The best thing about Swarthmore are the people and the atmosphere. You are surrounded by brilliant, motivated, and diverse group of people, yet everyone shares the same sort of passion for something unnamed. We often discussed it at school, but the unnamed connection between Swatties has something to do with love of learning (even if you don't admit it), thinking, and being challenged. When I meet Swatties outside of school there is something that bonds us and conversations with once strangers can easily become four hours chatting like old friends. As for size, it's about right. There are times when it can feel suffocating as you keep seeing the same people everywhere. That's when you go abroad or make efforts to meet people outside your circle of friends. But, the smallness of school really allows you to build community. It also makes a huge difference in the quality of education. We may have less breadth, but the interaction with teachers is unparelled. You may hate the fact that you can't hide from your professor, but the smallness of classes forces you to be really involved in your education (This isn't to say that you can't get away without doing the reading or skimming, you most certainly can, just pick your classes for that wisely). I spent most of my time on campus bouncing around between the buildings in which I had classes, Parrish, Sharples, the fieldhouse, my dorm, McCabe, Science Center Commons, and working outside when it was beautiful. The best part was when I figured out that I could work outside late into the night, perched on the steps of Parrish that are have lights that go on in the evening. I was a bit of a nomad at Swat, especially in my study habits. Most of my friends could be found in 3-4 places on campus, I continually switched up my spots, depending on how well I was focusing in a certain area. One of my favorite moments at Swat was walking outside of McCabe library one night int he midst of studying for my Honors exams. As I walked out of the library, the stars were shining, and a string quartet was playing on the steps of Parrish Hall. It was beautiful. There I was, all stressed out over exams and the music was a pause, a moment of silence in the otherwise frantic day. That's one of my favorite parts of Swarthmore - it's easy to get wrapped up in you as a student and the small worries and fears and stressors and then, there is one moment where you see someone bagpiping or you notice the flowers that sprung up outside your window or you run across a friend you haven't seen in a while and have a three hour conversation debating philosophy outside the rose garden. It's that one moment that you remember why you love the place. That's probably the trick about Swarthmore. How do you keep it in perspective? You are there to learn, you have probably always done well in school, or could have done well if it interested you enough. It's easy to get caught up in the papers and the pressure that you mainly put on yourself. But if you can step back from time to time, it is a beautiful place and something you won't ever run across again once you leave.
the best thing is definitely the rigorous academics and the professors who actually care about teaching. hmm, the thing i'd change isn't really something that is possible to change - my biggest issue with swat was A) everyone separates by race and other cliques and B) there are a lot of really annoying insufferable people. oh well. i kind of liked that it was small, although it made it hard to avoid ex boyfriends. most people don't react at all when i tell them where i went to school, because they haven't heard of it. my employers have heard of it, though, and were impressed, and it helped me get my previous job. when i was in school i spent most of my time on campus, in my dorm or in kohlberg or on the lawn. i lived in the ville during my last semester, but . . . there's nothing in the ville except renato's and the cheese shop. i liked swarthmore's administration, they were extremely helpful and wonderful when i got sick, the dean got involved personally with me and i was able to keep all the credits from that semester even though i missed several months of class. i have no idea what the most recent controversy is, the last i remember is the mascot thing. there's always a controversy at swat. i think there is definitely school pride, most students feel proud about going there, though i think there is a small but vocal minority who hate it and only go for the academics and name. i don't really think swat is that unusual, people used to say the student body was unusual but every year it seems like they admit more "normal" people and fewer freaks. i will always remember going to puerto rico for a week to study bugs and being given the opportunity to study abroad in kenya. student complaints: too much homework, crushing workloads, high tuition, annoying peers.
I think that Swarthmore is sometimes small enough to be stifling, but if one gets involved in enough activities or takes the initiative to get off campus and go into Philly or Media (the next town over) every now and then, it usually isn't much of a problem. The town is atrocious; it's a dry borough, with no real restaurants and no food available past 12 or 1. Springfield, about a 20 minute walk away, has a few restaurants and a small mall, and Media, the next town over on the train, is pretty cute and fun. The administration seems to want to help students, but often mentions how tight the budget is, which seems absurd to most students. Sometimes it seems like Swarthmore banks on its great academics to excuse mediocre student life- the dorms are OK but not great, there's only 1 dining hall, the one snack bar on campus is greasy and not great either, the gym is functional but small and with old equipment. But on the flip side, at least we have those things. Another good thing about Swat is that the school could care less about drinking and marijuana. If a student is a stupid about it then the school has to get involved but otherwise they are happy enough to turn the other cheek and let students make their own choices. There is very little school spirit. The springtime is fun and beautiful, especially when the campus is in bloom (it's also a nationally recognized arboretum). When I tell most people I go to Swarthmore, I get a response like, "Oh...is that a community college?" For the most part, only people who are in academia or have advanced degrees have heard of Swarthmore.
