Swarthmore or Grinnell ED? Which to choose!

My daughter needs to decide quickly whether to ED at Swarthmore or Grinnell. Personal experiences/insights would be helpful with regard to differences in school culture, community, relationships, mentorship, post-college direction, and the like.

We know that Swarthmore’s admit rate is much lower for ED than Grinnell’s. We’re from Philly, so Swarthmore does feel a little too close to home and she did originally want to get out of town, but she’s willing to stick around for a great school. Grinnell feels just a little too far, but she’s willing to go and is ok with the surroundings (we just got back from a visit to Grinnell).

She would be fine academically at either school, and she knows they are both demanding. I think she can steer herself away from getting caught up in the pressure-cooker intensity, and she likes to work.

She would really like mentorship in music even though she doesn’t plan to major in music (possibly minor or double major). It’s a passion of hers but not a career plan right now. She’ll major in a humanities subject and is totally open to a variety of career ideas. She got in touch with one music prof from Grinnell who was very thoughtful and responsive. She’s looking into who to contact at Swarthmore to ask her specific music questions.

We chose these two schools as ED options for several reasons, but most importantly because the NPC’s we know we can do. At this point, these are the two we’re deciding between and have visited, so suggesting other options won’t be helpful.

Thank you!!!

If she doesn’t know on November 1st I don’t think I would ED1. If she is really competitive for Swartmore, I think she would be fine with Grinnell RD. If she get clarity in her choice before January, she can always ED2.

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There must be other choices that fit your NPC! If she isn’t in love with one of them, this is a terrible pair to choose between. They are both ‘fit’ schools- they really suit, or they really do not- and they are different as night and day.

If she leans Swarthmore, look at Vassar. If she leans Grinnell, look at Hamilton. And so on. But egads, this looks like a recipe for a miracle- or a disaster.

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Seems you shouldn’t ED. These two are very different. Are you sure you will find the music to your level of satisfaction ?

Seat is brutal getting in so if you are borderline ED. Grinnell simpler but I think you need to revise your list for your desires. Look at Lawrence. sY Olaf. Others that work for music as well. There are many threads on the CC about music for non music students.

She likes them both plenty. She does not and will not have her heart set on any school. That’s not how she is. Deciding between them is where she’s at right now.

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We just visited Lawrence. She liked Grinnell and Swat much better for academic culture.

Actually, there are a small handful of schools with huge endowments that will give us the amount of financial aid we need. They are also schools that will suit her academically, so it really does make sense for us. Swat and Grinnell both fit and are similar in plenty of ways. The biggest difference for us is geography. We’ve run NPC’s at tons of schools. Vassar, which we visited, is more than 15K higher than Swat and 12K higher than Grinnell.

Vassar meets all financial need and is need-blind… not sure re the others. Grinnell seems risky and somewhat random for someone from Philly. Swat, Wesleyan and Vassar would seem to have more in common and plenty of music. All have ED1 and ED2.

“Meets 100% financial need” is what lots of school boast, and that formula/final number absolutely varies among schools. The numbers between Swat and Vassar are nowhere near similar. Wesleyan also much higher NPC for us. Swat doesn’t have more music than Grinnell. It’s music dept is very small. We’re not looking for a big music dept, but we do want music mentorship.

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If she doesn’t want to be far sounds like a swat is right. If you think you can get in And few can….then Grinnell is a safety and if you don’t get into Swat you’d get in there RD.

That said I hope you have schools underneath because many a student thinks their odds are better than they are.

My daughter HS valedictorian was 0/16 on the top 20 with a 4.0 UW, 4.6W (.5 hon, 1 AP) and 36 on the ACT. Fortunately she applied to UTK where she is.

Hope you are assured as you seem to feel but hope you have fallbacks.

Note, however, that the proximity of Swarthmore to home has been stated as a drawback for that school. It seems the OP’s daughter has decided to focus on aspects beyond distance from home for both schools.


Well there are breaks. Fall break. Your student is homesick break. Tgiving.

They’re need based. You can be home and never see your family.

If you go to Iowa and not even the main city you will spend thousands seeing your family.

Honestly they should ED nowhere. Then the pressure is off.

Btw as for some schools having more need aid then others…they have different formulas. Some use home equity. Some Dont. Same with retirement.

I know ED is your best odds but if you can’t make a call, then don’t. Go RD.

For a briefly stated opinion on Swarthmore in the context of comments on other liberal arts colleges, see post #13 in this topic: Differences between top east-coast LACs? (Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Middlebury, etc.).

Of course fallbacks. Already applied to a bunch of other LAC’s Early Action. Grinnell is a much better admit chance than Swarthmore, which we are taking into consideration, and we know Swarthmore is a long shot for most.

We can make a call. We are posting this question to assist in making the call. That’s what forums are for:) If we ED nowhere, we may lose the opportunity to gain admission to a school that would be a great academic fit with a huge endowment that makes it a best-case financial fit.

Eastern locations, such as New York and Massachusetts, appear well represented among Grinnellians. Nonetheless, I think that Grinnell (or Carleton, as another example) would be most appealing to eastern students who are decisive in their preference for a geographical outlier.


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I have a friend in DC whose son graduated from Grinnell this year. He had a wonderful experience there (although my friend said it was a pain to travel there and quite expensive). She described the school as academically intense, with very intellectual and quirky kids. We visited Grinnell with my daughter in 2019 and loved it (but we’re in the Midwest, so the location wasn’t a problem for us). She ended up going to a different Midwestern LAC, but it was a close call.

What I’ve realized is that at the time when we were visiting colleges, location seemed to be important (my daughter thought she preferred Macalester but ended up choosing a rural LAC), but in reality her experience is defined by her classes, extracurriculars and her interactions with friends, so really by campus life. This being said, distance was an issue for us (we wanted to be able to visit her without having to fly, so we limited our choices to colleges within a day drive). This is something each family should decide for themselves, of course.

Seems to me that Grinnell is the clear choice. You say she can escape the pressure cooker intensity of Swat. I’m not so sure. I think a lot of kids at Swat are there because they thrive in the environment and don’t want to escape it. Can she really put up with that for four years? And why should she? Because it’s Swat?

I’ve been on this forum since 2014 and I can honestly say that I have never heard a bad word about Grinnell. There are plenty of references to cornfields and Iowa itself, but really, that’s about it. Students love Grinnell, it’s highly regarded, great professors, and it will give her an excellent college experience. Who cares if it’s in Iowa? It’s about the people she will be with, at the end of the day.

And yes, this is what it’s really about.


The fact that she has already established a good contact with a music professor at Grinnell is also a big plus.


Regarding Swat and being close to home…

If your daughter is going to participate in on-campus activities with “programs/events”…theater, music, sports…being close to home is a blessing. We had one at Swat and another at Haverford, and being able to drive to concerts, games, on-campus events was something we didn’t really consider but we thoroughly enjoyed with both.

We were careful not to ever “show up”, but made our way to campus for all sorts of reasons (a pair of shoes/dress for a dance, Swat’s NCAA basketball tournament games, a random meal where they just wanted to decompress off campus). There were also one or two illness weekends where they came home just to sleep in their own beds.

These are all minor in the grand scheme of things, but they eventually came to appreciate the benefits of being near home far outweighed any negatives.

Since graduation, they have both been to campus a lot. They made connections with younger students as well as professors, who they frequently see. A lot of their friends have also stayed in Philly for jobs/school, so their network has remained surprisingly strong post-grad.

PS - The move in/move out was sooooo much easier being close to home. Good luck.