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Perceptions of Swat: College Confidential

in Around Campus/News by

College Confidential is an online forum for high school students applying for college, current college students, and parents. On Swarthmore’s page, current students, parents, and even people who have heard about Swarthmore from friends all discuss different aspects of the college, such as workload, social scene, student activism, etc. However, there are not a lot of recent discussions; many of them date back to 2010 or even earlier.

Among the comments made, there are both myths and truths. One of the biggest concern of students is that Swarthmore’s academics are too hard and too much and that students do not do anything but study.

The Admission Office is aware of the existence of these kinds of ongoing discussions and comments on various websites. However, the Admission Office does not interfere with or respond to anything that is on such websites.

“Swarthmore Admissions does not engage with College Confidential or other chat forum sites, and we do not correct information on third-party sites where information is provided by site users,” said Vice President and Dean of Admissions, Jim Bock ’90.

One of the most viewed discussions, which is also a “featured” discussion on Swarthmore’s forum page, is titled “Is Swarthmore all work and no play?” In this discussion that first started in 2006, “comflsmoh,” the user who started the discussion, gave a “warning” to all those who were interested in Swarthmore. This user did not go to Swarthmore, and they based their comments solely on their interactions with a friend who went here.

“He [referring to the writer’s friend] said this to me after I visited and also fell in love with the campus, professors, and awesome engineering program. Get used to the campus. It’ll be the only thing you see for the next 4 years. Philadelphia, only a 30 minute ride away? hahaha. He told me the one day he did go there, he had to take work with him on the train, and when he spent the PART of the day taking a break on the weekend and visiting the city, he felt it for the next month, making up the work he fell behind in,” wrote comflsmoh in his post.

The user has a very determined perception of the course-load, even though he never went here.

“Students never stop studying. period. Because the campus is small and the group is so small, you know everyone and everyone’s business and everyone knows yours. It is the stereotypical high school scene. Football players sit at one table, etc,” wrote comflsmoh.

In the comment section, a lot of actual Swarthmore students and parents of Swarthmore students point out that the case that comflsmoh described was an exception. They expressed that Swarthmore could be very stressful, but most of the students have enough time for extracurricular activities or doing things they enjoy. Many participants of the discussion also mentioned that Swarthmore had a good support system and students truly care about each other.

one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned much in this thread is just how supportive Swatties are of one another. When it gets rough, you’re going to have plenty of friends backing you up, knocking at your door late at night to get you to take a study break, or making sure you get out during the weekend so you don’t overdo it,” wrote Gileard, a junior at Swarthmore in 2006.

Other users chimed in sharing similar sentiments.

I can assure you that while at times I’ve had to work more than I really wanted in a given weekend, I’ve also had plenty of time for procrastination and general fooling around, and I haven’t had a breakdown in my first two and a half years,” wrote momof3sons, another junior in 2006.

However, the latest comment in this thread was posted in 2008. What current Swatties think about the above issues were not found in the discussion.

“Relying exclusively on college review sites, or spending too much time on college discussion threads where most/all contributors are not currently enrolled students, is not the most productive way to approach the college search process,” said Bock.

In a slightly more recent discussion from 2010, a prospective student asked some questions on similar issues such as workload and social scene. Many parents replied that their children actually had fun during weekends while some witnessed cases where the children were very unhappy.

A parent of a current student, by the name of “Endicott” on College Confidential, during that time commented on the concern of lack of social life.

“My child goes to Philadelphia often to see jazz or classical concerts, etc. with his friends. So it is easy to get back and forth for a change of scenery. Also, you can get away cheaply on the Bolt Bus to NYC, and you aren’t far from Baltimore or Washington, either, if you really want an adventure. Students also have their own parties aside from the school parties, and there are also events like plays and concerts on campus. That’s one good thing about Swat, you don’t have to spend much on your social life,” wrote Endicott, in the comment section.

Dean Bock commented that there are other ways and resources that can help students navigate the application process.

“We encourage students to explore each college’s Common Data Set for statistical information, visit campus if time and resources permit, talk with current students and faculty whenever possible, work with their college counselors or advisors, and spend some time figuring out what kind of community they want to spend four years of their lives contributing to and learning with,” said Bock.

There are in fact students who have never used College Confidential when applying for college.

Online resources both sponsored by colleges and third-party sites can provide prospective students with context about schools away from campus. Sites like College Confidential can provide important perspectives on different communities apart from the purview of admissions offices, but much of their information can be misinformed or unfounded. Speaking to students might bring a middle ground to the conversation that is lost between these two poles.

on behalf of Sexual Health Advocates

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Jordan Reyes ’19, a Sexual Health Advocate (SHA) who works for the admissions office, was informed by Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 on Monday that he could either stop wearing his “I <3 Female Orgasm” t-shirt while working or lose his job as a general information presenter (GISP). The shirt is among the merchandise that was distributed at I <3 Female Orgasm, a February event featuring sex educators Dorian Solot and Connor Timmons teaching a “message of sexual health and empowerment,” sponsored by Title IX Office, the Women’s Resource Center for Gender Equity (WRC), and the SHAs. Jordan is now unemployed. The reason? According to Dean Bock, “It is potentially triggering.”

You know what is potentially triggering, Swat? PROTECTING RAPISTS.

We are appalled, but not shocked, that a college administrator would misappropriate “concern over triggering” while Swarthmore has and largely refuses to own up to a history of traumatizing victims and survivors of sexual assault, and perpetuates and dismisses genuine concern over the triggering effect of institutionally prioritizing perpetrators of assault. While we understand the College can dictate the dress of its paid representatives, punishing a student for wearing a sex-positive t-shirt given out by the very office that is working against sexual violence at Swarthmore, in the name of eliminating triggers, is tone-deaf, hurtful, and hopelessly hypocritical.

