Rahul Garg (Swarthmore '11) answers questions regarding right-fit


1. How important do you consider rankings while evaluating schools? How have your perceptions changed about this now?

Rankings were more important then than now. However, they are not useless- the only point is that small differentials in rankings are irrelevant. Now I look at them from the point of view of segments, e.g. the top 5 schools, the top 15 schools, etc. based on their category. From that point of view, yes, rankings can be useful, but I’ve learned to be cautious. Also, it does not hurt to take two extra minutes and look at the ranking criteria.

2. Did the geographic location (NE, Mid West,West , South) and setting (urban, rural, suburban, college town) of your college impact your overall assessment of your college experience? Did you think about this when applying? How did your perception change with time?

Yes it did, and I’m glad I considered it. I have family in the US in the North East, and it makes a big difference to have that sort of support here. Rural, urban, etc. did not matter too much to me when I was applying, but it turned out to be one of the defining features of my college experience. Swarthmore is in a small town, with connectivity to Philadelphia, a big city, but I had always been a city-boy and missed having lots of people around and places to go, restaurants, shops, bars, etc. Though I did grow to love the experience of being in a small campus setting, I would strongly advise students to consider this as a critical point in their college-choice decision. Many people enjoy the island/ bubble-type experience of campuses, and really blossom in them, and many others do not. It is a very individual decision that students and parents should weigh carefully if they have different options available. In the same vein, connectivity to major cities should be considered as an important factor.

3. Did you consider size (student population) as an important criteria while choosing schools? What do you think is a size that is ideal for you? Why?

Again, same as the previous. I like smaller schools, just because they bring the community much closer to one another, there are smaller class sizes, and it is very hard to not develop a lifelong attachment to your college and friends after that. However, larger schools can have more options with respect to student clubs and a broader social scene.

4. What was the average class size of your intro classes? Were you satisfied with this? In what way did this change your perception of your academic experience? What would you do differently?

Class sizes are small at Swarthmore. Intro classes for Econ (one of the most popular ones) are about 30 students per section, and all were taught by full Professors not TAs. Some classes that I took in my first year had only 10 students. Professors had office hours, and were very approachable. Small class sizes allowed me to take full use of those office hours as well as Q and As in the class. There was rarely a doubt that went unanswered because there was not enough time or too many students.

5. Was the ratio of international students/total population an important criteria in your selection of schools? Did you feel trapped in any sort of bubble or clique? Did your perceptions about diversity change while you were in college?

The ratio at my college of international students/ total population was small- it has grown significantly since. That was not the best thing- for me, having an Indian community abroad was not as much important as having some international students with whom you could share the experience of coming and living in a foreign place. Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that it was great that there was not a huge Indian crowd from India because that encouraged me to reach out and immerse myself into the general social life at Swarthmore. It is pointless to go all the way to the US and not have somewhat of an ‘American’ experience.

6. Can you comment an the overall personality of the student body? What aspects of this did you like/dislike?

Ultra- liberal, very passionate about what they are doing (academics, extra-curricular, politics, etc.), I enjoyed the fact that a lot of Swatties were interested in their work, and thereby killed the idea that work is a chore. While I believe that the campus can get intolerant of other opinions many times, personally, I enjoyed being exposed to a different set of rules and assumptions underpinning  political views, relationships, moral values, etc.