College Bulletin 2016-2017 
    Jul 15, 2024  
College Bulletin 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

7 Educational Program

7.1 General Statement

Swarthmore College offers the degree of bachelor of arts and the degree of bachelor of science. The latter is given only to students who major in engineering. Four years of study are normally required for a bachelor’s degree (see section 9.1 ), but variation in this term, particularly as a result of Advanced Placement (AP) credit, is possible (see section 3.5 ).

The selection of a program will depend on the student’s interests and vocational plans. The primary purpose of a liberal arts education, however, is not merely to provide the best foundation for one’s future vocation. The purpose of a liberal arts education is to help students fulfill their responsibilities as citizens and grow into cultivated and versatile individuals. A liberal education is concerned with the development of moral, spiritual, and aesthetic values as well as analytical abilities. Furthermore, just as a liberal education is concerned with the cultural inheritance of the past, so, too, it is intended to develop citizens who will guide societies on a sustainable course where future culture will not be compromised in the development of the present. Intellectually, it aims to enhance resourcefulness, serious curiosity, open-mindedness, perspective, logical coherence, and insight.

During the first half of their college program, all students are expected to satisfy most, if not all, of the distribution requirements, to choose their major and minor subjects, and to prepare for advanced work in these subjects by taking certain prerequisites. The normal program consists of four courses or their equivalent each semester, chosen by the student in consultation with his or her faculty adviser.

All students must fulfill the requirements for the major. Before the end of the senior year, students are required to pass a comprehensive examination or its equivalent, given by the major department.

The program for engineering students follows a similar basic plan, with certain variations explained in the section on engineering. Courses outside the technical fields are distributed over all 4 years.

For honors candidates, courses and seminars taken as preparation for external evaluation occupy approximately one-half of the student’s work during the last 2 years. In addition to work taken as a part of the Honors Program, the students take other courses that provide opportunities for further exploration. During the senior year, many departments offer a specially designed senior honors study for honors majors and minors to encourage enhancement and integration of the honors preparations. At the close of the senior year, candidates for honors will be evaluated by visiting examiners.

The course advisers of first-year and sophomore students normally are members of the faculty appointed by the dean. For juniors and seniors, the advisers are the chairs of their major departments or their representatives.

Although faculty advisers assist students in preparing their academic programs, students are individually responsible for planning and adhering to programs and for the completion of graduation requirements. Faculty advisers, department chairs, other faculty members, the deans, and the registrar are available for information and advice.

7.2 Program for the First and Second Years

The major goals of the first 2 years of a Swarthmore education are to introduce students to a broad range of intellectual pursuits, to equip them with the analytic and expressive skills required to engage in those pursuits, and to foster a critical stance toward learning and knowing. All students must fulfill the requirements normally intended for the first 2 years of study, although engineering majors may spread some requirements over 4 years. Students entering Swarthmore as transfer students normally fulfill these requirements by a combination of work done before matriculation at Swarthmore and work done here, according to the rules detailed below.

To meet the distribution requirements, a student must earn degree-applicable credit in the following areas:

  1. Complete at least three courses in each of the three divisions of the College (listed). In each division, the three courses must be at least 1 credit each and may include up to 1 AP credit or credit awarded for work done elsewhere.
  2. Complete at least two courses in each division at Swarthmore; these courses must be at least 1 credit each.
  3. Complete at least two courses in each division in different departmental subjects; these courses must be at least 1 credit each and may include AP credit or credit awarded for work done elsewhere.
  4. Complete at least three Swarthmore Writing courses or Writing seminars, and those three must include work in at least two divisions; students are advised to complete two Writing courses in the first 2 years.
  5. Complete a natural sciences and engineering practicum.
  6. Courses that have been excluded from counting toward the degree do not count toward the distribution requirements.
  7. Take courses in a variety of departments, keeping in mind that before graduation, 20 credits outside of one major subject must be completed.

Distribution Requirement Divisions: For purposes of the distribution requirements, the three divisions of the College are as follows:

  • Humanities: art (art history and studio art), classics (literature), English literature, film and media studies, Greek, Latin, modern languages and literatures, music and dance, philosophy, religion, and theater.
  • Natural sciences and engineering: biology, chemistry and biochemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics and statistics, physics and astronomy, and psychology courses that qualify for the natural sciences and engineering practicum.
  • Social sciences: classics (ancient history), economics, education, history, linguistics, political science, psychology (other than natural sciences and engineering practicum courses), and sociology and anthropology.

Several interdisciplinary courses do not satisfy the divisional distribution requirement. These are identified as such in the catalog or the official schedule of courses.

