Swarthmore vs Northwestern: Which College is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student walking near a walkway.

Swarthmore vs Northwestern: Which College is Right for You?

If you’re in the process of researching potential colleges and universities, you may be considering both Swarthmore and Northwestern. Both schools have much to offer, but how do they compare? In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at Swarthmore vs Northwestern to help you make the right choice!


Let’s begin with Northwestern. Located in Evanston, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, Northwestern is a large university that’s known for its strong academic programs, particularly in journalism, engineering, and business. If you’re looking for a school with a strong reputation and impressive resources, Northwestern may be a great choice for you.

In addition to its academic strengths, Northwestern also offers a vibrant campus life. With over 400 student organizations, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and meet new people. The university also has a strong athletic program, with 19 varsity sports teams competing in the Big Ten Conference.

View of Northwestern building during the day.

Northwestern is also committed to diversity and inclusion. The school has a number of initiatives and programs aimed at promoting equity and creating a welcoming environment for students from all backgrounds. This includes the Multicultural Student Affairs office, which provides resources and support for underrepresented students, and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, which offers programming and advocacy for LGBTQ+ students.

Size and Campus: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

One significant difference between the two schools is their size. Swarthmore has a student body of just 1,600 students, while Northwestern has over 21,000. This can have a significant impact on your experience as a student. At Northwestern, you’ll have access to a much broader range of resources, including a vast library system, cutting-edge research facilities, and numerous extracurricular activities. However, the smaller size of Swarthmore can offer a more intimate, tight-knit community and a more personalized educational experience.

Another important factor to consider when comparing the two schools is their campus. Swarthmore’s campus is located in a suburban area, with a picturesque, tree-lined campus that is easy to navigate. Northwestern, on the other hand, is located in Evanston, a bustling college town just north of Chicago. The campus is much larger and more spread out, with a mix of modern and historic buildings. While both campuses offer a beautiful setting for learning, the location and layout of each can greatly impact your daily experience as a student.

Admission Process: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both Swarthmore and Northwestern have highly competitive admissions processes, with acceptance rates of just 8% and 7%, respectively. However, the application process for each school can differ significantly. Swarthmore has a test-optional approach, meaning that submitting SAT or ACT scores is not required, and the admissions committee takes a more holistic view of applicants, placing emphasis on essays, recommendations, and extracurricular activities. Northwestern, on the other hand, typically places more weight on standardized test scores and grades, although demonstrating well-rounded interests and achievements is also important.

Group of students working on their desks.

Another difference between the admission processes of Swarthmore and Northwestern is the use of interviews. Swarthmore offers optional interviews for applicants, which can provide an opportunity for students to showcase their personality and interests beyond what is included in their application. Northwestern, on the other hand, does not typically offer interviews as part of their admissions process.

It is also worth noting that both schools have a need-blind admissions policy, meaning that an applicant’s financial need is not taken into consideration during the admissions process. However, once admitted, both schools are committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of their students through a combination of grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

Academic Programs: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

When it comes to academic programs, both Swarthmore and Northwestern have much to offer. Swarthmore is known for its strong liberal arts curriculum, with a particular emphasis on the humanities and social sciences. The school also offers programs in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Northwestern, meanwhile, is known for its excellent journalism, business, and engineering programs, as well as its comprehensive liberal arts curriculum. Both schools have a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, so if you’re looking to get involved in research as an undergraduate, either school could be a great choice for you.

An open book with eyeglasses placed on a table.

However, there are some differences between the two schools when it comes to their academic programs. Swarthmore has a smaller student body and a lower student-to-faculty ratio, which means that students have more opportunities for one-on-one interactions with professors. This can be particularly beneficial for students who are interested in pursuing research or independent study projects. On the other hand, Northwestern has a larger student body and a wider range of academic programs, which means that students have more options when it comes to choosing a major or a course of study.

Another difference between the two schools is their approach to interdisciplinary studies. Swarthmore has a strong tradition of interdisciplinary learning, with many courses and programs that combine multiple fields of study. Northwestern also offers interdisciplinary programs, but they tend to be more focused on specific areas of study, such as the intersection of technology and society or the relationship between law and business. Depending on your interests and goals, one approach may be more appealing than the other.

Reputation and Rankings: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

As mentioned earlier, both Swarthmore and Northwestern have strong reputations and consistently rank among the top schools in the nation. However, they do have differing strengths and areas of focus, which can impact their reputation in certain fields. Additionally, the reputation of a school can differ depending on who you ask, so it’s important to consider your own priorities when evaluating the reputation of a school.