Putting aside the college’s apparent apathy with potential triggers when I <3 Female Orgasm fliers were plastered all over campus in support of this school-sponsored event, Dean Bock’s sudden commitment to the needs of hypothetical survivors while the administration continually fails to acknowledge its troubling history rings hollow. As Jodie Goodman ’16 has recently written in The Phoenix, “Many students are familiar with complaints made during the spring of 2013, most notably the fact that Tom Elverson, Swarthmore’s alcohol education and intervention specialist as well as Greek liaison, was known to intervene in favor of Delta Upsilon members during Title IX investigations.” In 2013, 13 students filed a Title IX complaint against the college for the college’s mishandling of sexual misconduct reports. Critically, numerous Swarthmore students’ histories of consensual sexual engagement have been used to discredit their allegations of assault. As The Phoenix reported in 2013, survivors appearing before the College Judiciary Committee have been asked questions such as: “How many people have you slept with before?” and “You say you had sex with him [your assailant] before?” With this history in mind, the invocation of sexual trauma to censor pro-healthy sexuality shirts is breathtakingly inappropriate.

Censoring the (sartorial) work of the school’s anti-sexual violence advocates, in the name of sexual violence awareness, makes no sense.

So given Dean Bock’s ultimatum to Jordan, it seems that sex-positive, trauma-aware programming on healthy sexuality like I <3 Female Orgasm, which was sponsored by Title IX this February, is a liability for the college to showcase to potential students. That the college doesn’t allow its student representatives to wear a shirt promoting its own Title IX Office’s programming on healthy sexuality, combined with the college’s history of silencing anti-sexual assault protest, suggests that Swarthmore’s commitment to the amazing work of its Title IX Office extends only so far as the Office’s ability to serve the college’s financial interests.

As Sexual Health Advocates, we advocate to make this campus hospitable for healthy sex and relationships. That’s why we co-sponsored I <3 the Female Orgasm along with Title IX, and the WRC. We suggest that, if Dean Bock really wants to support survivors of sexual violence and those re-traumatized by Swarthmore’s mishandling thereof, he and other administrators listen and respond to the genuine concerns of actual sexual violence survivors. That includes supporting Title IX and SHA programming that addresses said concerns.

Dean Bock should start by reinstating Jordan, who, as a Sexual Health Advocate, a Title IX Liaison, and a NuWave member, is working for a safer and healthier sexual climate in a moment when the same cannot necessarily be said of the institution itself. (See the recently published website Swat Protects Rapists for an overview of the college’s failure to pursue justice for survivors of sexual violence.) Crucially, Jordan should be able to wear and discuss the message of his shirt on the job. Regardless, we hope that Dean Bock’s newly demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of trauma survivors is reflective of a new administrative commitment to the needs of survivors on campus.

In the meantime, Swat can’t protect us from rapists, but at least it can protect us from orgasms!

This op-ed has been co-signed by the following Sexual Health Advocates: Lulu Allen-Waller ’17, Bel Guinle ’19, Helen Hawver ’17, YuQing Lin ’20, Will Marchese ’20, Sabrina Merold ’17, Krista Smith-Henke ’19, Shayla Smith ’20, and Dorcas Tang ’19.


Works Referenced

“Does Swat Protect Rapists?” by Jodie Goodman


“Go for the O” by Lauren Savo


“DoE releases Title IX complaint against Swarthmore” by Daniel Block and Izzy Kornblatt


“Brought to Light: Accused Walks, College Demands Silence” by Max Nesterak


“Swat Protects Rapists” Website



College admits Class of 2021, questions of support and class structure rise

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

On March 21st, the Office of Admissions alerted the campus community to the admission of the Class of 2021 with historic numbers of applications. The admitted class also had record numbers of applications from traditionally underrepresented groups, international students, and first-in-their-family and many through community-based programs like QuestBridge. The class’s intended majors follow a trend from previous years with engineering, political science, and biology are most heavily represented. The office found that, with the high numbers of applications, admitting 960 students fit well with the college’s Visioning Process goals. The admitted Class of 2021 is larger than the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019 and approximately the same size as 2020.

Vice President of the college and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 detailed the process of balancing the goal to provide a Swarthmore education with the larger number of applicants this year.

“This is a perennial challenge as we always have many more qualified and compelling applicants than we have admission spaces available. The size and depth of this year’s applicant pool made our work more difficult as we had to turn away more students than in the past. We were able to admit more first generation to college students, and we are confident that the admitted students are prepared to take full advantage of the rigorous academic program and contribute tremendously to the Swarthmore community,” Bock said.

Bock stated that applications increased from all demographics, mentioning new promotional materials as a reason, and identified the process of how the college will finalize the Class of 2021 and the transfer population. He then noted the advances the office made to include underrepresented populations in the admitted class.

“Our Director of Access and Programming developed a communication plan geared specifically to underrepresented and low-income students highlighting what makes our community a special and supportive place … Our office has also worked closely with our colleagues in the Communications Office and other campus partners to ensure we are telling the Swarthmore story authentically and effectively to prospective students of all backgrounds,” Bock said.

Students on campus generally responded positively to the higher rates of application and admission of underrepresented groups. Ricky Choi ’20 noted how Swarthmore is a place that supports underrepresented groups, but how building that community on campus is important.

“I think a greater diversity in our student body will bring even greater attention to the issues that are unique to these international [and] first-in-family [students] and generally underrepresented groups. Our school as an institution is already highly vocal and aware of the issues that surround such groups but having greater context and personal experiences can always add weight to the existing voice,” Choi said.

Shelby Billups ’20 stated how this increase will lead to the campus becoming more supportive to underrepresented communities as the campus network will grow, and she highlighted how Swarthmore helped her reach her goals academically and connect as a minority student.