Writing courses: In addition to addressing field-specific substance, writing courses will focus on the development of the students’ expository prose to ensure they can discover, reflect upon, organize, and communicate their knowledge effectively in written form. Approved Writing courses are only offered on the campus at Swarthmore.

NSEP science laboratory requirement: Natural sciences and engineering practicums (NSEPs) have at least 18 hours per semester of scheduled meeting time for laboratory, separate from the scheduled lecture hours. How the laboratory hours are scheduled varies with the nature of the course and the types of laboratories involved. Such meetings may entail weekly or biweekly 3-hour sessions in a laboratory, several all-day field trips, or several observation trips.

Cross-listed courses: Courses that are cross-listed between two departments in different divisions may, with the permission of the instructors, departments, and divisions involved, fulfill the divisional distribution requirement in one of the following ways: (1) in only one of the divisions so identified but not in the other; (2) in either division (but not both), depending on the departmental listing of the course on the academic record; (3) in neither of the divisions. In certain cases, the course may fulfill the distribution requirement according to the nature of the work done in the course by the individual student (e.g., a long paper in one of the departmental disciplines). The division of such courses is normally indicated in the catalog description for each course. When counting credits to determine a student’s fulfillment of the 20-course-credit rule, cross-listed courses count (only) in the subject in which they are listed on the student record. Changing the subject listing of a cross-listed course on the student record can be arranged, depending on permissions, during or sometimes after the course; there is a form for the purpose in the Registrar’s Office.

First-year seminars: All students are encouraged to take a first-year seminar during the fall or spring of their first year. First-year seminars are offered across the curriculum and are designed to introduce students to a field of study and to engage them in learning skills that will support them throughout their college experience. Each first-year seminar is limited to 12 first-year students. Many (but not all) first-year seminars count as the prerequisite to further work in the department in which they are offered.

Foreign language: It is most desirable that students include in their programs some work in a foreign language, beyond the basic language requirement (see section 9.1 ).

Mathematics: A student who intends to major in one of the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering should take an appropriate mathematics course in the first year. Students intending to major in one of the social sciences should be aware of the increasing importance of mathematical background for these subjects.

Physical education: Students are encouraged to enjoy the instructional and recreational opportunities offered by the department throughout their college careers. As a requirement for graduation, all students not excused for medical reasons are required to complete 4 units of physical education by the end of their sophomore year and all students must pass a survival swimming test or complete a unit of swimming instruction. Most physical education courses are offered for a half a semester and earn 1 unit toward the 4 units required for graduation. A complete list of physical education opportunities including how many units each earns is available from the Physical Education and Athletics Office. More information can be found in the Physical Education and Athletics section.

Transfer students: Students who enter Swarthmore as transfer students must fulfill Swarthmore’s requirements for the first 2 years, including the natural sciences and engineering practicum. Transfer courses can be applied toward these requirements if specifically approved by the registrar. Transfer students who enter Swarthmore with 8 credits of college work are exempted from one of the three required writing courses and have the credits-at-Swarthmore requirement reduced from 2 in each division to 1 in each division. Transfer students who enter Swarthmore with, at most, four semesters remaining to complete their degree are exempted from two of the three required writing courses and are exempted from the requirement that in each division 2 credits be taken at Swarthmore. Transfer students can either apply transfer PE units toward the 4-unit physical education requirement or opt for a reduction in the PE requirement based on the student’s transfer status, but transfer students cannot both transfer PE units and receive a reduction in the requirement. The optional reduction in PE units depends on the transfer class of the student. Transfer students who enter Swarthmore as sophomores can opt to complete 3 units of physical education and pass a survival swim test (a reduction of 1 PE unit). Transfer students who enter Swarthmore as juniors can opt to complete 2 units of physical education and pass a survival swim test (a reduction of 2 PE units).

Major application-the Sophomore Plan: Early in the sophomore year, each student should identify one or two subjects as possible majors, paying particular attention to departmental requirements and recommendations. In the spring of the sophomore year, each student will, with the guidance of his or her adviser, prepare a reasoned plan of study for the last 2 years. Sophomores who wish to link their interest in social service/social action to their plan of study are also encouraged to take advantage of the advising offered by the staff at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. The Sophomore Plan of study will be submitted to the chair of the student’s proposed major department as a part of the application for a major. Acceptance will be based on the student’s record and an estimate of his or her capacities in the designated major. Students who fail to secure approval of a major may be required to withdraw from the College.

7.3 Programs for Juniors and Seniors

The major goals of the last two years of a Swarthmore education are to engage students with a chosen field of inquiry and to assist them in assuming an independent role in creating and synthesizing knowledge within it. The breadth of exposure, acquisition of skills, and development of a critical stance during the first two years prepare students to pursue these goals. With the choice of a major and, perhaps, candidacy for honors, the focus shifts from scope to depth. Students become involved for the second two years with a discrete field of inquiry and demonstrate their command of that field through the completion of courses within the major and courses taken outside the major that expand and deepen the student’s perspective on the major.

