The best thing about Swarthmore, students report, is the community--the closeness that develops even during classes. “The students at Swat are not competitive at all—everyone is working on different things and developing their own programs of study and is focused on achieving their full potential, not beating anyone else. The school fosters this and doesn't calculate GPA or class rank,” says one sophomore political science major. A freshman dance major concurs, “the fact that the first semester of freshman year is pass/fail (meaning that you don't get a letter grade) encourages you to explore subjects you never thought you would study, which you might end up liking a lot, like my East European Prose seminar.”
The professors are a large part of this. As one junior bio major puts it, “There is an incredible level of intimacy between students and professors. You can be sure that at Swarthmore, you will be able to get very personal and unique recommendation letters from more than one teacher.” A sophomore engineering major agrees, “The professors are very accessible and spend a lot of time with us. Sometimes, they'll even be around just to help you at 10PM on a Sunday night. The amount of personal research they do is minimal because they are mainly here to help us learn.” And Swatties are there because they love to learn, even the ones who might not look it. “I've been in class and assumed that guys in my class won't have anything to say because they look like bros that aren't serious about academics. Then they open their mouths and have a lot to say about capitalism or can quote the Canterbury Tales or something. There are all types of people, and everyone is good at something,” says one freshman.
And most Swatties do fit a certain mold. As one junior puts it, they are “awkward nerds, but definitely not in an unattractive way! In fact, some peoples' awkward characteristics are what make them so very human and lovable.” An alum sums it up: “If the idea of spending four years surrounded by a bunch of slightly off-kilter, extremely cerebral and typically poorly dressed people sounds good to you, then you'd love Swarthmore.”
Which is not to say this small campus isn’t diverse: the school is proud of its substantial minority, GLBTQ, and international communities and its strong—some would say stifling—commitment to tolerance. “I was happy with my experience at Swarthmore as a gay. No anti-gay sentiment or anything like that--being gay is completely unremarkable at Swarthmore,” says one alum. A freshman reports, “The one thing that bothers me, though, is that the campus is incredibly PC and hypersensitive. [It is] always common for a certain group to be "personally offended" by something relatively insignificant.” Most Swatties would take issue with that statement. “The diversity is really wonderful, and the various ethnic groups on campus really do mix around a lot. The thing is, though, we really are INCREDIBLY liberal. Even the PROFS make Bush jokes, and the Republican student group here feels more like a support group than a political party,” says one freshman.
No matter where they are on the political spectrum, Swatties have intensity in common. As one alum puts it, the school is a place with a “High emphasis on learning, understanding and hard work, low emphasis on superficial things like money and dress and showing you know how to party. Small community that is very invested in itself, usually in a good way, although sometimes people complain too much and forget their blessings.” One of the most popular activities on campus is a never-ending comparison of workloads, but even that is collaborative. “Though it's true that we like to play misery poker while having dinner in our one dining hall (e.g. 'I have a 15 page paper due tomorrow and I haven't even read one of my sources,' 'Tell me about it; I have to write a film paper on Andy Warhol's 5-hour long film of his friend sleeping, which I haven't seen either.' 'That doesn't sound so bad, at least it's a movie.' 'The paper is due in two hours.'), we play misery poker together because Swarthmore students like to collaborate and share,” says one alum.
When they’re not obsessed with classes, students have causes. “Students at Swarthmore love social causes and international affairs, so most activities involve charity or education about foreign countries and their plight i.e. Stop Starvation in Darfur, learn about preventing AIDS in China etc.,” says one freshman. Or they try to blow off steam at one of the school’s many free parties and activities. “For such a small college, we do have some seriously cool events like TC Boyle coming to read, Margaret Cho's comedy routine or The Roots (!!!) but I do wish they came more frequently. We have music performances at Olde Club pretty often, mostly indie bands I've never heard of,” says one sophomore. Social life can be a problem. According to one current student, there’s “No real dating scene. Students just tend to hook-up or have unhealthy relationships that lead to them not having other friends.”
Even as Swatties see their school’s flaws, they are protective of the place. As one freshman puts it, what they feel is “not a screaming, drunken, chest-painting sort of school pride, it's more of a sober, somewhat sarcastic, a little bit intellectually distant sort of school pride. We're a little bit arrogant, but we tend to take our school fairly seriously, and you'll meet a lot of people who are very dedicated to making Swarthmore the most socially sensitive, politically aware and academically stimulating place that it can be.” And the problems that arise do generally have solutions. “There are times when it can feel suffocating as you keep seeing the same people everywhere,” says one alum. “That's when you go abroad.”