“I believe that this growth in these groups will aid in the normalization of diversity. This normalization will aid in the transition into college for many of these students for many class years to come and help to instill the overarching theme of acceptance that is so prevalent on our campus already,” Billups said. “As someone who comes from a place where there weren’t many opportunities for me to connect with people of my own background, the number opportunities at the college astounded me. From WOCKA to the BCC to the many other cultural groups on campus, I have never felt deprived of support as a minority student.”

Choi went on to discuss how the communities on campus could be strengthened through solidarity between campus cultural groups, and he explains how the Intercultural Center could change its role in relation to this goal.

“Although IC is effective in supporting international students, I think it can most definitely do more than status quo. I think one of the key problems when it comes to international student groups such as SAO, Han, and other cultural groups is that there is a lack of single cohesive voice. Whilst these groups are most certainly unique in their backgrounds and contexts, there can be a unified voice to address issues such as the myth of model minority. IC can play a critical role in facilitating the interaction between such student bodies and should increase such role in the future,” Choi said.

The Class of 2021 will bring more students to campus with new stories and new networks to work in. The college understands the class to be largely consequential in the academic realm, and students hope the incoming first-years will access the resources and support systems of community groups, and they see the potential to strengthen those groups at Swarthmore as the number of students can increase networks of support across the college.

SAAB Advises Admissions Officers

in Around Campus/News by

This year, as part of a broader effort to promote diversity and inclusion work across campus, the Office of Admissions created the Student Access Advisory Board. The board consists of 14 students from a wide range of backgrounds and was created to advise the Office of Admissions in their efforts to recruit students from different backgrounds.

“We hope to hear directly from students on their own college search process to learn more about strategies and tools we can use to better identify and service students from access backgrounds,”  said Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Access and Programming, Andrew Moe.

The board intends to meet several times per semester to discuss issues of identifying, recruiting, enrolling, and retaining underserved groups and to determine recommendations to bring to the Admissions Office to improve their current efforts. Underrepresented groups that the office of admissions focuses on includes but are not limited to: first-generation, low-income, undocumented, students of color, LGBTQ, non-English speaking families, rural, and community college transfers.

The Office of Admissions already has several different initiatives to address the needs of inadequately represented students. These steps include programs like Discover Swat, which is an organized overnight visit focused on students from underrepresented backgrounds, and Swat Light, which allows brings admitted students from these backgrounds to campus.The Office of Admissions is working on finding new ways to get students information about making applying to Swarthmore more accessible. They are going about this by updating the website and sending out more targeted emails, among other approaches. The college is also partnering with several other area universities and colleges to host a financial aid night for Spanish speaking parents in Philadelphia. The Office hopes that SAAB will serve as a way for students at the college to have input on and help improve these programs.

Sara Planthaber ’17 is an admissions fellow and a member of SAAB. She believes the student perspectives offered by the board will be able to help the Office of Admissions improve their outreach efforts. She described how the group’s first session proceed.

“A huge part of the meeting was just going around and everyone sharing their story, where they come from. We have a really great diverse group of people,” said Planthaber.

She is excited to work more closely with the group on figuring out what methods will work to reach students. The students on SAAB will be able to provide a unique perspective to the Office of Admissions on how best to reach students who are in the college application process. One group of students Planthaber is especially interested in is students from rural areas.

“More diverse voices is always better, especially people from underrepresented backgrounds. I come from a rural area and I feel like people coming from that background have a different perspective on education, especially higher education,” said Planthaber. “I think that having people from different backgrounds is really important whenever we have big conversations on campus. It is important to have a range of opinions … in order to come to a conclusion that takes into account everyone that might be affected by it.”

According to Planthaber, one of the main difficulties in reaching underrepresented groups is the inability to identify them, such as students from non-traditional families or who identify as LGBTQ. She says that it can be helpful to use specific messaging when trying to recruit students. For example, talking about how Swarthmore is unique in the way it uses a need-blind admissions process for domestic and undocumented students would help recruit undocumented students, and discussing the loan-free financial aid process could help make attendance to the institution appear more possible to low-income students. However the strategy does not work unless the college can identify these students and find a way to get them the information.

One way the college is working to identify these students is by connecting with counselors at schools that have a large number of students belonging to demographics underrepresented at the college.

“A big research project that we were doing in between interviews this summer was looking upgoing state by state and finding counselor information for schools that we don’t have email addresses for. We, as an admissions office, can send [information] to the counselors so they can pass it onto their students,” said Planthaber. “[It was] a rural focused initiative as well as to try to increase religious activity on campus, so we are trying to reach out to small religious schools as well.” In addition to reaching out to counselors at high schools, the Office is also using data technology to identify communities that are likely to be underrepresented.

“We are starting to use population-based and U.S. Census data to target students in low-income zip codes, low-income counties, and rural areas.  We are also using proxies, such as federal free and reduced lunch rates by school, to target under-resourced high schools and their students,” said Moe.

Although implementing programs to reach underrepresented students is not a unique measure among peer institutions, Moe says Swarthmore’s programs are unique in the type of technology it employs.

“We believe we might be leading the way in terms of leveraging technology to identify potential under-served students.  We recently adopted Slate, a technology platform designed for admissions offices, and have used Slate to increase our outreach efforts to counselors, advisors, parents, and students,” said Moe.

Planthaber says that, in addition to the Office of Admissions, efforts current students can help increase the diversity on campus by reaching out to other people in their community, especially if they consider themselves part of an underrepresented group of students on campus.

Admissions office changes method of reviewing applications

in Around Campus/News by

With surging numbers of applicants and a limited staff, admissions officers at colleges and universities across the nation have found themselves under increasing strain to find time for careful, holistic application review in recent years. This is especially true at Swarthmore, where several substantial changes in the application for the class of 2019 caused an unprecedented 41% rise in the number of applicants to the college last year, placing immense demands on admissions staff to comprehensively review each application. This year, however, in anticipation of  further increases in the number of applicants due to a reduction in testing requirements, the Admissions Office instituted a complete overhaul of the reading process, transforming the long-standing method of at-home review by individual readers to a committee-based reading process that occurs in the office. While the new system substantially reduces the amount of time spent on each application, which some worry might diminish its ability to facilitate a holistic review of each candidate, admissions deans at the college believe that it will in fact allow for less stress, better decision-making, and more time for outreach efforts and recruiting.

