swarthmore supplemental essays

Swarthmore Supplemental Essays 

Writing the Swarthmore supplemental essays is an important step for any applicant hoping to gain admission to this competitive school. Swarthmore College is one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania and one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Considering Swarthmore’s 7% acceptance rate, students applying to Swarthmore need to do everything they can to strengthen their application. That includes writing stellar Swarthmore supplemental essays.

While you have little control over past course grades or teacher recommendations, you do have full control over your Swarthmore supplemental essays. Even better, you’ll have the opportunity to wow admissions with not just one Swarthmore essay, but two! Indeed, knowing how to get into Swarthmore is synonymous with knowing how to write great Swarthmore supplemental essays.

In our guide to the Swarthmore College supplemental essays, we will: 

  • Discuss both Swarthmore essay prompts
  • Give you tips for writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays
  • Review the Swarthmore requirements and more!

Later on, we’ll also provide additional information about Swarthmore College and why the admissions team cares about your Swarthmore supplemental essays. But before we jump into the Swarthmore essay prompts, let’s go over some essential information about the Swarthmore application process.

Swarthmore College: Quick Facts

Swarthmore College Quick Facts

  • Swarthmore College Acceptance Rate: 7% – U.S. News ranks Swarthmore College among the most selective schools in the country.
  • Swarthmore College Essay Requirements:
    • 2 (~250 word) Swarthmore supplemental essays
  • Swarthmore College Application: Students can apply to Swarthmore through the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or the QuestBridge Application. In addition to your Swarthmore supplemental essays, you’ll also need to complete all essays required by each respective application platform.
  • Swarthmore College Application Deadlines:
    • Fall Early Decision: November 15th
    • Winter Early Decision: January 4th
    • Regular Decision: January 4 
  • Swarthmore College Essay Tip: A fundamental tip for writing standout Swarthmore essays is showing how you embody the college’s values. Check out Swarthmore Admissions’ list of “What We Look for in a Swattie” for some key traits. See if you can frame your experiences in the context of these characteristics within your essays.

Does Swarthmore have supplemental essays?

swarthmore supplemental essays

Yes. There are two Swarthmore College supplemental essays. Both of the Swarthmore essay prompts are designed to help admissions learn more about who you are as a student and individual. The prompts for the Swarthmore supplemental essays are complex while only having a word limit of 250 words. Therefore, your main challenge in writing each Swarthmore essay will be answering the prompt completely and concisely. 

The first Swarthmore essay can be characterized as a cultural diversity essay. This is one of the most common essay topics, so it’s likely you’ve come across a cultural diversity essay in your other college applications. This Swarthmore essay focuses on your personal identity, asking you to reflect on how certain aspects of your life have shaped you. In addition, you’ll write about how your background influenced the way you interact with others who are different from you.

The second Swarthmore essay is about intellectual curiosity. More specifically, this Swarthmore essay prompt asks you to reflect on a topic you are passionate about. The topic can be anything you have learned either inside or outside of the classroom. As long as it has sparked a genuine and ongoing interest, it’s fair game.

Make sure you review the prompts for the Swarthmore supplemental essays to be sure you understand exactly what they’re asking. Obviously, that goes for any essay—but don’t underestimate the complexity and small word allowance of the Swarthmore supplemental essays. We’ll break down the Swarthmore essay prompts later when we discuss Swarthmore essay #1 and Swarthmore essay #2 in detail.

How many essays does Swarthmore require?

swarthmore supplemental essays

Swarthmore requires all applicants to complete two Swarthmore supplemental essays. However, the total number of essays Swarthmore applicants are required to complete will depend on their application platform. 

Both the Common Application and the Coalition Application require students to write a 650-word personal statement responding to one of their listed prompts. That means students applying via the Common App or Coalition App will submit three essays in total.

The QuestBridge application requires applicants to write both an 800-word personal essay and a 500-word topical essay. So, students applying via QuestBridge will submit four essays for their Swarthmore application. While you probably won’t forget to write your personal statement, it’s always good to check your workload when planning applications.

