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When I told people that I was going to go to Swarthmore, they thought I was totally crazy. Everyone warned me about the "super liberals" and the "weirdos" and the fact that the student body is "teensy." But I came anyway. The student body is super small, but I kind of like it. Even though knowing everyone and their mom kind of kills the dating scene, it's worth it that I can go anywhere on campus and know someone. I spend most of my time on campus in my dorm. I live in a pretty small dorm, and have really bonded with a lot of people in it. I think that the campus is kind of geographically divided. Most of my friends are either in my dorm or in nearby dorms. I think people have trouble branching out. Unfortunately, branching out is kind of necessary in Swarthmore, PA. The town, which we call "the Ville" is cute, but kind of sucks. It's always overrun with "Ville rats," teenagers that have nothing better to do than sit around on the streets. There isn't much to do there and I personally only use the bank in the Ville and the Co-op, which is an overpriced grocery store. Philly is great, but I'm kind of biased because I grew up there. My friends and I have gone to a bunch of art galleries and restaurants that were really amazing. Train fare is expensive, though, and most people never get off campus and go into the city. I can't really complain about the administration because I've gotten to know a lot of them through working for the Phoenix and really like a lot of them personally. That being said, they're really into raising money, raising awareness of Swarthmore, raising our admissions yield, and especially raising our US News and World Report rankings. There is not very much school pride and I have occasionally been berated for wearing my Swarthmore hoodie. Pretty much only athletes care about athletics, but there are a lot of athletes and some of our teams are actually really good. I'd say that the most frequent student complaint is lack of time. Everyone is so overscheduled here that they just don't have time to do what they really want to do (relax, sleep, shower, eat).
Susie Swarthmore Freshman
The best thing about Swarthmore is the people. I love how comfortable I feel with my peers. I love that we all have shared experiences, like being yelled at by our elementary school teachers for not knowing where the class was when the class read aloud and we read ahead. I love that I have conversations about the Oxford comma, the morality of hereditary monarchy, and a panel on U.S.-Iran relations over dinner. As a freshman, I loved that Swat was a small school, because it made getting to know people so much easier and less intimidating. Now that I'm a sophomore though, it would be nice if Swat were a little bigger, because I feel like there aren't any more people to meet. The one experience that I will never forget was the beautiful spring day I spent on Parrish Beach with my friends, "working". It was the first warm, sunny day of spring, and dozens of Swatties were spread out on blankets and towels, just enjoying the beautiful weather and one another's company.
The best thing about Swarthmore is the beautiful campus itself, the strange little nooks and crannies and secret gardens all around. My favorite place to idle around campus was near Crumhenge, on the forest trails and under the railway bridge. I have many amazing memories of pterodactyl hunts by moonlight, bombing across New Jersey on road trips to write about for the Phoenix, meeting my boyfriend at WSRN (he had the radio show after mine and we've been dating for six years now), shooting a zombie movie in the Crum, singing gypsy folk songs in Russian class, crowd-surfing at a GWAR concert in Philly and so much more. The school is definitely on the small side, which makes it more personal, but by the end of junior year it felt clausterphobic. Fortunately Philly is a train ride away. Most student complaints involved the food plan, the small size of some dorm rooms. In fact, the campus was so crowded at one point that some students (including myself) were housed in a nearby retirement center! I believe most of the college's money is spent on academics and extracurricular activities rather than on more superficial improvements like massive state-of-the-art luxury dorms or installment of fast food franchises. Which is fine! (And yes, thankfully, they've since built a new dorm. I don't think the retirement center is in the picture these days.) As for controversy, yes! We had the usual liberal arts college hullaballoos that engulfed the whole campus until everyone explained why they were offended, Kumbaya was sung, and we moved on to the next provocation. If you pride yourself on being "politically incorrect," you may wish to go elsewhere for college.
