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Brown v. Swarthmore

lfsclfsc Registered User Posts: 58 Junior Member
edited July 2008 in Brown University
Can you all discuss? I'm in at Brown, but have just been offered a spot off the Swarthmore waitlist. Major criteria:

-available opportunities in terms of classes, research, extracurriculars, etc.
-strength of political science department
-"intellectual" atmosphere (for a long time, my clear first choice was UChicago for that "life of the mind" thing)

Post edited by lfsc on

Replies to: Brown v. Swarthmore

  • glassesarechicglassesarechic Registered User Posts: 5,487 Senior Member
    Intellectually/academically, I think the biggest thing to consider is distribution requirements vs. the open curriculum. I'm curious as to how you moved from UChic's core to Brown's open curriculum--did you discover you wanted more course freedom, or was that not even a major part of your decision? Stereotypically, Brown's open curriculum lends its student body a more laid-back atmosphere while Swarthmore is more hard-core about academics. (I've heard people say that the hardest thing about Brown is getting in, but others vehemently oppose that view, so pass/fail and the open curriculum may or may not make Brown less "academic" than its peers.) Brown seems hipster; Swarthmore appears activist.

    As far as political science, I'm not terribly well-versed in those departments. However, you may want to consider the availability of internships in the surrounding area (Providence vs. Philly)

    Both schools have a noticeable undergrad focus; however, Swarthmore is going to feel a lot more intimate. You'll see the same people in classes again and again, while Brown will have more people. Brown will have more classes and opportunities for research, if only because it's a university and not a LAC. It'll also have a lot more extracurriculars because there are more people to draw into clubs. However, it seems that Swarthmore's a pretty active campus in terms of extracurriculars, so while you might not have the same volume of clubs/sports/etc., there'll be a lot interest in the ones who exist.

    Ultimately, I think Swarthmore's more "life of the mind" than Brown. However, both are awesome places to be. If you've visited, you may feel more at home in a LAC than a university; you may not. Otherwise, you'll have to judge based on the tangible things: curriculum structure, location, size, etc. Both are great schools, so good luck in your decision!
  • unaloveunalove Registered User Posts: 3,725 Senior Member
    I think of Brown and Swarthmore as sibling schools to Chicago. All three schools are distinct from each other, but I think they share a lot of similar students. As my dad likes to say, all three are "Kool-Aid" schools: you either buy into the educational and social philosophy or you don't.

    glassesarechic: My impression is a lot of students go through a Brown/Chicago process. For the ideal Chicago student, the core stands in for classes the student would choose to take anyway, so the classes he or she "has" to take are not burdensome. (That's how I made the choice to go to a "core" school: I knew that even with an open curriculum, I wanted to take these classes anyway, and the bonus of having a core was that everybody was taking similar classes along with me).

    But that's a total aside to the issue of Brown vs. Swarthmore. Personally, I think I'd like Swat more than I'd like Brown because I like the emphasis on academics, the campus, the people I know there, and the toned-down party scene, but I don't think my opinion counts for all that much here.
  • AndHangMyZenAndHangMyZen Registered User Posts: 5 New Member
    i actually had the same situation: i was accepted to both Brown and Swarthmore. I was leaning slightly to brown at first because of the very non-competitive/laid back atmosphere and the open curriculum (thank god ill never take math again!).

    I visited both, really really dug brown, thought the people were really chill and loved the laid back atmosphere. i visited swarthmore the next day, stayed there the night, and i found all the kids there really really really nerdy and antisocial. im absolutely sure thats just a short sampling, but swarthmore seriously seemed too focused on studying, and all the kids were really weird. couldnt really stand it.

    i think brown chicago and swarthmore all try to accomplish a similar goal, that is, learning for the sake of learning. they just go about it in opposite ways
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    Two data points for your consideration:

    1) Swarthmore's per student endowment is three times larger than Brown's. Larger endowment means more money for all kinds of "stuff".

    2) Swarthmore is the number one school in percentage of graduates getting a PhD in Political Science in the United States. Also number one in Econ. Also number one in Social Sciences overall. Number three in total PhDs behind CalTech and Harvey Mudd.