The change in practice was inspired last spring by two visits to the undergraduate admissions office at the University of Pennsylvania by Director of Admissions JT Duck and Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90. Duck and Bock met with Yvonne Romero Da Silva, director of admissions at Penn, to hear about Penn’s newly installed application review process known as Committee Based Evaluation. Penn and Swarthmore are incredibly dissimilar in terms of the scopes of their applicant pools — applicants to Penn apply to one of seven individual schools, and Penn receives nearly five times the number of applicants that Swarthmore does — Duck and Bock hoped to use the Penn model as inspiration for much-needed changes in the admissions process at Swarthmore after a particularly demanding admissions season last year.

“The pressure to move quickly, as the numbers increase and the calendar remains the same, has been plaguing admissions offices nationwide for years,” Bock explained.  “Many have been forced to pull back or amend their holistic review in an attempt to meet the demand. Penn created the model and were sharing it openly, and we are always considering best practices and other ways to achieve our objectives. We were glad to accept the invitation to witness the system first hand.”

Impressed by the way in which the Penn model was able to reduce the time spent on each application and better manage the review of transfer applicants, Duck spent the summer and much of the fall designing and implementing an iteration of Penn’s committee-based process suited for Swarthmore. The model was introduced in November for Early Decision admissions, marking a significant departure from the college’s traditional admissions practice.

According to Lee Paczulla ’05, who is in her third year as an Admissions Counselor at the college, in the past, each admissions reader was tasked with a daily quota of applications to read individually. Depending on the number of applicants as well as the time of year in the admissions calendar, this quota fluctuated significantly and at times forced admissions officers to take on a taxing number of applications.

“I would be the ‘first reader’ on all the files from my regional territory,” explained Paczulla, who is the Regional Director for Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “I would review the file, rate it in terms of competitiveness within our overall applicant pool, and write up a summary of my evaluation for a ‘second reader’ to review. Then the file would be routed through our online system to a second reader — usually randomly, to another Dean or Counselor on our staff — who would do the same thing…The two ratings then directed whether a file would move on to review by the full Admissions Committee or not, which met after all first and second reads were complete.”

During the particularly busy months of January and February, Paczulla explained, readers were able to evaluate applications from home in order to make the process of meeting the higher daily quota more comfortable. Though Paczulla explained that she appreciated the freedom to dress down or stay indoors on days with bad weather, the ability to bring applications out of the office and review at one’s own pace also made it acceptable for the workday to extend long after traditional hours.

“When reading independently, it was easy for the quota of daily files we each had to read to stretch into the 7pm, 8pm, sometimes 11pm hour,” Paczulla explained.

Wes Willison ’13, who worked as an admissions officer at the college until last June, and rejoined the staff as a part-time reader this winter, agreed that the old system was incredibly draining for readers.

“Before the change, the process was long and wearying,” Willison explained. “Massive amounts of time spent alone without interpersonal contact, reading highly emotional and complex applications for the purpose of judging and sorting. It was spiritually and emotionally exhausting for me.”

The unhealthy work-life balance imposed by the old system was a point of serious consideration for Bock and Duck while designing the new system. Bock noted that frequently, the stress of the particularly difficult months can undermine morale and reduce employee satisfaction.

“Often, the profession loses bright and upcoming leaders as the longer hours, particularly during reading season, push younger staff away from a rewarding career in admissions and education,” Bock explained. In order to create a better working environment for staff, Bock hopes that the new system will reduce the individual burdens placed on each admissions reader.

Under the committee-based method, a team of two admissions readers collaboratively review each application in the office, which facilitates dialogue about the competitiveness of each applicant as the review process takes place. In the past, admissions officers would write a synopsis of each application after reading it, summarizing their impressions in order to brief the second reader, but with the new team system, such written evaluations have become obsolete as readers can sit with each other and discuss their impressions in person. According to Bock, this has the effect of reducing the amount of time that individual readers — as well as the office as a whole — spend reviewing each applicant and reaching consensus on admission.

“The past redundancy of repeated individual reviews and often overlapping written summaries has diminished substantially and allows for more eyes to see each file in a timelier manner and allows more time for committee discussion for the most competitive files,” Bock explained. “Our application and file review process is web-based, so all deans have access to all files simultaneously, and this reduces the need for long written summaries and evaluations.”

Paczulla agreed.

“Having us both in the room looking at the application together removes a lot of redundant time from the process, and makes our review far more efficient,” she explained. “I can’t wear leggings anymore — but it is actually nice to read with a partner in the office.  As an extrovert, I like being able to talk through a file with a partner — essentially, the ‘second reader’ from the old system.”

Creating dialogue around each application also has the advantage of diminishing the potential for individual readers’ subtle prejudices or unintended misunderstandings to influence the perceived competitiveness of an applicant. When an applicant arouses significant disagreement, their file is read and discussed collectively and in person so that each admissions officer can bring their unique viewpoint to the reviewing process.

“Every reader has strengths and weaknesses, biases, blind spots, etc. — we’re all human,” Paczulla explained. “The old process had checks and balances for that, but it makes me a better and stronger reader to have someone asking me the right questions as I read, right in the moment, to push back on areas where I might be tougher or more lenient in evaluating a student’s competitiveness in the process — and vice versa. We have diverse perspectives in our office that help us to build a strong and well-rounded first-year class. This process brings those perspectives into active, in-person engagement, which I think makes us all better at our jobs.”

Willison agreed.