One of Swarthmore's strengths is how invested it is in having students in decision-making processes. (I think this has something to do with the school's Quaker background, consensus etc.) I will also say that I think this also makes the school run less efficiently than it otherwise might. The size of the school can sometimes feel too small - maybe not for your first year or two, when you're still meeting new people, but by senior year I started to feel like every party I went to had the same rotating cast of 60 or so people. I came to Swarthmore from the southeast, where a lot of people weren't familiar with the school. When I told people where I was attending, they'd often look at me with a puzzled sort of glance, as if to say, "But I thought you were smart?" I guess the flip side of that is that, when people do know what Swarthmore "means," they're invariably really impressed. Where'd I spend most of my time on campus: varied from season to season and year to year. I spent a lot of time at the cafeteria - there's only one on campus, which both made it a big part of my social life and also a frequently nerve-racking experience, if there was someone I wanted to avoid. Freshman year I spent a lot of time on my hall with the other new students, or in the dorms with my friends. By senior year, I spent a lot of time in the library, studying and socializing and complaining with my friends. Swarthmore is barely a town at all - I don't think many people spend much time in the Ville (as it's called) aside from getting an occasional slice of pizza or picking up food for their seminar breaks at the Co-Op. There is, however, train access into Philadelphia, which can be nice for the occasional escape. I knew some kids who went into Philly every weekend or more, and others who never went. I'd say the average number of trips into the city would be once a month. There's a peculiar sort of school pride at Swarthmore. Not school spirit in the traditional sense (admittedly I was pretty estranged from the athletic scene, but for me that sort of rah-rah stuff seemed non-existent). People are definitely loyal to the school, even as they're complaining about it - there's shared pride in our collective weirdness, or something. I've become convinced, more since leaving, that there IS something unusual about Swarthmore: it teaches its students a certain way of looking at the world, and most people come out of it hyper-analytical, more than a little bit liberal, with strong ideas about right and wrong.
Swarthmore is a small school with big resources and enough students around who are excited about doing new things and taking risks with you. If you've never directed a play before, you can apply for funding from Drama Board, audition your cast, and put on a production of "Medea" in the amphitheater. There's a great amount of trust in the student body on the part of the administration, and a subsequent willingness to collaborate on student proposals. The college will give you great amounts of access to funding for projects, and be your partner in most reasonable endeavors. I'd love to make it easier to take classes in the Tri/Co. Though there are tons of great classes at Swarthmore, smaller departments may require some travel if you want to take classes with a broader variety of professors and having to skip a meal (almost inevitable) in order to get to Bryn Mawr/Haverford is a tiring pain in the ass. Swarthmore is a small place, which means that you'll feel safe, known most everywhere you go (good or bad - depending on your drinking/partying habits), and supported by the administration, faculty, and student body. It does mean that a gossip team would be able to run a relay faster than our track team (Swarthmore is also not known for its athletics. Its athletes are true student-athletes - emphasis on students). What I remember best as controversial was the living wage campaign: an effort to secure a living wage for our environmental services and dining staff. There were concerns that the student interest in a living wage was greater than staff interest and that staff involvement in determining possible pay structures was limited.
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The best thing about Swarthmore, is definitely the people. I have met so many people that just amaze me by how much they have already accomplished in their lives as well as how much potential I see in them. The students I have met are so intelligent and interesting as well as genuinely good people that, idealistic as it might sound believe that a better world is possible. I think the size of the school is just right. People's reactions vary from, "Swarth what?" to "Wow, that is an incredibly good school." Being an engineering student, especially as a junior and senior, you spend most of your time in Hicks, but also Sharples or any one of the multiple libraries. The town or "the Ville" as it is colled is not really a college town. It is a very small suburb that is very quaint, but has most of the basics like places for take out, a small co-op grocery, a weekend farmer's market, etc..., but Philadelphia is only a 30 hour train ride away. The deans that I have met have seemed very interested and responsive to student opinions, but there is a disconnect between what the administration professes is the mission and goal of the college and actual actions that are implemented. I am studying abroad currently so I do not know what the most current controvery is, but a discussion topic that has come up a lot is the need to develop an ethnic studies program at the college. I think there is a lot of school pride amongst current students as well as alumni of Swarthmore. However, it does not manifest itself in the usual venues. Sporting events are not a huge deal at Swarthmore for the most part, unless you are on an athletic team or have a good friend on the team, most people do not go to watch games on a regular basis. The people are the best part of Swarthmore as well as the most unusual. There are definitely a lot of quirky people to say the least at Swarthmore, but that is really embraced. It is strange sometimes because you can get so engrossed in "Swat culture" that it really feels like you are in a bubble, and I think that sometimes we all need to leave the bubble or take a break from it for a while. I will always remember the Tri-College Summer Diversity Workshop, which is a pre-orientation program run by the Tri-College Consortium consisting of Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges. The program offers around 85 pre-freshmen to participate in a week-long series of workshops about different issues related to diversity in race, religion, gender and sexuality. I learned so much from that experience, made some of my best friends in college, and it helped push me to become a more socially and politically active person. The most frequent student complaints usually revolve around, as with most schools, the cafeteria food, library hours that are too short, or having too much reading and work to do. We like to call it misery poker, which is especially common before mid-terms and finals.