Before graduation, students are required to complete at least 20 credits outside of one major subject.

7.4 Majors and Minors

All students are required to include sufficient work in a single department or program designated as a major. To complete a departmental major, a student must be accepted as a major; must complete eight courses (or more, depending on the department); must pass the department’s comprehensive requirement; and must fulfill other specific departmental requirements. Detailed requirements for acceptance to departmental majors and for completion of them are specified in this catalog under the respective departmental listings and are designed to ensure a comprehensive acquaintance with the field. A student must accumulate 20 course credits outside one major, but there is no other limit on the number of courses that a student may take in his or her major.

Completing a second major or one or two minors is optional, as is choosing to do an Honors Program. Students are limited in the number of majors and/or minors they may earn. If they have only one major, they may have as many as two minors. Students who choose an honors major plus honors minor may have an additional course minor outside the Honors Program. If students have two majors, they may not have a minor, except in one circumstance: A student who elects honors, designating an honors major and minor, may have a second major outside of honors if that second major includes the same subject as the honors minor. The completion of two majors must be approved by both departments. Triple majoring is not allowed.

Most departments and programs offer course minors. Those departments or programs that do not offer a course minor are comparative literature, economics, political science, sociology and anthropology, and studio art. (These departments or programs do offer honors minors.) Minors will include at least 5 credits.

Double counting in majors and minors: If a student has two majors and one is interdisciplinary, no more than 2 credits may be double counted with the student’s other major. However, the double-counting limit is not applicable to courses that students are required by their departmental major to take in other departments. Of the 5 credits required for a minor, 4 may not be double counted with the student’s major or other minor. The double-counting prohibition applies to any comparison of two given programs of study (not three taken together, even if the student has three programs). This means that a student who has a major in medieval studies, for example, and minors in both English literature and gender and sexuality studies would need four courses in English literature that are not part of the medieval studies major and four courses in gender and sexuality studies that are not part of the medieval studies major. In addition, each minor must have four courses that are not part of the other minor. Special minors are not permitted.

Exceptions to the double-counting prohibition:

  1. The double-counting prohibition is not applicable to courses that students are required by their majors or minors to take in other departments. For example, mathematics courses required for an engineering major are not automatically excluded from counting toward a minor defined by the Mathematics and Statistics Department.
  2. For an honors major who is also a double major, the double-counting prohibition does not apply to the relationship between the honors minor and the second major because these will always be or include the same field.

Advising in the major: During the junior and senior years, students are advised by the chair of the major department (or a member of the department designated by the chair) whose approval must be secured for the choice of courses each semester.

The deadline for seniors to propose any changes to their plan for major(s) or minor(s) is the third week of the spring semester of the senior year. Proposed changes are subject to departmental approval. Majors or minors may not be applied for or approved after graduation.

7.4.1 Special majors

Individualized and regularized special majors are available. With permission of the departments and/or programs concerned, it is possible for a student to plan an individualized special major that includes closely related work in one or more departments. In some areas, such as biochemistry and neuroscience, in which regularized special majors are done frequently, the departments and programs involved provide recommended programs. These regularized special majors are described in the relevant department sections of the catalog or in material available from department chairs. A special major is expected to be integrated in the sense that it specifies a field of learning (not necessarily conventional) or topic or problems for sustained inquiry that crosses departmental boundaries, or it may be treated as a subfield within the normal departmental major. Special majors consist of at least 10 credits and normally of no more than 12 credits. Students with special majors normally complete a minimum of six courses in the primary department or program, omitting some of the breadth requirements of the major field. However, course requirements central to systematic understanding of the major field may not be waived. Students with special majors must complete the major comprehensive requirement, which may consist of a thesis or other written research projects designed to integrate the work across departmental boundaries, or a comprehensive examination. By extension, special majors may be formulated as joint majors between two departments, normally with at least 5 credits in each department and 11 in both departments. The departments involved collaborate in advising and in the comprehensive examination. The Registrar’s Office website has the required application form and more information for special majors. Students are not allowed to pursue more than one individualized special major.

7.5 Honors Program

The Honors Program, initiated in 1922 by President Frank Aydelotte, is a distinctive part of Swarthmore’s educational life.

The Honors Program has as its main ingredients student independence and responsibility in shaping the educational experience; collegial relationships between students and faculty; peer learning; opportunity for reflection on, and integration of, specific preparations; and evaluation by external examiners. Honors work may be carried out in the full range of curricular options, including studio and performing arts, study abroad, and community-based learning.

