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)

How to Write the ‘Why 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:



To apply to Swarthmore College, you’ll need to write a supplemental essay in addition to your Common App essay. If you choose to respond to the third prompt option, your “Why Swarthmore” essay should explain exactly why you’re interested in the college and what you hope to contribute to it. It can be difficult to know exactly what to mention in such an essay, but this article will take you through best practices, what to avoid, and how to tie in your essay to the rest of your application.


Be Specific


Basics of the Essay


The “why this school” essay is pretty common, and often the most straightforward supplemental essay option. The “Why Swarthmore” essay is not mandatory, unlike for many other colleges. It has a 250-word limit and, since you have so little space allotted to you, you need to do as much as you can with it. Try to get as close to the upper word count as possible. 


To write a successful “Why school” essay, you need to research what that particular school has to offer, and how those offerings relate to your own background. It’s best to get specific, seek out exactly what appeals to you about the college, and determine why it’s different from other schools that you’re applying to.


It can be helpful to think about what you would do if you got into every school you apply to. What would make you choose Swarthmore over all the others? What makes it special to you?


It’s useful to look into the academics of Swarthmore and figure out what you would like to study, and with whom you’d like to study. But your essay—and your interest in the school—should go beyond what you want to get out of the classroom. You should also consider the impact that you’re going to have on your college community. It’s helpful to think about how you plan on interacting with your peers, the clubs or organizations you plan on joining, and how you will want to make a difference.


What Makes Swarthmore Unique


Swarthmore is unique in many ways, and it would help your essay to bring up some of the things that make it stand out. It’s one of the few liberal arts colleges to offer an engineering major. This attracts many students who want the atmosphere of a liberal arts college, rather than a large university, but are interested in studying engineering.


It is also a member of the Tri-College and Quaker Consortiums. This allows students to cross-register for classes at the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and Haverford College. Students can also participate in some of the clubs of these other colleges. 


There are many unique and interesting clubs and organizations at Swarthmore, so you are assured to find one to join. The Shogi Club,  for example, gives students the chance to play this Japanese type of chess. In addition, if you’re interested in politics or international relations, Swarthmore has recently launched the Project for Eastern European Relations. Through this, students can host international lecturers, lobby governments, and expand community networks.


These are only some of the things that make Swarthmore unique. It is not a complete list, but it should help you to start thinking about what separates this school from others that you’re applying to. This will help you begin to consider how the opportunities at Swarthmore relate to your personal story.


Common Pitfalls


While this type of essay may seem simple, students often fail to express “real reasons” for wanting to attend. Admissions officers don’t want to read that Swarthmore is one of the most prestigious schools in Pennsylvania, that it has a beautiful campus, or that you know you’d be able to get a job after graduating. They want to know exactly why you want to attend their school, and what you are going to get out of it on a deeper level.


You could have perfect grades and test scores, great extracurriculars, proven leadership roles, and excellent subject test scores, but if you can only bring up Swarthmore’s prestige or the beauty of the campus, you’ll have a hard time getting admitted. You need to have some personal connection to what you’re writing about. You should be able to craft a cohesive narrative of yourself, and you want to incorporate your potential future at Swarthmore in an organic way. 


Your Story


To be successful in writing this essay, you need to think about how it will fit into the entirety of your application. You should consider your personal narrative, and how your previous experiences have led you to pursue admission to Swarthmore. You shouldn’t merely provide a list of things that you’re interested in. You should be able to provide a sense of cohesion. You can do this by connecting your past experiences to particular offerings provided by Swarthmore.


For example, if you’re interested in the unique engineering program at Swarthmore because you want to pursue a career in sustainable urban development, you can cite Swarthmore’s status as a liberal arts college and describe why a liberal arts background would be useful for this.


Swarthmore has other departments and programs, of course. You should do research into what makes them special, and then you can describe how they align with your past work, and what you hope to work on in the future.


Writing about why you want to attend Swarthmore should help you to establish further why this is the right school for you, and it should also help you to crystallize, specifically, what you’re interested in. You should feel excited at the chance to attend this college, and you should come away from writing this essay feeling sure about what you aim to achieve.