How to Write the Swarthmore Supplemental Essays 2020-2021 (Examples Included!)

Get organized for college planning and applications. Never miss a deadline. Use our free timeline tool OrganizeU to plan your entire college journey. Click here to get OrganizeU!

Nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Swarthmore is a private liberal arts college with a competitive acceptance rate of 13%.

This acceptance rate, classified as “most selective” by U.S. News and World Report, means that the quality of your essay is crucial.

In fact, the Swarthmore supplemental essay could be the deciding factor of admission between two applicants of equally strong backgrounds.

The Swarthmore Supplemental Essay Requirements

While some schools ask for multiple supplements, Swarthmore only requires one supplemental essay. You can choose from the following three prompts:

“Why are you interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore?”

“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?”

“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?”

Though the prompts sound fairly simple, you’ll need to put in some serious effort to “wow” the admissions team. You only have 250 words maximum, so you’ll need to be precise and make every word count.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay #1: Why Swarthmore

“Why are you interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore?”

You know you want to be the next member of the Swarthmore community, but why? What is your reason for applying to and wanting to attend this specific college?

It is the quintessential “Why This College” essay. As a prospective Swattie, your job is to dive beneath the surface of that general question and emerge with a specific and well-researched response.

Look into the details of who Swarthmore really is. What are they good at, what opportunities do they provide students with, what are they known for, etc.

The easiest place to begin your research is the Swarthmore website.

Tip: Keep in mind that this essay shouldn’t be entirely about Swarthmore. They know what their college is good at and what they are known for. Now they want to know about you.

  • How will you fit into the Swarthmore community?
  • How will the programs and opportunities at Swarthmore lead you toward your future career goals?
  • Why are your personal skills and attributes a perfect fit for Swarthmore College?

Swarthmore will be the main focus of your essay, but the majority of what you write should represent the answers to the questions above in direct or indirect fashion.

Getting back to your research, here are some sections of the website that may be useful as you construct the first piece your response:

Mission Statement

A mission statement embodies the key qualities of an organization while revealing what the organization seeks in a prospective member.

Therefore, it is a great launchpad for brainstorming ideas on your supplement as you seek to become a member of the organization.

The following is an excerpt from Swarthmore’s official mission statement:

“Swarthmore students are expected to prepare themselves for full, balanced lives as individuals and as responsible citizens through exacting intellectual study supplemented by a varied program of sports and other extracurricular activities. The purpose of Swarthmore College is to make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society.”

Based on the mission statement, there are a few ways you could approach the supplement:

  • How are you a “responsible citizen?” Have you done volunteer work in high school? Do you plan to participate in volunteer work at Swarthmore?
  • Which sports or extracurricular activities does Swarthmore offer that interest you? For example, Swarthmore has an active club called “Animal Allies.” If you’re interested in animal welfare, how could you contribute as a member of this club at Swarthmore?
  • To act as a “useful member of society” think about other Swarthmore organizations like “Global Neighbors,” a club created to address the importance of respecting people with special needs.

With Swarthmore offering more than 100 clubs and activities for undergraduates, the possibilities of how your values align with their mission statement are endless.

Do some self-reflection as you read through the college’s mission statement and discover where your niche lies.

Most important, be honest. Don’t embellish your essay to show you share Swarthmore’s values unless it’s true.

Academics

Next, consider your proposed major at Swarthmore College. The college offers traditional majors like economics and history, as well as innovative programs such as interpretation theory and peace and conflict studies.

  • In addition, Swarthmore gives students the freedom to design their own major.

As you consider these academic programs, think about not only what interests you but also what you have to offer as a member of an intellectual community of scholars.

  • Did you study a foreign language extensively in high school or would you like to try a new one in college? Swarthmore offers classes in Arabic, Greek, Russian, and many other languages. Maybe you’d like to be one of the 40% of Swarthmore students who take advantage of study abroad.
  • If you’d like to take a calculated risk and propose to design your own major, the supplement is an ideal place to express yourself. Be concrete in your reasons for combining two of the college’s complementary programs, such as linguistics and philosophy. Why do Swarthmore’s specific programs appeal to you and boost your career goals?
  • While you’re researching the Academics, take a look at the faculty as well. Is there a particular faculty member who specializes in your proposed major? Have you read a book by a faculty member that piqued your interest? Drawing connections between your goal of attending Swarthmore and your hope to study with a certain professor makes for a strong supplement topic.

