Swarthmore, PA: In mid-April I visited Swarthmore College while on a trip to Philadelphia. Swarthmore is a small suburban school with excellent academic programs and challenging courses. I stayed for a couple of hours, took a tour, and ate lunch.
What struck me as the taxi drove into the college was the campus, which was truly incredible. Because the grounds house only about 1300 students, they are not excessively spread out, and the entire campus can be maintained as an arboretum. Rare trees, many in full bloom, caught my attention, as did the sunny lawn where many students were studying or reading. There was even a grass amphitheater for commencement and other special events.
More striking than the setting, however, was the specialization and small size of each individual department at the college. Students said that one of the real benefits of Swarthmore was the intimacy with which they got to know their teachers. There were few large lecture classes; instead, most majors consisted of classes with around twenty students to a teacher, and some classes had as few as two students.
There are a wide range of study areas at Swarthmore, but not as many as some larger universities. It seemed that with a college the size of Swarthmore and a somewhat limited curriculum, students had to have at least some idea of what they were interested in pursuing. Students seemed happy and enthusiastic about what choices they had, and I didn’t get the impression that the range of studies was not broad enough.
My tour guide was sociable and outgoing, and seemed to sincerely love his school. The rooms he showed us were pretty small, but they were freshmen dorms, and upper class rooms were supposedly bigger. The doors and walls of the rooms were coated with not only posters and other decorations, but also political propaganda. Swarthmore is known as a school with an outgoing and open, political atmosphere, and though this disturbs some prospective students, I wasn’t bothered by it.
After the tour, I ate lunch at the main student hall. It was a new facility and was clean and attractive. The food was average college food; it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t outstanding in any way. Afterwards, I took the half hour train ride to Philadelphia where I was staying. Though Swarthmore is a pretty small town, the city is close enough so that day trips are easy.
Swarthmore is not a partying college; hard work and concentration are necessary for success there. Overall, I was really pleased with the college and I would recommend a visit to anyone with strong motivation and willingness to put in all their effort. n
Reviewed in 1991