For example, Swarthmore is known for its strong liberal arts curriculum and emphasis on undergraduate research, while Northwestern is known for its top-ranked journalism and communication programs. Swarthmore also has a smaller student body and a more intimate campus community, while Northwestern has a larger student body and a more urban campus setting. These differences can affect how each school is perceived by different groups of people, such as employers, graduate schools, or academic researchers.

Student Life: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

The experience of student life can differ significantly between the two schools. Northwestern has a bustling campus community with many opportunities for socializing and extracurricular involvement. The school also has a vibrant arts scene, with a strong theater program and a renowned music school. Swarthmore, meanwhile, offers a more low-key student experience, with a focus on communal living and collaborative learning. The school has a strong emphasis on student activism and social justice issues, and many students are involved in social justice organizations and community service projects.

Students walking in front of a building.

One major difference between the two schools is the size of the student body. Northwestern has a much larger student population, which can make it easier to find a niche and meet people with similar interests. However, Swarthmore’s smaller size allows for a more tight-knit community, where students often form close relationships with their peers and professors.

Another factor to consider is the location of the schools. Northwestern is located in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, which offers easy access to the city’s cultural attractions and job opportunities. Swarthmore, on the other hand, is located in a small town outside of Philadelphia, which provides a quieter, more residential atmosphere. Both locations have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on what type of environment you prefer.

Athletics and Extracurricular Activities: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both Swarthmore and Northwestern offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, from student clubs to athletics. However, the nature of these activities can differ. Swarthmore has a more limited selection of varsity sports, although the school does have a strong track and field program. The school also has a robust intramural sports program and a number of student-led clubs and organizations. Northwestern, meanwhile, has a strong emphasis on varsity athletics, with 19 NCAA Division I teams. The school also has many other extracurricular activities, including a student-run radio station and a competitive debate team.

It is worth noting that while Northwestern places a strong emphasis on varsity athletics, Swarthmore prioritizes a more well-rounded approach to extracurricular activities. Swarthmore encourages students to explore a variety of interests and passions and offers resources and support for students to create their own clubs and organizations. This allows for a diverse range of extracurricular activities that reflect the interests and values of the student body. Additionally, Swarthmore’s focus on community service and social justice is reflected in many of the school’s extracurricular activities, such as volunteer organizations and advocacy groups.

Faculty and Staff: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both schools have top-notch faculty and staff, but the nature of these professionals can differ. Swarthmore has a strong emphasis on small class sizes and a personalized educational experience, which means that students have more direct access to faculty. Northwestern, while still emphasizing teaching excellence, may have more specialized and research-oriented faculty due to its focus on graduate education and research.

Many people are having fun on a desk.

Additionally, Swarthmore has a higher faculty-to-student ratio compared to Northwestern, which means that professors at Swarthmore have more time to devote to individual students. On the other hand, Northwestern’s larger size and resources may allow for more diverse and interdisciplinary research opportunities for both faculty and students. Ultimately, the choice between these two schools may depend on a student’s individual academic and career goals.

Post-Graduation Opportunities: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both schools have strong post-graduation opportunities, and graduates of both schools typically go on to successful careers. However, the nature of these opportunities and the industries in which they’re found can differ. Northwestern graduates may be more likely to enter into finance, consulting, or technology, while Swarthmore graduates may be more likely to pursue careers in the non-profit sector or academia. A student’s choice of major and individual career goals will often play a more significant role in determining post-graduation opportunities than the reputation of the school itself.

It’s worth noting that both Swarthmore and Northwestern have extensive alumni networks that can be incredibly helpful in securing post-graduation opportunities. These networks can provide access to job postings, mentorship opportunities, and valuable connections in various industries. Both schools also offer career services and resources to help students prepare for their job search and navigate the post-graduation landscape.

Another factor to consider when comparing post-graduation opportunities is location. Northwestern is located in Evanston, Illinois, which is just outside of Chicago. This proximity to a major city can be advantageous for students interested in pursuing careers in finance, consulting, or technology, as there are many opportunities in these industries in Chicago. Swarthmore, on the other hand, is located in a suburban area outside of Philadelphia. While Philadelphia also has a thriving non-profit sector and academic community, it may not offer as many opportunities in finance, consulting, or technology as Chicago does.

