Swarthmore vs USC: Which College Is Right for You?

August 24, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Swarthmore vs USC: Which College Is Right for You?

Choosing the right college can be a daunting task, especially when there are plenty of excellent options. Two of the top-notch colleges in the United States, Swarthmore, and USC, offer exceptional academics, vibrant student communities, and endless opportunities for personal and professional growth. In this article, we will compare Swarthmore vs USC to help you make the right choice!


The University of Southern California (USC) is a private research university located in Los Angeles, California. USC has an impressive reputation for its world-class academics and research opportunities, with a strong focus on innovation and collaboration. The university offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs across various fields of study such as business, engineering, law, arts, and sciences. USC boasts a diverse student body with students from all 50 U.S. states and over 100 countries, making it an ideal place to cultivate a global perspective.

View of USC building at daytime.

USC is also known for its strong athletic programs, with 21 varsity sports teams competing in the NCAA Division I Pac-12 Conference. The university has a rich history of athletic success, including multiple national championships in football, baseball, and water polo. USC’s athletic facilities are top-notch, with the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum serving as the home stadium for football and the Galen Center hosting basketball and volleyball games. The university’s commitment to both academic and athletic excellence makes it a well-rounded institution for students looking to pursue their passions both in and out of the classroom.

Academic Offerings at Swarthmore and USC: A Comprehensive Comparison

Both Swarthmore and USC have rigorous academic programs, but they differ in their approach. Swarthmore College is a liberal arts college, and as such, focuses more on developing students’ critical thinking, writing, and communication skills across various disciplines. On the other hand, USC offers more specialized programs, giving students the opportunity to delve deeper into areas of interest such as film production, entrepreneurship, and global health.

Despite the differences, both Swarthmore and USC offer excellent academic opportunities for their students, with outstanding faculty, research resources, and state-of-the-art facilities.

One notable difference between Swarthmore and USC is their class sizes. Swarthmore has a smaller student body and a lower student-to-faculty ratio, which allows for more personalized attention and interaction with professors. USC, on the other hand, has larger class sizes but also offers more opportunities for research and collaboration with faculty members.

Another difference is the availability of study-abroad programs. Swarthmore has a strong emphasis on global education and offers a wide range of study-abroad programs in various countries. USC also offers study abroad opportunities, but they are more focused on specific programs and locations, such as the USC Annenberg International Communication Program in London.

Admissions Process: How to Get into Swarthmore vs. USC

The admissions process is an essential aspect of choosing a college. Swarthmore and USC have different approaches to admissions, but both have highly competitive processes that take into account students’ academic records, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation.

Swarthmore College emphasizes a holistic approach, taking into account a range of factors beyond just academic achievements. USC also takes a comprehensive approach but places more emphasis on a student’s performance in standardized tests. Both colleges are highly selective, and it’s essential that prospective students understand the expectations and requirements for admission.

Female student answering a test in a chair.

One of the unique aspects of Swarthmore’s admissions process is its commitment to diversity and inclusion. The college actively seeks out students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and values applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to social justice and community service. USC, on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on leadership potential and entrepreneurial spirit, seeking out students who have demonstrated a drive to succeed in their chosen field.

It’s important for prospective students to understand that the admissions process is just the first step in their college journey. Once accepted, students will need to navigate a range of academic and social challenges, and it’s essential to choose a college that will provide the support and resources needed to succeed. Swarthmore and USC both offer a range of academic and extracurricular opportunities, and it’s important for students to carefully consider which college will be the best fit for their individual needs and goals.

Student Life at Swarthmore vs. USC: What’s the Difference?

Both Swarthmore and USC offer vibrant student communities that provide a range of extracurricular and social opportunities. Swarthmore, being a smaller liberal arts college, has a tight-knit community, and students can quickly get involved in various clubs, organizations, and events. In contrast, USC, being a larger university, has a more diverse and extensive array of student activities and events.

Regardless, both colleges offer an excellent student life experience that encourages students’ growth, development, and engagement within their communities.

Three students doing a thumbs up in front of a camera.

One significant difference between student life at Swarthmore and USC is the location. Swarthmore is located in a small town in Pennsylvania, which provides a more intimate and peaceful environment for students. In contrast, USC is located in the heart of Los Angeles, which offers students access to a bustling city with endless opportunities for entertainment, internships, and networking.

Another difference is the academic culture. Swarthmore is known for its rigorous academic program, and students are encouraged to pursue intellectual curiosity and critical thinking. USC, on the other hand, offers a more balanced approach to academics and social life, with a focus on practical skills and career preparation.

Housing Options: Swarthmore vs. USC

Swarthmore and USC offer varied and comfortable housing options for their students. Swarthmore has a residential college system that promotes intellectual engagement and community-building among students. Students at USC can choose from on-campus residence halls, suites, apartments, or private residences. Both institutions prioritize creating a safe and welcoming living environment for their students, making campus living an exciting and fulfilling experience.

At Swarthmore, students have the opportunity to live in a tight-knit community with their peers. Each residential college has its own unique culture and traditions, which fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among students. Additionally, the residential college system allows for easy access to academic resources and support, as faculty members and advisors are often present in the dorms.