    Both Brown and Swarthmore are great schools. Hard to go wrong. If you want to challenge yourself academically, like Tiger Woods enjoying a hard golf course, Swarthmore's probably the more demanding layout.
  • dcircledcircle Registered User Posts: 1,846 Senior Member
    i love swarthmore, but in the interest of objectivity

    1. swarthmore does have a large per student endowment, but it also has very few students and a mission that requires more endowment draw (they have less grant funding, direct-use gifts, etc).

    2. the PhD data is likely true but one has to be careful interpreting it because of the obvious self-selection bias. one (unverified) way to interpret it might be that brown political science concentrators are more diverse--pursuing doctoral programs as well as medical school, law school, immediate public service, and other options. another, is that those who to pursue PhD's at Brown, on average, get into better schools.

    if you are interested in an academic career (getting a PhD) after college, there will be little difference in opportunity between swarthmore and brown. at the top programs, brown may have an edge because the presence of graduate students allows their political science department to maintain a more robust research enterprise and retain more reknown faculty.

    3. neither school is necessary more challenging. it will be what you make of it
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    1. swarthmore does have a large per student endowment, but it also has very few students and a mission that requires more endowment draw (they have less grant funding, direct-use gifts, etc).

    I don't believe that's true. Swarthmore actually has a very low endowment draw -- they target an average of 4.75% of endowment in spending just under $80,000 per student per year (not including financial aid). Of course, being much larger, Brown has some economies of scale that make up for spending less per student per year.
    2. the PhD data is likely true but one has to be careful interpreting it because of the obvious self-selection bias. one (unverified) way to interpret it might be that brown political science concentrators are more diverse--pursuing doctoral programs as well as medical school, law school, immediate public service, and other options. another, is that those who to pursue PhD's at Brown, on average, get into better schools.

    I would be surprised. Heres' the list of immediate post-grad plans for Swat poli sci majors. This isn't complete, this is just those who knew what they were doing and filled out the questionairre before graduation:
    • Legal Assistant, Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, New York City, NY
    • Teacher, Teach for America, Raleigh, NC Legal Assistant, Sanford, Wittels & Heisler, LLP, Washington, DC
    • Teacher, Teach for America, (in or near) Gallup, NM
    • Teaching in Jerusalem and joining the Peace Corps Teacher, Teach for America, New Haven, CT Legislative Correspondent, Senator Dodd's Office, Washington, DC
    • Research Analyst, Cannondale Associates, Wilton
    • Teacher, Veritas Preparatory Academy, Phoenix, AZ
    • Parliamentary Intern, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, QC, KHM
    • Marketing Associate, Advisory Board Company, Washington DC, DC
    • Research Analyst, Fannie Mae, Washington, DC
    • reporter/journalist
    • Community Rebuilding Intern, NeighborWorks America, Washington, DC
    • Paralegal Specialist, US DOJ, Criminal Division, International Affairs, Washington DC
    • Clerk, Morristown Running Company, Morristown, NJ
    • Paralegal, Federal Trade Comission, Washington DC, DC
    • Research Coordinator, UPenn, Philadelphia, PA
    • Financial Analyst, Nikko Citigroup, Tokyo, JPN
    • Paralegal/Associate, Baker&McKenzie, Chicago, IL
    • Business Analyst, McKinsey and Company, New York, NY
    • Astronaut, NASA, New York City, NY
    • President, Genocide Intervention Fund, Washington, DC
    • Assistant d'Anglais/ Research Assistant, Paris, FRA
    Post-Graduation Plans by Major
    • Editor, Clear Admit, Philadelphia, PA
    • Library Associate, The Swarthmore College Library, Swarthmore, PA
    • International Database Coordinator, Aids Healthcare Foundation, San Francisco, CA
    • Marshal's Aide, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, DC
    • Political Organizer, Industrial Areas Foundation, Tuscon, AZ
    • Paralegal, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC
    • Assistant Canvass Director, Grassroots Campaigns
    • Program Assistant Intern, Quaker United Nations Office, New York
    • Consultant, Ernst & Young LLP, Washington DC
    • Research Analyst, Suss Consultin, Jenkintown, PA
    • Regional Director, Moving America Forward, Santa FE, NM
    • Research Associate, Council on Foreign Relations, Asia Department, New York, NY
    • Research Assistant, Columbia University, New York, NY
    • Business Analyst, Deloitte Consulting Group, Philadelphia
    • Canvasing Director, Democratic National Committee
    • Financial Analyst, Goldman Sachs, New York, NY
    Graduate/Professional School
    • J.D., Law, Yale Law School, CT
    • JD, University of Pennsylvania Law School
    • Masters of Social Work, Social Work, University of Michigan, MI
    • MA, International Relations, University of Chicago, IL
    • JD, Law , Harvard University
    • non-degree, Center for Arabic Study Abroad, American University in Cairo, EGY
    • JD, Law, Vanderbilt Law , TN
    • M.A., Strategic Studi & Intr'na Econ, J.Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, DC
    • M.Sc, Comparative Social Policy, Oxford University, GBR
    • PhD, Government (Political Science), Harvard University, MA
    • AAS, Advertising and Marketing, Fashion Institute of Technology, NY
    • J.D., Law School, Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley), CA
    • J.D., Law, Harvard Law School, MA
    • J.D., Law School, University of Michigan, MI
    • Masters, Economic History, London School of Economics, ENG
    • J.D., Harvard Law School, MA
    • Studying/working in Morocco/Israel
    • Fulbright in Cyprus
    • Look for jobs
    • Internship (which will hopefully become a job)
    • Student teaching in the fall, teaching afterwards
    • Teach English in China
    • Internship in Sierra Leone
    • Around the world
    • Arabic study in Cairo
    if you are interested in an academic career (getting a PhD) after college, there will be little difference in opportunity between swarthmore and brown. at the top programs, brown may have an edge because the presence of graduate students allows their political science department to maintain a more robust research enterprise and retain more reknown faculty.

