Academics

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Academics

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5 College Freshman

Academics: Biology is pretty big here, and it's generally accepted as our strongest major. The biology classes, especially Bio 1 in freshman year, force you to think critically, and often assume most students have a solid high school understanding of biology. Our facilities for biology are great, boasting a laboratory building that is strictly meant for biology. Unfortunately, research with professors in the biology department is limited and competitive, so many majors do research in chemistry or biochemistry, or do research off-campus. Almost all research is done during breaks.

2 people found this useful Report
5 College Freshman

Academics: The academics here are truly top-notch, rigorous enough even for valedictorians to notice the thought and preparation needed in studying for a test and writing a problem set. Some professors can get lazy and be overall boring and disorganized, but such is a sizable minority of professors at any top college. The average Swarthmore professor is very wise and can clearly explain complex concepts. The workload is tough mainly due to the school's resistance to offering easy courses. Electives are generally difficult (not "joke" classes), and introductory courses, except Introduction to Education, are likely to pose challenges, even if you learned all the major concepts beforehand. Success with the workload requires a lot of self-determination and time management skills, but by all means, is certainly doable. The workload is more quantity-based than flat-out difficult, except for some upper level math and science courses with some very hard-to-grasp concepts. While we are pretty renowned for Bio, PoliSci, and Econ, you should consider this place if you are an engineer, as we rank #11 in engineering among schools where a bachelor's is the highest degree offered, losing out mainly to hard-tech schools. On top of that, we rock in all the standard liberal arts departments.

6 people found this useful Report
4 College Junior

Academics: You are worked hard, but I guess it's all worth it. Professors, curriculum and workload all vary with department. Science majors should expect to do only school work, while social science and humanities majors seem to have a little more flexibility.

12 people found this useful Report
3 College Junior

Academics: The anthropology/sociology department is pretty small and kind of underfunded, but at least you are able to take classes at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and UPenn easily.

2 people found this useful Report
4 Recent Alumnus

Academics: I studied within the three major divisions; a major in psychology and double minor in biology and English Literature (Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Humanities respectively). The only problem I had was that I had spread myself too thin. I noticed many peers having tremendous relationships with their professors, but I barely knew many of mine as I had little overlap between classes. Regardless, I felt that I could approach any professor at any time and receive the help I needed. That was a good feeling.

4 people found this useful Report
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Student Author OverviewWhat's this?

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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.”

Facts & Statistics

Student-Faculty Ratio
8:1
Full-Time Instructional Faculty
197
Part-Time Instructional Faculty
39
Total FT Faculty
197
Faculty with Terminal Degree
99%
Average Faculty Salary
$105,532
Full-Time Retention Rate
97%
Graduation Rate
92%
Programs/Majors Offered
73
Academic/Career Counseling?
Yes
Remedial Services?
No
Class Sizes
  • Fewer than 20 students: 76%
  • 20 to 49 students: 22%
  • 50 or more students: 2%
Instructional Programs
Occupational: No
Academic: Yes
Continuing Professional: No
Recreational/Avocational: No
Adult Basic Remedial: No
Secondary (High School): No
Special Credit Opportunities
Advanced Placement (AP) Credits: Yes
Dual Credit: No
Life Experience Credits: No
Degrees Awarded
Bachelor's degree
Most Popular Majors
  • Biology and Biological Sciences: 6%
  • Economics and Econometrics: 7%
  • English Language Studies: 3%
  • Political Science and Government, General: 5%
Graduation Requirements
  • Foreign languages
  • Humanities
  • Sciences (biological or physical)
  • Social science
Special Study Options
  • Study abroad
  • Teacher certification (below the postsecondary level)
Other Academic Offerings
  • Accelerated program
  • Cross-registration
  • Double major
  • Exchange student program (domestic)
  • Honors program
  • Independent study
  • Internships
  • Student-designed major
Best Places to Study
  • The Amphitheatre (weather-permitting)
  • Cornell Library
  • McCabe Library
  • Parrish Beach (weather-permitting)
  • Parrish parlors
  • Underhill Library
Tips to Succeed
  • Check your e-mail as much as possible.
  • Don't concentrate too much on academics. Get out and join clubs, party, and meet people.
  • Don't put too much on your plate but really focus on what you are doing.
  • Get help from friends and fellow students. They are among the best resources on campus. You can't do it alone!
  • Go to Philly or off campus at least once a week to avoid "Swarthmore claustrophobia."
  • Keep up with your work. It's easy to put it off until the end of the semester, but resist the urge.
  • Meet with your professors regularly. Really get to know at least one each semester.
  • Remember that the pass/fail semester really means pass/fail.
  • Take a class at Penn that you can't take at Swat.
  • Take classes you are intimidated by but interested in.
Did You Know?
  • Swarthmore students can cross-register for classes and use the library facilities at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
  • At Swarthmore, no classes are taught by teaching assistants (TAs).
  • The academic advisers are top-notch here. Because of the College's small size, each adviser only has a handful of students to keep track of and many times they offer great and very personal advice about what courses to take and how to approach certain aspects of a student's academic life at Swarthmore. On the same topic, if you decide to become, for example, an engineering major, your adviser will be an engineering professor.
  • Thirty-five percent of Swarthmore students participate in a unique honors program. Based on Oxford University's honor system, the program requires students to participate in very small seminar-style classes sometimes consisting of no more than two or three students per course. At the end of their senior year, students in the honors program participate in External Examinations. Culminating the student's studies at Swarthmore, the External Examinations committee brings in experts in the student's field of study who orally examine the student on their subject.
  • To ease the jump into a pit of academic fury, students take classes on a pass/fail basis during their first semester at Swarthmore. Students receive their first official letter grades in the second semester of their freshman year. Also, after the first semester, students are permitted to take up to four classes on a pass/fail basis during the rest of their time at Swarthmore. In addition to that, students can wait up to nine weeks before deciding whether or not to withdraw from a course or to take a course pass/fail.

Student Polls

How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?    Based on 17 responses

Strongly disagree
Strongly agree
  • My Gen-Ed requirements are worthwhile and meaningful.
  • It is easy to get the classes you want.
  • The academic advisers are helpful.
  • Grading is generally consistent and fair.
  • There are a variety of interesting courses to take.
  • Students are encouraged to explore a wide range of courses and topics.
  • The workload is easy to manage.
  • There are plenty of good online course options.
  • Teaching assistants (TAs) are used effectively.
  • The course scheduling/registration process is efficient and student-friendly.
  • Classrooms/labs are up-to-date and incorporate new technologies effectively.

How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements regarding the professors at this school?    Based on 16 responses

Strongly disagree
Strongly agree
  • Professors are approachable and helpful when needed
  • Professors are engaging and easy to understand.
  • Professors are experts in their field.
  • Professors are passionate about the topics they teach.
  • Professors care about their students' success.
  • Professors put a lot of effort into teaching their classes.
  • Professors use teaching assistants (TAs) effectively.

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