Skip to main content


First Year Student Advising & Registration: August 24 - August 28.

Note to new students and their parents: New student registration and advising happens remotely from August 24 through 28. Students will be advised and register for courses at Swarthmore as part of the Orientation process, not ahead of time. Please feel welcome to familiarize yourselves with this and other web pages about Registration and Requirements, but please wait to ask your questions during the Orientation process.

Registrar's Welcome

Welcome! from Martin Warner, Registrar.  You might be asking, what does the registrar do?  My office and I are in charge of Registration and Grades. We write letters of enrollment certification, and we manage and advise on the Graduation Requirements.  In brief, my job is to help you register for courses and eventually, to graduate on time.

Learning Goals for reading this page

The learning goals for your reading of this web page include: Introduce key supports, deans, SAMs, rules, tools and processes. Introduce the vocabulary and methods of advising and registration at Swarthmore, especially the "lottery" system and the "Credit/ No Credit" (CR/NC) semester. Introduce the graduation requirements and recommendations for the first semester and the first year of study.

Support is available

Faculty Advisors help students plan their courses.  Student Academic Mentors (SAMs) are student peer academic advisors. Professional deans called "Student Deans" help students navigate Swarthmore in every way. There are also subject-based peer advisors, other peer advisors, the library, Career Services, etc... there are many resources available to help students get every question answered.


New Student Registration

Lesson number 1:
Research the academic departments and their course offerings

Learn about the many different academic departments and programs, and importantly, learn the difference between the departmental web pages, the catalog, and the course schedule.

Explore the departmental home pages of all the departments or programs you are considering majoring in, minoring in, or otherwise intensively studying. Departmental home pages express not just key content but also some of the personality of the department.

Explore the Catalog (also called the Bulletin -- same thing). There are two reasons to read the catalog: the catalog is the authoritative source of academic rules, so look there for the academic rules. Preparing for registration, use the catalog as a list, by department or program, of all the courses that might ever be taught. Use it for course planning in general and for multiple semesters.

Review the Course Schedule, which lists the courses actually being offered this semester -- including days and times. Use the Course Schedule to plan which courses you will actually take, and when they are scheduled.


lesson number 2:
General principles for first year

Consider the Registrar's Course Recommendations for the First Year -- This approach will lay an excellent foundation for your years at Swarthmore.

Understand the Credit No Credit Semester - Let every course you take matter.

Placement tests: Read about placement tests and placements over the summer on the "New Student "Forms" or mySwarthmore.  When in doubt, take the placement test!  It cannot hurt, and it can really help.

In your course planning, avoid time conflicts by using the Weekly Schedule Grid. The computer does not prevent time conflicts -- you have to.

Email is Official - Check your email every weekday, and if an advisor or professor asks you a question, answer it promptly and politely.


Lesson number 3:
Prepare for Advising & Course Selection

Advising: Academic advisers help students select the courses that will give them the best liberal arts education possible.

Prepare to meet with your advisor by planning courses of interest, including several alternates. As you prepare to meet with your assigned faculty advisor, also talk with SAMs, deans, and others as well. 

Review everything you learned about courses in Lesson Number 1.

Draft a plan of your courses to discuss with your advisor. Using the course schedule and the catalog and the Weekly Class Schedule select 6 courses (including alternates) you would love to take plus several PE options -- knowing you will only take 3 courses academic courses plus PE in the Fall, and 1 course in January.

Swarthmore's normal course naming short-hand is Subject & Number, such as "ENGL 009."  The 5-digit CRN (computer reference number) in the Course Schedule is helpful for computer registration, but is not used in the catalog or during person-to-person discussions.

Visit the Department Advising Fair (more info to come).

Consider your departmental placement test results as these become available on mySwarthmore or otherwise from the departments.

AP scores: Regarding your AP test scores (or other test scores) and their placement implications.  During Orientation: resolve course placement.  Once classes start: sort out credit. See AP/IB credit rules

Foreign Language Requirement: In late August, check your Language requirement status on mySwarthmore, Student Main Menu, Degree Audit, Foreign Language Req. which is the first requirement listed on the Degree Audit. If your Foreign Language Req. is "Met" then you are done with this requirement. If it says "Not Met" then follow this link and discuss with your advisor studying language.

Swarthmore does not award Swarthmore degree credit for college level courses done during the high school years (including college level courses done in "early college" programs), see more.


Lesson number 4:
Get Advised

August 25: Get formally advised!  By appointment, meet with your Advisor, formally plan courses and PE, including alternates for use during Drop/Add.  Use the New Student Course Planning Form you filled out (see above) to organize your discussion with your advisor.

A Registration Hold is possible if you don't get advised: Students who do not get advised can have a "hold" placed on their pre-registration by their Academic Advisor. Students are informed by email of holds being placed, and can check for holds on the mySwarthmore web site. Students who discover they are withheld from pre-registration will probably miss pre-registration and need to register using drop add. If you miss pre-registration, you will have missed all lotteries.