“Having to defend, to someone else, why you find a student worth further consideration makes for a more robust evaluation process in all stages of reading,” Willison said. “There is less of a chance that students would be read hastily or with less care, which gives more accountability and focus. This is also in part because there are more breaks and more space to not read, which makes reading time more intentional and less draggy by mid to late February.”

Though many in the office are pleased about the changes that have occurred in recent months, others have hesitated to unequivocally support the new system. Some concerns have been raised that by prioritizing efficiency, the Penn model may risk sacrificing some of the thoughtful, intensive reading process that a holistic review of applications demands. Larger universities like Penn can have different admissions priorities than small colleges like Swarthmore, relying on data-based heuristics such GPA and SAT scores in order to more efficiently cull their sizeable applicant pools. At Swarthmore, while such numerical data is undoubtedly important, such factors have never been considered to be solely determinative of an applicant’s initial competitiveness.

“Employing a holistic review means starting with collecting a picture of a student’s personal biography and putting grades and standardized testing in context of opportunities presented and reviewing all essays, teacher recommendations, and other supporting documents,” Bock explained. “This is a labor intensive process that is neither static nor formulaic.”

Attention to detail during longer, individual reviewing periods has traditionally been the reading method pursued to keep the college’s admissions process in line with institutional priorities. As the college makes a concerted effort to increase the recruitment of low-income, first generation, undocumented, and minority students, some noted the potential for a more fast-paced review model to hinder these efforts.

“In the aggregate, we are able to review our files faster, and I think that was a worry for some people,” Paczulla explained. “Would we still be able to give students’ applications the time they deserved?”

Despite initial concern, however, Paczulla felt that the new system was ultimately advantageous for all concerned parties.

“While it does move faster, having seen the old way and the new way, I actually don’t think that’s a downside — for applicants, or for the college,” Paczulla said. “We haven’t changed what we’re looking for, in terms of the quality of students, or our institutional priorities.  We’re really just working in a more efficient way.”

Willison agreed.

“Honestly, it’s an entirely better way of working,” Willison said. “As far as whether the class will actually be qualitatively different, I think that’s highly unlikely, but there’s still the necessary reflective work over the coming years on whether anything has changed.”

The Board of Managers announced this past weekend that the college intends to increase enrollment by another 20 students for the class of 2021, adding to a cumulative increase of 80 students over the past four years. With greater pressure to choose larger class sizes coupled with rising numbers of applications, Bock is excited about the potential that the new reviewing system may hold.

“In our initial year, we have achieved greater efficiencies and discontinued part-time readers, while the application count remains extremely high for the second straight year,” Bock explained. “With over 7700 applications this year, we are slated to release decisions on time in late March.”


Tensions between recruitment and access in holistic admissions

in Around Campus/News by

Last month, the National Public Radio’s education blog covered a report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a higher education think tank and non-profit, that claimed varsity recruitment and scholarships are potential contributing factors in the underrepresentation of low-income students at competitive colleges. The JKC report aimed to broaden discussion around this type of under-representation, known as “undermatching,” by focusing on admissions offices instead of the choices of low-income students. The report emphasizes that colleges themselves contribute to undermatching in several ways. As the college continues to push towards equity and outreach, the relationship between varsity recruitment and undermatching does not seem to be a major concern of the admissions office. Dean of Admissions Jim Bock explained that athletic recruitment is based on academic qualifications and athletic talent — in that order of importance.

The argument about athletic recruitment and undermatching relies on the availability and accessibility of high school and middle school sports across the country. Certain sports that are consistently offered in college athletic programs are largely confined to areas and schools that are disproportionately higher income, frequently those with high equipment costs or unusual space requirements. Moreover, data shows that higher-income students are more likely to enroll in sports in general. A ten-year study of Massachusetts high schools demonstrated consistent and large differences in participation in sports between high-income areas and low-income areas. According to data by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the ten wealthiest communities in the state had an average athletics participation rate of 103 percent, meaning that the average student played slightly more than one sport. The ten poorest communities averaged 44 percent.

In recent years, the college has articulated a continued interest in expanding access and enrollment for low-income students. This past summer marked the first iteration of the new Summer Scholars Program, designed to offer extra preparation for incoming freshmen who are planning to pursue science, engineering, or math degrees and are from underprivileged backgrounds. In the fall, the college announced it would be joining a nationwide coalition to focus on increasing access and affordability, and expanded its accessibility-oriented Discover Swarthmore program from one weekend to two.

Bock placed the two admissions parameters for varsity recruits — athletic capability and academic preparedness — in the context of the college’s holistic process. “What is the educational background of the parents?  Will the student be the first generation to attend college, and is English the student’s first, second, or third language?…” Bock explained, modeling the mindset of an admissions officer. “What sport does the student play and can she be a playmaker for a Swarthmore team?  Will she join a cultural or religious affinity group once on campus?  Does he have the talent to contribute to our orchestra or jazz band?  Has she had the resources to excel or has she outperformed her given context?”

Nonetheless, both Bock and Athletics Director Adam Hertz emphasized that the recruitment process operates in a high-school athletic landscape that reflects social inequalities. In particular, the administrators identified the school’s reliance on expensive, high-profile teams and tournaments for efficiently finding talented American athletes.

“The trend in most youth sports is toward tournament play, showcases, travel teams, AAU tournaments, recruiting camps, etc.” explained Hertz. “With that trend comes some obstacles, including potential financial barriers. Many Swarthmore coaches identify and recruit through these events, which can limit their exposure to some populations. However, we try to identify qualified prospects from as many sources as possible.”

On the other hand, the college’s need-blind admissions policy and relatively strong financial aid often make it a good option for low-income athletes who do garner attention from coaches.

“Athletic recruiting is a challenge nationally, and our need-blind admissions policies and need-based financial aid may be an advantage for low-income students with athletic talent as athletic scholarships are hard to come by at the Division I and II levels,” Bock explained. “A student from any income, high or low, is able to compete on our teams, if he or she possesses the talent and desire.”

