- Class: Alum
- Major: Russian Studies
- Gender: F
- High School: SC Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities
- Transfer Student: N
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 has all the benefits of a small liberal arts college: super-small classes, professors that are invested in teaching (as opposed to solely their own work), and lots of individual attention. Professors are super-available at office hours and really do develop personal relationships with their students. I think that something unique to Swarthmore (as opposed to other LACs) is that professors are super-appreciative of the fact that their students are invariably really smart and really nerdy, and therefore are particularly fond of their students. There are people who study A LOT at Swarthmore. My friends in the natural sciences, in particular, seemed to spend most of their waking hours working on problem sets or in the labs. As a humanities major with the ability to read fast, I didn't spend the majority of my time studying, but definitely a couple hours every day, and a couple of all-weekend sessions when a big paper was due (this happened maybe twice a semester). Do Swarthmore students have intellectual conversations outside of class? Oh, and do they. This is one of the big reasons why I ended up at Swat, and was not disappointed - though I was sometimes sort of overwhelmed by it. Ultimately it's a good thing, but there's definitely no escaping it. One of the secret things about Swarthmore is that students are - at least in my experience and that of my friends - emphatically NOT competitive, at least not with each other. People work very hard and often have ridiculously high expectations for themselves, but there's not a sense of having to be best in the class or compete for the best GPA. The learning environment is very collaborative, students study together and want to help each other. The one exception to this is the Honors Program: this optional ***ulative experience gives each student a final, and very public, grade (Honors, High Honors, Highest Honors). This was my one taste of competitiveness among friends and colleagues, and while the Honors experience was worth it in certain other ways, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Students are upper-middle class by and large, but try to hide it: there's a stigma associated with being rich. But you can tell anyway. Even as someone who was from just a middle class background, I was made aware of and uncomfortable with this difference from time to time - you could always tell who could be unconcerned about loans after school, who could have the fun unpaid internships and trips abroad, etc. Though the student body is making an effort to get people talking about class issues, an initiative backed by the administration and getting more and more attention (as far as I know - graduated two years ago!). Different racial, etc. groups interact with each other, but in a sort of limited way. The international kids are their own group, black students another, southeast Asians another. There's an activisty LGBTQ group that I feel like was less cliquey, but maybe that's just because I was tangentially socially involved with that particular enclave. As with the class thing, people are good about getting things out into the open and talked about on the Swarthmore campus - people are super involved with and aware of identity politics, which sometimes makes it feel like there are more problems at Swat than other places. This of course, is the opposite of the truth - we just care more. Swarthmore is a very liberal school - this is a pretty true generalization that can be made about the school. I will also say, however, that while the radical types get a lot of attention, there's a big swath of the school that's more generically moderate-liberal and fairly apathetic, politically. Though it does feel like there are about twelve open Republicans on campus.
The Best Things
smart, engaged, engaging fellow students and committed professors, all the resources of a well-endowed college
The Worst Things
the tendency to revel in misery - we're actually pretty lucky, even if we're working all the time!