Parrish Beach Patrol

Swarthmore College Admissions: The Blog

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Fall Early Decision Deadline – Nov. 15

Last year, Hurricane Sandy presented many challenges for people applying to colleges from the affected areas of the east coast of the US. This year, glitches in the Common Application have made it hard for everybody, the world over, to get their applications together. We’re all in the same boat!

Swarthmore’s Fall Early Decision deadline is, has been, and will be November 15. We posted an update to our website a few days ago explaining in detail how we’re approaching the situation, which I’m posting here on the blog as well:

“COMMON APPLICATION UPDATE: The admissions office is carefully monitoring the challenges that high school seniors and school counselors are facing with the Common Application and supporting credential submissions. We understand their frustration and anxiety, and we stand ready to work with all prospective applicants, their families, and counselors should anyone be experiencing difficulties. Any challenges created by the Common Application will have no impact on a Swarthmore admissions decision now or throughout the process. We look forward to working with all constituents to make the application process as streamlined and stress free as possible. At this time, we have not extended our first round of early decision deadline of November 15, but we are monitoring the situation on a daily basis, and we will update this announcement as needed as we approach this first application deadline. We look forward to reviewing your application for admission to Swarthmore, and we wish you all the best in the process. ”

If you have any questions, feel free to email us at admissions[at] We’re also available on Twitter and Facebook.

Best of luck with the applications!


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Preparing For Your College Interview


College admissions offices function on annual cycles – travelling in the fall, reading in the winter and into the spring, then sending letters and waiting to hear back. I simplify, but this is basically true. We have just finished up with the last part of this cycle, which brings us to… what, exactly? Well, our summers are a time to regroup from the hectic year and to plan for the year ahead, but are largely full of campus visitors and INTERVIEWS!

Right now, I’d like to offer some advice to dispel some myths about the interview process.

To begin with, it’s worth noting that for us at Swarthmore, interviews are recommended, but not required. We recognize that our applicant pool is vast and diverse, with students applying from (pretty much) every corner of the earth. In our view, it’s rather unreasonable to expect or even demand that you interview. We recognize that not every student has the opportunity to visit campus and join us for an interview. Therefore, we don’t require interviews.

However, when we’re reading applications, we highly value the information and perspective from an interview! While a bad interview will never completely torpedo your whole app, a good one can add layers and layers of depth and insight that the rest of the app likely cannot. It demonstrates interest and seriousness, as well as providing a window into your fit to the college. It’s an opportunity for you to present yourself, in person, in the strongest way possible. Moreover, the conversations are pretty interesting.

For us, interviews don’t have much structure. We don’t have a list of questions that we need to ask, and hence the conversation can move and flow as it will. Therefore, be flexible! We’ll ask you plenty of questions, but feel free to ask us too – that’s how a conversation works, right? At the same time, however, there are obviously many things that we want to learn about you during the interview. Many workshops or books on the topic of interviewing bring these up all the time. It can’t hurt to prepare a set of answers or topics on which you’re comfortable speaking. These topics generally include things like your strengths and weaknesses, a time when you failed or succeeded, what you want to study, why you’re interested in Swarthmore, etc. A key point to remember (and is regrettably overlooked far too often) is the importance of explaining the whys behind each of these topics. This is the probably the main reason why we don’t have a set of questions for each interview: once we start diving into the reasons and motivations behind your interests and opinions, the conversation could go anywhere – and that’s good! This flexibility is supposed to allow you to be more genuine and real than you may have been in other parts of the application. Therefore, do so.

As with the entire admissions process, this conversation is hopefully going to be fruitful and engaging for you as a person, not just as an applicant. In addition to the Admissions staff, a number of current seniors interview for us. They’re really cool! Ask them what they’re involved in, what they love, where they’re going. This might represent a better window into the real traits and qualities of a Swattie than anything else we in Admissions can do. Additionally, the Admissions staff is pretty cool too! We definitely relish and look forward to the interviews that are truly engaging and genuine.


We offer interviews on campus, of course, but we also offer off-campus interviews with either an alum or an Admissions representative during travel season this fall. This information will be released and updated on our website:

I hope these few tips have been helpful. Feel free to hit us up in the comments below if you have any further thoughts or questions!

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April Showers

DVD #0135Spring is one of my favorite times of year.  The trees and flowers aren’t the only things blossoming – people are coming out of the winter hibernation, too.  Anyone in Admissions will tell you that our work lines up nicely with the natural season.  We spend the winter months reading applications and working through committee, often at the expense of daily social interactions.  We get to know “our kids,” we advocate hard for their place in the class.  We hoot and holler when they are admitted.  We stuff their admissions packets with a smile, reminiscing about their fantastic personal statement as we slide the glossy folders into envelopes labeled “The Fat One”.

