Looking back on what I've written, I realize I at times brushed over some of the bumps and bruises of Swarthmore. There were times where I felt that "debate" was more discussion as not all sides (especially political) were fairly represented. There were many times when I was stressed beyond belief due to workload. There were times when I was frustrated with self-segregation in the cafeteria due to race, language, activity, what have you. But even with that said, Swarthmore is a pretty special place. If it were perfect, it would be boring and it wouldn't exist. It has its issues, but if you are a person who delights in thinking and questioning and being challenged, it's the place for you. The first thing that I was taught, my very first week of classes was to challenge everything, even what the teachers said. That's something important right there - that professors have weight because they are professors and so don't necessarily always treat you exaclty as equals, but you are not subservient either. They respect you and expect a lot from you. There are the "demi-gods" on campus, but they don't have to be. Now almost a year out of school, I am happy to be done and moving on to new things. But, I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend Swarthmore. On the school side, it honed my ability to think, to make connections between seemingly unrelated things, and set me up for some really great opportunities. My friends are some of the most amazing people I have ever met, even with their foibles and idisyncracies, I love them the more for it.
Although Swarthmore is not the most accepting place for conservative thought, I would highly recommend that conservative students come to Swarthmore. Conservatives have the unique advantage over liberal students by being challenged not just academically, but also socially and politically. Swarthmore can also be referred to as a bubble...students tend to get so wrapped up in Swat life that they forget that there is an outside world. Luckily enough, there is a train at the bottom of campus that takes you directly into Philly (25 minute ride). The Swarthmore Ville also isn't the most appealing college town. Nothing is open late, the grocery store is expensive, and there aren't many restaurants. The college has been working on improving college/student relations, and recently a Dunkin Donuts was added. Also, Fall of '08, a BYOB restaurant is opening. Although the Ville is improving, it still has a long way to go. My favorite Chinese food ever, is in the Ville though, Cheng Hing!
Swarthmore's academic culture suffuses EVERYTHING it does, from the arts to the late-night conversations to the fact that we're nearly constantly working. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but it's a very rigorous way of doing things. However, I think there's a degree to which it also maturely recognizes that academics aren't everything: this includes its socio-political engagement, the fun that the professors and students have together, and just the Romantic beauty of the campus itself, which is a nationally recognized arboretum.
The school's academic rigor is unprecedented and the coursework is often at a graduate level. There is also a tremendous emphasis on hard work, which is incredibly refreshing when more and more schools are inflating their grades and handing out A's for nothing. On another note, the majority of students are very thoughtful and tend to choose philosophical discussions over beer and football games. Most of the student body is very nerdy and frequently quirky-- even our rugby jocks (nope, there's no football here) were nerds in high school.
I'm from the class of '04, so my impressions might be out of date. I've heard that the admissions people are increasing going after more conventional students, the types who will graduate, get well-paying jobs in established professions, donate lots of money, and help the school climb the rankings. I certainly hope not. Swatties tend to bitch and moan, as people in general do, but most of the people I know had extremely positive experiences, and are very happy that they went to Swarthmore. Sorry, I don't have much dirt.
Very liberal/diverse in terms of race and sexual orientations. Reverse of most schools in that eccentric kids are embraced openly while athletes are somewhat marginalized by the Swattie population. That is changing though as more athletes are being admitted and the athletic programs are becoming very competitive in the Centennial League and beyond (Men's soccer went to the round of 16 at the DIII NCAA tournament).
I love Swat, and I am not your typical Swattie. If you can get in that probably means you will like it. Knowing people who go to Ivy Schools and the like, I can say with confidence that you'll get a better education here than you will anywhere else (save other high-ranking liberal arts schools). And if you're worried about slaving over your work, don't worry because you don't really have to.
Five years after graduating I'm only now fully realizing how Swarthmore shaped every aspect of how I view the world and myself. I think it gives you a very particular, post-modern understanding of how the world functions and can be analyzed. This has informed all of my work since graduation.
Swarthmore is a great place but it is a pressure cooker. The academics ARE really intense, far more so than at most other schools (judging by my workload compared to that of my friends at other places). But the campus is beautiful and the people are really great.
it's not for everyone. you have to really want to learn and be involved in order to do well at Swarthmore. If you're not an engaged student or citizen, you probably would not like Swarthmore.