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Brown vs. Swarthmore

tonnymantonnyman Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
I know I know I know that there have been threads on comparing these two colleges before, but after reading them I still feel like I haven't gotten an answer.

I'm torn between applying to these two colleges. More specifically, which one to ED to, if at all. I'll be applying as an international student, and aid is a REALLY important factor. I'm looking for anywhere from 80-90%. The more the better.

I haven't ever visited either of these colleges, so I'm looking for a way to figure out what each campus is like. What are the students like from each college? From what I have heard, Swarthmore is a nerdy school. I'm a bit of a nerd myself, so that's not all that bad. If nerdy means that they put a lot of academic pressure on you, then I think I can handle it. If nerdy means the students are antisocial and COMPLETELY absorbed in their academic lives, I think I'll have a problem. I want a complete college experience, and social life is a huge part of that. Brown, on the other hand, seems to have the reputation of being more laid back. The drawback, of course, is that it's bigger than Swarthmore. Is the intimacy of classes/professors lost in Brown as compared to Swarthmore? Is there really that much of a difference between the courses you can take at one or the other?

With regards to location, I've heard Providence is more lively than Swarthmore. However, Providence is 50 minutes away from Boston, while Swarthmore is only 25 minutes from Phillie. How much of a factor is this? I never really partied alot in high school, and I want to have a chance to experience that side of life too. I also love studying, so long as it's something where I'm learning new and interesting things.

I know it sounds vain, but what about the dating scene at both places? Are people more into serious relationships, or is casual dating the norm? Is the student population more conservative at one college and more liberal at the other? I DO enjoy chilling out, and I would love to be able to go through the school year without a HUGE workload. This however is not such a big deal, as long I can have a balanced social life.

Academically, I'd consider them to be pretty much the same, save for Brown's open curriculum. Socially, I'm a little more clueless. Help in any area will be GREATLY appreciated.

Thanks :)

Post edited by tonnyman on

Replies to: Brown vs. Swarthmore

  • IBclass06IBclass06 Registered User Posts: 2,846 Senior Member
    If nerdy means the students are antisocial and COMPLETELY absorbed in their academic lives...
    It doesn't.

    Swarthmore College | Student Life
    I know it sounds vain, but what about the dating scene at both places? Are people more into serious relationships, or is casual dating the norm?
    You'll find that the majority of students at any college are primarily into casual dating and/or hook-ups.
  • tonnymantonnyman Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    IBclass06, I wasn't trying to imply that. Was just asking if someone could clarify what people say when they say that Swatties are nerdy (and I just say that because I've read it on this website and others). No offense intended :)
    As for the dating, that's good to know.

    RML, reputation isn't as important a factor to me as is the experience that I take home from the 4 years that I spend there. Of course, it counts, but between Brown and Swarthmore, I'm willing to disregard it.
  • johnwesleyjohnwesley - Posts: 4,610 Senior Member
    Swarthmore is the epitome of the small, suburban, residential college. Brown is much more urban.

    At Swarthmore, the student residences are pretty separate from the academic buildings, there are no cars and you can often hear a pin drop walking around the main campus late at night. That fact alone probably goes a long way in explaining why Swarthmore has the reputation it does for being studious and nerdy.

    At Brown, the students live in quadrangles distributed pretty much along the city street grid and you can hear traffic, people on foot, and the occasional police siren far into the night. The fact is, there are many more nerds at Brown than at Swarthmore, but, their nerdiness is camouflaged by the general buzz of a busy state capital.

    At Swarthmore you are very likely to recognize every student by sight within weeks of orientation.

    At Brown, it will take you years just to figure out who ISN'T a student and just passing through on their way to RISD.

    Other than that, they are exactly the same.
  • kwukwu Registered User Posts: 4,759 Senior Member
    I've seen many threads comparing Brown and Amherst, but never Brown and Swarthmore.

    Just to let you know: Swarthmore limits the number of incoming students receiving need-based aid to 20. There were 28 international students admitted to the class of 2013 this past year. This means 8 internationals are paying full freight and 20 are receiving mediocre financial aid, since the college only has 2 million dollars to divide among 107 international students annually.

    Swarthmore College :: Financial Aid :: Frequently Asked Questions: <br>For Foreign National Students

    Brown has a reputation for being the place to be for wealthy international students, celebrities, sons of foreign executives and government leaders. I can't use numbers to support this generalization. However, you can expect a better award from Brown, as a needy international.

    Brown will give you the more typical college experience, but both Providence and Philly aren't exactly desirable cities. You can chill, but don't expect to go out to the city every weekend, because if you're a serious student, that's not going to happen.

    Brown's Open Curriculum is a blessing if you're intellectually curious and dislike being told what to learn.