Swarthmore offers a wealth of academic opportunities as well as detailed information on their website to guide you as you compose your supplement.

Take advantage of this information as you plan your essay.

As you do so, here are a few more questions to contemplate.

  • Browse the course catalog Are there any courses that seem custom-designed for you?
  • Is there an independent research project you’d like to undertake? If so, this is another golden opportunity to discuss a faculty member’s strengths in your chosen field.
  • What stands out about the courses at Swarthmore versus other schools? How does this uniqueness factor into your goal of attending Swarthmore?

History

One other section of the Swarthmore website you should investigate is the page on the school’s history.

The website presents a slideshow of events from Swarthmore’s Quaker origins and its founding in 1860 all the way to the present.

  • How do you feel connected to Swarthmore’s history? For example, Edward Parrish, Swarthmore’s first President, was a trained pharmacist. If you are pursuing a career in medicine or the sciences, you might like to research Parrish’s legacy at Swarthmore.
  • Delve into the history of the buildings at Swarthmore, for example, the library. How do you see yourself in relation to these buildings and as a part of Swarthmore’s ongoing history?
  • Fast-forward to the 21st century and check out Swarthmore’s efforts to be a green campus. Composting and the college’s special “Trash to Treasure” program are two ways Swarthmore is making efforts toward sustainability. How do these greener practices fit in with your values?

Swarthmore has a rich history steeped in Quaker tradition and community activism.

Exploring this history could spark ideas for your essay and help you understand your personal place on campus.

Plan your college application journey for free.


Check out our complimentary timeline tool, OrganizeU.

Channeling Your Memories from a Campus Tour

Touring a college campus is one of the best ways to see if you feel at home there. Your tour experience could also inspire your answer to this supplemental essay question.

Swarthmore schedules regular tours of its scenic campus, allowing you first-hand access to the wooded areas and gardens that could be your backyard come September.

Swarthmore describes its many stone buildings as a “real-life Hogwarts.”

So, here are some things to keep in mind if you take a campus tour. Oh, and be sure to bring a pen and paper!

You’ll want to take notes or maybe even journal about your experience. Creative journaling often leads to awesome essays.

  • How did you feel about being on the campus?
  • Did you meet anyone memorable?
  • Could you picture yourself living there year-round?
  • What did you learn about Swarthmore during your tour that the website can’t tell you?
  • How did the tour make you even more eager to become a student at Swarthmore?

With grounds almost as prestigious as its academics, Swarthmore is a college that deserves a visit.

Who Knows? One afternoon on campus could even give you the inspiration you need to write your whole essay.

“Why Swarthmore” Essay Example

We’ve provided an example of a “Why Swarthmore” supplement to give you a visual on what it could look like. Remember, plagiarism is a serious offense. Always create your own work.

“Swarthmore College purchases renewable energy credits. I’m aware that it’s an odd tidbit to latch on to, but that commitment to change through action is unparalleled among colleges. Given this commitment, it’s no surprise that Swarthmore has a beautiful arboretum and hiking trails, capturing the passion I’ve been able to cultivate as a student in my school’s Nature Appreciation program (NAP).

As a NAP student, I’ve focused on human interaction with the environment and grown more aware of my actions. I have picked up a commitment to sustainability, as well as learned the necessity for research in making educated decisions. Each choice has an impact, and I want mine to leave the world a better place. I’ve completed several projects on consumer friendliness as it relates to the natural world, with topics varying from the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in cosmetic products to the downsides of fast fashion. Additionally, I competed in Go Green Initiative, an action-based, month-long challenge designed to raise awareness of human-caused ecological problems plaguing society. With my team, I won prizes for excellent work.

Bringing together activism with garden-grown food, environmental awareness, and top-notch academics, Swarthmore is full of diverse and passionate people, all united with a common goal – to improve communities and the world. Swarthmore provides an excellent community for me to grow as a student. And, in addition to all of these more serious incentives, you have a big chair, which is all I could ever ask of a college.”

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay #2: Your Worldview

“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?”