Students and their professors work in collegial fashion as honors candidates prepare for evaluation by external examiners from other academic institutions and the professional world. Although Swarthmore faculty members grade most of the specific preparations, the awarding of honorifics on a student’s diploma is based solely on the evaluation of the external examiners.

Preparations for honors are defined by each department or program and include seminars, theses, independent projects in research as well as in studio and performing arts and specially designated pairs of courses. In addition, many departments offer their own format for senior honors study, designed to enhance and, where appropriate, integrate the preparations in both major and minor.

Each honors candidate’s program will include three preparations for external examination in a major and one in a minor or four preparations in a special or interdisciplinary major. By doing honors, students offering three preparations in a major or four preparations in a special or interdisciplinary major normally fulfill the comprehensive graduation requirement for majors in those fields.

Honors students who wish to complete a second major must pursue that field of study through the Course Program, and it must relate to the student’s honors minor field of study. Normally, the student must complete the requirements for the Honors minor, as well as the course major in the department. If an Honors student pursues an honors special major, any second major must be taken in the Course Program, and must be either a regular major or regularized special major. In such cases, the student’s academic program is subject to the overlap constraints for majoring.

Honors Program preparations for both majors and minors will be defined by each department, program, and interdisciplinary major that sponsors a major. In addition, minors may be defined by any department or program.

Honors special majors who design their own programs, not those in College-sponsored programs such as biochemistry, will be required to include four related preparations in the major from at least two departments or academic programs. Honors special major programs do not include a separate minor. Honors special majors must either (1) write a thesis drawing on their cross-disciplinary work-the thesis will be examined by examiners in different fields or (2) have a panel oral examination that presents the opportunity for cross-disciplinary discussion. Honors special majors will follow the Senior Honors Study (SHS) activity and portfolio procedures of the various departments whose offerings they use as preparations in their programs. Individualized honors special major programs require the approval of all departments involved in the program and of the honors coordinator.

All preparations will be graded by Swarthmore instructors with the exception of theses and other original work. Grades for theses and other similar projects will be given by external examiners. Except in the case of theses or other original work, modes of assessment by the external examiners will include written examinations and/or other written assignments completed in the spring of the senior year. In addition, during honors week at the end of the senior year, every honors candidate will meet on campus with external evaluators for an oral examination of each preparation. Specific formats for preparations and for SHS are available in each department office.

Students will normally include their intention to prepare for honors in their “Plan of Study for the Last 2 Years,” written in the spring of their sophomore year. They must also submit a formal application for a specific program of honors preparation to the Registrar’s Office. The registrar provides a form for this purpose. Departments, programs, and concentrations will make decisions about acceptance of honors programs at the end of the sophomore year. Students will be accepted into honors with the proviso that their work continue to be of honors quality. Students may also apply to enter honors during their junior year. Any proposed changes to the Honors Program must be submitted for approval on a form for this purpose available from the registrar. The decision of the departments or interdisciplinary programs will depend on the proposed program of study and the quality of the student’s previous work as indicated by grades received and on the student’s apparent capacity for assuming the responsibility of honors candidacy. The major department or interdisciplinary program is responsible for the original plan of work and for keeping in touch with the candidate’s progress from semester to semester. Normally, honors programs may not be changed after Dec. 1 of a student’s senior year, depending on departmental policies. Students may not withdraw from honors after Dec. 1 of the senior year except under extraordinary circumstances and with the permission of the major and minor departments and the Curriculum Committee. Further information about honors policies may be found in the Honors Handbook, which is available in the Registrar’s Office.

At the end of the senior year, the decision of whether to award the degree with a level of honors is made by the visiting examiners. Upon their recommendation, successful candidates are awarded the bachelor’s degree with honors, with high honors, or with highest honors.

7.6 Exceptions to the 4-Year Program

Although the normal period of uninterrupted work toward the bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees is 4 years, graduation in 3 years is freely permitted when a student can take advantage of Advanced Placement credits, perhaps combining them with extra work by special permission. In such cases, students may qualify for advanced standing-they may become juniors in their second year. To qualify for advanced standing, a student must (1) do satisfactory work in the first semester; (2) obtain 14 credits by the end of the first year; (3) intend to complete the degree requirements in 3 years; and (4) signify this intention when she or he applies for a major by completing a Sophomore Plan during the spring of the first year.