    Both schools are excellent, but for your family's needs, Brown would be more generous.
  • middsmithmiddsmith Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    Both are equally annoying.
  • eagerdadeagerdad Registered User Posts: 41 Junior Member
    Size does matter. My daughter visted Swarthmore and was turned off by how small the student population was and how many classes were so intimate. She felt that she wanted the ability to be slightly more anonymous and not have to be prepared for every class because there were only 8 students and a professor. Others may really like that. It's a real difference between the Brown sized ivy and LACs. My daughter ended up applying to Brown ED. She thought Swarthmore's campus was the more beautiful, but Brown's is nice enough.
  • thenextbigthingthenextbigthing Registered User Posts: 394 Member
    I would go with Brown
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,734 Senior Member
    In addition to some of the campus characteristics johnwesley mentioned, another distinctive feature of Swarthmore is the relatively high percentage of natural science, CS, math and engineering majors there compared to some other top LACs (about 29%). In fact it is one of the only small liberal arts colleges with an engineering program. It offers majors in other academic areas that many LACs don't, including Linguistics, Interpretation Theory, and Cognitive Science. Each year, external examiners are invited to Swarthmore to administer oral exams to students in the honors program (a practice usually associated only with doctoral programs). And it's one of the top 5 schools in the country for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn Ph.D.s These characteristics probably all play into its reputation as such a nerdy, intellectual place.

    Comment on the finaid situation: Without knowing the financial need of the average Swarthmore international student, I don't understand how we can conclude that $2M necessarily results in mediocre financial aid to each of them. If anything, I would expect internationals to be more affluent than the average student. If so, $2M seems like a decent amount to spread among 80 kids; the other 27 presumably did find ways to pay without aid.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    % international students receiving need-based aid
    51% Swarthmore
    32% Brown

    Average aid package of International students receiving aid:
    $41,551 Swarthmore
    $37,019 Brown

    Brown is four times the size of Swarthmore, but its international aid budget is only 2.7 time larger. On a per international student basis, Swarthmore's international aid budget is nearly twice the size of Brown's. Swarthmore meets full need of all enrolled students with loan-free aid packages, including international students.

    The suggestion that Brown would likely offer more "generous" financial aid than Swarthmore or that Swarthmore's aid packages to internationals are "mediocre" is not supported by the facts above, that are readily available in the common data sets. To the contrary of the assertions made in this thread, it actually appears that Brown is using "wealthy Saudi and celebrity" international students as a profit center. It takes a concerted admissions office effort to enroll 68% of your international students who can write a check for full-fare tuition. That does not happen by accident. Swarthmore has essentially the same percentage of full-fare internationals as they do US students -- about 50-50 receiving need based aid in both groups.

    Both Swarthmore and Brown are excellent schools. Swarthmore has considerably more financial resources on a per student basis (nearly 3 times the per student endowment), but Brown is four times larger. So the tradeoff is personalized attention, more interactive, and more boutique scale undergrad education at Swarthmore versus the wider variety of offerings and larger class environment at a large private university like Brown. There's no one correct answer for every student.

    The parent above is correct. If you want the anonymity of large classes, Swarthmore is not the place for you. It is a highly interactive and collaborative education. My daughter learned from a senior her first month there to always go to class with something prepared to discuss. It is very difficult to hide in classes for long at Swarthmore, so I would not recommend it unless being an active participant in class appeals to you. [NOTE: there are lecture format courses at Swarthmore. Most Swatties don't take four courses a semester with 8 students, just like there are small seminar courses at Brown. These are differences of degree.]

    I would suggest posting your question in the Swarthmore forum. There is one parent there who has had a son or daughter at both Brown and Swarthmore.
  • modestmelodymodestmelody Registered User Posts: 4,654 Senior Member

    70.6% , Brown
    75.1% , Swarthmore

    I'm not sure that this is a huge enough distinction between classes with <20 students to call Brown the place for "large impersonal" relationships and Swarthmore the bastion of small class experiences.

    Brown is not using foreign students as a bank roll-- we're simply not need-blind for internationals and currently cannot afford to be though we're working toward it. Yes, you have less of a chance to get into Brown if you need money as an international student. This is not something hidden, it's our admitted policy.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    The 20 person class threshold is carefully selected by USNEWS to obscure differences in class sizes. The real differences are at the top end.

    Brown has 41 courses with more than 100 students. Swarthmore has 1
    Brown has 100 courses with more than 50 students. Swarthmore has 7,
    Brown has 130 courses with more than 40 students. Swarthmore has 12.

    This means that 12% of Brown's courses are too big for any meaningful discussion (40+) versus only 3.3% of Swarthmore's classes. Here are the numbers:
    Swat		Brown	
      2 to 9	133	36.6%	344	31.6%
    10 to 19	134	36.9%	426	39.1%
    20 to 29	70	19.3%	134	12.3%
    30 to 39	14	3.9%	56	5.1%
    40 to 49	4	1.1%	30	2.8%
    50 to 99	7	1.9%	59	5.4%
    100 plus	1	0.3%	41	3.8%
    total	363	100.0%	1090	100.0%

    Interestingly, Swarthmore not only has smaller classes, but more classes relative to the size of the student body. Brown has more than four times as many undergrades and thus should have over 1400 class sections instead of 1090. Swarthmore provides one class section for every 4 students. Brown provides one class section for every 6 students.