    Actually Swarthmore probably has a slight edge because of its reknowned honors program. However, I agree with your basic premise...any given student entering Brown or Swarthmore or any other top school will have the equal potential to go anywhere and do anything.
    3. neither school is necessary more challenging. it will be what you make of it

    I think that, on average, Swarthmore is more demanding simply because that's the culture of the school. The ony people who go there are "golfers" who want to "play a really hard course", so to speak. But, I totally agree that either school can be equally demanding depending on what the student makes of it.

    I don't think the poster can go wrong with either choice. If I were faced with that choice (and it's a common one, Brown is one of Swarthmore's top five cross-admit schools along with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford), I would decide based primarily on size and whether I want a small boutique-store educational experience or a larger, more full-service experience with a broader selection. Both are equally valid choices.
  • musechick2007musechick2007 Registered User Posts: 352 Member
    I was making this same decision last year and I chose Brown. However, you strike me a little more like a Swattie. I could be wrong, though! :)

    TONS of people at Swat major in PoliSci, so you'd definitely have engaging classes and a lot of peers that you could relate to on an academic level. Swarthmore is "overall" more demanding than Brown (can you say "less grade inflation?") because at Brown there is a more laid back atmosphere, it's true. HOWEVER, the other posters were right when they said that it's what you make of it. Both places have a space for you to be the person you want to be. Brown is not a state party school, but if you dig parties, we have them. Swat is presumably the same way. When I visited Swat, I did see some of the cracked out, crazy-stressed/antisocial kids, BUT I also saw brilliant, super friendly students who were great at multitasking. Both campuses have all sorts of people. BUT Brown has more of a variety of people, which can be a plus or a minus, depending on what you want. Swat tends to attract a "type"--very intellectual, activisty, and...passionate. Also kinda strange and/or quirky. Brown does attract people like that, yes, but we also get...well...douchey people, lol. There's more of a variety of backgrounds, interests, and everything. I like that because it's more like the real world, y'know? Being at both places is definitely like being in a bubble, but Brown's bubble is a little more encompassing. You get exposed to more at Brown, which I find very important. And, like everyone has said, it's what you make of it. My friends are all super awesome and interesting and I love them to pieces. The people I dislike, I simply don't hang out with. Simple as that. :) Oh! And the surrounding city? Providence > Swarthmore when it comes to urban life. However, Philly is 20 minutes away from Swat, while Boston is 50 minutes away from Providence. *shrug* I like Providence. Anyhoo.