When circumstances warrant, a student may lengthen the continuous route to graduation to 5 years by carrying fewer courses than the norm of four, although College policy does not permit programs of fewer than 3 credits for degree candidates in their first eight semesters of enrollment. A course load lower than the norm may be appropriate for students who enter Swarthmore lacking some elements of the usual preparation for college, who have disabilities, or who wish to free time for activities relating to their curricular work that are not done for academic credit. Such 5-year programs are possible in music and studio arts for students who are taking instruction off campus or who wish to pursue studio or instrumental work without full credit but with instruction and critical supervision. However, such programs are possible only on application to, and selection by, the department concerned, which will look for exceptional accomplishment or promise. In all cases where it is proposed to reduce academic credit and lengthen the period before graduation, the College looks particularly to personal circumstances and to careful advising and necessarily charges the regular annual tuition (see the provisions for overloads section 4.1 ). Full-time leaves of absence for a semester or a year or more are freely permitted and in some cases encouraged, subject also to careful planning and academic advising. Information about work and internship opportunities for those taking a leave is available through the Career Services Office.

7.6.1 Senior year rule

Normally the senior year rule is met by the last two semesters being done on the campus at Swarthmore, with the approved exception that seniors during the first semester of their senior year, who have obtained the approval of the chair(s) of their major department(s), may participate in the Swarthmore Semester/Year Abroad Program. Senior year rule compliance is calculated retrospectively with the last two full-time semesters of degree work, regardless if the semesters are separated in time. If students have studied elsewhere in the time between their two senior semesters, no more than 2.0 Swarthmore credits for work done elsewhere (regardless of how many courses were taken during the intervening time) may be applied to the Swarthmore degree without being out of compliance with the senior year rule. There are two circumstances where a senior can use credit for work done elsewhere to complete the Swarthmore degree without re-enrolling at Swarthmore: (a) after the eighth semester if the major department confirms that the major is done or approves that the major can be completed remotely, or (b) after earning at least 30.0 credits toward the degree if the major department confirms that the major is done or approves that the major can be completed remotely. In either case, the senior year rule is fulfilled by the last two semesters done on the campus at Swarthmore (or with the first semester by approved study abroad), regardless of the number of subsequent credits to be earned.

7.7 Normal Course Load

The academic year at Swarthmore is 32 weeks long, during which time students are expected to complete 6 to 8 semester course credits of work. Normal progress toward the degree of bachelor of arts or bachelor of science is made by eight semesters’ work of four course credits or the equivalent each semester, although the object of progress toward the degree is not the mere accumulation of 32 credits. Students may and frequently do vary this by programs of three or five courses, with special permission. College policy does not permit programs of fewer than 3 course credits within the normal eight-semester enrollment. Programs of more than 5 credits or fewer than 4 credits require special permission (see section 4.1  on tuition and section 8.3  on registration). Course credit earned by examination does not count in registration load.

The definitions of upper-class levels are as follows: Students become sophomores when they have earned 6 to 8 semester course credits toward their degree. Students become juniors when they have earned 14 to 16 credits. Students become seniors when they have earned 22 to 24 credits. Some offices on campus, such as student housing, may have additional requirements in their definitions of the student classes.

7.8 Formats of Instruction

Although classes and seminars are the normal curricular formats at Swarthmore, faculty regulations encourage other modes as well. These include various forms of individual study, student-run courses, and a limited amount of “practical” or off-campus work.

The principal forms of individual work are attachments to courses, directed reading, and tutorials. The faculty regulation on attachments provides that a student may attach to an existing course, with the permission of the instructor, a project of additional reading, research, and writing. In this way, attachments typically extend the subject matter of a course.  If this attachment is taken concurrently with the course, it is normally done for 0.5 credit. If it is taken in a later semester (preferably the semester immediately following), it may be done for either half or full credit. This kind of work can be done on either a small-group or individual basis. It is not possible in all courses, but it is in most, including some introductory courses. For first-year students and sophomores, it is a way of developing capacities for independent work. For honors candidates, it is an alternative to a seminar as a preparation for an honors examination. Students who decide before the middle of the semester to do a 0.5-credit attachment may, with permission, withdraw from a regular course and carry 3.5 credits in that term to be balanced by 4.5 credits in another term. Students may do as many as two attachments each year.

7.8.1 Directed Reading and Independent Study

Directed reading and independent study are similar, but the faculty role in the former is more bibliographical than pedagogical, and, because they require somewhat less faculty time, opportunities for directed reading are more frequent in most departments than are opportunities for independent study. With the directed reading format, faculty often provide students with a syllabus for a course not currently offered and allow the student to do the work independently.  The independent study format typically requires faculty supervision of a student on a topic that has not yet been taught.  In many cases, this requires the faculty member to develop a syllabus and to allow the student to do the work independently.  In both cases, substantial written work and/or written examinations are considered appropriate, and it is generally desirable that the work be more specialized or more sharply focused than is usually the case in courses or seminars. The work may range from a course of reading to a specific research project. Such work is available primarily to juniors and seniors in accordance with their curricular interests and as faculty time permits.

