What is it Like to Attend Swarthmore College?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. David is a New York City tutor specializing in many subjects including SAT prep tutoring. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 2010 with Bachelor’s degrees in Engineering and Political Science. Check out his review of his alma mater:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

David: Swarthmore College is located in the suburbs, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia. Unlike many suburbs, it has great rail and bus connections to Center City via SEPTA. Within a half hour, it’s possible to access all of the benefits of a major city. Yet, Swarthmore’s walkable and bikeable campus, coincident with an arboretum, is so beautiful that it’s tempting to stay put.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

David: As a liberal arts college, Swarthmore encourages an atmosphere of constant dialogue between professors and students. Most professors come to Swarthmore with a strong desire to engage with students one-on-one and challenge them to dive into the material. Moreover, most courses are small enough that it is nearly impossible to study at Swarthmore and not form a strong connection with a professor. Professors and students become so close that professors often invite students to their homes for seminar dinners to continue their conversations. In a handful of larger courses, upperclassmen provide teaching assistance as a supplement to in-class instruction.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

David: Swarthmore is truly a residential college. Nearly 95 percent of students live all four years in campus housing. As such, dorm life tends to be very lively. Students never run out of opportunities to socialize with each other, but that happens in many different ways such as debating the hot political issue of the day, taking in a performance from one of the visiting artists on campus, or even wandering around Crum Woods late at night. The biggest constraint on dorm life is the amount of time students spend reading and studying, as studying is a constant activity. Students work hard and play hard, spending much of their free time joining clubs, groups, and organizing for social justice.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

David: Every major is strongly supported by the college. Some of the more common majors include Economics, Political Science, Biology, Engineering, Mathematics, and English Literature. I studied Engineering and Political Science because of my passions for understanding the built environment and the politics that informed society’s investments in infrastructure. Swarthmore encouraged me to explore the intersections between seemingly unrelated courses and make connections between areas of study. Given the large number of students graduating with special majors, it is clear that the college values breaking down academic silos.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

David: I found it very easy to meet people and make friends in my first year. Living in a dorm lends itself to striking up interesting conversations at unexpected times. The college also hosts many different social events throughout the year. Students can be as involved as they like. Students at Swarthmore can be awkward sometimes, but they are almost always well-intentioned and friendly. Greek life plays a small but fiercely debated role in campus social life.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

David: The Career Center is primarily useful because of its ability to connect current students with Swarthmore alumni. The college’s alumni work in such a wide range of industries that there is likely to be someone in your field of interest. If not, there’s always a former Swarthmore student who will connect you to the right person. Alumni often go on to become leaders in their fields and make contributions that lead to a more vibrant society. Many reputable companies recruit on campus, but it’s often because of an alumni connection. The Swarthmore alumni network is strong and tightly knit.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

David: There are many study areas scattered all over campus. The libraries have large and small meeting spaces. Most academic buildings have study alcoves with comfortable seating. There are even a few large common spaces with long tables. Dorm lounges are also used for studying. Around midterms or final exams, spaces can be crowded, but alternatives always exist.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

David: The borough of Swarthmore is quiet and fairly boring. It has a charming small-town feel. The town is also a dry one, so there aren't any off-campus bars immediately surrounding the college. For more lively activities, head to Philadelphia or stay on campus.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

David: The student body is very small, about 1,400 students total. Each class of students is about 360. Some high schools have more students than Swarthmore, but few high schools have such an interesting student body. The size of the student population lends itself to the formation of close friendships and interacting with people who do plenty of other things than you do. It also means class sizes are small on average. The college quotes an 8:1 ratio, with eight students for every one faculty member. This ratio makes for a very personalized educational experience.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

David: One of my fondest memories from Swarthmore was writing my senior paper in political science. I met one-on-one with a professor several times to discuss my research into growth management strategies used in Portland to limit the human impacts of development on the natural environment. The writing experience helped me summarize my political science knowledge and launched me into graduate school for city planning. I've never enjoyed writing a paper as much as I did writing that one.

Check out David’s tutoring profile. 

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.