Swarthmore vs Carleton: Which College is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Three students smiling at the camera while sitting on a bench.

Swarthmore vs Carleton: Which College is Right for You?

Choosing a college to attend is no small feat. With so many options available, it’s important to do your research and find the school that’s best suited to your individual needs and interests. In this article, we’ll be comparing Swarthmore vs Carleton. We’ll take a closer look at the location, campus life, academic programs, admission process, campus facilities, faculty, extracurricular activities, career services, and alumni network at each school. By the time we’re done, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of what each college has to offer and which one might be the best fit for you.

Location: Where are Swarthmore and Carleton Located?

Swarthmore College is located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, a small town that’s just a short train or car ride away from Philadelphia. Carleton College is situated in Northfield, Minnesota, a small, picturesque town located about an hour south of the Twin Cities. Both locations offer a unique blend of suburban charm and access to larger cities. Swarthmore’s proximity to Philadelphia means that students have easy access to world-class museums, music venues, and cultural events. Meanwhile, Carleton’s location in the heart of the Midwest offers easy access to a wide range of outdoor activities, from hiking and skiing to canoeing and camping.

In addition to their unique locations, both Swarthmore and Carleton offer a variety of opportunities for students to engage with their surrounding communities. Swarthmore students can participate in service projects in Philadelphia, working with local organizations to address issues such as poverty, education, and healthcare. Similarly, Carleton students can get involved in community service projects in Northfield, working with local schools, non-profits, and government agencies to make a positive impact on the town and its residents.

Furthermore, both colleges are committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship. Swarthmore has implemented a number of green initiatives on campus, including a solar array that provides a significant portion of the college’s energy needs. Carleton has also made significant strides in sustainability, with a number of LEED-certified buildings on campus and a commitment to reducing the college’s carbon footprint through energy-efficient practices and renewable energy sources.

Campus Life: What’s It Like to Live on Campus at Swarthmore and Carleton?

Swarthmore and Carleton offer two very different campus experiences. Swarthmore’s campus is known for its beautiful gardens and quiet, tranquil atmosphere. The college is comprised of several small buildings connected by tree-lined paths, giving it a cozy, intimate feel. Carleton’s campus, on the other hand, is much larger and more sprawling. The college boasts a wide range of facilities, including a state-of-the-art rec center, multiple dining options, and a large student union. Both colleges offer a vibrant campus life, with a wide range of clubs, organizations, and events to choose from.

Female teacher talking to a student in a music room.

One of the unique aspects of campus life at Swarthmore is the emphasis on community building. The college offers a variety of programs and events designed to bring students together and foster a sense of belonging. From weekly community dinners to service projects in the surrounding community, Swarthmore students are encouraged to engage with one another and with the world around them.

At Carleton, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of outdoor activities. The college is located in a beautiful natural setting, with easy access to hiking trails, lakes, and other outdoor recreation areas. Students can join clubs and organizations focused on activities like rock climbing, kayaking, and camping, or simply explore the surrounding wilderness on their own.

Academic Programs: Comparing the Academic Programs at Swarthmore vs Carleton

Swarthmore and Carleton are both known for their rigorous academic programs. Swarthmore is particularly well-regarded for its programs in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The college has a small student-to-faculty ratio, which means that students receive individualized attention and support from their professors. Carleton, on the other hand, is known for its strong programs in the arts and sciences, as well as its commitment to experiential learning opportunities. The college has a unique trimester system, which allows students to take a wide range of courses each year and fully immerse themselves in their studies.

Additionally, both Swarthmore and Carleton offer a variety of study abroad programs for their students. Swarthmore has partnerships with universities and programs in over 50 countries, allowing students to gain a global perspective and enhance their language skills. Carleton also offers study abroad opportunities, with programs in over 20 countries, and encourages students to integrate their experiences abroad into their academic and personal growth.

Admission Process: How to Get Into Swarthmore vs Carleton

Both Swarthmore and Carleton have highly selective admission processes. Swarthmore has an acceptance rate of 8%, while Carleton’s acceptance rate is slightly higher, at 18%. Both colleges look for students who have strong academic records, extracurricular achievements, and a genuine passion for learning. In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, both colleges also require essays, recommendations, and interviews as part of their application process.

Filling out a college application form in a table.

One important aspect of the admission process at both Swarthmore and Carleton is demonstrated interest. This means that the colleges want to see that you have a genuine interest in attending their institution. You can demonstrate interest by attending information sessions, visiting the campus, and reaching out to admissions counselors with thoughtful questions. It’s important to note that demonstrated interest is not the most important factor in the admission decision, but it can help to distinguish you from other applicants.

Another factor that both colleges consider is diversity. Swarthmore and Carleton are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive community, and they actively seek out students from a variety of backgrounds. This includes students from different racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic regions. If you come from a background that is underrepresented in higher education, or if you have overcome significant challenges in your life, be sure to highlight these experiences in your application.

Campus Facilities: What Facilities are Available at Swarthmore vs Carleton?

Swarthmore and Carleton offer a wide range of facilities designed to meet the needs of their students. Swarthmore has state-of-the-art science labs, a beautifully appointed performing arts center, and a wide range of athletic facilities. Carleton boasts a world-class art museum, a large rec center, and a cutting-edge science complex complete with research labs and classrooms. Both colleges have extensive library collections and excellent IT resources.

