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DiscoSwat provides exposure to classes, campus life

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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.

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.

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