Discover Swarthmore, or DiscoSwat, is an all-expense-paid visit to campus that serves as the primary college access outreach program run by the college. Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 4, the campus was home to over 100 high school seniors, who had been invited by the admissions office to partake in this semester’s second session of Discover Swarthmore.
According to the office of admissions, this highly competitive program received over 2,200 applications this year for both sessions, out of which only 250 applicants were selected, making its acceptance rate a little over 11 percent. Out of the students invited, 205 attended the program. To be considered for selection, students have to be nominated by school counsellors or college access organization advisors, after which they are invited by the College to complete an application. Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 commented via email about how the selection process for DiscoSwat differs from the college admissions process.
“Our Discover Swarthmore selection process prioritizes students from traditionally underrepresented groups, students who are the first in their family to attend college, and students from low-income backgrounds or who might not otherwise be able to afford a trip to campus,” said Bock.
However, the admissions office also specified that an invitation to DiscoSwat is in no way an offer of admission to the college, as the actual college application is far more comprehensive than the one required for DiscoSwat. Actual college applications are also viewed in the context of a far larger applicant pool, often with different criteria in mind. There have been cases of students who haven’t been invited to DiscoSwat, only to ultimately get into the college. Even so, being selected for the program does have its benefits.
“An invitation to Discover Swarthmore is not an offer of admission to the College, but based on preliminary information, we anticipate Discover Swarthmore students to be competitive if they choose to apply,” said Bock.
As part of the program, students get to attend classes, eat at Sharples, talk to professors and students, and generally experience what it means to be a Swattie for 72 hours. The program is also deeply beneficial to Admissions. It is through this program that they identify students who would be a good fit for the college who are first in their family to attend college or are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Each student nominated for DiscoSwat is sent information regarding the program as well as information about the college, such as need-based financial aid and what makes Swarthmore different from other institutions. However, the admissions office feels that the biggest benefit is familiarizing the liberal arts for people who might not have been exposed to them.
One of the most integral parts of DiscoSwat is hosting. Each prospective student, colloquially referred to as a spec — short for prospective student — is matched up with a current student with whom they stay during DiscoSwat. This allows the spec to build a relationship with an individual who understands the school and can serve as a resource not only for the duration of the program, but also during the application process in general.
“I love hosting specs because explaining to them how much I love Swarthmore makes me fall in love with it all over again. It also helps prospective students figure out if this is the right school for them,” said Ruth Elias ’20.
Hosts are trained extensively by Danny Wittels, an assistant dean of admissions, who was not authorized to comment publicly on behalf of the office of admissions. According to Henry Han ’20, the training covers the basics required to make sure that the specs on campus have a safe, inclusive, enjoyable visit on campus. Hosts are also paid for an hour of work for each student and each day that they are hosting.
Liz Braun, in her capacity as dean of students, also sends out an email before DiscoSwat reminding students to be mindful of the minors on campus. In her campus-wide email, she stresses providing a legally sound program for the high-schoolers, reminding students that specs are not allowed access to alcoholic beverages or events with alcohol. No party permits were handed out for the duration of DiscoSwat, with even PubNite being cancelled for the week.
“If any prospective students are found to be drinking their application to the college will be in serious jeopardy, so please do not let anyone be put in this position,” said Dean Braun.
While the office of admissions takes steps make the experience enjoyable so that the prospective students submit applications for admissions, it is interesting to note the views of a DiscoSwat alum and current Swattie Tiye Pulley ’19 on how the program contributes to the narrative of diversity on this campus.
In an op-ed published in November 2015 titled “DiscoSwat or DiscoNot,” Pulley wrote the program serves as a “self-congratulatory pat on the back for the school” for their efforts to bring POC and other underrepresented groups in higher education to the college. He wrote that while he believes DiscoSwat is a noble effort, it can be misleading for DiscoSwat students who are then accepted to the college and choose to matriculate from here, as over “43% of the students here identify as white.” The article sheds light on what it is like to attend Swarthmore as a student as opposed to as a spec.
However, it is certain that DiscoSwat serves as a resource both to applicants as well as the admissions office in educating people about Swarthmore while ensuring that as many people as possible in the incoming classes are a good fit for the College.