th (the same day your ED application is due – see general application deadlines below). For winter early decision, you must apply by January 15th. And finally, for regular decision, you must apply for financial aid by February 15th.

While Swarthmore College will work with you and your family to make sure you can afford your education there, it is expected that you will work during each summer to make money for your education. For your first year, they expect you to save at least $2,000. For the following years, you are expected to make $2,500. Also, 25% of your savings and other assets will be expected as a contribution each year (and veterans’ benefits, too, if you receive those). If you are unable to make this much money over a summer, you can also borrow money through the federal Direct Stafford Loan Program or take on a job during the school year.

Note that Swarthmore does not have an income maximum for financial aid eligibility. Many factors go into your aid decision – not just income, but also tax liability, family size, medical expenses, standard living expenses, where you live, your parents’ assets, their ages, and much more. Your family’s income will not be the only factor and it will not prevent you from getting aid if you need it.

Also, there are a few merit-based scholarships available to Swarthmore students each year. While 99% of their scholarships are need-based, the Special Scholarships page offers information about four merit-based scholarships available to students at Swarthmore College.

Finally, you can use the Swarthmore Net Price Calculator here to get an idea of what Swarthmore College will cost for you.


The deadline for fall early decision is November 15, 2016. The deadlines for winter early decision and regular decision are both January 1, 2017. Fall early decision and winter early decision are essentially the same – one is just earlier than the other. Both are binding applications in which you agree to attend Swarthmore and withdraw all other applications if you are accepted to Swarthmore. Regular decision is non-binding, so you can choose to go to another school, even if you are accepted at Swarthmore. For more information on early decision and regular decision, check out these CollegeVine guides here and here.

All deadlines are by 11:59pm at your local time. These deadlines do not change based on which application you use (Common, Coalition, or Questbridge – for more information, see below).

Notification Dates

You will be able to find your application decision through the Swarthmore application portal. It should be posted by 6pm Eastern Time. For fall early decision, results will be posted by December 15th. Notifications for winter early decision will be released by February 15th and, for regular decision, by March 24th.

Types of Applications Swarthmore Accepts

Swarthmore accepts three types of applications: the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Questbridge Application. Swarthmore does not favor any type of application over another, so you should choose the platform that best suits you and stick with it.

If you are using the Common Application or the Coalition Application, you will need to write either the standard Common App essay or Coalition App essay, along with a Swarthmore supplemental essay (for more information on the Swarthmore supplement, see below or check out the CollegeVine guide to the 2016-17 Swarthmore essays here).

If you are using the Questbridge Application, and you are not being considered for the National College Match, you must submit a Swarthmore Questbridge Conversion Form, which will become available after December 1. On this form, you must indicate your application plan – fall early decision, winter early decision, or regular decision. If you are a Questbridge student and you match with Swarthmore, you will be asked to submit this form after December 1.

No matter which application you choose, a complete Swarthmore College application includes six things:

  1. One of the three accepted applications (Common, Coalition, or Questbridge)
  2. Swarthmore College Short Answer
  3. The $60 application fee or a fee waiver
  4. A school report, which includes your guidance counselor recommendation, high school transcript, and your mid-year grades (if your school does not have mid-year grades, you can instead provide a mid-year progress report from your current teachers)
  5. Standardized test scores (the SAT or ACT are required, but not the essay or writing component of either test)
  6. Two academic subject teacher evaluations

Know that Swarthmore can and will make admissions decisions whether or not all of your materials are submitted, so it is in your best interest to submit everything on time.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay

The Swarthmore Supplement requires only one essay with a 250-word limit: “Please write about why you are interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore.”

On both the Common Application and the Coalition Application, the question can be found in the supplement section. In the Questbridge Application, this question will be asked on the Swarthmore Questbridge Conversion Form.

For more specific advice on the Swarthmore supplemental essay, be sure to check out the CollegeVine guide to the 2016-17 Swarthmore essay here. And, for more general help on the “Why us?” type of college essay, check out these CollegeVine guides here and here.

Interview Process

The Swarthmore College Admissions Office highly encourages interviews, so you should definitely request one. You do not have to have finished or submitted your Swarthmore application in order to have a Swarthmore interview. Depending on your location, you will either have your interview on-campus or off. (Check out this CollegeVine guide to preparing for college interviews here!)

On-Campus Interviews

If you are visiting Swarthmore or live nearby (within two hours driving distance), you can schedule an on-campus interview any time between June 1, 2016 and December 5, 2016 if you are applying to matriculate as a first-year student in the fall of 2017. You must schedule them online here.

Off-Campus Interviews

If you do not have the chance to visit Swarthmore and do not live close by (that is, if you live over two hours away driving), you may request an off-campus interview. These are conducted by Swarthmore College alumni who volunteer and are trained to meet with applicants. Because they depend on alumni availability, however, you are not guaranteed an interview and you may have to wait as long as three weeks to be contacted. If a Swarthmore alum is unable to meet with you for an interview, you will not be penalized.

When you are matched with an alumni admissions representative, you and the interviewer will both receive emails with instructions on the next steps. It is your responsibility to set up the meeting, however, so make sure to be proactive. Additionally, there are deadlines for the interviews: if you are applying fall early decision, you must submit your alumni interview request by Friday, October 14, 2016. If you are applying winter early decision or regular decision, you must submit your request by Friday, December 2, 2016. To request an alumni interview, you must submit this form online.

In conclusion, while Swarthmore College is a competitive school and difficult to get into, by following this guide, remembering the deadlines, and writing a strong essay you can show the Swarthmore admissions committee that you are a serious student and applicant, and that you will fit right in at their community!


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Julia Mearsheimer
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.