Regardless of which application you use to apply, all applicants will need to write two Swarthmore College supplemental essays. So, let’s look at the Swarthmore essay prompts in more detail. First, we’ll break down Swarthmore essay #1, which concerns diversity and community. Then, we’ll give you tips on what to focus on in your Swarthmore supplemental essays. After that, we’ll break down Swarthmore essay #2, the intellectual curiosity essay. Finally, we’ll give you tips on actually writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay #1

swarthmore supplemental essays

First, let’s start with the Swarthmore essay #1: the cultural diversity essay. 

Swarthmore College Essay Prompt #1: Cultural Diversity

All who engage in our community are empowered through the open exchange of ideas guided by equity and social responsibility to thrive and contribute as bridge builders within global communities. Our identities and perspectives are supported and developed by our immediate contexts and lived experiences – in our neighborhoods, families, classrooms, communities of faith, and more.  

What aspects of your self-identity or personal background are most significant to you? Reflecting on the elements of your home, school, or other communities that have shaped your life, explain how you have grown in your ability to navigate differences when engaging with others, or demonstrated your ability to collaborate in communities other than your own.

This essay requires both internal and external reflection. The first part of this prompt asks about significant aspects of your identity or background. These are very broad topics that could relate to a number of things, such as your faith, ethnicity, hobbies, where you grew up, your family situation—the list goes on. Though you likely have a community around this identity, you’ve certainly met people outside of it. This is where you have to think outwardly.

The second part of this prompt asks you to reflect on how you interact with those who are different from you. There are two specific avenues you can explore: navigating differences or collaborating across communities. Either way, you must highlight ways in which you recognized and interacted positively with difference.

“Navigating differences” is a broad statement, which leaves itself up to interpretation. Maybe you disagreed with someone with a different point of view from you but then learned to see their side. Maybe you’ve diverged from your parents’ beliefs about certain people or concepts. You might think of times of conflict with others: how did differences among people contribute to the conflict—or its resolution?

Or, maybe your mind goes straight to collaboration. When have you had to come together with those with different ideas to work towards a common goal? Regardless of which slant your story takes, remember to circle back to a personally meaningful aspect of your background. How did that part of your life prepare you to or influence the way you connect with others?

How to Answer Swarthmore Supplemental Essays

swarthmore supplemental essays

Although neither of the Swarthmore essay prompts are your typical “why school” essays, remember the overarching goal of your Swarthmore supplemental essays. You want to demonstrate to the admissions team why you are a good fit for Swarthmore College.

One way to do this in your Swarthmore supplemental essays is to demonstrate your connection to Swarthmore’s values. When writing your Swarthmore College supplemental essays, keep these values in mind as inspiration when choosing your essay topic:

  • Intellectual curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning
  • Creative and proactive problem-solving
  • Generosity toward others
  • Civic engagement
  • Willingness to work hard and to seek help
  • Potential contributions to campus life
  • Sustained commitment
  • Open-mindedness in general and to the liberal arts at large

For instance, your first Swarthmore essay might discuss how you’ve supported others or contributed to community service or activism. Tying in these values can be subtle, so don’t worry about obviously stating you hold any of these values. Instead, let your actions speak for themselves—show, don’t tell! You can read more detailed descriptions of what these values mean to Swarthmore on their admissions page.

Obviously, it isn’t necessary—or possible—to embody every single one of these traits in two short Swarthmore supplemental essays. However, it is necessary to answer all parts of the Swarthmore essay prompts. Remember, supplemental essay prompts are different for each school and seek answers that recognize the school’s offerings and culture. The prompts for the Swarthmore supplemental essays were crafted by the admissions team to ask about different facets of a student’s character and experiences. That means every word, and every question, in the prompt matters.

When writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays, you need to address both the what and the why. The exact history of your chosen topic is less important than your emotional connection to it. Only include details that illustrate the depth of your connection, what it means to you, and the impact it has on you.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essay #2

swarthmore supplemental essays

Now, let’s go over Swarthmore essay #2: the intellectual curiosity essay.

Swarthmore College Essay Prompt #2: Intellectual Curiosity

Swarthmore’s community of learners inspire one another through their collaborative and flexible approach to learning. Swarthmore students are comfortable with intellectual experimentation and connection of ideas across the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and interdisciplinary studies through a liberal arts education.

Tell us about a topic that has fascinated you recently – either inside or outside of the classroom. What made you curious about this? Has this topic connected across other areas of your interests? How has this experience shaped you and what encourages you to keep exploring?

