How to Write the Swarthmore College Supplement 2019-2020

Swarthmore College is a small, liberal arts college in Swarthmore, PA. There are around 1,600 undergraduate students. So, when we say “small” we really mean it. It’s a true liberal arts college, in that it has strong roots in the arts and humanities as well as has a strong engineering program and many degree options for those oriented more towards math and science. It’s a part of the Tri-College Consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford, and students have the ability to take classes cross-registered with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It’s competitive and academically rigorous, with an acceptance rate of around 8.7% for the class of 2023. Over 11,400 applied and 995 were accepted. It’s no joke.

Swarthmore’s supplement is simple and to the point, but requires a bit of some targeted and intentional research on your end. You’ll come across a lot of these “Why X College?” questions, and we’ve written a lot about it, so it’s worth going through how to approach this research such that you can duplicate it depending on the college. Here we go: 

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

This is a tough one because it’s shorter than others (for example, Michigan’s “Why Michigan” supplemental question is typically 550 words), but the structure will be the same as it always is. Just condensed. Quite a bit.

The structure of a “Why” supplement is the following:

  1. Quippy intro line to draw the reader in.

  2. A highlight reel of research that you’ve done on why the school is a great fit based on your specific and niche academic interests. Which professors are doing compelling research that you’d be honored to participate in? What class makes you go, “Wow--I can really take that exact class that directly aligns with my interests at this college?!”

  3. An overview of the kind of student you’d be on campus in terms of participation outside of the classroom--what are a couple of groups or clubs you’d join and why? Why are you a specific spark that the campus community needs? How would you bring your energy?

While the structure is similar for all essays, the content is vastly different. We shy away from creating a template and just inserting a new class name here and Professor name there. It’s really about your process and how committed you are to figuring out exactly why you’re applying to this school and articulating as much. You should have specific reasons why you’re applying to each school on your list, but this essay is asking you to elaborate and be specific in writing.  

Let’s play this whole research process through with an example: Cara is a strong, science-oriented student with a 4.0 GPA and a particular interest in neuroscience and psychology. She’s taken AP Psychology and has worked in a neuroscience lab as a research assistant for the last two summers at a local college researching rehabilitation techniques for individuals recovering from traumatic brain injuries. Cara is also Jewish and wants to be more intentional about how she spends her time in college dedicated to expanding her judaism. She also is interested in understanding what it means within her own feminist life context. Cara loves to knit and is a film whiz. She has seen every movie on every “Top 100 movies” list that exists, though tends to be more inclined to explore films that explore sexuality, gender, and Judaism. Her favorite director is Chantal Akerman.

Cara would start by figuring out her specific area of study. Swarthmore has a strong cognitive science program. Cara would be able to focus on her interests in clinical psychology as well as neuroscience in classes like these, listed on the courses page of the Swarthmore website: PSYC 031A. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience and PSYC 039. Developmental Psychology. Heading to the faculty and staff page, Professor Youssef Ezzyat’s research is similar to the content that Cara’s lab has been investigating, so she’d make sure to mention the specifics of that. More than all of those specifics, it’s important for Cara to explain exactly what she would gain from these courses and the opportunity to assist Professor Ezzyat--what are her goals of study? In this case, she’d explain that she’d be able to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to further her work to understand the neural basis of memory and how virtual reality is impacting the rehabilitation process for survivors of traumatic brain injuries (her specific area of interest). Maybe Cara would want to throw in a liberal arts-emphasizing sentence and discuss an interest in FMST 021. American Narrative Cinema. 

Cara could then move on to exploring the extracurricular and community offerings at Swarthmore, explaining her interest in the Swarthmore Cinema Club, the Women’s Resource Center, and Swarthmore Chabad. Why these three clubs? Cara would briefly explain that she’s interested in working to bring new feminist, Jewish films and filmmakers into the Tri-Co Film Festival, the annual film festival put on in partnership with the other two schools in the “Tri-Co” or Tri-College Consortium, Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

Writing this all up in 150-200 words isn’t easy, but it’s do-able when you know what you’re trying to drive home, which are your interests within the context of a specific college and environment. Be concise, direct, intentional, and to the point.

Let us know if you have any questions at all. That’s why we’re here.