Admitted Essay for Swarthmore College: Essay Review

Admitted Essay Reviews
October 22, 2020
Students Often Assume That College Essay Prompts Ask A Single, Straightforward Question...

However, personal statement prompts are often designed to use a student’s response to a larger, societal issue to gain insight into who they are on a personal level. In this admitted essay review, we see how a student crafts a compelling narrative and what they could’ve done to write an even stronger essay. We also go in-depth and share how you can apply these tips to your own personal statement.

An Admitted Essay For Swarthmore College

Swarthmore students are socially aware in both a broad, global context as well as an interpersonal, community context. They approach problems with intentionality, and they often contemplate their place in the world. Given this tendency we would like to know: “What keeps you up at night?” (max 500 words)

Life on the Pine Ridge reservation can be nearly unbearable. The majority of the residents live in poverty and alcoholism plagues most families. The conditions that Native people live under are almost too terrible to believe. In the time I have spent on the Reservation I learned a great deal about the Lakota and the depth of their struggles. While I have never lived under such conditions and I am, therefore, unable to fully understand what it is like to live with so little, my experiences allow me to empathize with the members of that community. Despite their current situation the Lakota still do their best to survive and maintain their culture.

The poverty that Pine Ridge faces is staggering. There are few opportunities for employment on the reservation so the majority of people are unable to work. The schools here are among the most underfunded in the nation, thus contributing to an extremely high drop-out rate. Many residents must travel to retrieve water and bring it back to their homes because many residents do not have running water on their property. The reservation is expansive and if a person wants to leave the reservation to find any work, then one must travel to Rapid City which is hours away. There is little opportunity to make a life for oneself or one’s family under these conditions.

Many people seek to assuage their pain by using drugs. The neighboring town of White Clay sells more alcohol per capita than anywhere else in the country; almost all of those sales are made to residents of the reservation. This epidemic contributes to high rates of teen suicide, automotive accidents, and crime. Another contributor to these incidents is the increasing use of methamphetamines. Because the schools are severely underfunded and there are no other options, young people turn to gangs, drugs, and alcohol. The combination of alcohol and high teen pregnancy rates leads to abnormal rates of fetal alcohol syndrome which increases the infant mortality rates on the reservation. Substance abuse in Pine Ridge affects everyone who lives there.

The Pine Ridge reservation faces serious threats. There, some of the most brutal poverty exists. The lack of jobs available makes it difficult for a family to provide for itself and many people go without water or electricity. Substance abuse is ubiquitous and the damage it does is evident everywhere. The government has consistently neglected its responsibilities to help Native peoples. Promises made to them have almost always been broken and thus allowed the condition of the reservations to spiral into utter dismay. The pain of life on the reservation will likely never touch someone who is not a native. But, if you have the opportunity to look into the eyes of a young Lakota girl as I have, then you will see her pain and your own helplessness to fix her situation, and you will be forever haunted.

Our Expert Review

While the essay prompt may seem like it asks, "What keeps you up at night?", the framing of the question asks the students to go deeper. Swarthmore students are "socially aware in both a broad, global context as well as an interpersonal, community context." In this essay, the student crafts a narrative that truly speaks to the reader's heart, showcasing the student's awareness. The essay does an excellent job of explaining the current state of Native American reservations and why the reader should care.

Yet like most college essays, there are areas where the student can improve. The prompt also mentions how Swarthmore students "approach problems with intentionality" and to this end, the student could do more to tie the issues on the reservations to possible solutions. While the narrative written by the student is powerful, by not tying the issues to the solutions the student misses an opportunity to show the admissions team their thought process and why this issue keeps them up at night.

One way the student could improve the essay would be to focus on revision, organization, and condensing. The narrative is extremely powerful but could be narrowed down to leave room to personally connect the essay to the student. There needs to be a greater focus on why the student went to such great lengths to learn of the trials of the Lakota people. Were they doing volunteer work? Do they have friends or family who live there? By connecting the narrative back to themselves or their personal experiences, the student can make a stronger case for their core personal values.

How To Apply This Advice To Your Own College Essays


While most personal essay prompts are written in a straightforward manner, sometimes colleges want to see how well you can answer a complex prompt with many different angles. In this prompt, the student was asked not only to answer a question but to answer it in a way that proves the student embodies the same values as Swarthmore. The best essay response is one that addresses both the main question and the context surrounding the question.

So, if a college essay prompt makes a point of sharing information or context, keep that in mind throughout the essay.


This student’s essay makes full use of the maximum word count, but with a tighter structure and organization, more words could be freed up to add personal context that would take the essay to the next level. When a student is given a small word count, making sure that one idea flows into the next without repetition is extremely important.

One way that students can make sure their essay has a structure is to work from an initial outline. If a student writes a rough outline before they begin writing their response, it can help guide the direction of their essay and result in a more concise final product.


There is no doubt that the student’s narrative is compelling and makes the reader truly feel for people who live on the reservations. If the student were to provide a personal context, not only would it help make the narrative more powerful, but it would offer the student a chance to incorporate their own outlook.

When you go to answer essay prompts that ask large, complex questions, try to incorporate a personal angle by…

  • Sharing the story of how you discovered or became aware of an issue or event.
  • Relating social or cultural issues back to your own social circle.
  • Detailing why you chose to write about a particular subject.

Remember, even if the essay prompt asks about a large scale societal or cultural issue, the admissions team is still looking for an essay that offers a window into the type of student the writer would be.


One of the most important aspects of writing a personal statement is leaving time for the editing process. A first draft is rarely the best representation of an essay, and it’s often necessary to step away from the essay for at least a few days in order to get a fresh perspective on it before revising. With a fresh eye, it’s easier to find and fix mistakes, as well as come up with ideas that can make an essay feel even more polished.

What Makes An Essay Meaningful?

A strong essay, like this one for Swarthmore College, is one that both answers the prompt and provides crucial insight into a student, their beliefs, their values, or their dreams. This student’s essay paints a vivid picture of the conditions faced by those who live on Native American reservations. Yet, even this student could make changes that would make their narrative more personal and even more compelling.

Ideally, you want your college admissions essays to be both personal and compelling. Those two qualities are what make a narrative strong. If an essay tries to handle complex prompts and topics but lacks these qualities, it will ultimately feel unpolished or unfinished.

Fortunately, if your student is struggling to add personal touches or context to their essay, our WeAdmit counselors would love to offer a fresh perspective. Our expert teams are well-versed in essay reviews, revision, and sparking creative ideas. We’re also committed to your student’s success outside their college essays, too! Throughout the entire college application process, our counselors can help guide and encourage your student toward making their college dreams a reality.



Need more Information?

Gain all the information you need by getting in touch with our admissions team or booking a free 30-minute counseling session.