Stanford vs UPENN (Wharton) vs Swarthmore (Free tuition) vs USC

Hey everyone!

I recently got into several schools, and I narrowed my list to include Stanford, UPENN, Swarthmore, and USC. The deadline for me to commit is May 1st (super soon)! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Stanford (Applied as International Relations/PoliSci and Theater and Performance Studies double major)
Cost: ~80k a year.

  • Pros: 5:1 Student to Faculty Ratio; high level of prestige; 40 minutes away from San Francisco; excellent school spirit and games; great weather all year round (although I would like to see snow, but it’s nbd); world-renowned professors; etc.
  • Cons: The Quarter System (I am not sure if it’s for me); Palo Alto (I’ve heard mixed things about how it feels a bit isolating); flake culture/Duck Syndrome/Imposter Syndrome present on campus; seems more STEM-oriented (I may feel left out if I pursue the arts); not sure about the theatre program here.

UPENN Wharton School (Applied as Management concentration and Theatre minor at CAS)
Cost: ~80k a year.

  • Pros: 6:1 Student to Faculty Ratio; it’s in Philly (fun on weekends, city life); best Business school/prestige; invited to apply to the Civic Scholars Program (focused on service); great alumni network; fantastic internship opportunities; pursue business and the arts; etc.
  • Cons: I don’t like and am NOT good at math/calculus (I crammed before every test and didn’t remember a thing from my AP Calc AB class); inadequate mental health facilities; only diverse on paper (in terms of the student body); lack of creativity due to pre-professional culture.

Swarthmore (Applied as PoliSci and Theater and Peace and Conflict Studies double major)
Cost: Got in as a McCabe Scholar (free tuition); will still need to pay room & board + other additional costs.

  • Pros: Free tuition (my cheapest option for higher education); 8:1 Student to Faculty Ratio; peaceful arboretum campus; 30 minutes away from Philly; cash-free amenities (free printing, events, laundry); great connection with professors; etc.
  • Cons: Small undergraduate class (easy to form cliques, harder to meet new people); smaller alumni network; not as well known as Stanford, UPENN, or USC; minimal party scene/not great social life; not sure about the theatre program here.

University of Southern California SDA (Applied as Theatre BA major and International Relations/Political Science minor at Dornsife)
Cost: Received a University Scholarship ($15K in total over four years); ~78k a year.

  • Pros: It’s in Los Angeles (fun on weekends, never bored, beaches & snowy mountains); well-funded Theatre program; great location to pursue acting; 8:1 Student to Faculty Ratio; excellent Alumni network; great school spirit and games; etc.
  • Cons: The area is a bit dangerous; not as prestigious as Stanford or UPENN (harder to convince my parents to assist with finances); not sure about the Political Science/International Relations program here; I am sure there are more, but I can’t find much.

Note about costs: I am fortunate enough for my family to be able to afford college regardless of the cost, but the McCabe Scholarship from Swarthmore is compelling (I will likely still have to pay for Room & Board, as well as other additional expenses).

What I am looking for:

  • Academics: I’m really indecisive as to what I hope to do in the future (whether it be pursuing acting, nonprofit management, or getting involved with public service/politics/government), so I’d like to be able to explore all of my interests fully! I prefer smaller class sizes but would also be okay with a few larger lecture halls. I’d also love to study abroad!

  • Student Life: On the weekends, I want to have fun/go out/relax (work hard, play hard) with friends. I also want my college to have active clubs, a good dating/social culture, and impactful service opportunities. Lastly, I’d like to be able to explore the surrounding area (whether it be the city or nature) and not feel trapped on campus.

  • Arts: I’d love to join an A Cappella group and do Theatre/Musical Theatre in college. In addition, I hope to take voice lessons as well as do performances at local theatres (if possible). I want my school to be well funded for the arts and have respect for the arts and theatre.

  • Future goals: My biggest priorities in/after college include getting good internships/job offers, having a great alumni network to connect with, and being prepared for life post-college. Again, I haven’t decided what I’d specifically like to do, but I hope to have connections/opportunities straight out of college for my profession.

  • Other: Diversity is definitely important to me! I want to meet people from all walks of life (meeting new people every year) and have significant cultural centers on campus. Also, school spirit is something that my high school lacked, and I would love more of it in college.

I still need to do more research on the above colleges (because I honestly applied to many of my colleges on a whim due to COVID-19), so I’d appreciate everyone’s thoughts on academics, extracurriculars, culture, student life, etc. at these schools.

I know the prestige of schools like Stanford is a big deal (and, of course, is important to me as well), but I’d also like to go somewhere that I’d be happy at, has great resources, and can help me achieve my goals. Any help is much appreciated. Thank you!

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Will paying full COA at Stanford or UPenn have an adverse impact on your family’s lifestyle ?

If yes, then Swarthmore seems to be the only reasonable option.