    Swat is tiny, Brown is medium-sized, leaning toward the smaller end of the spectrum. The good thing about Brown is that one can walk down the street and see lots of familiar faces BUT ALSO see lots of NEW faces. That's considerably harder at Swat, where "everyone knows everyone." But hey, there's a fresh crop of students every year at both places, so it's not that big a deal. Coming from a small school (Nursery-12th grade = 700+/- total kids), ANYWHERE would be bigger than my school, so it wasn't an issue. For friends who went to high-schools with 3,000 students, Swat felt stifling and way too small. Another good thing about Brown is that it has more grad students than Swat (or at all?), so you can have contact with older students and more contact with people that have already "been there."

    An important thing to consider also is financial aid. I kind of hate Brown's aid. Some people can get amazing aid, but a lot of other people are stabbed in the face by it. The EFC on your SAR will NOT be the EFC that Brown will give you. It's...a tricky thing, really...and...ergh. It leaves MUCH to be desired, but oh well. Swat gave me a ridiculously amazing package, though. They're really good about financial aid, generally, and if you're interested in study abroad, they make that happen for you. Brown sends a lot of students abroad, too, sure, but it's more financially feasible at Swat, I think.

    Let's see...what else. OH! Class size! If you want small and personal, DEFINITELY go Swat. Brown has small and personal, but not ALWAYS. All my classes have been manageable, but it's perhaps because I'm into the non-super popular/necessary classes to begin with. :) The intro classes can get huge, but profs are generally very open and available to talk to you. They have office hours, some stay after class, and all that jazz. It depends on the class/prof, though. Swat definitely has more support in that area, methinks?

    The campuses...Swarthmore is RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING and idyllic. Brown is pretty, but way less green. However, Brown and the surrounding areas look splendid in the spring and fall (so beautiful!) anyway. :) This was a big deal for me, because I did NOT want a campus that was all cement and brick. Brown is perfectly fine, though Swat always did have (and always will have) that air of magic. ^_^

    And...both Brown and Swat have Honors programs. So, whee. As for the curriculum...Brown's is open, but people tend to fulfill some sort of "distribution requirement" anyway...just on their own. :) We encourage exploration a lot, so people often do that. Swat is a nice middle-man between Brown's openness and UChicago's core, I think. Swat is structured enough so that you get variety, but open enough so that you're not FORCED into a certain class.

    My advice is to take all this into consideration, but to also go with your gut. I can't stress that enough. If you feel one of these two is not right, GO WITH IT. Even if the school is the best ever and it has loads of money and loads of WHATEVER, if you don't feel HAPPY there, it's not worth it. I loved both places and was in LOVE with Swarthmore WAY before I even CONSIDERED Brown. There were lots of nights when I stayed up talking on AIM with another girl who was choosing between Swat and Brown, discussing the pros and cons of both places. We both decided on Brown, in the end. Actually, I even broke down crying one day because May 1st was approaching and I was as confused as ever and I felt so very torn (also, I'd visited Swat twice, but never been to Brown). My Swat aid was phenomenal, while my Brown aid was okayish, but certainly not as good. I felt that Swarthmore had a LOT of good points and that a part of me wanted to be there really badly, but overriding that was a feeling that I WAS going to go to Brown. That the decision had already been made somehow and that Brown was the choice, that that's where I had to go. So, I wound up at Brown and love it a lot. I do sometimes wonder what my life would've been like had I chosen Swarthmore, but I know that I made the right choice...and that even if I'd chosen Swat, I would probably be happy anyway. So, don't stress too much...'cause you can only TRY to make the best choice for you...and if it doesn't work out, there are always options to fix the situation. :)
  • ClaySoulClaySoul - Posts: 2,176 Senior Member
    i heard a quote, "the work load at swarthmore would make most liberal arts students shake in their birkenstocks"

    i don't consider this a good thing. i think you can get a fabulous, challenging education with more balance and less pressure than swarthmore offers.

    Brown is a very challenging school -- very intellectual, with extremely passionate students -- but it is also quite laid back.

