BackgroundInterview Date:February 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in Los Angeles, CA with a graduating class of about 450 students. About half of the students intended to go to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Biology on Pre-Med Track
Extracurricular Activities: Rock Climbing, Kickboxing, part of Swarthmore Asian Organization, and I’ve done research with professors.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Kickboxing and Rock Climbing are things I do with my friends for personal enjoyment. The Swarthmore Asian Organization has been a good experience because my first semester here I [worked for the club] which helped me learn how clubs at Swarthmore work. The semester after we shifted the club’s focus from a social organization to a political organization, so that was also a good experience for me.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
There is a lab every week for the majority of Biology courses. If you’re an underclassman, you mostly have labs and other coursework associated with that, plus weekly problem sets. For the classes I’ve taken, there is an emphasis on primary literature rather than the textbook. If you’re an upperclassman, you have to take seminars which are in a much smaller classroom environment with 10-15 people. There you read primary literature and make presentations on it, so you’re teaching the class in a sense.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I’ve had experience with all the professors in the department, and all the professors are really warm and welcoming and it’s really easy to go talk to them. If you’re having academic problems you can go in and talk to them. I’ve also done research over the summers and it’s very easy to work with faculty on research projects, which I appreciate.
What was the process of you getting involved in research?
I basically walked into a professor’s office and said, “Hey, I looked at some of the papers you’ve worked on, your work seems interesting. Can I join you over the summer?” We had some conversations from there assessing potential research topics and that’s pretty much it.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s not competitive whatsoever. It’s a very collaborative learning environment. If you have a problem with any of your homework you can find a friend or anybody you’re in a class with, and, unless they’re really busy, they’ll be glad to help you out. It’s never really felt competitive at all.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re very accessible. Most of them leave their doors open so, even when it isn’t their office hours, you can just pop your head in and ask them questions, etc.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation student? Were there any systems in place to help you adjust?
The first semester at Swarthmore is a Pass/Fail system, which means that all your classes are graded either for credit or no credit – you don’t get any letter grades. There’s a lot less pressure on you your first semester. I really appreciated that because my first semester my grades weren’t fantastic, but I did pass all of them. It was very relieving and comforting to have that system so I didn’t have to stress my grades. I just had to focus on what learning systems worked best for me and how do I study and approach material without having the pressure of grades. I made the most of that and it really helped.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
Since I’m pre-med, it happened naturally. I personally am happy with my choice because the department is great and I feel that I’m learning a lot. I feel really supported.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Wharton Hall in a quad. There were three rooms, two singles and a double, it was kind of like a suite. We split semesters, so first semester I had a single and second semester I had a double.
Sophomore: Hallowell Hall in a double room.
Junior: Parrish Hall in a single.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Very safe. I feel comfortable leaving my phone, wallet, and laptop somewhere and going to go grab something.
Pros and cons of being located in Swarthmore, PA:
Pros: 1) Philadelphia is close by, so if want to go into the city that’s an option. [The drive from Swarthmore College to Center City Philadelphia is about 30 minutes.]
Cons: 1) I personally hate the weather. I enjoy going to visit snow but don’t enjoy living in it.
2) It’s a little isolated, so you have to go out of your way to do anything. We don’t have much of a college town around us, which is unfortunate.
I don’t have many strong feelings about the location.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I don’t go to many parties or campus events. Once or twice a year my friends and I will go to New York City for the weekend. I personally like to go rock climbing at night or go eat out around Swarthmore or in Media, which is a small town nearby. We also sometimes go to Philadelphia.
How happy have you been with the weekend options at Swarthmore? Is there anything you would change if you could?
There is usually a lot of academic work you need to do over the weekends, so you don’t have time to do a lot over the weekends. I guess it would be nice to have a little more free time over the weekends, but that’s not always possible.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Orientation. We just clicked and have been hanging out ever since.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
In terms of nightlife and partying, Swarthmore isn’t great. A lot of students don’t have a lot of time for that because they are focusing on academics. A lot of time is spent in libraries or in cafes and places like that. When there are social things, it’s great because you’re going with friends.
How would you describe the student body?
Very driven, motivated, and hard working.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Pretty well. I see groups of all sorts of races and sexual orientations across campus. There is no discrimination on this campus.
How would you describe the East Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
It’s pretty strong. There are a fair number of East Asians on campus from the United States and abroad. I know quite a few with them and am friends with a lot of them, both domestic and international. My friend group includes a couple of international students from South Korea and China. [During the 2018-2019 academic year, about 16% of the student body was Asian and 13% were international students.]
How do you like the size of Swarthmore in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How does it influence your social experience? [Swarthmore has about 1,647 undergraduate students.]
It’s a little small, but I don’t mind. That was actually one of the few things I was looking for when I was looking for colleges, so I personally do enjoy it. You get to know everyone in a sense, or at least know their face. You have to be aware that everyone becomes a familiar face, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you want to be anonymous, Swarthmore is not the place to go to. At the same time, you can develop really close bonds here.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
For me, definitely yes. I’m working with an alum this upcoming summer at a clinic and that was possible because he’s an alum. I feel one benefit of going to Swarthmore is that even though we have fewer alumni than a bigger school, those alumni are a lot more welcoming in my opinion. They’re more than happy to help because they care about the school.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
One of the big benefits of Swarthmore is they host an Extern Program, where you apply for externships with alums or friends of the college. If you get it, you go and shadow them and interact with them [for a short time]. It’s very helpful for exploring possible career options or to see if [a certain post-graduate program] was best for them, etc.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages that will be helpful to you professionally?
I learned R through my intro to statistics class. I also took an intro to computer science class that taught me Python.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful was the office?
Yeah, I do use financial aid and Swarthmore provides pretty substantial financial aid. The office is very open to communication, so if there is an issue you can send an email and they will be receptive. I have nothing but good things to say about the financial aid office. [Swarthmore practices need-blind admissions, meets the full demonstrated need of students, and aid is loan-free.]
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Swarthmore before entering as a transfer?
I wish I knew how cold the East Coast is. I was not prepared for that at all.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Go talk to some professors and go to a class so you can see how they teach class. That way you’ll get a sense of them.
Reasons to attend Swarthmore:
1) It’s a small school. The community is fantastic
2) It’s a liberal arts school.
3) It has the convenience of having a city nearby.
Reasons to not attend Swarthmore:
1) It’s a small school. You can’t be anonymous if you ever want to be.
2) The weather.
3) It’s academically intense and challenging. If you want to have a more relaxed college experience, this may not be the best place for you.