After a semester or two here, it becomes quite evident even to the most phenomenal prodigies that Swarthmore is among the most academically elite colleges in the country. It is not at all uncommon to see a student slumped over a textbook in the library at 1 in the morning or slurring his words in a seminar due to lack of sleep. But this hard work pays off, and many Swarthmore students are published in prestigious academic journals before their junior year! It is certainly no understatement that the experience of jumping into an academic pool like Swarthmore’s can be overwhelming—the school is swarming with passionate, freakishly intelligent students who love to show off their brains.
That said, the academic competition here is hardly “cutthroat.” This might be because of the pass/fail first semester or the general apathy toward the overall grading system, but as the admissions brochures say, “It’s not about competing to learn what has already been learned, it’s about creating new knowledge.” Creating new knowledge can be especially painful in Swarthmore’s classroom experience. At a larger state school, it might be possible to successfully hide behind your notebook in a 300-person lecture room. Here, it’s about looking your professor directly in the face as he or she sits at the other end of your table with five other students and explaining what you learned from last night’s readings. Be prepared to learn in a different way in each class, see the world through new eyes, and, yes, create new knowledge. Rarely does grade inflation occur, and you’ll often see students wearing T-shirts that read: “Anywhere else, it would’ve been an A.”