Carleton vs Swarthmore vs Smith for Ling/Cog Sci

Carleton vs Swarthmore vs Smith for Linguistics/Cognitive Science
Hi, I am an international student from Southeast Asia. I narrowed by options down to these three and I think that I can be happy at any these places but I want to make the best decision.

Money is not a problem (cost is being covered by my home government)

  • Things that I equally like : The campuses are all so pretty!
  • Academics : Carleton and Swat are a tie for my major and Smith is better (because of the Linguistics classes at UMass)

Carleton Pros

  • Quirky, chill student body and the vibe seems so warm and supportive
  • Trimester means long winter break (so I can go back home longer)
  • I LOVE their traditions + the Dacie Moses House
  • Carls help Carls (strong Alumni network)
  • Somewhat accesible to a city (1hr?)

Carleton Cons

  • Minnesota winters​:cold_face::cold_face::cold_face:
  • Will trimesters be too stressful? I’m somewhat a procrastinator
  • Very white (I go to a boarding school that is more white but ehh)

Swarthmore Pros

  • T3 LAC
  • Shadow Grading for 1st term
  • The campus is least rural and the city is very accessible (I am a city person)
  • Most diverse out of the 3!
  • Quaker Consortium

Swarthmore Cons

  • I talked to a woman who goes there and she said that the stress culture is real​:smiling_face_with_tear::smiling_face_with_tear::smiling_face_with_tear:
  • Grade Deflation
  • Food is not great😭
  • May be too small for my tastes (1500 students)

Smith Pros

  • Has the best academic offerings for my interests (Translation Studies Concentration + Open Curriculum)
  • 5 College Consortium! I toured all five campuses over spring break and think that I would really like to take advantage of it
  • All women’s environment are really great and supportive and I feel like I can be my best self and the bonds are very strong
  • Alumnae network
  • Best variety of dining halls + many swipes per day
  • Will being an off-campus major too inconvenient?

Smith Cons

  • I have some experience with a single sex environment so I know that it can be tougher than coed schools (bullying and stuff) so I have mixed feelings about that
  • The furthest from any major city out of the 3
  • Also not that much racially diverse

Thank you very much!

I’m a little confused about your thoughts on these schools’ academic programs. I’d think that the linguistics courses at Swarthmore or Carleton would be stronger than those at UMass, and they’d be right on campus. These two schools also offer strong cognitive science programs. For Smith to represent the best choice for you academically, it seems you would need to be drawn mostly to its translation studies program.

With respect to your affinity for cities, Swarthmore resides near Philadelphia, as you noted, but also in relative proximity to other major east coast urban destinations, such as, especially, New York City.

Based on most of your criteria, Swarthmore seems to represent the best fit for you overall from your group.

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Yes, I agree that Swarthmore seems like the best fit. And the easiest to fly in and out of. Smith has the 5 college consortium but UMass is 10 miles away and sometimes traffic can get clogged. As mentioned, the Quaker Consortium offers equal opportunities for expanded study & research opportunities. I wouldn’t worry about the stress culture or grade deflation, but I would worry about bad food.

Thank you for your thoughts on this. The reason I give Smith a plus on this is because the Linguistics department at UMass has more course offerings / offers more frequently while the standalone LACs offered some courses on only alternate years. UMass is really an expert in this field but I acknowledge that the other two places’ departments are also strong for an undergrad education. I think I may need to confirm this with a visit for sure.

Thank you very much. That’s definitely one of my concerns that it won’t be that doable with commuting every day. Why would you say that you wouldn’t worry about grade deflation?

I’d urge you to speak with current Smith students about the ease of taking classes at UMass, particularly if you plan to do this regularly. It’s my impression that while the distances between Smith and UMass and Swarthmore and Haverford/Bryn Mawr may be similar, logistics of cross-registration are much easier at the PA schools. Also, transportation from Swarthmore to Haverford/Bryn Mawr is on a free van run by the colleges, whereas transportation among the 5 colleges in MA is on public transportation, which isn’t necessarily designed to jibe with the schools’ schedules. Lastly, it’s easy to get to UPenn from Swarthmore since the regional train station is on Swat’s campus. Good luck with your decision.


Carleton and Swat seem sort of similar at first glance, but they are very different (SIL and some friends went to Swat, D19 goes to Carleton). Swat seems to embrace stress and competitiveness in a “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” kind of way, while Carleton goes the opposite way with a culture of cooperation and yeah, “niceness”. Two of my kids went a highly competitive magnet program and both were burned out by the experience (despite doing very well academically) by the time they graduated - they just wanted to be in a less stressful college environment which still had top notch academics. IMHO Swat is more like an extension of those types of high schools, best for the kids who thrive on working extra hard to get ahead.


From the perspective you have acquired from your research, this probably makes perfect sense. Personally, however, I’m hesitant to confer the attributes of graduate programs on their undergraduate counterparts.

Of course, aspects such as this could be directly material to you. As you noted, further research may be needed to see which linguistics program would suit you the most in actual practice.

In comparing linguistics at Smith/UMass to Swarthmore, be sure to consider the offerings at Penn as well.

As an aspect to consider regarding the LAC linguistics programs, Carleton, favorably, recently graduated the greatest percentage of linguistics majors in relation to the size of the student bodies at these schools (so about five times that of UMass, for comparison), based on information from IPEDS. While Swarthmore students generally have moved away from the study of some social sciences in recent years. IPEDS shows just 1 linguistics graduating “first major” in the most recent year available for Swarthmore.