7.8.2 Student-Run Courses

The faculty regulation on student-run courses permits a group of students to propose a topic to an instructor for 0.5 or 1 credit and to run their own course with a reading list approved by the instructor and a final examination or equivalent administered by the instructor but normally with no further involvement of faculty. In organizing such a course, students must obtain from a faculty member approval and agreement to serve as course supervisor, and approval of a department chair or program coordinator to provide a course subject and number of record, and finally approval of the provost. The full approval process must be complete prior to the beginning of the course; after that time, the course cannot receive degree credit.  Students must provide an initial memorandum emphasizing the principal subject matter to be studied, the questions to be asked about it, the methods of investigation, and provision of a preliminary bibliography. The course supervisor reviews the course outline, bibliography, qualifications and general eligibility of students proposing to participate in the course. The course supervisor consults his or her department and, in the case of an interdepartmental course, any other department concerned, whose representatives together with the provost will decide whether to approve the course. After a student-run course has been found acceptable by the appropriate department (or departments) and the provost, the revised reading list is given to the librarian, and the course subject, number, title and class list are filed with the registrar. At the end of the course, the supervisor evaluates and grades the students’ work in the usual way or arranges for an outside examiner to do so.

Student-run courses may vary in format and content. In particular, they may be provisionally proposed for 0.5 credit to run in the first half of the semester, and at midterm, may be either concluded or, if the participants and course supervisor find the work profitable, continued for the balance of the term for full credit. Alternatively, student-run courses may be started after the beginning of the semester (up to midsemester) for 0.5 credit and then be continued, on the same basis, into the following term. Or they may be taken for 0.5 credit over a full term. The role of the course supervisor may go beyond planning and evaluation and extend to occasional or regular participation. The only essentials, and the purpose of the procedures, are sufficient planning and organization of the course to facilitate focus and penetration. The course planning and organization, both analytical and bibliographical, are also regarded as important ends in themselves, to be emphasized in the review of proposals before approval. Up to 4 of the 32 credits required for graduation may be taken in student-run courses. Student-run courses are only offered on the credit/no-credit basis.

7.9 Interdisciplinary Work

The requirements of the major typically leave room for significant flexibility in students’ programs, both within and outside the major. This may be used to pursue a variety of interests and to emphasize intellectual diversity. It may also be used for the practical integration of individual programs around interests or principles supplementing the major. The College offers interdepartmental majors in Asian studies, comparative literature, and medieval studies, and formal interdisciplinary minors in black studies, cognitive science, environmental studies, gender and sexuality studies, German studies, interpretation theory, Islamic studies, Latin American studies, peace and conflict studies, and through the 2016 graduating class, public policy. The specific requirements for these programs are outlined in the relevant sections of the catalog.

It should be recognized that some departments are themselves interdisciplinary in nature and that a considerable number of courses are cross-listed between departments. Also, some courses each year are taught jointly by members of two or more departments, and departments commonly recommend or require supporting work for their majors in other departments. Many other opportunities exist informally (e.g., in African studies, in American studies, in religion and sociology and anthropology, and in chemical physics). Students are encouraged to seek the advice of faculty members on such possibilities with respect to their particular interests.

7.10 Guidelines on Scheduling Conflicts between Academics and Athletics

The following guidelines (adopted by the faculty in May 2002) are affirmed to recognize both the primacy of the academic mission at Swarthmore and the importance of the intercollegiate Athletics Program for our students. The guidelines are meant to offer direction with an appropriate degree of flexibility. Where conflicts occur, students, the faculty, and coaches are encouraged to work out mutually acceptable solutions. Faculty members and coaches are also encouraged to communicate with one another about such conflicts. Note that the guidelines make a firm distinction between athletics practices and competitive contests.