A woman in library holding her book.

In addition to these facilities, Swarthmore also has a dedicated student center that serves as a hub for student activities and events. The student center features a variety of meeting rooms, lounges, and dining options, as well as a game room and a movie theater. Carleton, on the other hand, has a unique outdoor recreation program that allows students to explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area through activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, and camping.

Furthermore, both colleges offer a range of support services to help students succeed academically and personally. Swarthmore has a comprehensive academic support program that includes tutoring, study groups, and writing assistance. Carleton has a robust career center that provides students with resources and guidance for internships, job searches, and graduate school applications. Both colleges also have counseling centers that offer confidential mental health services to students.

Faculty: What are the Faculty Members Like at Swarthmore and Carleton?

The faculty members at Swarthmore and Carleton are among the best in their fields. They are passionate about teaching and are deeply committed to helping their students succeed. Both colleges have low student-to-faculty ratios, which means that students have ample opportunities to interact with their professors both inside and outside of the classroom. Faculty members at both colleges are known for being accessible, supportive, and incredibly knowledgeable in their respective fields.

Additionally, many faculty members at Swarthmore and Carleton are actively engaged in research and scholarship, which allows them to bring cutting-edge knowledge and perspectives into the classroom. This not only enhances the quality of education for students but also provides opportunities for students to get involved in research and gain valuable experience in their fields of interest. Furthermore, faculty members at both colleges are committed to creating inclusive and diverse learning environments, where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and supported.

Extracurricular Activities: What Extracurricular Activities are Available at Swarthmore and Carleton?

Both Swarthmore and Carleton offer a wide range of extracurricular activities for students to choose from. Swarthmore has over 100 student-run organizations, including clubs focused on social justice, environmental activism, and the arts. Carleton offers over 250 student-run organizations, ranging from capella groups to ultimate frisbee teams. Both colleges have active theater and music scenes, with multiple performances and concerts taking place throughout the year.

In addition to the numerous student-run organizations, both Swarthmore and Carleton offer opportunities for students to participate in research and community service. Swarthmore has a variety of research programs, including the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship, which allows students to conduct research on sustainability issues. Carleton has a Center for Community and Civic Engagement, which connects students with local organizations and provides opportunities for community service.

two female students holding a garbage bag while picking up garbage

Furthermore, both colleges have outdoor recreation programs that allow students to explore the natural beauty of their respective campuses. Swarthmore has a bike share program and a student-run farm, while Carleton has a popular outdoor recreation program that offers activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, and camping trips.

Career Services: How Do Swarthmore vs Carleton Help Their Students Prepare for Careers?

Swarthmore and Carleton are both committed to helping their students succeed beyond the classroom. Both colleges offer extensive career services, including workshops, individual counseling, and job/internship databases. Swarthmore has a strong network of alumni working in a wide range of industries, while Carleton offers a unique externship program that allows students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen career field.

In addition to these services, Swarthmore also hosts career fairs and networking events throughout the year, giving students the opportunity to connect with potential employers and learn about different industries. The college also offers funding for students pursuing unpaid internships, allowing them to gain valuable experience without financial burden.

Carleton, on the other hand, has a strong focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. The college offers resources and support for students interested in starting their own businesses, including a startup incubator program and a pitch competition. Carleton also has partnerships with local businesses and organizations, providing students with opportunities to work on real-world projects and gain practical skills.

Alumni Network: How Strong is the Alumni Network at Swarthmore vs Carleton?

Both Swarthmore and Carleton have strong alumni networks that are committed to supporting current students and recent graduates. Swarthmore’s network of alumni includes CEOs, Nobel laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners, while Carleton’s network includes prominent politicians, business leaders, and academics. Both colleges offer extensive opportunities for alumni to stay involved with their alma mater, including networking events, mentorship programs, and opportunities to speak on campus.

One unique aspect of Swarthmore’s alumni network is its strong focus on social justice and activism. Many alumni are involved in advocacy work and use their positions of influence to promote positive change in their communities. Carleton’s alumni network, on the other hand, is known for its strong sense of community and camaraderie. Alumni often stay connected through regional clubs and events, and many return to campus for reunions and other special occasions.

In addition to traditional forms of alumni engagement, both Swarthmore and Carleton have embraced technology to connect with their graduates. Both colleges have active alumni social media groups, online directories, and virtual events that allow alumni to stay connected from anywhere in the world. These digital resources have become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as in-person events have been limited.


So, which college is right for you? Ultimately, the answer depends on your individual needs, interests, and goals. Swarthmore and Carleton are both exceptional institutions that offer a wide range of opportunities for students to learn, grow, and succeed. We hope that this article has provided you with a comprehensive understanding of what each college has to offer and will help you make an informed decision about where to continue your academic journey.

It is important to consider factors such as location, campus culture, and available resources when making your decision. Swarthmore is located just outside of Philadelphia, while Carleton is situated in a small town in Minnesota. Swarthmore has a reputation for being politically active and socially conscious, while Carleton is known for its strong sense of community and emphasis on collaboration.

Additionally, both colleges offer extensive resources for students, including research opportunities, study abroad programs, and career services. Swarthmore has a unique honors program that allows students to design their own course of study, while Carleton has a strong focus on interdisciplinary learning and encourages students to explore a variety of subjects.


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