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. Normally, all students should fulfill the distribution requirements the first 2 years of study, although in some science and engineering majors, students 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 (see the appropriate section below).
- Complete at least 20 credits outside of one major department before graduation.
- Complete at least three courses in each of the three divisions of the College (listed later). 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.
- Complete at least two courses in each division at Swarthmore; these courses must be at least 1 credit each.
- 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.
- Complete at least three W courses or W seminars, and those three must include work in at least two divisions; students are advised to complete two Ws in the first 2 years.
- Complete one science laboratory course, designated NSEP (Natural Sciences and Engineering Practicum).
Students are advised to complete at least two courses in each division within the first 2 years.
- Humanities: art, classics (literature), English literature, film and media studies, 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, educational studies, history, linguistics, political science, psychology (other than natural sciences and engineering practicum courses), and sociology and anthropology.
Some interdisciplinary courses do not satisfy the divisional distribution requirement. These are identified as such in the catalog or the official schedule of courses.
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. In addition, 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.
Beginning with the class of 2019, a maximum of two PE units can be obtained through participation in club sports or student activity groups (SAGs). The remaining two PE units necessary to graduate must be obtained through PE courses or varsity sports offered by the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, or by PE Dance courses offered by the Dance Program in the Department of Music and Dance. Students who do not meet the PE requirement by the end of the sophomore year will have their cases reviewed by the Committee on Academic Requirements.
Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, seniors can only obtain PE units through PE courses or varsity sports offered by the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, or by PE Dance courses offered by the Dance Program in the Department of Music and Dance.
To fulfill the foreign language requirement, a student must have either:
- Successfully studied 3 years or the "block" equivalent of a single foreign language during grades 9 through 12 (work done before grade 9 cannot be counted, regardless of the course level); or
- achieved a score of 600 or better on a standard achievement test of a foreign language; or
- passed either the final term of a college-level, yearlong, introductory foreign language course or a semester-long intermediate foreign language course; or
- learned English as a foreign language while remaining demonstrably proficient in another.
The degree of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science is conferred upon students who have met the following requirements for graduation:
- Completed 32 course credits or their equivalent.
- An average grade of at least C in the Swarthmore courses counted for graduation. A student with more than 32 credits may use the Swarthmore credits within the highest 32 for the purposes of achieving the "C" average.
- Complied with the distribution requirements and have completed at least 20 credits outside one major department.
- Fulfilled the foreign language requirement.
- Met the requirements in the major and supporting fields during the last 2 years.
- Passed satisfactorily the comprehensive examinations in his or her major field or met the standards set by visiting examiners for a degree with honors.
- Completed four semesters of study at Swarthmore College. Two of these must constitute the senior year (i.e. the last two full-time semesters of degree work), with the exception that seniors during the first semester of their senior year, with the approval of the chair(s) of their major department(s), may participate in the Swarthmore Semester/Year Abroad Program.
- Completed the physical education requirement.
- Paid all outstanding bills and returned all equipment and library books.
Requirement Exemptions for 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.