On the other hand, USC offers a wide range of housing options to cater to different student preferences and needs. Students can choose to live in a traditional dorm setting or opt for more independent living in apartments or private residences. USC also offers themed housing options, such as the International Residential College, which allows students to live with others who share similar interests and backgrounds.

Cost of Attendance: Comparing Swarthmore and USC Tuition and Fees

Both Swarthmore and USC are expensive, private institutions, and the cost of attendance can be daunting. Swarthmore has a net tuition and fees of approximately $59,328 per year, while USC’s net tuition and fees are roughly $64,726 per year. However, both colleges offer financial aid opportunities in the form of grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. Thus, students should review and compare financial aid opportunities when deciding between colleges.

Unidentified person calculating application fees in a table.

It is important to note that the cost of attendance goes beyond just tuition and fees. Students must also consider the cost of room and board, textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses. Swarthmore estimates these additional costs to be around $20,000 per year, while USC estimates them to be around $32,00 per year. Therefore, the total cost of attendance at Swarthmore is approximately more than $70,000 per year, and the total cost of attendance at USC is approximately more than $90,000 per year.

Despite the high cost of attendance, both Swarthmore and USC have a strong reputation for providing a high-quality education and preparing students for successful careers. Swarthmore is known for its rigorous academic programs and small class sizes, while USC is known for its strong connections to the entertainment industry and its location in Los Angeles, a hub for technology and innovation. Ultimately, students should consider their academic and career goals, as well as their financial situation, when deciding between these two prestigious institutions.

Financial Aid Opportunities at Swarthmore vs. USC

As mentioned earlier, both Swarthmore and USC offer financial aid opportunities to their students. Swarthmore pledges to meet 100% of every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need and does not offer loans in their financial aid package. USC offers merit-based scholarships to high-achieving students and a comprehensive financial aid package, including need-based grants and work-study programs.

The cost and financial aid opportunities should be a key factor when deciding between Swarthmore and USC.

It is important to note that the financial aid application process at both Swarthmore and USC can be competitive and require extensive documentation. Students should plan ahead and be prepared to provide detailed information about their family’s financial situation. Additionally, both schools offer resources and support to help students navigate the financial aid process and find additional funding opportunities, such as external scholarships and grants.

Graduate Outcomes: How Do Swarthmore and USC Compare?

Swarthmore and USC have an impressive track record of producing successful graduates. Swarthmore students are well-prepared for graduate and professional schools, and graduates are in high demand among employers. USC graduates are known for their versatility and adaptability, equipping them for a wide range of career paths. Both colleges boast an extensive alumni network of leaders in various fields, providing excellent opportunities for mentorship, internships, and job placements.

One notable difference between Swarthmore and USC is their approach to undergraduate research. Swarthmore emphasizes hands-on research opportunities for students, with many students conducting independent research projects and presenting their findings at conferences. USC, on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on collaborative research projects, often involving interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty.

Another factor to consider when comparing graduate outcomes is the geographic location of each college. Swarthmore is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, while USC is located in the heart of Los Angeles. This can have an impact on the types of job opportunities available to graduates, as well as the industries that are most prevalent in each region.

Athletics Programs: Comparing Swarthmore and USC Sports Teams

Swarthmore and USC take athletics seriously, as such, each institution boasts a robust athletic program. Swarthmore is a Division III school, known for its competitive sports teams that participate in various sports, including basketball, soccer, tennis, and cross country. USC, on the other hand, is a Division I school, fielding top-notch teams in sports such as football, basketball, and track and field.

Two students playing football in the field.

Despite the differences, both Swarthmore and USC provide excellent opportunities for student-athletes to participate in various sports, develop their athletic abilities, and compete at a high level.

One notable difference between the athletics programs at Swarthmore and USC is the level of funding and resources available. USC, being a larger and more well-known institution, has a larger budget for athletics and can afford to provide its teams with top-of-the-line equipment, facilities, and coaching staff. Swarthmore, while still providing excellent resources for its student-athletes, operates on a smaller budget and may not have access to the same level of resources as USC.

Extracurricular Activities: Opportunities at Swarthmore vs. USC

Both Swarthmore and USC offer extensive opportunities for extracurricular activities and clubs that cater to students’ interests and passions. Swarthmore has over 100 clubs and organizations in various fields such as arts, culture, activism, and sports. USC has over 600 clubs and organizations that cover various interests such as academic and professional development, service, and social activities.

Students at both colleges can discover and pursue their interests, develop leadership skills, and foster personal growth through their extracurricular activities.

One of the unique aspects of Swarthmore’s extracurricular activities is the emphasis on social justice and activism. Many of the clubs and organizations at Swarthmore are dedicated to promoting social change and addressing issues such as racial inequality, environmental sustainability, and LGBTQ+ rights. Students at Swarthmore have the opportunity to engage in meaningful activism and make a positive impact on their community.

On the other hand, USC’s extracurricular activities are known for their focus on professional development and networking. Many of the clubs and organizations at USC are affiliated with specific industries or career paths, providing students with valuable opportunities to gain experience and make connections in their fields of interest. USC students can take advantage of these resources to prepare for their future careers and build a strong professional network.

