How to Write the Swarthmore Supplement

While we’d never suggest not applying to a school solely based on their acceptance rate, we have to address the elephant in the room. Swarthmore had a 10% acceptance rate, meaning you will get rejected 9 times out of 10. Swarthmore does a great job of outlining their admissions process here and we offer a more detailed explanation of the overall admissions process here. It’s important that you understand the statistics--not to scare you, but so that you understand why your Swarthmore supplement is so important.

“In 150 to 250 words, please write about why you are interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore.”

After the admissions committee reviews your grades, scores, extracurriculars, and recommendation letters, the only thing they have left to review are your essays. They’re not asking this supplement to be annoying, and they certainly don’t want you to waste your time, so you need to put thought into it. They simply want to know why they should accept you and what you will contribute. Here are five steps for answering Swarthmore’s supplement.

Step 1: Do research

Everything that happens in college falls into one of two categories: inside the classroom or outside the classroom. You need to demonstrate to the admission committee what Swarthmore looks like with you on its campus in both regards. Naturally, academics tend to be easier to research. It’s wonderful if you want to be an English major. You should tell them that. But what they really want to know is why you want to study English at Swarthmore. We find that the more specific students are with their answers, the better. Even more, you need to know why you want to study English at Swarthmore instead of Williams or Amherst. We suggest finding a class that is exclusively offered at Swarthmore and identify some professors who excite and inspire you.

After you figure out your major and classes, begin to research the culture. Asking a current student is also always a great bet--we have a vast network of students who attend top schools for our clients to connect with about their experiences on campus thus far. If you don’t have that direct access, then we suggest visiting (don’t forget a thank you note), asking a lot of questions, and stalking all of their social media pages to get the vibe.  

Step 2: Narrow your research

The absolute hardest part of this supplement is the word count. You will accumulate well over 200 words worth of research, and that’s okay. It’s much easier to edit your writing down than to bulk it up. We have our students start every essay by writing down everything they have in mind in long-form. Then, we cut it down from there. Start by focusing on one academic point of interest and one cultural point of interest. This can be adjusted if, for example, you want to be a double major. It’s just a starting point suggestion. While we encourage students to be honest and share, for example, that they’re interested in majoring in English, don’t spend too many words on it. Spend your words on the details of why you want to study English at Swarthmore and your overall story.

Step 3: Connect to your application

Make sure that your essay points to focuses and interests that are both in line with the rest of your application, but not redundant. For example, it won’t make a lot of sense if you share your interest in majoring in Biomedical Engineering if you’ve never taken an AP science class. Make sure it all flows and makes sense. The caveat to this rule is the additional information section. If you have an interest, (Japanese language and culture, for example) that you weren’t able to formally pursue in high school but that you’re interested in exploring once you get to college, that’s great. We make sure that all of our students list their interests that they have pursued outside of school in the Additional Information section. It’s what the Additional Information section is for. Make sure that nothing comes as a total surprise in your supplement.

Step 4: Tell a story

We know that 150 words is not a lot of space. You can do it, because you have to tell a story with your response. You always need a beginning, a middle, and an end. We won’t stop saying it. We’ve had students respond by telling a brief “day in the life” format story about what their life would be like at Swarthmore. Or tell an origin story that sheds light on why you’re interested in a particular major or extracurricular activity. Pinpoint a detail and a “why” for it, and you’ll hook the reader. There’s no arguing with the fact that stories are more memorable than a reiteration of website content. Take solace in knowing that most applicants’ responses will fall flat and not make it through the first round. If you can tell a story and have it jump off the page in 150 words, it tells the reader you can not only do research but you can communicate effectively and intelligently. It illustrates a maturity of thought that is rare among high schoolers, and you’ll grab their attention. This is a chance to exhibit what you will bring to the classroom and community--don’t squander it with a predictable response.

Step 5: Edit and refine, then edit and refine

Pare down and parse words as cleanly as possible. Make sure every word is absolutely necessary. The more concisely you can express your thoughts, the better. People respond positively to shorter sentences. Trust us. We know you’ve heard this advice over and over again, but there’s evidence to back it up. We’ve read countless “finished essays” rife with glaring errors. We can assure you that a school with an acceptance rate of 10% is looking for any reason to reject you. Don’t misspell Swarthmore. Be intentional with your message.

While this is one of the shorter supplements out there, it’s also one of the hardest schools to get into. If you need us to do a quick read-through, just let us know. We’re happy to help.