Spring also represents a time of transition. We’re trying to woo the members of the Class of 2017, high school seniors who have a big choice to make about where they’re going to college, while welcoming the ever-growing curiosity and interest of the Class of 2018, high school juniors just beginning their search. We host a number of on-campus events, some of which are catered to these groups in particular.

Ride the Tide. RTT is our multi-day event for admitted students, held in mid-April. We typically have around 375 high school seniors come to campus for a whirlwind 36 hours, jam-packed with panels, club-sponsored events, faculty lectures, and tons of food. Programming runs from 9:00AM to midnight and there are very few required events, giving students tons of freedom to explore different aspects of college life. In the 5 years I’ve been in this office, we’ve always had spectacular weather.

Terry Shane Teaching Garden, DVD #0060

In between classes, Parrish Beach is filled with current and prospective students alike. While it’s a fantastic chance for students to get to know the things that make Swarthmore unique, it’s also an exciting time for members of our office who finally get to meet the students we’ve come to know through this process. Students we interviewed in the fall, fought for in committee, and assembled acceptance packets for just a few weeks ago. So, if you attend an admitted student event, find your admissions counselor and introduce yourself! We’re excited to meet you in person.

Junior Visit Day. JVD is a program we do each year, typically in early May, where we invite students and their families to spend a day on campus learning about the college admissions process.

While we hope that ultimately many JVD attendees will apply to Swat, we also want to host an open conversation about college admissions as a whole. This means running workshops on financial aid, interviewing, and writing the all-important personal statement. We breakdown the admissions timeline, step by step, so that families can have the information they need to better navigate the process. For those who can’t attend, we post our materials on our website to ensure everyone is able to benefit from what we have to share.

Spring is a time of new beginnings. Whether you’re sending in a deposit to your top choice college, ready to join their incoming class, or poking around on college websites, getting a feel for what makes them each unique, it can be a time filled with excitement and possibilities. We strive to help you through this process, no matter what stage you’re in. Hope to see you on campus soon!


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A Quiet Calm

There is a quiet calm hovering over campus on this gray, rainy Monday morning that feels something like the calm before the storm.  For some, it is the rush of the last final exams and papers of the semester.  For some, it is the excitement in returning home for the winter break and enjoying time with family and friends.  For some, it is the flurry of applications about to be read, analyzed and discussed. Ok, to be fair, that last category really only applies to the Admissions Deans but we are excited! 

The Admissions staff has recently completed our review of Fall Early Decision applications and those applicants have been notified of their admission decisions.  It has been great to hear from the first members of the Class of 2017 with such great enthusiasm!  As we look forward to the winter break, our staff is already reviewing applications for Winter Early Decision and Regular Decision.  Although our office will be closed from Dec ember 24 through January 2, the application deadline remains January 1.   Can you imagine what our office used to look like coming back from winter break to bins and bins of applications delivered from the US Postal Service and FedEx packages from our international applicants? With online applications comprising over 98% of our applicant pool, the volume of mail has diminished greatly but there is no less work to be done.  Our incredible processing staff will compile complete files so that each Admissions Dean will be ready to hit the ground running after break (by running we clearly mean sitting at a desk, dining room table or couch reading applications on our computers!).

As we look forward to some time off over the winter break, there is no doubt many of you will be putting the finishing touches on your applications.  Thank you for the careful attention paid to your applications and for your interest in Swarthmore. We look forward to reading your applications. 

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So Where Does That Admissions Representative Come From?


The fountain at the Detroit airport — one of 13 airports that I dropped by during my travels!

It’s mid-November, which means that in the world of college admissions, our travel season is wrapping up. As early decision deadlines loom on the horizon or quietly pass into the past, those of us working in admissions offices around the country switch from being road warriors to reading warriors. Soon, we will go from visiting high school after high school to reading hundreds upon hundreds of college applications. But, before we do that, let’s look back on what the past couple of months may have looked like for some folks in admissions.

You could write a book about the life and travels of an admissions officer (indeed, some writers have done precisely that). Many admissions offices organize their staff by dividing the country (and the world!) into various territories. Each admissions staff member will typically oversee a few territories, reading all the applications from those states, and travelling to high schools in those areas. My own task this year is to cover the Midwest and the state of Virginia. To do this, over the course of eight weeks, I traveled to 101 high schools, dropping by 4 college fairs, visiting 3 community-based organizations, and interviewing 13 students along the way. To get to all of these places, I sat on a plane for a total of roughly 8,689 miles, flying through 13 airports, and drove a rental car for a total of about 3,991 miles. I stayed in 19 different hotels and stepped foot in 14 states.