    That gives an idea of how many students are in the large lecture classes. In a given fall semester, at least 4100 Brown students are in a class of 100 or more. That's 2/3 of the student body. Another 4000+ are in a class between 40 and 100 students. At Swarthmore, 100 students (just 7% of the students) are in a class of 100 in a fall semester and only one third of the school is in even one class from 40 to 100. In other words, large lecture classes are the exception, not the rule. BTW, the 100 person class at Swat is Intro Bio with 112 students for the lectures. It has five lab sections, each taught by a Biology professor, not a TA.

    Brown does not list subsection sizes where asked on the Common Data Set. Swarthmore lists 107 subsections (lab and discussion sections of large courses) as follows:

    2-9 students: 51 subsections
    10-19 students: 43 subsections
    20-29 students: 12 subsections
    30 -39 students: 1 subsection

    Swarthmore does not count, for their Common Data Set submissions, the Directed Reading courses that are one student and one Professor exploring a topic of special interest to the student.

    There are perfectly good arguments in favor of the large private research university. However, trying to claim that a large research university can match the boutique scale of education at arguably the most student-centered small liberal arts college in the country is, as they say back home, a dog that won't hunt.

    For example, Swarthmore brings to campus each May over 130 outside experts (including 3 Brown professors last May) to give one on one written and oral examinations to the 110 or so Honors candidates in the senior class. This is the kind of extremely labor intensive educational program that a large research university simply cannot match in their undergrad teaching. The cost is somewhere in the range of $2000 per honors student.

    Swarthmore has an 8 to 1 student to faculty ratio. All undergraduate. Brown advertises an 8 to 1 ratio, too. However, the fine print in the Common Data Set shows that they are including the graduate schools in that calculation.
  • ljbwljbw Registered User Posts: 48 Junior Member
    Brown's more customizable, Swarthmore is more uniformly small/intimate. They're both about equally good I'd say, but for different kinds of people. If taking any big classes whatsoever is a dealbreaker, go to Swarthmore. If you want near-total freedom to customize your education, and don't mind the occasional large lecture, go to Brown.

    I doubt that 4100+ Brown undergrads are in a 100+ person lecture in a given semester. Some people (pre-meds, freshmen taking mostly intro courses) take more than one 100+ person class a semester, some people (humanities majors, upperclassmen) might not take any at all.

    With Brown's open curriculum, it's probably easier to shop around for small, intimate classes if you want them. Brown students also have 904 classes with fewer than 20 students, while Swarthmore students have 337 to choose from - impressive numbers for such a small school, but it just doesn't have the same breadth, depth, and flexibility in its offerings as Brown does.
  • monydadmonydad Registered User Posts: 7,458 Senior Member
    " Brown has 130 courses with more than 40 students. Swarthmore has 12."

    can someone do this one:

    The Brown University registrar's office lists ___ courses being given at Brown University this semester.

    The Swarthmore College registrar's office lists _____ courses being given at Swarthmore College this semester.
  • modestmelodymodestmelody Registered User Posts: 4,654 Senior Member
    For example, Swarthmore brings to campus each May over 130 outside experts (including 3 Brown professors last May) to give one on one written and oral examinations to the 110 or so Honors candidates in the senior class

    I'm trying to get off of this site but this kind of comment I can't let slide.

    There are significantly more than 110 students in Brown's class of 1600 or so that get honors (I think the number is about 450-550 students). Each one of those students is working one on one with a professor on original research work for at least the period of one year who's a professor in residence who acts as a personal mentor and advisor. And that's simply looking at the honors experience, which is far from the only one on one experience offered at Brown.

    As ljbw mentions, Brown has almost 3 times the classes that are fewer than 10, and more than 3 times as many that are 10-20. Overall the share of courses on the books at less than 20 is nearly the same, giving you three times as many options to choose from at Brown for classes fewer than 20. Considering you create your schedule at Brown, short of introductory chemistry courses for science concentrators, the breadth of courses which offer the individual learning experience at Brown is simply superior and the options are at least as equally accessible. The opportunity to do individual research and work is at least as large, and I could use numbers to demonstrate it's larger, at Brown. For instance, other than engineers, all science concentrators getting a bachelor's of science MUST register for two semesters of research for credit, a one on one experience with a professor who actually has to produce high-level research and maintain a lab as a part of their job and produce Ph.D.s as well. That's an experience we're not trucking people in for.

    I don't think that Brown is better than Swarthmore and now I'm coming across a zealot for my own institution, but interesteddad, while I respect your knowledge, your analysis is way overstepping and presenting your biases openly.

    As for subsections, there are sections for nearly all courses over 40 students which cannot exceed 20 students in that section. In my experience in the sciences, these sections were always led by professors or had a professor in the room.
This discussion has been closed.