i posted a question about this in the transfer forum, but wanted to get more of a swarthmore perspective on this. i'm a student at upenn, and while i ended up liking it, i sent some transfer applications out after the first semester. i found out last week that i got into harvard and swarthmore.
having been to swarthmore numerous times to visit my girlfriend, i know that i like the campus and the people there a lot. the environment seems really nice. it seems like people work a lot, but have a lot of fun too.
i haven't really ever spent enough time at harvard to form an educated opinion. it's a very good school though, and everyone i've talked to (except my girlfriend) encourages me to go there.
i don't really know what i'm studying yet, but most likely, i will go into either law, medicine, or economics. i don't really know how recognized the swarthmore name is. while i would like to go to a school for the purpose of the education (and i imagine the professors at swarthmore are far more concerned about the undergrad students than at harvard), the future is also important, and i'm not sure how going to harvard versus swarthmore would compare in that regard.
any comments, suggestions, and advice are greatly appreciated.
Harvard's name is renowned - there's not doubt about that. Swarthmore may be well respected, but it shies in comparison to Harvard's reputation.
That being said, here's my advice:
You should figure out which is the more important priority (the immediate and long-term benefits of a solid undergraduate education, or the future benefits of world-renowned recognition).
Before I go any further, I admit that I'm by no means a pro-Harvard guy at all. I'm heading off to Princeton in the fall. I just thought I'd clear that up.
Ok, so once you've figured out what's more important to you - you go from there. I suggest you visit Harvard, if possible, to get a feel for the ambience there.
If you can't make it over there, then I really think you should go to Swarthmore. It already seems like that's where your heart is set! It's often difficult for students to turn down Harvard. It may feel like you're throwing away a treasure. But honestly, for undegrad: Harvard is hardly a gem. Schools like Princeton, Dartmouth, and the big LACs like Williams and Amherst offer a way better undergraduate experience to their students. Harvard students are, unfortunately, unhappy as a whole with their experience. I've read that the professors there (while they may be well-known) are scholars and researchers FIRST and teachers SECOND.
When asked if he could teach an intro to Art History course, one Harvard Professor said something to the effect of, "It is unfitting for a self-respecting scholar to go down to that level." TA's teach many classes and get less than 1/3 of the fully tenured prof's salaries. Again, the profs. are Scholars/Researchers first and teachers second.
You may find that at Swarthmore, this is not the case at all. I almost applied to Swarthmore but I was already applying to several schools so I ended up not applying. But from everything I know about Swarthmore, it truly is a respectable school where the undergraduate student matters - and where s/he graduates with a solid education: prepared for a demanding grad school program. You won't find the same stereotype @ Swarthmore that you will at Harvard with regard to academics. People seem to think that all Harvard kids get a nice diploma and a report card full of A's as soon as they set foot on the campus. You may want to find a more challenging school where the professors will care about you individually.
Think about it carefully. Don't rule Harvard out right away. If you can visit - make every effort to! You may find that you like it there. Maybe it's your type of place. Everyone is different. Just don't let Swarthmore slip through your fingers because of Harvard's name. There are definitely better schools for undergraduate!
i wished to transfer out of penn because i just didn't feel like i fit in there. i wanted my college experience to be a lot of fun, and also meet diverse and interesting people. penn turned out to have a lot of cool people, but for awhile, i just felt alienated. nearly everyone just seemed so preppy and, unfortunately, shallow, though i don't believe that's really the case.
i also wanted to go to a somewhat smaller school, but i don't know about as small as swarthmore. i can't tell if i'd start to feel confined and claustrophobic there.
it is indeed difficult to turn down harvard. i've been told that i'd regret later. i guess it's just that i worked pretty hard in high school, and it would be a place that made it all worth it, because i HAD to do that well to get there.
i just sent a letter to the swarthmore dean. harvard accepted me for spring 07, so i'm going to see if i can attend swarthmore this fall '06, see how i like it, and then decide if i want to go to harvard in the spring.
And by the way - I doubt you would regret turning down Harvard. Keep in mind, Harvard is a SUPERB GRADUATE SCHOOL - but you would not regret turning it down for UNDERGRAD. I think you may have an idea in spring '07.