    I think both schools are fantastic, but I really think the educational experience overall at Brown is simply more enjoyable -- at least for someone like me. I'm extremely intense, and therefore need a less intense environment. Sounds backwards, but it's not. If I go somewhere where there's the potential for an extreme, perhaps even unhealthy, level of intensity, i will make it such. Damn you should have seen me at wrestling practice. (I'm NOT saying swat is unhealthy, i'm saying it would have been for me).

    It depends on who you are.

    And fwiw i got into both.
  • wolrabwolrab Registered User Posts: 63 Junior Member
    Hi. I am the OP's mom. He is off in the Alaskan wilderness for a while -- recovering from the intensity of the past year -- so I am writing on his behalf, to let you know what he decided.

    After an intense day of agonizing -- and I really do mean agonizing (not helped by the fact that a good friend of his will be at Haverford) -- over this decision (he couldn't even begin to think about it during finals or high school graduation weekend), he decided to stick with Brown. When I asked him what I should tell people about why he decided as he did, he said "tell them I went with my heart." Indeed, he had had that fabled "gut feeling" when he visited Providence in April, something he hadn't felt anywhere else. As well, he had gotten really excited about all of the different possibilities at a larger school, and he realized that he will definitely find his Swarthmore/Chicago types at Brown, though know and work with them in perhaps a more varied and balanced (and yes, perhaps healthier, for him, too) context/atmosphere. My husband summarized things well, I think, when he said to our son "your initial adjustment may be harder (by which he meant that he may have to look a bit harder and longer for soul mates), but your long term growth will be greater." For our son (I do not at all mean to be making sweeping statements about any school here), I think he is right. Letting go of Swarthmore was not easy. (For me either.) He has grown up hearing me say "everyone I've ever met who went to Swarthmore really knows how to think." Swarthmore was an excellent fit for him, in many, many ways. He is a born scholar and a deeply caring person who wants to make the world a better place. But so is Brown a good fit for him. (Interestingly, it is the place where I would have gone, if I had been able to follow my heart -- but I was unable to say "no" to that place in Cambridge, where he didn't even bother applying, wise child that he is -- too many graduate students, etc.). If he had had this choice initially, it may have gone differently, I don't know. By the time he got in off of the Swarthmore waitlist, he had been wearing his Brown t-shirt, immersing himself in the Brown course catalog, telling people that's where he was going, and so forth. His identity as a Brown student had already been born.

    I"m glad he posted here for advice. CC wisdom is always much appreciated.
  • roamorseroamorse Registered User Posts: 843 Member
    I can't believe I didn't see this earlier. I was also choosing between Brown and Swarthmore (along with Chicago and Amherst) and I decided that while I loved Swarthmore in lots of ways, it was too insular of a community and not as diverse in outlook. I'm glad your son finally decided, and I'm sure he'll love Brown. I too had that gut reaction when I visited in April. Amherst was actually the hardest one to let go; after visiting Brown I immediately crossed off Williams and Swarthmore. I felt that the undergraduate experience at Brown is challenging and intellectual, but also much more enjoyable, like ClaySoul said. It felt like a much happier place, and I know that I can get the full-on academic and intellectual intensity at Brown without the cut-throat environment.
  • ClaySoulClaySoul - Posts: 2,176 Senior Member
    welcome aboard :)
  • thecomisarthecomisar Registered User Posts: 2,125 Senior Member
    Reading threads like this makes me excited to come to Brown! :)
  • momofthreemomofthree Registered User Posts: 1,486 Senior Member
    wolrab and OP,

    I have been following this saga as I have a daughter (along with a son-in-law and two parents) who graduated from Swat. Also have a son at Brown who struggled with the choice your son has been facing; he also ultimately chose Brown. Of course this is an individual thing, but I can assure you my son made a fabulous choice for himself, has been plenty challenged at Brown, and has lived a very well-rounded life in Providence. I think you will be pleased with this decision!!
  • wolrabwolrab Registered User Posts: 63 Junior Member
    Thanks, momofthree, for the vote of confidence and reassurance! And thanks again to all other posters here. I hope my son meets some of you, come fall.
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