How do you rate your current options ?

USC may be the only serious theatre school on your list of 4 options.

Paying full COA will not have an adverse impact on my family’s lifestyle! I am definitely very fortunate enough for them to be able to afford my college education completely.

For USC, I love its Theatre program, but I am not set on solely pursuing theatre in college. I’d also like to explore other areas that are more “practical” for a professional career.

Then your choices seem to be Stanford versus UPenn.

Why are you concerned about the quarter (trimester) system at Stanford ?

Quarter system is more efficient than semester system & final exams come before winter & spring breaks so school vacation/break time is stress free.

Swarthmore College seems to be too small for your preferences as cliques are a real part of LAC life.

P.S. Since you are concerned about mental health facilities/resources, then UPenn & Swarthmore may not be healthy environments for you. Both are known for stressful environments–although Swarthmore publicizes otherwise, but it can be a closed-minded environment. Within the last year or two, the very experienced head of Penn’s counseling center committed suicide (came from Cornell where he ran Cornell’s mental health counseling–if I recall correctly).

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Would paying $80k impact your parents’ retirement or any younger siblings’ college money?

If you choose the less expensive college, will the leftover money be available for professional school if you choose that route?

It looks like your academic and career interests are not the most high paying ones, or are elite-or-bust ones in terms of career potential. So I hope you have frugal living and spending habits…

All of these colleges will have a strong high-SES skew, due to the large number of students attending without financial aid (51% at Penn, 44% at Stanford and Swarthmore, and 35% at USC).

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After reading your post I would have to say USC. I dont know too much about stanfords humanities/arts but I can tell they are more stem focused. Im a business major who also grew up a theatre kid and almost majored in theatre. I specifically didnt apply to Wharton bc of how serious everything felt. Im also not good at math so econ was not for me. LA is a great thetre spot and hoas oppurtunities in anything you chose to pursue. they definataley have a work hard, play hard vibe and it seems to be the choice that fits your needs the most. Usually I would say the cheapest option but I if USC will make you happier, go for it!

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Voting for UPenn with Swarthmore in second place because it is close to UPenn and you can cross register.

You don’t like math, but you can handle it. You’re wealthy, you can find a therapist off campus, I’m sure there is plenty of creativity but if there isn’t then you’ll have a better shot at good roles.

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Wharton looks very good when you apply for jobs. The connections and alumni are incredible. Academics are tough, but judging from your acceptances, I am sure you will be able to strive there.

Stanford is wonderful too. If you seek more of the arts, this place might be for you.

At this point, you have to decide based on your inner-gut. In my opinion, Wharton is the way to go.

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The answer is always Stanford. :grimacing:

(No, I’m not an alum and no connection)


Wait I just re-read. Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley. Hewlett-Packard started in a garage in Palo Alto. Don’t ask me/us who HP is? :grinning:

Facebook is headquartered in Menlo Park. Google in Mountain View. All right near Stanford.

Stanford is located in the SF Bay Area. I live close by. :grinning:

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My older sister decided to attend college in-state (free tuition), so a lot of her leftover money has been saved for my college education and my younger brother’s. I don’t believe the 80k would substantially impact my parents’ retirement and I’m very grateful for that fact. I have also applied to quite a few scholarships (already awarded a few) and will be working part-time in college to alleviate some of the costs!

Also, I am not 100% set on going to a professional school (atm I am not planning on going Pre-Law or anything like that).

I think I meant to put “San Francisco”! I am from the East coast so I am not super familiar with the location of everything. Apologies!

I am only concerned about the Quarter system because it is quite unfamiliar to me. I heard that people tend to rush through their classes and before they know it, they have an exam. I’d like to take the time and enjoy my classes, although I don’t think the Quarter system is a complete deal breaker!

Ah, no worries. I can make SF in about 25-30 mins. :grimacing: I still have family that lives there.

My first answer was a little tongue-in-cheek. My D18 and I visited Philly and the Penn campus, and it’s very nice, obviously a fantastic school, but I’d want to wear shorts and flip flops all year round and the Stanford campus is like 9,000 acres with a lake and golf course. It’s pretty cool.

You should read about the recent issues at Swarthmore. There was a thread here in CC about it.

Would you happen to have a link to the thread that discussed the issues at Swarthmore? I haven’t heard anything.

An academic year typically has about 30 weeks of instruction. On the semester system, this is divided into two 15-week semesters. On the quarter system this is divided into three 15-week quarters. That’s all.

At colleges using the common credit-hour method of counting credit, 1 semester-hour-credit-unit = 1.5 quarter-hour-credit-unit.

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This isn’t the CC thread, but here’s something to start your research:

The CC search function is terrible, but there’s been one or two threads recently of current Swat students being very unhappy with the campus environment.

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There have been threads about another LAC near Philly, I wonder if that is what you are remembering