Why Swarthmore? How to Write the Swarthmore Supplemental Essay (Example Included!)

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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 Supplement

While some schools ask for multiple supplements, Swarthmore only requires one supplemental essay. The prompt reads as follows:

“Please write about why you are interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore.”

The question and the 250-word maximum length might make the essay seem simple, but it requires significant effort on the part of the applicant.

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.

Let’s explore some techniques and actionable steps that can help you through the process.

Tips for Addressing the Swarthmore Supplement

So, you’d like to become a member of Swarthmore’s elite student body? Here are some surefire tips to dazzle the admissions committee.

First, you need to conduct research, and the easiest place to start is the Swarthmore website.

Important: Before diving in, it’s critical to note the importance of blending aspects of Swarthmore that you like and your personality or character.

  • This means you need to not only discuss what about Swarthmore you like, but you also need to place more of an emphasis on why these things are important to you.
  • You need to be the focus of the essay.

Here are some sections of the website that will be useful as you construct 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 which addresses 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 about how you share Swarthmore’s values unless it’s true.


Next, consider your proposed major at Swarthmore College. The college offers traditional majors like economics and history, as well as innovative programs like 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 a 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?


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, like the library. How do you see yourself as a part of 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 at 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.

Speaking of campus, taking a tour could be another jumpstart to your Swarthmore supplement. Let’s find out how!

Channeling Your Memories from a Campus Tour

Touring a college campus is one of the best ways to see if you would feel at home there.

  • Swarthmore schedules regular tours of its scenic campus, allowing you first-hand access to the wooded areas and gardens that could be your backyard next 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 can sometimes lead to awesome essays.

  • How did you feel 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 give you the inspiration to write your whole essay.

Additional Tips on How to Write the Swarthmore Essay:

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. And while we’re on the subject of stories…

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.

How Long Should My Essay Be?

We know that the maximum word count is capped at 250. But what about the minimum?

The school’s website doesn’t stipulate a minimum word count, but it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t go below 150 words.

  • A bare-bones essay of fewer than 150 words could imply that you don’t have much to say about why you belong at Swarthmore.

And that’s not the message you want to convey!

  • In fact, since the Swarthmore supplement is so short, it is advisable to get as close to 250 words as possible without inserting “filler” information.

If your story is told in 175 words, that’s fine.

But if you can sprinkle in a few more interesting details to spice up your essay at 225 words, even better.

Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Essay

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

  • Read your essay out loud. We can sometimes catch mistakes more easily when we hear the words spoken versus seeing them written.
  • Then, proofread again! Read through your essay at least twice more to ensure that it’s error-free.
  • When in doubt, ask an English teacher or other academic mentor for feedback. Be open to this feedback which may include more than just a punctuation suggestion. 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 now try to relax as you await an admissions decision.

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, never plagiarize. 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 much 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.

Conclusion: How to Write the “Why Swarthmore” Supplemental Essay

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.

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

The main takeaways from our Swarthmore supplement guide?

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

If you accomplish those three things, then you can feel satisfied that you’ve done your best to write a compelling essay.

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