Swarthmore is a top liberal arts college that has high expectations for themselves as a school, and for the students and faculty who make up their community.
Swarthmore does a great job of communicating what sets the school apart from other top liberal arts colleges – they know what they stand for, and what is important to them. Like a well crafted college essay, both the information session and the tour did a good job of helping me to identify what types of students Swarthmore is looking for, and what their values are as a community.
Swarthmore’s Quaker heritage and values are important to the school, not just as something to look back at, but also as something that’s actively integrated into students’ lives on a daily basis. For example, they talk about being intentional about giving students a voice and listening to it. To illustrate this, a student on the panel talked about being on a committee involved in hiring a new faculty member for the department she is majoring in, and how her voice, and that of the other student on the committee, had as much weight as the faculty voices on the committee. They also talked about the value of access, not just by being generous with financial aid, but also by making sure events on campus are free to students so that all students have the same access to all aspects of campus life.
The campus itself is quite large, with a fair amount of walking between different parts of campus, and lots of open space, and the town of Swarthmore is very small (I would call it a hamlet, just a few small shops), so it’s quiet, but there’s a train station at the edge of campus, and you can be in downtown Philadelphia in 30 minutes.
Swarthmore is definitely academically rigorous, and students are attracted to the school for that feature. My tour guide talked about how she knew Swarthmore was the right school for her when she did an overnight visit and everyone was studying, and enjoying it. To help alleviate some of the stress that comes along with this, all classes are taken Pass/Fail during the first year. This give students the confidence to explore, and also encourages collaboration and conversation.