Of the two Swarthmore essay prompts, this one is perhaps the more fun one to write. For your second essay topic, feel free to dig deep, but try to focus on something you are interested in now. Avoid something you maybe liked when you were younger but are now no longer interested in. As stated above, this prompt asks you how your experience with this topic has shaped you and why you’re still interested in it. So of course, you’ll want this to be a current interest.

There are many different aspects to this prompt, which makes writing these Swarthmore supplemental essays challenging. Here are some extrapolated questions that you’ll likely want to address in your essay:

  • What is the topic?
  • When did you first become interested in this topic?
  • Why did you become interested in this topic?
  • Did exploring this topic introduce you to new interests?
  • Did exploring this topic influence the way you engage with other topics?
  • How has your interest in this topic shaped who you are?
  • Why do you still engage in this topic?
  • What do you hope to do with the knowledge you gain about this topic?

As you can see, this prompt can answer a lot of questions, but you only have to choose a few. Answering even a handful in just 250 words might seem impossible, but that’s why every word counts. Let’s say you’ve been passionate about animation ever since you saw Finding Nemo as a kid. You probably don’t have the space to write about your experience watching the movie for the first time. However, you can easily introduce the topic of animation and your first experience watching the movie in a single sentence. Then, you can quickly move into what drew you to it.

Feel free to play around with the order you present information. However, each detail should lead to the next—did you notice many essay prompts guide you along a timeline? This prompt is no exception: start briefly with why you got interested. Then, move to the effects it has had on you and your other interests. Lastly, explain why that interest continues to grow. If you’re not sure how to structure your essay, feel free to use this linear progression as a framework.

How to Write Swarthmore Supplemental Essays

swarthmore supplemental essays

At this point, we hope you have a better understanding of what to expect from the Swarthmore supplemental essays. Now you know what the prompts are asking of us—but how do you actually write a Swarthmore essay?

Regardless of how you feel about your writing abilities, writing college essays is a whole different ball game. Writing about yourself, within a limited word count, answering a multi-part prompt is no joke. Here are some tips to help you write your Swarthmore College supplemental essays, from finding a topic to getting them submission-ready. (Better yet, you can use these tips on all of your college application essays, not just your Swarthmore supplemental essays.)

1. Start with a brainstorming session

Before you jump into writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays, start with a brainstorming session. If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, do a few timed free writes. Set five minutes on the clock and think of the prompts for the Swarthmore supplemental essays in general terms. Consider aspects of your personal identity and background and topics that fascinate you.

2. Freewrite and outline

Once you have some initial ideas, try to think of the ones you connect most with. Then write down everything that comes to mind when you think of that idea: experiences, feelings, people, places, anything that comes to mind. Then, outline how that idea connects to other aspects of the prompt. What details can you use to show that connection?

3. Write a first draft

Depending on the kind of writer you are, this can be the hardest part of writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays. Focus on just getting a draft down on paper without worrying about making it perfect, or even coherent. Don’t slow yourself down by trying to edit this as you’re writing. Anything is better than nothing, and more is better than less when it comes to a first draft.

4. Revise, revise, revise

Here’s where the magic happens. Editing your Swarthmore supplemental essays is how your essays go from okay to fantastic. Remember, every sentence and every word matters. Does every sentence somehow build your story, somehow connecting back to the prompt? Omit any unnecessary details, don’t be afraid to reorganize, and you’ll soon find the best flow of ideas for your story. 

5. Get a second opinion

When you finally get a draft you think is great, show it to someone. Get a second pair of eyes from a trusted mentor or friend who will be honest about your essay. Did they see a clear connection between you, your essay, and the prompt? Ask them what ideas or themes they were left with after reading. That way, you’ll know if you were successful in translating your thoughts into words.

6. Proofread and polish

There’s nothing more distracting from a compelling story than typos. Look for any spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes that will get in the way of your reader connecting with your words. Of course, polished Swarthmore supplemental essays also show admissions that you care about the work you share with others.

Follow these six steps, and you’ll have your Swarthmore supplemental essays written in no time! Now, let’s talk about why the Swarthmore supplemental essays matter.

Does Swarthmore care about essays?