Looking down from the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Hope you’re not afraid of heights!

So what’s all this actually like? A typical day will start nice and early, around eight in the morning, leaving our hotel for a high school that hopefully isn’t too far away. Once we’ve made it through morning traffic, we’ll hit another three or four high schools, usually seeing anywhere from four to six high schools a day. Depending on our travel schedule, where we are, and other responsibilities, we may use an afternoon to visit a community-based organization that works on access to higher education, or we may meet with local students to interview them for the admissions process. Sometimes, a college fair will be scheduled in the evening, or if we’re staying in a city over the weekend, we may attend a college fair then too. Needless to say, our travel days are pretty busy and packed! Occasionally we may get lucky and finish up in the afternoon, but usually we still have to drive over to another city or get on a plane somewhere.

Thankfully, many of us have smartphones and GPS to make our lives a little easier. Still, we’re often traveling to new places where we’re not familiar with the roads, have to deal with unexpected traffic, or quite simply take a wrong turn and getting momentarily lost. Plus, it can get lonely and disorienting — many an admissions representative will tell you of that time when they woke up in an empty hotel room, pausing for a moment before remembering what city — or state — they’re in.


A quick walk in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden never hurt anyone…

But it’s totally worth it. When we actually get to a high school, meeting with students to talk about the college or students’ interests, nothing else matters. For us, it’s helpful to get to meet the students who often end up applying, and it’s exciting to talk to a student about how our school fits what the student is looking for in a college. The enthusiasm students will show when they hear that your college is exactly what they’ve been waiting for all these years is wonderful. Plus, we love getting to meet your college counselors and learning more about your high school and where you grew up. It’s instructive for us to understand what your experience has been like, and it helps us better understand where you’re coming from and what you’re involved in.


We’ll usually have some time off at night: a great time to explore a city like Chicago!


A must for any visitor to Chicago: the bean!

And that’s the other great thing about travel season: going new places and trying new things. This year, when I wasn’t visiting schools, I got to try lamb brain at a Mediterranean restaurant in Minneapolis, visited the John Hancock Observatory in Chicago, took a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and got to browse the wonderful Cincinnati Art Museum. Last year, when I visited the West Coast for the first time in my life, I got to go surfing in Santa Cruz after some interviews with high school seniors. There is some downtime, and there are some pretty great perks to traveling!


For the adventurous, travel season is a great time to try unusual foods — like lamb brain.

When all is said and done, however, it’s great to come back home and get ready to read applications. That’s why we do all that traveling after all! So as we all wrap up our travels and start heading back, we now turn over to your early decision applications and get ready to do the opposite of traveling: stay in the same place and read for hours a day! In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions about travel season.



A quick stop by one of Portland’s beautiful lighthouses after a day of school visits.


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Parrish Beach

Fall Early Decision? Winter Early Decision? Regular Decision? Every Swattie takes a different path to get to Swarthmore.

That is the question. With only weeks to go before our Fall Early Decision deadline, you’re probably not the only one asking yourself this question. For seniors in high school, the thought of Early Decision can be both exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Your ED application is the first application you send out; it makes college feel that much closer. For students admitted to their ED college, their college plans are set by December and they don’t need to worry about applying elsewhere because they have found their dream school. Exciting, right? Yet, it’s terrifying because it is the first application you are submitting! All of your application materials need to be ready to go by November and you are seemingly making one of the most important choices you have had to make so far in your life! There are pros and cons to the Early Decision application, but before you decide whether it is right for you or not, let’s answer another really important question: “What is Early Decision?”


The annual Pterodactyl Hunt is a Swat tradition unlike any other!

Keep in mind that all colleges and universities have different policies and rules. At Swarthmore, Early Decision is a binding agreement, i.e. when you apply ED to Swarthmore, you sign an agreement saying that if you are admitted to Swarthmore, you will attend. Swarthmore has two Early Decision deadlines: November 15 (Fall Early Decision) and January 1 (Winter Early Decision). The most attractive part of ED is that you receive your admissions decision well before the regular spring notification. However, Early Decision is a very personal decision. Since you are making what you hope will be a four-year commitment, you want to make sure that you are absolutely sure that Swarthmore (or your ED college of choice) is your top choice! When applying ED, you are choosing to make a very bold statement with your application, so the decision to apply ED shouldn’t be made lightly. All aspects of a college need to be considered (Am I going to be happy at this college? Is my potential major offered? Where is the college located? What kind of food is offered on campus? Is there housing available? Does it snow in the winter?), so remember not to get too caught up on just admissions or academics since your college choice isn’t just about finding a school; it’s about finding a home.

