How to Impress with Your Swarthmore Supplemental Essay 2020-2021

Padya Paramita

How to Impress with Your Swarthmore Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

With an acceptance rate of only 8.8%, Swarthmore College is currently one of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the country. If you’re a creative and hardworking individual with enthusiasm for learning and you thrive when working towards proactive problem solving – you may fit the bill of what this Pennsylvania institution wants in its ideal candidates. Anyone can claim to have these qualities, but you need to do more than that. Convince admissions officers that you and Swarthmore are right for each other by writing a stellar Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021.

You only have to pick between three questions and answer one prompt for the Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021. The school wants to know about a community that’s shaped you, a challenge that has made an impact on you, or why you’ve picked Swarthmore. You need to demonstrate that you’re an intellectually curious and engaged individual and make sure that admissions officers know you’re a strong candidate for one of their coveted 400 spots. To guide you, I’ve outlined the prompt, the dos and don’ts of your response, and more tips to help as you take on the essay-writing process.

Prompts for the The Swarthmore Supplemental Essay 2020-2021 

Please choose ONE of the topics below and write a response (maximum 250 words) 

Prompt 1

Swarthmore students’ worldviews are often forged by their prior experiences and exposure to ideas and values. Our students are often mentored, supported, and developed by their immediate context—in their neighborhoods, communities of faith, families, and classrooms. Reflect on what elements of your home, school, or community have shaped you or positively impacted you. How have you grown or changed because of the influence of your community?

On its website, the school states that it “appreciate[s] students who have had a sustained commitment to service, who express a genuine interest in moving our world forward, and who demonstrate an interest in improving their school or local or cultural community in a collaborative way.” A well written Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021 under this question should focus on giving admissions officers a strong, memorable sense of how you’ve engaged with your local community and where you would contribute to their school.

Think about a group or place that has impacted you - it could be your ethnic or religious community, or it could be a club at school, or an organization outside of school that matters to you. Think about the role you’ve played in the community, how it has shaped your perspective, and how you’d be different without it. The heart of this prompt lies in clarifying the role you have played in this community as well as outlining what you’ve learned that you would later bring to Swarthmore. Were there situations where you had to lead the community? How have the ideas that have come from within the community shaped you? Have there been any changes that you’ve successfully implemented? Since the prompt doesn’t specify whether your engagement with the community should be positive or negative, you can take a nuanced route and talk about both - factors that you love about the community, and issues that you didn’t like and worked to change.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!



Prompt 2

We are inspired by students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone. Reflect on a time that you were intellectually challenged, inspired, or took an intellectual risk—inside or outside of the classroom. How has that experience shaped you, and what questions still linger?

Swarthmore looks for students “who genuinely enjoy learning and are uncommonly curious,” as well as “students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone.” If these descriptions fit you, this is the essay to choose. Since the prompt has stated that your risk could be inside or outside the classroom, you can extend beyond subjects that you’d study at school, and talk about pretty much any idea that has either inspired you to think bigger or has caused you to sit up and engage in lively discussions.

If you’re choosing a time you were intellectually inspired, consider what topics you enjoy thinking about in school or in your extracurriculars. It could be related to sports, theatre, a mathematical equation. A good way to narrow down your options might be to ask yourself, “What can I give a five-minute presentation on right now?” In answering the “how” part of the question, think about how the topic is relevant to you. Do you have a personal connection with the concept? Is there a historical or cultural relevance in the subject that’s beyond what meets the eye? Show the reader your perspective on why everyone should pay attention.

If you’re talking about a challenge, make sure it’s clear why this was a challenging issue. Common everyday problems like a failed math test or a big dance competition aren’t enough to impress Swarthmore admissions officers. Your essay should be as specific as possible and go into details of how the experience shaped you in order to portray you as a person who is determined and curious.

Prompt 3

Why are you interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore?

Any “why have you chosen our school” essay requires plenty of research on the institution. One with a 250-word limit will require even more detailed and specific knowledge, not only about what makes Swarthmore special, but what makes the college stand out to you specifically. Since the Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021 is meant to enhance your application, admissions officers don’t want to read about how the campus is beautiful, or that the Computer Science program is great. These are general ideas that pretty much anyone can present, and admissions officers already know what the campus looks like - they work there! The reader is looking for how your specific interests and goals can benefit from an education at Swarthmore College. With less than a page to really drive your commitment home, you shouldn’t waste words!

Browse the website and Swarthmore’s social media pages to see how courses, clubs, or study abroad programs align with your passions. In order to answer such a prompt, you need to narrow down one - maybe a maximum of two - factors that call out to you the most about the idea of being a Swattie. (Yes, that’s a thing). Instead of discussing academics as a whole, talk about why Swarthmore is the best place to explore your chosen major. Is there a particular way their liberal arts approach would allow you to combine your intellectual pursuits that other universities won’t? Add an extracurricular club at Swarthmore that has grabbed your attention. While you can write one or two lines on how the activity has impacted your life thus far, the main focus should be on how you plan to participate in it once at Swarthmore, and how Swarthmore’s approach to the experience uniquely stands out to you.

You should use anecdotes to really highlight your interest in Swarthmore. For example, if a course stood out from a campus visit, or an interesting student blog while browsing the website grabbed your attention - write it down. Remember, admissions officers want to know if your interest in the school is authentic and well-informed. Providing concrete examples of how Swarthmore appeals to you is an effective way of conveying your commitment. 

Additional Tips for the Swarthmore supplemental essays 2020-2021

As you brainstorm your response to the prompt, think about the tips below to enhance the quality of your essay:

  • Cut unnecessary words - While a 250-word limit isn’t as restricted as other short prompts you might have written for other schools on your list, it’s not extremely generous either. You need to make sure that your response is completely focused. When you’re sitting down to edit, ask yourself whether each of your sentences could apply to any other school, or if they’re each adding new information about you. If your lines are too generic, and you could easily pass your essay off to another college, then you’re doing it wrong. Make sure you only keep material which can help admissions officers confidently want to put your file in the pile of accepted students.
  • Remember what you’ve said in the rest of your application - Supplemental essays must strike a perfect balance between providing new information about yourself that doesn’t appear in the rest of your application and making sure what you’ve written makes sense alongside the other components of your file. First of all, don’t repeat your personal statement or activities list or anything else the reader might already know from the Common App. Second, check whether your Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021 aligns with your choice of major, future plans, and your activities list. If your course load and activities suggest that you’re a STEM-focused student and hope to work in a science field, admissions officers will be confused if you say you want to attend Swarthmore for the Gender Studies department!
  • Keep what you’ve researched in mind - We cannot emphasize this enough - research is key for every supplemental essay! Ensure that the details you include are specific not just to any top student, but to you. Whichever prompt you choose, make sure you’ve conveyed how your interests or ideas have developed and what you can bring to the table that no other candidate can. 


Take advantage of the Swarthmore supplemental essay 2020-2021 to dive deeper into the unique opportunities that appeal to you the most about Swarthmore, discuss a community that has left a massive impact on you, or elaborate on your intellectual interests. With a strong response in the bag, you’ll hopefully get one step closer to making the cut. Good luck!

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