Faculty and Student Body Diversity at Swarthmore vs. USC

Diversity is an essential aspect of college life, where students encounter and learn from people with different experiences and perspectives. Swarthmore ranks among the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, with a student body that reflects diverse backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and nationalities. The faculty at Swarthmore, too, is diverse, which enhances the intellectual rigor and exploration across various academic disciplines.

Similarly, USC has a diverse student population, with students representing all 50 U.S. states and over 100 countries. The faculty at USC is also diverse, comprising internationally recognized scholars, researchers, and practitioners who bring unique perspectives to the classroom and enhance intellectual inquiry.

However, despite the similarities in diversity between Swarthmore and USC, there are some notable differences. Swarthmore has a higher percentage of students who identify as LGBTQ+ and a higher percentage of students who are first-generation college students. USC, on the other hand, has a higher percentage of international students and a higher percentage of students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. These differences in diversity highlight the unique strengths and challenges of each institution and provide opportunities for cross-cultural learning and understanding.

Campus Safety: Comparing Security Measures at Swarthmore and USC

Ensuring campus safety is crucial for every college, and Swarthmore and USC have robust measures in place to ensure the safety of their students, faculty, and staff. Swarthmore has Campus Safety Officers who patrol the campus 24/7 and provide safety escort services. USC employs a team of Campus Safety Officers, security guards, and community safety officers to ensure a secure and safe environment.

In addition to their security personnel, Swarthmore also has a comprehensive emergency response plan in place. The plan includes regular drills and training sessions for students, faculty, and staff to prepare for emergencies such as natural disasters, active shooter situations, and medical emergencies. USC also has an emergency response plan that includes a text alert system to notify students and staff of any potential threats on campus.

Both Swarthmore and USC also have security cameras installed throughout their campuses to monitor activity and deter criminal behavior. Swarthmore has over 100 cameras installed in various locations, while USC has over 2,000 cameras installed throughout its campus. These cameras are monitored by security personnel and can be used to investigate any incidents that occur on campus.

Internship Opportunities for Students at Swarthmore vs. USC

Both Swarthmore and USC have extensive networks of alumni, connections with industry leaders, and a range of resources to support students’ internship and career goals. Swarthmore has a robust Career Services Office, offering career coaching, internships, and job search strategies to students. USC has its own Career Center, which assists students in finding internships, networking opportunities, job fairs, and career counseling services to facilitate their career success.

a group of students line dup against a wall while the word "internship" is visible right above their heads.

However, there are some differences between the internship opportunities at Swarthmore and USC. Swarthmore’s smaller size and focus on undergraduate education means that students may have more personalized attention and support in finding internships that align with their interests and goals. USC’s larger size and emphasis on research may provide more opportunities for students to work on cutting-edge projects and gain experience in their field of study.

Study Abroad Programs at Swarthmore and USC

Study abroad programs offer students the opportunity to explore different cultures, learn new languages, and gain global perspectives. Swarthmore and USC both offer exceptional study abroad programs that allow students to immerse themselves in different cultures, study in international universities, and participate in research or internships abroad. Swarthmore has a range of study-abroad opportunities across various disciplines, while USC has partnerships with over 60 universities worldwide.

Additionally, both Swarthmore and USC offer extensive support services for students studying abroad. These services include pre-departure orientations, on-site support, and re-entry programs to help students readjust to life back home. Swarthmore also offers language immersion programs to help students improve their language skills before studying abroad, while USC provides funding opportunities for students who may need financial assistance to participate in study abroad programs.

Career Services Offered by both Colleges

The career services offered by both Swarthmore and USC are designed to help students transition successfully from college to their careers. Both institutions have a range of resources to support students in career development, job searches, resume building, and interview preparation. Swarthmore’s Career Services Office offers counseling, workshops, and resources that help students explore their career interests, while USC offers career coaching, networking events, and alumni mentors.

In addition to these services, both colleges also have internship programs that provide students with hands-on experience in their chosen fields. Swarthmore’s Externship Program allows students to shadow alumni in their workplaces, while USC’s Career Advantage Program offers internships with top companies in various industries. These programs give students the opportunity to gain practical skills and make valuable connections that can help them launch their careers after graduation.

The Verdict

Choosing between Swarthmore and USC is a challenging task, as both institutions offer excellent opportunities for academic and personal growth. Ultimately, the choice between the two institutions depends on the student’s personality, interests, financial situation, and career goals. Prospective students should consider the factors mentioned above, visit the campuses, talk to current students and faculty, and thoroughly research both colleges before making their decision.

One factor that may influence a student’s decision is the location of the college. Swarthmore is located in a suburban area outside of Philadelphia, while USC is located in the heart of Los Angeles. Students who prefer a quieter, more residential environment may prefer Swarthmore, while those who enjoy the hustle and bustle of a big city may prefer USC.

Another factor to consider is the size of the student body. Swarthmore is a small liberal arts college with around 1,600 students, while USC is a large research university with over 47,000 students. Students who prefer a more intimate, close-knit community may prefer Swarthmore, while those who enjoy a diverse and bustling campus may prefer USC.


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