Perceptions of Swat: College Confidential

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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