As stated within the prompt, the admissions team is hoping that this essay will tell them about what you will bring to the Swarthmore community.

They want to know about the diverse characteristics and experiences you have or have had, but they also want to know about the specific pieces of your past that have made you into the person you are today.

Once again, the most important thing to keep in mind while you’re writing this essay is that you’re showing Swarthmore who you are, especially pieces of yourself that they cannot already see on your application.

Before you begin writing, think about your life experiences so far. Is there an element that stands out as having a significant impact on the person you’ve become?

  • Maybe you moved to Nicaragua with your missionary parents as a child and still reside there. Has it given you an understanding of the important, beautiful differences that each culture around the world carries?
  • You might live in a neighborhood that was hit by a severe storm years ago, and your place in this community has taught you about what it means to care for those around you in a tangible way.
  • Perhaps you grew up with a single mother and saw firsthand how a person’s determination and perseverance can earn them the socioeconomic freedom they deserve.

Your life-changing element does not have to be unique or significant in the eyes of others (though it’s fine if it is), it just needs to be something that changed your life and led you toward becoming the person you are today.

Make sure the person, experience, or environment you choose clearly translates to an excellent attribute that Swarthmore will want as a part of their community.

For example, your element may have led to your:

  • Determination
  • Thirst for knowledge
  • Appreciation for diversity
  • Open mind
  • Creativity
  • Empathy

No matter what element of your life you decide to write about, bring the admissions team into your community and allow them to experience it with you (through your essay, of course).

Show them how one thing, no matter how small or large it was, made you into the person you are today.

Then, emphasize what it taught you so that Swarthmore can get a better idea of why they need you in their upcoming class.

“Your Worldview” Essay Example

The example below will give you a glimpse into what this essay could look like. However, remember to always write your own work. Plagiarism is no joke.

“Hi, I’m Marsha.” I couldn’t have guessed how much those three simple words would change my life.

Marsha was a foriegn exchange student from France, who happened to have a locker right next to mine. She introduced herself as we prepared for our first class at the beginning of our Junior year, and the rest is history.

Being from a small, rural town, I didn’t have much experience with other cultures. Everyone I knew stayed in town, besides the yearly trips to Florida or California. When I got to know Marcia and saw her unique, beautiful culture coming through, my world got a whole lot bigger.

Marcia has since gone back to her home in France, but I’ve already visited her twice this year. She takes me to various countries around Europe when I visit her, so I can learn more about our diverse world.

I’ve never been so intrigued in a subject the way I love other cultures. I plan to build a career in Anthropology, and my life goal is to visit every country in the world.

The extensive Study Abroad opportunities at Swarthmore will not only help me get closer to accomplishing my wildest dreams, they’ll help me build ties and learn more about the Anthropology world as well. Swarthmore’s diverse campus will allow me to get to know students from around the world, even when I’m not abroad. To me, it feels that my intrigue in the world and Swarthmore’s qualities are the perfect match.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay #3: Intellectual Risk

“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?”

This is likely one of the more difficult college supplemental essay prompts. However, it’s one that makes us say “When you know, you know.”

If you read through the above text and feel that it’s describing a specific incident in your past academic experience, you can make a significant impact by writing an essay on this prompt.

With this prompt, the Swarthmore admissions team wants to see your brain at work. They want to see that you’re a creative, scientific thinker. They want to hear about a past experience that proves you are a perfect fit for the academic rigor of the Swarthmore curriculum.

It’s not about your grades; they already have your transcripts. It’s about real-life learning experiences and your innate thirst for knowledge.

With that said, don’t try to push this essay prompt. If you don’t have an experience that relates well, choose one of the other prompts. This essay needs perfect past experience if you want to impress the admissions team.

  • Maybe you were working on an experiment in Biology when you got an unexpected result. It’s not what the teacher was looking for, but it was intriguing. You then spent the next two weeks after school in the lab trying to figure out how you got that unique reaction.
  • You may have been reflecting on your day at home when inspiration hit; that poem you started writing in Composition could be something much larger than yourself. You spent the rest of your Junior year creating a poem that reflected the experiences and pains of the students in your school who have experienced assault or abuse. It was shared at a well-known conference to spread awareness on the topic at hand.
  • Maybe you finished all of your high school math classes and decided to move forward with courses offered through a local university. How did you handle the rigor of University classes while in high school, and how did this challenge form your future as a math major?