Tuition and Financial Aid: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

The cost of attending each school differs significantly. Swarthmore has a higher tuition and fees cost compared to Northwestern. However, Swarthmore also has a strong financial aid program, with most students receiving some form of need-based financial aid. Northwestern also has a robust financial aid program, however, the amount of funding you receive can vary depending on your individual circumstances.

It’s important to note that both schools offer merit-based scholarships in addition to need-based financial aid. Swarthmore offers a range of merit-based scholarships, including the McCabe Scholarship for students with exceptional academic achievement and the Lang Opportunity Scholarship for students pursuing social impact projects. Northwestern also offers a variety of merit-based scholarships, such as the Presidential Scholarship for students with outstanding academic records and the Northwestern Scholarship for students with demonstrated financial need.

Alumni Network: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both schools have a strong alumni network, however, the nature of these networks and how they function can differ. Swarthmore is known for its tight-knit community of graduates, who often maintain lifelong connections with their alma mater. Northwestern has a more far-reaching alumni network, with graduates found in a wide range of industries throughout the world. The alumni network can often play an important role in finding job opportunities and developing professional connections.

Additionally, both schools offer various resources and events for alumni to stay connected and engaged with their respective communities. Swarthmore hosts annual alumni weekends and regional events, as well as providing career services and mentorship opportunities. Northwestern offers similar resources, including career counseling, networking events, and alumni clubs in various cities around the world. Both schools recognize the importance of maintaining strong relationships with their alumni and strive to provide valuable support and opportunities for their graduates.

Diversity and Inclusion: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Diversity and inclusion are important considerations for many students when choosing a college or university. Swarthmore has a reputation for being a socially conscious community that values diversity and inclusivity. The school has a strong commitment to creating a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and identities. Northwestern also values diversity and inclusion, but as a larger school, it may have more challenges in creating a fully inclusive community.

One way that Swarthmore promotes diversity and inclusion is through its curriculum. The school offers a wide range of courses that explore issues related to race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of identity. Additionally, Swarthmore has a number of student-led organizations that focus on promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.

Northwestern, on the other hand, has a more diverse student body than Swarthmore. This can be attributed in part to its location in a major metropolitan area. However, the school has faced criticism for not doing enough to support underrepresented students. In recent years, Northwestern has taken steps to address these concerns, including the creation of a new office dedicated to diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Campus Resources and Facilities: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Both schools have robust campus resources and facilities, however, the nature of these resources and facilities can differ. Northwestern has a vast campus with modern facilities, including state-of-the-art research centers and world-class performance venues. Swarthmore, while still providing excellent resources, has a more intimate campus that is designed to foster community and collaboration.

One of the unique resources available at Northwestern is the Knight Lab, which is a digital media innovation center that provides students with the opportunity to work on cutting-edge projects in journalism and technology. Swarthmore, on the other hand, has a renowned Peace Collection that houses over 100,000 items related to peace and social justice movements, making it a valuable resource for students interested in activism and advocacy.

In terms of facilities, Northwestern boasts a state-of-the-art athletic complex that includes a fitness center, swimming pool, and multiple sports courts and fields. Swarthmore, while not as expansive, has a beautiful arboretum that spans over 300 acres and provides students with a peaceful and scenic environment for studying and relaxation.

Career Services and Internship Opportunities: Swarthmore vs Northwestern

Career services and internship opportunities can be crucial factors in determining post-graduation success. Both Swarthmore and Northwestern have strong career services departments that work with students to identify job and internship opportunities, develop job search skills, and provide guidance and support throughout the job search process. Northwestern’s more extensive alumni network and partnerships with employers can give students additional opportunities.

As this article has demonstrated, Swarthmore and Northwestern are two fantastic schools that offer students unique and valuable educational experiences. By considering the factors outlined in this article, you can decide which school – if either – is the right fit for you. Ultimately, the decision of where to attend college should be based on your own individual goals and priorities, and what you hope to gain from your undergraduate education.

It is worth noting that both Swarthmore and Northwestern offer various internship programs that allow students to gain hands-on experience in their desired fields. Swarthmore’s Extern Program provides students with the opportunity to shadow alumni in their workplaces during winter break, while Northwestern’s co-op program allows students to alternate between semesters of coursework and full-time work in their field of study. These programs can be invaluable in helping students build their resumes and make connections in their industries of interest.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.