  1. Regular class attendance is expected of all students. Students who are participating in intercollegiate athletics should not miss a class, seminar, or lab for a practice.
  2. Students who have a conflict between an athletics contest and a required academic activity, such as a class meeting or a lecture, should discuss it and try to reach an understanding with their coach and their professor as soon as possible, preferably during the first week of the semester and certainly in advance of the conflict. When a mutually agreeable understanding is not reached, students should be mindful of the primacy of academics at Swarthmore. Students should understand that acceptable arrangements may not be feasible for all classes, particularly seminars and laboratories.
  3. Students should take their schedule of athletics contests into account as they plan their class schedules and may want to discuss this with their academic advisers. Students should also provide coaches with a copy of their academic schedules and promptly inform them of any changes.
  4. Coaches should make every effort to schedule practices and contests to avoid conflict with classes and should collect their students’ academic schedules in an effort to coordinate team activities and minimize conflict. Coaches should instruct students not to miss class for practice and should encourage students to work out possible conflicts between classes and contests as early as possible.
  5. Faculty members should provide as complete a description of scheduling requirements as possible to their classes early each semester, preferably before registration or during the first week of classes. Both faculty members and coaches should work with students to resolve contest-related conflicts.
  6. Both coaches and faculty should avoid last-minute scheduling changes, and faculty should normally avoid scheduling extraordinary class meetings. Where such meetings seem desirable, students should be consulted and, as the Handbook for Instructional Staff stipulates, the arrangement cleared with the department chair and registrar. Where possible, extraordinary sessions should be voluntary or offered with a choice of sections to attend. When a schedule is changed after students have arranged their commitments, it is important for the faculty member or coach to be flexible.
  7. Classes will normally end each day by 4 p.m. and at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Seminars will often extend beyond 4 p.m. Afternoon laboratories are usually scheduled until 4:15 p.m. or 4:30 p.m., and students who encounter difficulties completing a lab may need to stay later than the scheduled time. In all cases, students are expected to keep to their academic commitments and then attend practices as soon as possible.
  8. Faculty members should recognize that students usually set aside the time from 4:15 to 7 p.m. for extracurricular activities and dinner. Late afternoon has also traditionally been used for certain courses in the performing arts. Some use of this time for other academic purposes (such as department colloquia, lectures, etc.) is appropriate, but departments are encouraged to exercise restraint in such use, particularly with respect to activities they judge important for the full academic participation of students.

7.11 Health Sciences Advisory Program

The function of the Health Sciences Advisory Program is twofold: to advise students interested in a career in the health professions and to prepare letters of recommendation for professional schools to which students apply. The letters are based on faculty evaluations requested by the student, the student’s academic record, and nonacademic activities.

Students intending to enter a career in the health professions, especially those applying to medical, dental, or veterinary schools, should plan their academic programs carefully to meet the professional schools’ requirements as well as the general College requirements. The following courses fulfill the basic requirements of most medical schools: BIOL 001 , BIOL 002 ; CHEM 010 , CHEM 022 , CHEM 032 , CHEM 038 ; PHYS 003 , PHYS 004 ; MATH 015  and STAT 011 ; an introductory psychology course; an introductory sociology course; and two semester-long courses in English literature. Dental and veterinary schools have more variable requirements, in addition to the biology, chemistry, and physics listed earlier. Students interested in these fields should meet with the health sciences adviser to plan their programs. Specific requirements for each medical, dental, and veterinary school, along with much other useful information, are given in the following publications, which are available in the Health Sciences Office: Medical School Admission Requirements, Official Guide to Dental Schools, and Veterinary Medical School Admission Requirements

The work of the junior and senior years may be completed in any major department of the student’s choice. All required courses should be taken on a graded basis after the first semester of the first year.

The health sciences adviser meets periodically with students interested in health careers and is available to assist students in planning their programs in cooperation with students’ own academic advisers. The Health Sciences Office publishes Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College and Frequently Asked Preveterinary Questions to help new students plan their academic program and understand what schools look for in applicants. The Guide for Applying to Medical School for Swarthmore Undergraduates and Alumni/ae contains detailed information about the application process.

Further information on opportunities, requirements, and procedures can be obtained from the health sciences adviser and from the Health Sciences Office’s pages on the Swarthmore College website at

7.12 Creative Arts

Work in the creative arts is available both in the curricula of certain departments and on an extracurricular basis. Interested students should consult the departmental statements in art, English literature (creative writing), music and dance, and theater.

7.13 Cooperation with Neighboring Institutions

With the approval of their faculty advisers and the registrar, students may take a course offered by Bryn Mawr or Haverford College or the University of Pennsylvania without the payment of extra tuition. Students are expected to know and abide by the academic regulations of the host institution. (This arrangement does not apply to the summer sessions of the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College.) Final grades from such courses are recorded on the Swarthmore transcript, but these grades are not included in calculating the Swarthmore grade average required for graduation.

7.14 Student Exchange Programs

To provide variety and a broadened outlook for interested students, the College has student exchange arrangements with Harvey Mudd College, Middlebury College, Mills College, Pomona College, and Tufts University. With each institution, there are a limited and matched number of exchanges. Students settle financially with the home institution, thus retaining during the exchange any financial aid for which they are eligible.

Application for domestic exchange should be made to the registrar. The application deadline is Oct. 15 for exchange in the following spring semester; the deadline is March 15 for exchange in the following fall semester. Selection is made from among applicants who will be sophomores or juniors at the time of the exchange. Exchange arrangements do not permit transfer of participants to the institution with which the exchange occurs.