Best thing: Teachers are great; friends I've made here are great. Thing I'd change: There's a very loud volunteer fire alarm that goes off a lot and drives everyone crazy. how do people react: most haven't heard of it. Spend most time: in and around my dorm. Not a college town. Adminstration: No big complaints though things are pretty bureaucratic for such a small school. biggest recent controversy: Last year during coming out week or something like that the gay-lesbian group wrote and drew various phrases and paintings all over campus with chalk. Some of them were blasphemous/generally offensive, people who took offense erased them, and people on both sides became outraged. Obviously there is not too much controversy on campus. School pride: Not too much, definitely not over sports teams, but there's definitely a certain camaraderie here because most people like it and it's a very unique place. unusual how?: Swarthmore is unusual in almost every imaginable way. i don't think there are many other college campuses -- even at places like harvard -- where the majority of the students read the new york times pretty much every day. Experience i'll always remember: too many to recall, few of which have anything to do with the institution of swarthmore. student complaint: the biggest student complaints are about having too much work, though this is rarely a complaint of mine as i usually have very little.
I came from a high school of 400 students, so at first Swarthmore felt huge to me, but by my sophomore year I realized it's tiny (plus a lot of people are away on a semester abroad at any given time, so the campus population is even smaller than the number of students enrolled). You live and eat and take classes with everyone every day and you quickly know lots of information about people you haven't even met yet. It's an insular community - though the train station is on campus and it's easy to get to Philadelphia, in my experience most people don't go into the city much, and there is virtually no swarthmore town - which has it's pros and cons. Sometimes the smallness of the community feels stifling, but most of the time, for me, it felt supportive and nurturing. Everyone is young, everyone is trying out different selves and figuring out who they are and it's a place that fosters that. In terms of how people react when I tell them I went to Swarthmore - either they don't know what it is or they know and want to show you they are also in the elite by knowing. It's not like going to Harvard or Yale where everyone knows it's a great school. It gets a little frustrating sometimes having to either explain what/where it is or having to deal with people wanting to show you they are of your status by knowing about it.
The college town--most students' only interaction with it is going to the co-op for groceries, to Renato for pizza, or to one of the strangely abundant hair salons for a haircut. Vaguely charming and certainly inoffensive. School pride--no, at least none expessed in the traditional fashion of chants and pep rallies or what have you. Students express school pride backhandedly by discussing how miserable the school makes them. Swarthmore students secretly believe that suffering is noble, thus griping about workload should be taken as a boast rather than a complaint. When you tell people you go to Swarthmore, nine out of ten times they won't know what it is, so they'll ask where it is, smile politely after you tell them, and in their heads think, "This person goes to a no-name school. He's an idiot." Other people will confuse it with Skidmore. A tiny percentage of people will be genuinely blown away. The administration is whatever, not exceptional in any regard. Not that the students have any interaction with him, but there's ill will toward president Al Bloom for no other reason than he's a short weenie.
Swarthmore will prepare you for an ever changing world. Professors have extremely high expectations from each student and push their students to think in ways that they never would have before. Swarthmore is a highly tolerant educational experience that brings together students from every walk of life. Although the conservative voice is rather small on campus, and there tends to be a bias against it, Swarthmore is very tolerant. The one thing I would change is students' rather limited scope for varying thought. Swat students tend to find it difficult to think outside of their liberal mind frame. Thought diversity has been a topic of conversation in the past year, and is something that has been challenged due to the revitalization of the College Republicans on campus. Being a conservative student on a very liberal campus, my positions have been challenged, but I have learned a great deal from that. One advantage I have had in being conservative at Swarthmore is that I have had the chance to be challenged and also learn outside of normal comfort zone.
Swarthmore is a small liberal arts college that is absolutely gorgeous and very fond of its quirky Quaker reputation, so you get a lot of enthusiasm for events like the Pterodactyl Hunt and the Crum Regatta. It's very academically rigorous and a very elite school, but no one has ever heard of it. They'll think it's either a community college or one of the lost Seven Sisters colleges. Swarthmore is the place to go if you always want to see a friendly face. While this makes dating and hooking up fraught with the awkward at times, it's a wonderful feeling to always know someone you can sit down and chat with. It can be a little claustrophobic at times, but honestly, Philly and even NYC aren't too far off. I can always pop into Philly to eat someplace other than Sharples or into NYC for a Broadway play. That's another thing--Sharples. I'm sorry, but for almost 50k a year, Sharples has got to be destroyed. The worst is when the dining hall tries to go ethnic. Indian Bar set back U.S.-India relations for AT LEAST 30 years.
Swarthmore challenges me to think about the bigger picture, as in fostering this critical thinking or metacognitive understanding of things that we do and the places we live in. It is a mostly controlled environment in which we can assert our presence as students and in the process, develop the skills and gain the insights to make a difference in the world. The administration is receptive and welcoming, but their flexbility and openness do end at a certain point. While I do think that Swatties often question and redefine norms, that is not the case for everyone. More recently, I'm finding that the newer students are more immature than in years past. There is still a certain degree of immaturity, childishness, and oppression that certain privileged populations exhibit, that may be more prevalent and accepted on other campuses.
Swarthmore is a very intense place, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Tour guides at any school will always tell you how amazing a school is and only show you the perks. What I write here is real. If you don't want to work, if you don't want to challenge yourself, don't come to Swarthmore. Here, you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone, you will encounter issues of prejudice and bias, you will question whether you are truly tolerant of all classes, races, sexual orientations, etc. You will become extremely involved with your studies and see the importance in the tiniest details or phrasings. If you are ready for this, welcome to our "bubble".