Life at Swat
Most of the information you will need is in the Swarthmore College Student Handbook [pdf]. The following comments refer to some of the special situations of foreign students.
Most of you will want to open some kind of a bank account as it is hard to operate without a checking account in the U. S., and you should not have large amounts of cash on hand. There are several banks within easy walking distance of the College, and there is a credit union on campus which operates as a bank. The banks differ in terms of the number of hours and days they are open, charges for their services, and ease of transferring money from abroad. Ask questions about their services before opening an account.
The amounts and places where you can earn money are determined by the type of visa you have (e.g., F-1, J-1, G-4). Students with an F-1 (student) visa are permitted by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) to work on-campus part-time during the academic year and full-time during vacation periods. There are very few possibilities for off -campus employment for students with F-1 visas, however, as BCIS has very stringent conditions governing off-campus work.
Because there are a number of conditions which have to be met before any off-campus work should be undertaken, all students with non-immigrant visas should check with the Foreign Student Adviser before beginning any employment.
If English is your second language, you will find that it will improve almost automatically as a result of constant exposure to it. There are also Writing Associates available for those who wish help in writing papers, and some courses have a special writing attachment. Also, you are welcome to enroll in English lB (English for Foreign Students) if you wish to work on your English skills in general. English lA (Expository Writing) is recommended if you wish to work particularly on your writing skills.
Students with F-1 visas who have financial aid may apply for an additional Swarthmore College student loan of $500. The loan must be for at least $125 and will be added to the loan already received. The foreign student adviser also has a small, short-term loan fund for which no interest is charged.
Calls made from your dorm room to local phone numbers are free but in order to make a long-distance call you need to either use a calling card or a cell phone. Check with other students to see where you get the best rate. You may also send and receive e-mail messages at no cost to you via the College Internet connections.
Swarthmore College pays for one round-trip home for foreign students receiving financial aid. Normally, this trip is not authorized until after the completion of five semesters. See the Foreign Student Adviser for details.
Almost every U.S. citizen and many foreign citizens have a U.S. Social Security number. It is the standard means of identification in the U.S. and you will undoubtedly be asked for this number many times. The U.S. government, however, increasingly restricts the ease with which non-immigrants can obtain this number, without which a bank account or a driver's license cannot be obtained. Foreign students will now have to show that they have a job before the number will be issued. The nearest Social Security office is in Chester and can be easily reached by bus. Please note that merely having a Social Security number does not in itself authorize you to work off-campus. Working without authorization is regarded by USCIS as a serious offense and may jeopardize your immigration status.
Sources of Help
There are a number of people at the College who are ready and eager to help you. These include the Resident Assistants, Foreign Student Adviser, Deans, faculty advisers, Counseling and Psychological Services and Health Center personnel, financial aid director, and Student Academic Mentors (SAMs). PLEASE DO NOT HESITATE TO ASK FOR HELP.
Almost all U. S. citizens and some foreign citizens have to pay the Social Security tax and state and federal income taxes. Most foreign students with an F-1 or J-1 visa do not have to pay the Social Security tax unless they have lived in the U. S. for more than four years. However, the Pennsylvania state income tax of approximately three percent will be deducted from any money you earn. You may also have to pay a federal income tax depending on your earnings, how much financial aid you receive, and whether or not your country has a tax treaty with the U. S., but the Financial Aid Office will advise you about that. Income tax reports are filed once a year (around April 15) and the U. S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently requires ALL FOREIGN STUDENTS TO FILE A TAX RETURN EVEN IF NO TAX IS OWED.
The College closes all dorms to students during the summer except for one dorm which remains open for students who will be working on campus during the summer. There is a charge for staying in this dorm. During the four-week vacation between the first and second semesters, the College is entirely closed from around December 18 until January 3 (Christmas until after New Year's Day.) No student may stay on campus during that period. Those students who need housing from January 3 until the dorms open on January 15 may request housing in the one dorm which will be open. During the one-week fall vacation and the one-week spring vacation the dorms will be open, but no meals will be served.
You may leave possessions in your rooms during the fall and spring vacations and during the four-week inter-semester break, but you should be very careful to lock your rooms and take valuable items with you or at least put them out of sight.
Housing can be a problem during the winter break when the College is closed, but students who do not return to their homes at that time typically visit roommates or relatives, stay in the rooms of students who live off-campus, or "housesit" for faculty and others in the community.