Yes, Swarthmore definitely cares about how you respond to the Swarthmore essay prompts. The Swarthmore College supplemental essays are part of the Swarthmore requirements for a reason. Admissions want to learn more about your experiences and strengths because these are the things you’ll bring with you to campus.

There is no single formula for how to get into Swarthmore. Swarthmore Admissions evaluates applications with a holistic, contextual approach. That means every part of your application will be evaluated with equal weight, in the context of your background, identity, challenges, and opportunities. Everyone who gets into Swarthmore does so thanks to a unique blend of factors, including their Swarthmore supplemental essays.

The Swarthmore College supplemental essays are your chance to share your strengths within the specific context of your life experience. A well-written essay that clearly expresses your ideas in a coherent and engaging manner also showcases your strengths as a writer, thinker, and communicator. These are all skills that make for a well-prepared college student.

Additional information about Swarthmore College

swarthmore supplemental essays
Alice Paul dorm, Swarthmore College (2) (cropped)” by Buidhe_wiki | CC BY-SA 2.0.

Still have questions about Swarthmore? Let’s take a look at the Swarthmore requirements.

Application requirements

Below is a list of the required Swarthmore application materials:

  • A completed application (Common, Coalition, or Questbridge)
  • 2 Swarthmore College supplemental essays
  • Application fee (or waiver)
  • School report
  • High school transcript
  • Mid-year grades (or progress report)
  • 3 recommendation letters:
    • 1 school counselor recommendation
    • 2 academic-subject teacher recommendations

Optional admissions materials include test scores, interviews, a video response, and an art portfolio. If you have additional questions about the admissions process, you can contact Swarthmore Admissions by phone, email, or mail.

Financial aid

Have questions on financial aid? As a school dedicated to affordability and access (ranked #4 in Best Value Schools), Swarthmore details three commitments to college access:

1. “Need-blind” admissions

Applicants are considered for acceptance independently of their financial status and ability to pay for college. (This applies only to U.S. citizens, eligible non-citizens, and undocumented students attending/on track to graduate from a U.S. high school.)

2. Meeting full need

Swarthmore will meet 100% of determined need. This means admitted students will receive financial aid that covers the gap between their family’s financial resources and the cost of attendance.

3. Loan-free aid

Swarthmore does not offer loans, meaning your financial aid package will consist of only grants and work aid. Work aid is essentially an expectation of an on-campus job. This might look different from other school’s financial aid packages, so be sure to keep that in mind when comparing schools.

On Swarthmore’s Financial Aid page, you can read more on tuition and fees and how to apply for financial aid. In fact, you can even use their net price calculator to determine your estimated aid. There’s also a great video on Understanding Swarthmore’s Financial Aid Process alongside many other informative videos on Swarthmore’s Youtube page.

Campus life

Home to a vibrant community of just over 1,600 undergraduate students, Swarthmore is a small, close-knit college. Located about 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, a suburban setting acts as the backdrop to this beautiful school. As home to the nationally recognized Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore also offers students an environment rich in natural beauty. Swarthmore is rich in tradition and existing events for its student body, from its First and Last Collections to the annual Crum Regatta.

Want to learn more about what it’s like to attend Swarthmore? Check out SwatStories to find first-hand accounts of life on campus written by those who know it best: Swarthmore students. Thinking about the future? You can also learn more about what Swarthmore students have gone on to do after graduation.

Swarthmore Supplemental Essays: Final Takeaways

We hope, after reading our guide to the Swarthmore College supplemental essays, that you feel more prepared to tackle your application. Remember, all students are required to complete two 250-word Swarthmore College supplemental essays as part of their application. Consequently, there are two unique Swarthmore essay prompts: the cultural diversity essay and the intellectual curiosity essay. Because of the word limit, your Swarthmore College essays must be focused and specific to comprehensively answer the prompt.

If you’re looking for more resources to help you with the application process, CollegeAdvisor has everything you need. For more Swarthmore-specific info, check out our How to Get Into Swarthmore guide.  For more tips on writing your Swarthmore supplemental essays, check out our article on How to Write Better Essays. And don’t miss our Ultimate Guide to Supplemental Essays and Supplemental Essays 201 webinars. For more personalized guidance, contact us today to speak to one of our admissions experts.

swarthmore supplemental essays

This essay guide was written by Stefanie Tedards. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.