Credit for domestic exchange is not automatic. Students must follow the procedures for receiving credit for work done elsewhere, including obtaining preliminary approval of courses and after-the-fact validation of credit by the relevant Swarthmore department chairs.

7.15 Off-Campus Study

The Off-Campus Study Office supports the international education activities of the College as well as approved credit-bearing domestic off-campus study programs. The College emphasizes the importance of study abroad and encourages all students to explore possibilities for doing so as integral parts of their degree programs. The Off-Campus Study Office is the on-campus clearinghouse for information on study abroad, and normally is the starting place for exploration and planning. The Off-Campus Study Office will help all interested students at every stage of the process: planning, study abroad, and return. Proper planning begins with attendance at a general information meeting, and then a study abroad advising appointment, as early as possible in one’s college career.

Participants in the Semester/Year Abroad program remain registered at Swarthmore and are subject to the rules and regulations of the College while abroad. Students may study abroad up to two semesters, beginning spring of the sophomore year, and during the junior year. Fall semester seniors may participate in study abroad with the permission of their major department as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements.

To be accepted for credit toward the Swarthmore degree, courses taken abroad must meet Swarthmore academic standards, and be preapproved through the Off-Campus Study Office’s procedures. Credit for study abroad is awarded according to College regulations for accrediting work at other institutions, and the process must be completed within the semester immediately following participation in a semester or year abroad as part of the Swarthmore College Semester/Year Abroad program.

Students are expected to earn the normal load of four credits per semester, or eight credits per academic year. Students are eligible to earn up to a maximum of five credits per semester, or up to a maximum of ten credits per academic year.

To participate in the Swarthmore College Semester/Year Abroad program students must be in good standing concerning both their academic program and conduct. The Off-Campus Study Office and the Dean’s Office meet to review student standing and to determine eligibility.

Students must also meet the eligibility requirements of the programs to which they apply.

Eligible students must have completed on average four credits per semester. Students will jeopardize their ability to participate with incompletes as part of their academic record. The deadline for completion of incompletes will reflect the need to meet deadlines relating to acceptance to programs and/or to the submission of forms, deposits, the purchase of airfares, etc. Normally students will have been accepted into a major, or in the case of sophomores, have a plan for applying to a major. Students must also have a zero balance on their student accounts.

Participants in the College’s Semester/Year Abroad Program must comply with its payment plan. Students continue to pay Swarthmore’s comprehensive fee for tuition, room, and board. The College then pays for the tuition fees, room and board costs, health and travel insurance, and the round-trip travel of participating students (with Philadelphia as the gateway city). Normally, financial aid is automatically applied to study abroad.

There are more than two hundred and seventy-five approved off-campus study programs listed on the Off-Campus Study website.

The following are Swarthmore-administered Programs*, reciprocal exchanges**, and special affiliations:

Swarthmore-administered Programs

*Swarthmore’s Central European Program in conjuction with ISEP at Masaryk University for Environmental Sustainability Studies (agriculture, economics, sociology), Brno, Czech Republic (see Environmental Studies )
*Swarthmore’s Central European Program at the Jagellonian University and Cracow University of Technology (environmental science, engineering and technology), Krakow, Poland (see Engineering  and Environmental Studies )
*Swarthmore/Macalester/Pomona Globalization, the Environment and Society, Cape Town, South Africa (see Environmental Studies ) *Taktse International School Program, India (see Educational Studies)

Reciprocal Exchanges

**University of Tokyo Exchange Program, Japan
**Ashesi University College Exchange Program, Ghana                                                                                                                               

Special Affiliations                                                                                                                                   
Cloud Forest School Program, Costa Rica (see Educational Studies )
Danish Institute for Study Abroad, Denmark
Hamilton College Academic Year In Spain
HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs), Ecuador, New Zealand, Norway
Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, Rome, Italy (see Classics )
Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education, Sri Lanka (see Religion )
Semester in Environmental Studies, Marine Biological Lab, Woods Hole, MA
Siena School for Liberal Arts, Italy                                                                                                                                                                 Swedish Program, Sweden

University of Ghana, ISEP Direct Partner 

The Off-Campus Study Office maintains direct enrollment agreements with many universities around the world.

In addition to these programs, Swarthmore students attend a number of excellent approved study abroad programs throughout the world provided by other institutions. The Off-Campus Study Office, along with the academic departments and programs of the College, will advise students on these opportunities.

7.16 Student Right to Know

Swarthmore College’s graduation rate is 93 percent. This is the percentage graduating within 6 years, based on the most recent cohorts, calculated according to “Student Right to Know” guidelines.