Nicole Phalen ’18, a member of the varsity field hockey team, agreed that varsity teams are generally less diverse than the student population as a whole, but argued that this deficit reflects problems that go beyond the admissions department.

“I would say, in general, there is probably less diversity on varsity sports teams, but I don’t think that that is necessarily a part of the recruitment and admissions process,” Phalen explained. “I think that starts way before, in terms of who has access to playing these sports growing up. In the town where I lived, what happened was, there were a lot of good athletes who you could see in terms of gym class [sic] … But a lot of those people who came from low-income families weren’t able to stay after school because they couldn’t get a ride home or they needed a job. So I think that a lot of who has the opportunity to play a sport in college actually occurs more at the middle school high school level.”

Phalen also emphasized that the number of annual athletic recruits varies from team to team. She observed that despite general similarities between the rules of field hockey and soccer — both involve fields of eleven players aiming a ball towards a grounded goal, the women’s soccer team consistently seems to have more recruits. Insofar as some sports tend to be more accessible at the high school level than others, relative recruitment resources between teams could affect the extent to which athlete recruits contribute to undermatching.

That is to say, if soccer is a more socioeconomically diverse sport than, say, field hockey, there could be benefits to a recruitment imbalance that favors soccer. Men’s Soccer Coach Eric Wagner claimed that the students on his team consistently reflect the diversity of the college as a whole.

“I cannot speak for the other sports, but the experience of the men’s soccer team is that we have historically fielded teams of student-athletes who very closely mirror the student body as a whole in terms of diversity, socio-economically, geographically, and in any other categories by which one might tabulate such things,” he opined. “The common denominator: they must be good soccer players and they must be able to keep up with the rigors of a Swarthmore education.”

Wagner also pointed out that none of the sports named in the NPR piece as skewed towards higher-income students are offered at the varsity level at the college. These were, in the order listed in the article, crew/rowing, sailing, diving, squash, fencing, gymnastics, rugby, skiing, and water polo.

Setting their relation to admissions accessibility aside, Bock pointed out the value that varsity athletics bring to the college.

“Engagement in a rigorous varsity program or club sport or intramurals promotes teamwork, collaboration, problem solving, and can help a student achieve a healthy balance when facing the rigors of a Swarthmore education,” he explained. “The benefits of team sports have been shown to be substantial.”

This description fit with Phalen’s experience as a varsity athlete.

“Almost every athlete I know says they love their team and playing their sport even though it’s so time-consuming and exhausting. I think athletics is very valuable to those who are a part of its community.”


Smaller, but more diverse applicant group for class of 2020

in Around Campus/News by

The 2014 application season yielded an applicant pool only slightly smaller than last year’s record number of applications. In addition, the application pool continues to diversify. To date, 7737 applications have been submitted, a less than two percent decrease from last year’s record of 7785. Over 600 applicants applied through the Early Decision process, a record for the college. In recent years an average of only 550 Early Decision applications were filed.

Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 remarked that only minor changes to the application occurred this year but did note a noticeable increase in the economic and international diversity of the class.

“There are more first generation students in the application pool this year versus last [year] and slightly more international students,” Bock said in an email. “We did yield 11 QB[Quest Bridge] Match students this year through Fall Early decision versus six last year.” For the first time the college also held two DiscoSwat weekends, an all-expenses-paid overnight program for high-achieving high school seniors to visit campus, instead of one.

Bock also pointed out that a high number of students continue to request consideration for financial aid.

“Both last year and this year about 75% of applicants have requested to be considered for our need-based aid.”

The college dropped the requirement for SAT subject tests and for the writing portion of the SAT and ACT. Now the college only recommends SAT math subject tests for prospective engineering majors.

The college has gained positive press over the past year and continues to do well in college rankings systems.. The inauguration of Valerie Smith, the college’s first president of color, in October and the college’s rescinding of Bill Cosby’s honorary degree in December were both widely reported in the local press. In addition, the New York Times profiled 17-year-old chess prodigy Alice Dong in January who will be attending Swarthmore in the fall. Swarthmore ranked number seven on Forbes’ Top Colleges of 2015 and third in U.S. News and World Report’s National Liberal Arts College ranking.

Applicants emphasized that the atmosphere was a primary reason for picking the school.

“I picked Swarthmore because I wanted a school where learning was more important than any one discipline or career path,” said Shreya Chattopadhyay ’20. “It stood out to me because it didn’t have a snobby atmosphere like some other schools I visited, and seemed to be a place where people genuinely care about things.”

“What stood out the most was the fact that there’s no dean’s list, GPA, or ranking at Swat. I’m hoping to find a cohesive and comfortable campus environment where students are more focused on competing with themselves rather than those around them.” said Shayla Smith ’20.

Smith, a student who applied through the Questbridge program, also gave her thoughts on the effectiveness of the college’s efforts to reach out to students from underrepresented groups.

“I loved how Swat only required a conversion form for my QuestBridge application and how I could send my financial documents through e-mail. The financial aid officers were also easy to contact over the phone and were happy to answer all of my questions. All of these factors made applying to Swarthmore less stressful. The e-mails and booklets I received in the mail also helped me learn about Swat,” said Smith in an email.

Smith did think that the college should attempt to raise its profile nationally.

“I would suggest [that Swarthmore] send more information to high schools. After I announced having been accepted to Swarthmore, neither my guidance counselor nor my principal, a Pennsylvanian himself, had ever heard of the school.”

According to data from the institutional research section of Swarthmore’s website, the total number of applications to Swarthmore nearly doubled in the last fifteen years. The only major decrease occurred in 2014 which corresponded to a decrease in applications to other elite liberal arts colleges. The consistent number of applications in the last two years suggests that a 12% acceptance rate will be the new norm for the college, down from around 20% only a few years ago. The admissions staff will continue to have a broader and more competitive pool from which to build classes at the college. It remains to be seen if the college’s recent emphasis on access will actually result in classes that are increasingly racially and economically diverse.