So, now that we know what Early Decision is, should you apply ED, or not apply ED? There are advantages and disadvantages to applying ED. As said, the biggest perk is that you get to hear back from us earlier! If you are admitted during our Fall Early Decision round in December, you won’t even need to work on any other applications! Even with Winter Early Decision, you will know where you are going to college by February. A very enticing thought, eh? Read on.


Students enjoy one of Swarthmore’s newest traditions, the annual Harry Potter themed, Yule Ball. 


A ninja waits to deliver a Ninjagram to an unsuspecting class.

The Early Decision pool is what we describe as “self-selecting” – it consists of applicants who have all said Swarthmore is the college with which they most identify and to put it simply, they LOVE Swat and have no doubts in their mind about this love. While it is a smaller pool, we often find that is a statistically stronger pool. Students considering ED should also keep in mind that with Fall Early Decision, we will not be able to consider your senior grades, so you should feel confident about your course selection and grades up through your junior year. The most important thing to also keep in mind is that when you apply ED, your family is agreeing essentially that they will not need to compare financial aid award offers from various schools. Financial aid is certainly available to our ED applicants; however, if admitted, you will not be able to find out what other schools may have offered you and your family in aid. Your Financial Aid award is generally sent to you along with your acceptance letter, but also keep in mind, that this is a likely estimation of what you will receive. Therefore, you shouldn’t consider ED if you and your family are looking to compare financial aid awards from different colleges.

Early Decision can be a great thing, but it is not for everyone. Not everyone can narrow down his or her top choices down to a single college by January let alone by November, so if you need more time, relax – you can take your time!


Swatties cheer on the Swarthmore Garnet with Phineas the Phoenix.

This is why Swarthmore offers Winter Early Decision. If you decide by January 1 that Swarthmore is your first choice, then applying WED makes the same kind of bold statement you would have made by applying FED; they work exactly the same way. The only difference between FED and WED is that since January 1 is the Regular Decision deadline for most institutions, you would be submitting applications to other colleges (only one would be ED though). If you are admitted to Swarthmore, you would then withdraw all of your Regular Decision apps (note: you will not be refunded your application fees, so keep these expenses in mind too).


Nope, it’s not a power outage! The Class of 2016 gathered in the amphitheater for First Collection. We can’t wait to welcome the Class of 2017!

If you still need even more time, that’s fine too; you have the time! Applying Regular Decision by January 1 does not in any way hurt your chances of being admitted to the college. It just means you are still exploring your options.

Again, we find ourselves at the same question we had in the beginning: “Should you apply ED, or not apply ED?” The truth is that I can’t answer that question. Early Decision needs to be a personal choice that you make in your mind and in your heart along with your family. Both ED and Regular Decision have their pros and cons. In the end, you need to find what is best for you. Hope this helps in making your decision!

Best wishes to you in the admissions process! Please let us know if we can answer any questions along the way.

–  The Admissions Office, Swarthmore College

Fall Early Decision
Application deadline: November 15, 2012
Notification: December 15, 2012

 Winter Decision
Application deadline: January 1, 2013
Notification: February 15, 2013

 Regular Decision
Application deadline: January 1, 2013
Notification: April 1, 2013

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A New Season, A New (and exciting) Year

September is not yet over and already the leaves on campus are starting to turn, a clear sign that autumn is underway. New first year students are well into their fourth week of classes and October Break is just a few short weeks away. Hard to imagine that the semester is already flying by!

For all of you seniors, fall marks the beginning of an important and exciting year in your high school careers. Some of you are enjoying the classes and electives you’ve waited 4 years to take, while others may be gearing up for Senior Appreciation Night on your sports teams or the final theater performance of your high school career. It’s also time to start hitting “submit” on your college applications as you prepare for your next adventure. In many ways, senior year is both an end and a beginning. It’s a time to enjoy the final moments of high school with friends and activities that have helped shape who you are, while also thinking about the kind of community and opportunities you’d like to experience next.

The college application process is a wonderful time to stop and reflect on these past few years, sharing your stories of growth, accomplishment, and discovery in high school, as well as your hopes for the future. As you finish up final edits on your essays and prepare for interviews with admissions officers or alumni, remember to infuse these stories, your life, into your application, sharing where you’ve been, who you are, and what you’d like to become. Doing so will help us, the application readers, be your voice around committee tables, continuing to share your message and story with others as we work to build the next new class for our community. Nothing energizes us more than feeling like we’re speaking with you as we read your applications, learning about the moments in your life that have had great meaning, the passions you’ve discovered, and what you’re looking forward to next.

So throughout your final year of high school, remember to stop and take time to appreciate what you’ve done and where you’ve been, but most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and savor every moment!

Best wishes for a wonderful year to the future Class of 2017!