If you’ve got a strong topic that shows a past intellectual challenge, risk, or inspiration, this prompt is the perfect way to show Swarthmore who you are as a learner.

Be sure to explain the past experience in detail. Make the admissions team feel like they’re right there with you, experiencing the same thing.

Then, share what the experience taught you.

  • Did it encourage you to take more risks in the future?
  • Did it spark your passion for research?
  • Did it show you that you’re capable of making a difference in the world around you?

The right experience, along with the academic skills you gained from it, are sure to impress Swarthmore and give you that much more of a chance at joining the 16% of applicants that are accepted into the school.

“Intellectual Risk” Essay Example

You’ll need to use your own words and a personal experience, but the example below will give you an idea of what Swarthmore is looking for in your response to this prompt.

“Join me here, on my uncle’s farm: I’m digging another hole for a post to go in as we install a new fence for his cows. As my shovel hits the dirt for what feels like the thousandth time, I hear a faded “thud.” I throw my shovel into the ground with more force, and hear an echoing “ding.” I bend over, removing dirt with my hands until I see a large, rusted piece of iron.

I removed the chunk of metal and rinsed it with the nearby garden hose. It resembled a hand-carved head of an axe.

For the next month, every waking minute of my day was spent online, in libraries, and at local museums trying to find the origins of this ancient axe head.

It turns out that my uncle’s land and the riverbank it includes was at one point a small fur-trading post for the French explorers and Native Americans. That axehead was carved by hand on my father’s land, to be traded for foreign goods. Why it was buried, we may never know.

The axehead now resides in our local history museum. It will live on to teach many generations the story of my uncles land.

This axehead also serves as my inspiration for entering a career in Archaeology and as a reminder of the in-depth research I am capable of. Swarthmore’s history major is sure to bring me even closer to this goal and passion I have.”

Additional Tips on How to Write the Swarthmore Supplemental Essays:

Along with the pointers we’ve offered so far, here are a few more suggestions to help you fill the blank page on that computer screen with high-quality content.

Provide New Information

One of the keys to writing strong supplemental essays is not to repeat what you have written or described in other sections of the application.

Swarthmore is an environmentally friendly place, but don’t recycle information!

Instead, tell the Swarthmore admissions committee a brand new story about yourself. And yes, you should tell a story.

The strength of your anecdote will bring your essay alive.

Think of the Essay as a Movie

That’s right, your essay is like a film with two co-stars: you and Swarthmore.

How do your stories blend together?

If you can answer that question in a specific, sincere, and entertaining way, then you’ve done your job with the supplement.

Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Essay

Once you’ve written your first draft, there’s still more work to do. You’ll be ready to hit “submit” after you’ve taken these important steps:

  • Read your essay out loud. We can sometimes catch mistakes more easily when we’re hearing the words spoken versus seeing them written.
  • Then, proofread again! Read through your essay at least two more times to ensure that it’s error-free.
  • When in doubt, ask an English teacher or another academic mentor for feedback. Be open to their feedback, which may include more than just a punctuation suggestion. Don’t be discouraged, however, as even professional writers need great editors.

After you’ve gone through several rounds of proofreading and shared your essay with at least one trusted advisor, you’ll be ready to press that “submit” button.

Feel confident that you’ve given the essay your all, and try to relax as you await an admissions decision.

Conclusion: How to Write the Swarthmore Supplemental Essays

There’s no one right way to craft your Swarthmore supplement, just as there’s no perfect topic to choose.

The best topic is the one that depicts you in a genuine light and demonstrates where your path meets with Swarthmore’s.

Keep in mind that Swarthmore is a very competitive college with a low acceptance rate. Your ability to distinguish yourself in the supplement could be the edge you need for admission.

Main takeaways from our Swarthmore supplement guide:

  • Be sincere and unique.
  • Do your research.
  • Be detailed.

If you accomplish these three things, you can feel satisfied that you’ve done your best to write a compelling, admission-worthy essay, no matter which prompt you choose.

Plan your college application journey for free.

Check out our complimentary timeline tool, OrganizeU.

Get OrganizeU ➜