Undocumented students struggle despite need blind financial aid process

in News by

Late last fall, just weeks before the first round of Early Decision admissions results were released to the class of 2019, the college made a drastic change to its admissions policy by deciding to review the applications of undocumented students in the domestic pool of applicants on a need-blind basis. Prior to this change in policy, undocumented applicants had been reviewed in the need-aware, international pool, where — though they had attended at least high school in the US — they competed with students from around the world for a more limited supply of need-based financial aid. Despite the magnitude of this policy change, one year later, the college has still done little to make this new policy publicly known. As increased financial accessibility drastically expands the number of undocumented students able to apply to the college, the muted nature of the admissions office’s announcement appears surprisingly furtive to some, perhaps indicating that the college may still be unprepared to handle the challenges of coordinating a full collegiate experience for individuals without documentation.

“This new policy is so great, so I honestly don’t know why Swarthmore hasn’t been more vocal in its policy changes,” said Miguel Gutierrez ’18. “Maybe they don’t want too many apps flooding into the application system, but at the same time they would get more competitive students. Maybe they don’t want too many students too quickly because they don’t know how to adapt to their needs.”

For Gutierrez, who applied to the college in 2013 and was thus reviewed in the international pool, making sense of the admissions process as an undocumented student was incredibly challenging. He explained that he relied almost exclusively on informal networks and admissions support groups for minority students in order to understand each school’s specific stance towards undocumented applicants, including Swarthmore’s.

“I was mostly navigating the process by myself,” Gutierrez said. “The people who were finding resources and communicating them made it easier. Knowing the right people and having the right resources is huge. It gives you a voice… The policy changes do not make it easier for undocumented students when Swarthmore isn’t vocalizing them.”

While the college recently added a page titled “Swarthmore College Policy on Undocumented Students” to the “Admissions and Aid” page on its website, Gutierrez explained that undocumented students are often hesitant to ask for admissions information given their desire to not disclose their citizenship status. Thus, if a college or university does not explicitly advertise its policies, such students are left largely uninformed of potential post-secondary opportunities.

In response to the lack of visibility surrounding the college’s changes to its admissions policies, many current undocumented students at the college have taken it upon themselves to inform their peers. After hearing last April that the college had officially changed its policies, Maria Castañeda ’18 explained that she used a Facebook page for students using the admissions access program QuestBridge to share the news.

“On that page there are a lot of undocumented students, and they’ll ask what schools will take them,” Castañeda said. “So now that I know that Swarthmore has changed its policy, I’ve been spreading the word to every undocumented student that shows up on the feed. At first nobody believed me because they said they hadn’t heard anything about it.”

Castañeda explained that given the uncertainty that already permeates the experience of being undocumented, the lack of publicity surrounding the policy change was frustrating, serving only to exacerbate the extent to which undocumented students feel left to their own devices to navigate the complexities of their citizenship status.

“This is a really difficult issue, and part of the reason it wasn’t written about was because no one asked,” said Wes Willison ’12, who worked as an admissions counselor at the college from 2012 until this past June. “This was something we had been talking about for a long time, but there is just a huge amount of complexity… Most people would look at admissions as people who control everything, but we just don’t. There are vast affiliations, connections, and politics that go into how decisions are made.”

Jim Bock ’90, Vice President and Dean of Admissions, agreed, explaining that perhaps the most significant motivating factor behind the college’s amendment to its policy was a change in federal immigration legislation – known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – which was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on June 15, 2012.

Under DACA, eligible childhood arrivals may receive prosecutorial discretion, preventing their forced removal from the US for a period of two years, subject to renewal. While DACA status does not provide lawful status, it does provide work eligibility, a social security number, the ability to apply for a credit card, and, in some states, the ability to apply for a driver’s license. Most importantly in regards to the college admissions process, any individual who is currently in school, has graduated from high school, or has obtained a GED certificate is eligible for DACA.

“This allows students to stay in the US without fear of deportation, and many of these deserving students might qualify for a Swarthmore education,” Bock said. “… Historically, undocumented students were considered in the ‘need aware’ pool with other international students requesting need-based aid, essentially competing for funds set aside for international students with need. Starting with the Class of 2019, undocumented and DACA students are reviewed in the domestic pool of applicants on a need-blind basis.”

Now that these qualified undocumented applicants are able to apply into the “need-blind” pool, they are eligible for significant benefits both in terms of financial outcomes and rates of admittance. While the college is able to provide need-blind financial aid to all domestic students, there are limited funds available for international students requiring financial support, thus increasing the level of competition for those most in need of aid.

“It didn’t matter what your best efforts as a reader would be because the space was just so slim,” Willison explained. “This year it was different. They were actually read next to all of the other American students. In the admissions process, that’s a big difference.”

For Castañeda — who like Gutierrez applied to the college in 2013 prior to the policy change — this increased level of competition was a daunting prospect because it felt as though her chances of admission were automatically diminished.

“The big problem is that if they looked at you on a need-aware basis, and if you couldn’t pay for it, you wouldn’t get in, regardless of how talented of a student you are,” Castañeda said. “I didn’t feel like I actually stood a chance. Instead I kind of felt the odds already being against me from the start.”

In addition to a higher level of competition, however, evaluation in the international pool also presented a number of financial challenges for undocumented applicants. In Castañeda’s case, despite having lived in the US since she was three years old, her “international” status in the admissions process rendered her ineligible to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and thus solely reliant on the College Scholarship Service profile provided by the College Board.

“That was complicated because my parents work under the table, so I had to contact all of the schools that I was applying to and ask what their policies were,” Castañeda said. “It was a really huge hassle… It’s just a complicated thing because it means that only a select group of undocumented students can go to college. You have to be in the top ten percent. Anybody else who doesn’t have the test scores or the grades just kind of falls through the cracks.”

