Last week, high school seniors interested in applying to Swarthmore arrived on campus for the 25th annual Discover Swarthmore. Prospective applicants roomed with current students, sat in on and participated in classes, attended campus events, and interacted with the broader Swarthmore community from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28. The same as the previous session, which ran from Sep. 28 to Sep. 30, the October session of Discover Swarthmore is an “all-expenses-paid overnight fly-in program” for “high-achieving high school seniors,” with preference given to first-generation low-income (FLI) students.
Discover Swarthmore is hosted each fall by the Admissions Office. Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock ’90 described how the program has evolved over the years, emphasizing that it presents an opportunity for students to visit Swarthmore without the financial burden of doing so.
“We restructured our traditional fall open house to become an all-expenses-paid fly-in program for underserved and underrepresented students,” Bock wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “There used to be just one program over a weekend, and today it has expanded to be held on two different weeks, making it available for more students to participate.”
Bock said that while not all Discover Swarthmore students matriculate, attendees typically share information about Swarthmore with other potential students.
“We bring [around] 110-150 students over both programs and yield a good percentage of attendees. Many attendees will share their experiences with friends who add us to their college lists and apply, are admitted, and matriculate,” he wrote.
In an interview with The Phoenix, October attendees Maimunatu Bakie and Ahmed Sulieman described how their expectations of Swarthmore’s community were not only met, but surpassed during their time here on campus.
“Everyone was really welcoming, especially my roommate and her friends,” Bakie said. “When I got lost, everyone was down to give me in-depth answers. [During the SGO Laser Tag Event], we met a group of freshmen, so we played hide and seek while playing laser tag and that was really fun. I was expecting stuck-up people, not gonna lie. But everyone being so welcoming shut that down really quick.”
Sulieman expressed a similar perspective. “I felt like I was going to have fun but I didn’t think I was gonna have this much fun. It’s so crazy,” he said.
Attendees of the program also found that their time on campus helped them determine their fit with Swarthmore. Evan Conge, who participated in this year’s September session, recounted his interactions with students and faculty for The Phoenix, emphasizing the kindness and honesty of the Swarthmore community.
“[Swarthmore students are] willing to talk about their considerations about other colleges and the professors love Swarthmore, but they want the best education for you,” Conge said. “So they’re not afraid of [saying] if they think I should look into a different school, maybe for my interests. I like that. They’re pretty transparent about that.”
When asked how his opinions of Swarthmore have changed as a result, Conge replied, “I talked to someone who’s majoring in engineering, and he gave me a very realistic view of it … [and] I don’t know if this is a fit for what my pursuits are in terms of what I want for my career and … my education. I love liberal arts, but I do want to go into the engineering field and it is just that type of field [that is hard to put] the liberal arts into.”
He added, “That engineering major that I talked to definitely put into perspective [what] coming to Swarthmore might be like afterward, and it is making me rethink, what do I really want?”
Aside from interacting with students, faculty, and the larger Swarthmore community, Discover Swarthmore participants are given the opportunity to acclimate to a dormitory environment during their time on campus. Sulieman, who stayed in Willets Hall, was originally supposed to stay in his host’s room with two other Discover Swarthmore participants. He expressed issues with the lack of space during his visit.
“It doesn’t feel like [the room] has a lot of space. If I had roommates, it would have been so cramped … I do think because it’s a freshman dorm, [it] might not be as good as other dorms,” Sulieman said.
Despite his issues with the lack of space, Sulieman added that the Discover Swarthmore programming kept him busy and out of Willets for the majority of his visit.
“I was at [Willets] for two or three hours this whole trip. And then the other 48 hours or so have been [spent at] other places, [so it] doesn’t play a really big [role] for me,” he shared.
Bakie, who stayed in Wharton Hall, discussed how being unfamiliar with the dorm environment affected her stay early on. “[My host] had forgotten to tell me how to use the showers. So I was in there for half an hour trying to figure out how to turn the water on,” she said.
Despite these early difficulties, Bakie showed appreciation for the quiet and comfortable atmosphere at Wharton Hall. She stated, “Everyone minds their business. I will see [people] in the hall and they will look the other way. And like I can say hi to [people], but I don’t have to.”
Increased construction, although now familiar to the current student body, also impacted Discover Swarthmore participants’ experiences on campus. When asked about whether or not the construction on campus would affect their decisions to come to Swarthmore, Bakie and Sulieman both agreed that while prohibitive, construction ultimately would not affect their decision to apply.
“Yeah, it is harder not being able to [see] the view because the construction can block that a little bit, but it’s also reassuring that you [can] see that the college is working to do stuff, and [that] they do things for the students,” said Sulieman.
Khoa Trinh, another attendee of Discover Swarthmore’s October session, said he and his fellow cohort members also became confused when navigating campus.
“I [used] Google Maps and it led me to some weird trails [that I thought were] the right way,” Trinh said. “I walked in and I [saw] ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, so I turned around. It just takes longer for you to go to places and it’s more confusing.”
Some Discover Swarthmore participants expressed frustration at the travel limitations placed upon them during their time on campus. Discover Swarthmore restricted students from visiting Philadelphia during their visit.
“[What] got me excited to go to Swarthmore was that I believed that we could visit Philadelphia,” Trinh said. “I was kind of sad when we were told we couldn’t, since Philadelphia is such a big city with a lot of amazing food and networking opportunities. If I was able to get a glimpse of that through Discover Swarthmore, then it would have made Swarthmore better in my eyes.”
Although they weren’t able to visit Philadelphia, both participants and hosts alike expressed an overall appreciation for the program. Kyler Sy ’27, who hosted a student alongside his roommate during September’s Discover Swarthmore session, discussed how gratifying it felt to interact with a prospective applicant.
“I was very removed from the Discover Swarthmore program [before becoming a Swarthmore student] because I knew about the school late [in the admissions process], so it was very eye-opening seeing seniors discover the school and have clear intentions on what they want to study here. It gives me faith in the next batch of Swarthmore students,” Sy said.
When asked what his favorite part of being a host was, Sy replied, “Just talking [with my Discover Swarthmore student] about how excited he is to come to the school. You can tell he researched the programs here. [I felt] like a proud older brother.”
Bock cited the program’s scavenger hunt as his favorite part of this year’s Discover Swarthmore.
“I marveled at the friendly competition among the students to ‘discover’ Swarthmore traditions like the McCabe Mile, the Pterodactyl Hunt, Crum Regatta, among others,” he wrote. “This activity required our guests having to meet and engage with other Swatties to find the answers.”
Some Discover Swarthmore attendees and hosts believe there to be room for improvement for next year’s program. Conge, when asked what feedback he had, replied that he hopes for more geographical diversity in future cohorts.
“It seems like there’s a big chunk from bigger cities [in the September 2023 cohort]. And there [are] one or two [people] from rural areas … I think if their goal is to try to provide an opportunity for people who might not normally have that, it would make more sense [to invite] people who come from [less populated] states,” he said.
Similarly, Sy pointed out that there can be a more targeted process to match participants and hosts.
“If [participants and hosts] had shared majors or interests, that would definitely benefit [the program]. I think what they could do in the future is [have the participants] write a bit about [themselves] and then match students like that.”
Bock appreciates how Discover Swarthmore has grown over the years, emphasizing how the program spurs interaction between the Swarthmore community and prospective students.
“I love the faculty panel and hearing about what makes Swarthmore so special to them and hearing them share that with our prospective students. The program helps support our mission of mitigating barriers and promoting access to a residential liberal arts education, and all of those students who are nominated and apply receive an application fee waiver,” Bock shared.