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.