Gutierrez agreed.

“The whole college admissions process made it feel very divisive in that things were already going to be tougher for me,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t have access to a lot of the same opportunities… All throughout the applications process, I was just another college applicant, but I felt like I was going to get treated equally, but under unequal circumstances.”

When Gutierrez and Castañeda applied, the college typically received anywhere between half a dozen and twenty or thirty applications from undocumented students each year. According to Willison, however, following the change in policy last year, more applications were submitted by undocumented students than ever before.

“Last year, we admitted more than we have ever admitted, and we were able to read their applications with more consideration and sincerity and purpose than we had previously,” Willison said. “As predicted, actually yielding those students was hard to come by… With undocumented students it’s tough to say what factors apply in their decision to matriculate. Are they not coming for financial reasons? Are they not coming because their parents don’t want them to leave the area? Are they not coming because they don’t know enough about the college? We’re asking ourselves, ‘How do you find these students and how do you support them on campus? How do you make sure that they are having successful experiences?’”

For undocumented students already at the college, considerations such as these play a significant role not only in their decision to matriculate, but also in their experience throughout their four years at the college. Gutierrez, for example, explained that even as a sophomore, he continued to grapple with the emotional and cultural challenges of being an undocumented student at the college.

“I feel like I spent most of freshman year adapting culturally and getting used to the change, and I’m still in the process of getting into that mindset of seeking out what opportunities I have and how to deal with the undocumented status that I have,” Gutierrez said. “It’s more like growing social capital first. That kind of undocumented culture doesn’t really exist here. People don’t talk about it. There’s not many people to relate to because it’s such a special circumstance. Even though we have here like cultural groups like Enlace, for example, my bonds to Mexico are stronger than most people that I know.”

Castañeda agreed, explaining that she was interested in forming a support group for undocumented students on campus, but has found it difficult given a lack of consistent administrative support and issues of confidentiality.

“When Dean Lili [Rodriguez] and Dean [Amer] Ahmed were here, they were really big supports for me, and I suggested that they just give my name and my email to the undocumented students on campus, so they could reach out to me, but then Dean Lili and Dean Ahmed left, and that never happened,” Castañeda explained. “It’s just because of confidentiality, I’m not allowed to know who is undocumented. It’s weird because you hear on the national scale the expression ‘living in the shadows,’ and then here it’s still very quiet.”

Willison also expressed concern over the effects of the high rates of administrative turnover at the college among the individuals most responsible for handling the concerns of undocumented students.

“I still have trepidations about how this looks for student health,” Willison explained. “Four years on a campus where you have had two or three administrators who are supposed to be helping you through is hard. You’re not from around here. You’re financially teetering on the edge of chaos. It’s a big deal.”

One area in which a lack of administrative preparedness has been particularly pronounced is in regards to study abroad. While both Castañeda and Gutierrez want to study abroad, they have found that there are few institutional frameworks in place to accommodate them. In order to re-enter the US after their period of study, undocumented students with DACA status must apply for Advanced Parole travel documents, which allow them to leave the country without lawful citizenship status and return after a designated period of time. The application is incredibly complex, takes months to get approved, and costs $365 in addition to the $500 biannual cost of DACA status renewal. Even with Advanced Parole travel documents, re-entry is not guaranteed and may be withheld by a US Customs Officer in certain circumstances.

“The regulations are vast,” explained Jennifer Marks-Gold, Director of International Students, who works with undocumented students to understand their financial aid packages and work and study abroad eligibility. “They have hurdles that domestic students can’t even fathom. If somebody wants to go abroad, they have to plan way in advance. It takes forever and it’s not guaranteed. It’s definitely a hardship for undocumented students.”

Castañeda explained that such legal and technical challenges involved with negotiating with the Department of Homeland Security are only exacerbated by the college administration’s lack of preparedness with these issues.

“I went to one of the study abroad information sessions, and afterwards I went up to some of the presenters, and I said ‘Have you guys ever dealt with undocumented students trying to go abroad?’ and she said, ‘Oh it’s funny you should ask that because we were just talking about how we were totally not ready to deal with this,’” Castañeda explained. “I’ve had to fill them in on what Advanced Parole is and how I can go abroad and come back — but once I told them the process, they were able to explain to me the places they could help me. It’s not like they don’t want to help, it’s just that they don’t know how yet because I’m one of the first. This option to study abroad didn’t even happen until three years ago with DACA.”

While Castañeda has actively pushed the administration for resources and information, Gutierrez has tried to navigate the process of college life and study abroad mostly on his own. He explained that aside from Castañeda, he does not feel as though many at the college can really understand his experiences as an undocumented student.

“The biggest challenge — especially moving here from Phoenix, Arizona — is that you have all the citizens there who are Mexican or of Mexican descent, and it feels like a safety net because in Phoenix there are lawyers aware of the immigration process,” Gutierrez said. “Here at Swarthmore, there isn’t that type of legal support. I’ve pretty much done it on my own… For example, there are a lot of legal complications involved with studying abroad, and although I’ve begun to look for help here, I’ve mostly sought help from home because I know immigration lawyers there who can check all of my information. Swarthmore hasn’t been a big part of the process at all.”

According to Bock, however, as the college looks to expand accessibility to such traditionally underrepresented demographics, more structures will be installed to better accommodate these students. This year, for the first time, undocumented students were able to be open about their citizenship status on the application for Ride the Tide, and recruitment efforts directed specifically towards undocumented students were undertaken in regions with historically large populations of undocumented students such as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California.

“At present, undocumented students have very few options for post-secondary education degrees in the United States… For a long time, counselors and students did not know how to ask about admission to any school without the fear of being exposed,” Bock said. “We are now able to be more public, and we hope more of these deserving and qualified students will consider an application to Swarthmore.”

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