I’m assuming that you have already been admitted, and that you are trying to choose from among these three schools.

First of all, for linguistics, UMass Amherst (which is in the 5 college consortium with Smith), is possibly the best place for undergrad linguistics in the country. They also have the best college dining service in the country. However, it takes about half an hour via campus shuttle to get from Smith to UMass. The undergrad linguistics dept is large, you will connect easily with people in it, you will shuttle to UMass for your classes and you can swipe into UMass’ amazing dining halls for a meal together with your linguistics friends on days you have classes at UMass.

Swarthmore is in a consortium with Penn, which also has a good linguistics department, but I don’t know how easy the transportation is from Swarthmore to Penn - honestly, even if I had my own car to make the drive, I would not feel that it would be an easy trip to get to Penn from Swarthmore on a frequent and regular basis, for linguistics classes. It can be done, but I don’t think it’s as easy. There is traffic there, much less traffic from Northampton to Amherst (although it can happen).

In terms of overall prestige, I’d say that Swarthmore is more prestigious than Smith. But in terms of ease of getting the linguistics classes that you want, and travel among the consortium colleges, and connecting with the linguistics students at the consortium school, I’d say it will be easier and better Smith/UMass Amherst than Swarthmore/Penn. Plus you also would have access to Amherst classes, which are as easily reached as UMass’, since the campuses are so close to each other. Haverford and Bryn Mawr aren’t very easy to get to from Swarthmore, although I’m sure there’s a shuttle.

If the linguistics is very important to you, I’d choose Smith, because of the opportunity to take linguistics classes at UMass, with it being relatively easy to get to. In my opinion, that just blows the other two out of the water, if you’re a linguistics person.


There is a intra-campus shuttle.

The information @gotham_mom posted is correct. Five College students can ride public buses free of charge along certain routes.

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Students can take the train to Philly from the base of their campus.

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Yes, they can take a commuter train to Philly, and then get on a different commuter train back out to the Main Line for Haverford/Bryn Mawr. Going back and forth would take quite a bit of time. As for taking the commuter rail into 30th St Station, they can then walk to campus, which isn’t that close, or they can take public transportation closer to campus. Either way, it’s not quick and easy. I cannot imagine doing this more than once a week, and it would be a half day undertaking to attend a class. Plus of course one would have to pay for the train. However, there must be some kind of shuttle between the campuses. It’s just that the suburban roads around Philly weren’t built for the traffic that now uses them, and as far as I know, it’s been often gridlocked, for the past few decades.

Compare this to getting on the free loop bus from Northampton to Amherst, that goes from campus to campus, in order to take a class at UMass, and also being able to swipe into any of the dining commons there with your campus card, so that you can eat and socialize with your UMass linguistics classmates.

Looks like Swarthmore students can take the train from the stop on campus directly to a stop on the UPenn campus.
From Swat’s website:
" The SEPTA Media/Elwyn train provides direct service between the Swarthmore and University of Pennsylvania campuses.

From Swarthmore station, take the train to the University City stop, located at the intersection of South St. & Convention Ave. on the UPenn campus." Getting to UPenn :: Getting Around :: Swarthmore College

That being said, taking classes at UPenn is not as easy as taking classes at Haverford or Bryn Mawr. Going to Tri-Co or UPenn :: Registrar :: Swarthmore College

@EyeVeee, did your Swarthmore student take any classes at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, or Swarthmore? If so, how did they find the travel and the ease of registration?
@milgymfam Has your Haverford student taken classes at Swat? If so, how has she found the travel and the ease of registration?


You are right! Looks like there’s a stop now near South St and the Schuylkill, on the line that goes to Swarthmore, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to take the commuter line train to Penn from Swarthmore.


My daughter hasn’t taken any classes at swat, but that’s by active design as she doesn’t care for the vibe of the campus and all- in fact her life would be simpler if she did take courses there. She does have friends who have done so, and the bus service is adequate in normal times to not make it too much of an inconvenience. Registration is exactly the same as registering for classes at Bryn Mawr and Haverford- they’re all in the same registration system.


Thank you very much for your information. I did not knew that about Carleton’s highest percentage. I’ll definitely look into the details more between each department’s focus.

Regarding percentages of linguistics majors, here you can see the sources I used:

Note that numbers on this scale can be fairly variable from year to year, however.

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The ability to take classes across the Tri-Co is largely dependent on the major.

Our Swattie took (I believe) 1 class each at Haverford and BMC. She was an Engineering major, and the classes she took included an architecture class that met in Philly regardless of the “home” school. She LOVED it!!! Her very limited number of electives as an Engin student made it nearly impossible to do more.

Our Haverford grad was all over. English major. Took 5 classes at both BMC and Swat, including a class of 12 that was led by Valerie Smith (Swat Pres) on Toni Morrison which was amazing. She also did a semester abroad. In the end, she had only had one professor twice, and that was her thesis advisor. She ended up with just over 50% of her classes at Haverford.

The Haverford / BMC “blue bus” runs every 20 or 30 mins, and is a 10 min ride. The Tri-Co van runs between those 2 and Swat every hour. It’s a commitment, but very manageable to get to/from Swat. It also helped that our Ford was the younger sib, and really enjoyed being on Swats campus (only 1 year of crossover…but they did go back and forth to visit some).

As noted above…the registration in Bi-Co (H/BM) is the same process. Swat registration is a bit more involved, but never difficult.


Swat registration for ling classes is the same as for Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Because it’s a tri-co major, they’ve made it very straightforward.