Getting accepted into Swarthmore College, one of the very best liberal arts schools in the country, is equivalent to gaining acceptance into an Ivy League school. With a 7% acceptance rate for the Class of 2026, Swarthmore rejects the bulk of perfectly qualified candidates who apply each year. As such, those who want to maximize their chances at acceptance need to shine in every single aspect of their application. The required Swarthmore supplemental essays provide one such opportunity.

 (Want to learn more about How to Get Into Swarthmore? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Swarthmore College: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

In our experience, successful Swarthmore applicants have a few things in common. In addition to near-perfect grades and test scores, they also compose an exceptional Common App and Swarthmore supplemental essays. Let’s dive right in and begin examining the three essay prompts that Swarthmore offers. All applicants must answer one of the following:

Swarthmore College Essay – Option #1

Swarthmore students’ worldviews are often forged by their prior experiences and exposure to ideas and values. Our students are often mentored, supported, and developed by their immediate context—in their neighborhoods, communities of faith, families, and classrooms. Reflect on what elements of your home, school, or community have shaped you or positively impacted you. How have you grown or changed because of the influence of your community? (250 words)

This essay encourages you to describe how your environment/community has shaped you into the present version of yourself. Community can be a “community” in any form: an ethnic, religious, family, or neighborhood community, or a group of individuals who gather for a club, sport, or service project. You are the captain of a team, the editor-in-chief of your school paper, the president of a club… but don’t just rest on those laurels—instead, bring your involvement to life. Use your writing ability to show the admissions officer the impact your community has had on your dreams rather than merely telling them. If your family/home (parent, grandparent, sibling) was a powerful force in your growth and development that can be the sole focus of a successful composition here as well.

 Essay Option #2

We are inspired by students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone. Reflect on a time that you were intellectually challenged, inspired, or took an intellectual risk—inside or outside of the classroom. How has that experience shaped you, and what questions still linger? (250 words)

This prompt is not an invitation to brag about your achievements (product). Rather, this is a place to reveal more about the way you pursue knowledge (process). Swarthmore is a school that places serious emphasis on one’s intellectual curiosity and drive for knowledge. Similar to Brown University or Wesleyan University, Swat genuinely wants to know that you are the type of student who will take intellectual risks and will continue those pursuits outside of the classroom.

Going outside of your comfort zone is never easy. This is particularly true if, like most Swarthmore applicants, you are used to earning accolades by demonstrating mastery in all that you do. Yet, in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy, the admissions committee is looking for those who embrace the sentiment: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

As with most writing, the more specific and personal you can make this essay, the stronger it will likely be. Immerse the reader in your intellectual journey of choice. Share the emotional experience of what it was like to step outside of your comfort zone. It is unlikely that the conclusion of this essay will wrap up the story with a neat bow. After all, you are just beginning your quest of boldly pursuing newfound knowledge and skills.

Essay Option #3

Why are you interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore? (250 words)

View this essay opportunity as similar to ending up in an elevator next to a potential investor. You now have 20 seconds to sell your million dollar idea. In this “elevator pitch” essay, you only have 250 words to communicate why Swarthmore is a perfect match for you. As such, this one is going to require a fair amount of school-specific research and a good deal of editing in order to tighten up your essay enough to stay under the word limit.

How to write a winning “Why Swarthmore?” essay

  • Firstly, how will you take advantage of the college’s vast resources both inside and outside of the classroom?
  • How will you become an active, contributing member of the student body?
  • Also show evidence of how your past/current endeavors will carry over onto the Swat campus.
  • Explain why Swarthmore is an ideal-fit school for you.
  • Lastly, cite specific academic programs, professors, research opportunities, internship/externship programs, study abroad programs, student-run organizations, etc. (as in the examples below).

Below are some examples of unique facts about Swarthmore that you may find helpful as you brainstorm your response:

  • 66% of students participate in undergraduate research. Each summer the school provides $800,000 in grants to support this work.
  • The student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1 leads to very close student-professor mentorship opportunities.
  • There are 150+ student organizations on campus. Select which clubs you will join on campus.
  • Swarthmore is a top producer of Fulbright Scholars.
  • They are one of the rare liberal arts schools that offers an undergraduate engineering program.
  • 40% of students study abroad and the school offers special programs in Costa Rica, Poland, South Africa, and the Czech Republic.

Of course, these are just a handful of the countless features that could be part of a successful essay. As you enter the prewriting stage, you’ll want to decide which elements will provide the greatest impact.

How important are the Swarthmore supplemental essays ?

Swarthmore views six factors as being “very important” to the admissions process. Those factors are: the rigor of your high school coursework, GPA, class rank, recommendations, character/personal qualities, and your application essays. In fact, the essays are of greater importance than test scores, extracurricular activities, or talent/ability.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

In conclusion, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Swarthmore supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.