Pre-Register Online on August 26:  10:00AM ET to 8:00PM ET

But note: the Fall 2020 normal limit is 3.5 credits for pre-registration

Pre-register for your top choices of 3 courses plus PE or PE dance in the Fall and 1 in January.

For courses with a lab, register for the pairing of lecture and lab at the same time.

Departmental lotteries: For any one department, enter no more than one course that is likely to be lotteried. (See 'Understand the Lottery System' below).  Keep in mind lotteries happen after pre-registration -- please be patient during lotteries.

For more information or special instructions regarding BIOL, CHEM, ECON, PHYS/ASTR, or PHED see

Don't see a course on mySwarthmore? Some courses are excluded from first-year student registration. Ask the department about these courses.


After Pre-Registration: Lotteries

August 27: Departments lottery any over-subscribed classes and sometimes add or change sections, sometimes shifting students from one section to another.

Patience during lotteries. Understand the Lottery System


AFTER Lotteries: Drop/Add

August 28: Drop/Add is registration's great safety net. If needed, see your advisor and use the first week of Drop/Add to explore alternates.

Adds are done using mySwarthmore eforms "Course Add Request Form".

Drops use mySwarthmore Registration Drop. More on add-drop.


Classes Start THE week of September 7, 2020

You are required to attend the first class or laboratory meeting to confirm your enrollment. All classes and laboratories meet the first week of classes. Contact the professor directly to ask that your seat be held if you can't make the first meeting.

Arrange for your course materials (textbooks) at the Swarthmore Campus and Community Store. You can shop for your personal course materials for your registered classes by going to the online store, then link on Course Materials, Find Textbooks, Swarthmore College Login, Login and Duo, press "Search Course Materials for your enrolled classes...", view course materials. More.

If you haven't done so yet, set up your Moodle account (linked from the Dash). Moodle is Swarthmore's course management systems, and are used by many courses to post syllabi, homework assignments, discussions, etc.

Full Time Enrollment Required: All students must register for at least 3.0 credits in Fall 2020. 

Read the Guidelines on Scheduling Conflicts Between Academics and Athletics.

Financial Notice: Students who have not satisfied their financial obligations might not be permitted to attend classes, live in campus housing, have a meal plan, register via add/drop (or any other method) for any classes, enroll for the following semester, participate in the room lottery, obtain a transcript, or be permitted to be graduated.


Course Recommendations for First Year

Take introductory courses

  • Read the "Academic Program" link on departmental webpages to learn about introductory courses
  • Lower-numbered courses are much more likely to be appropriate for first-year students, but check the departmental page and the catalog to be sure

Take a variety of subjects in at least two divisions each semester

  • Over the year, take courses all three divisions

Take at least one Writing course [pdf]

  • Many Writing courses are introductory in nature
    • This is a good year to take them
  • Writing courses include an emphasis on teaching and learning writing
  • Approved Writing courses are labeled to help you find them
    • "Writing Course" in the catalog
    • "W" in the Course Schedule
  • Read more about the Writing Course Requirement

Take at least one PE unit per semester

  • Until your PE requirement is done
  • The requirement must be completed by the end of the sophomore year

Take one First-Year Seminar [pdf] First-Year Seminar January Term[pdf]

  • only available to first-year students
  • not required, but highly recommended

Explore prospective majors

  • Try to take 1 course per semester in each subject in which you might major

Consider an NSEP [pdf] - a science lab course

  • You only need one to graduate, but try to take it in the first year

Take Four Full Courses plus PE or PE Dance

  • Half credit courses are additional to the normal load of four

Beyond the first year...

Return to Lesson number 2


Understand the CR/NC semester

Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) is Swarthmore's version of pass/fail.

"Credit" (CR) means pass. "No Credit" (NC) means fail. The reason we use "no credit" instead of fail is because for the graduation grade point average requirement of 2.0, NC does not count, but in every other respect (for example, graduate school admissions) NC counts as a fail/zero.

Ignore the bad advice, and follow the good advice for the Credit/No Credit semester...

The bad advice goes along these lines:

  • Take an over-load just to get those courses out of the way.
  • Take courses you don't want to get them out of the way.
  • Take hard courses without having to work hard on them.

The good advice goes along these lines:

  • Always value your time and learn all you can from your courses
  • Keep in mind there will be shadow letter grades, even in the CR/NC semester.
  • The CR/NC semester allows you to learn from your courses and also adjust to all the rest of college life without having to worry about getting A grades in all your courses. B grades are okay in the CR/NC semester.
  • Many of your first semester courses are preparation or pre-requisites for other courses you will want or need to take.  First semester courses deserve your good effort, regardless of the CR/NC grading.
  • Take an intellectual risk -- try a new subject
  • Take the recommended normal load of four courses.  Expect your courses to be harder than you've seen before.
  • Work hard in all your courses every semester.  If you have trouble, seek out the academic support resources available to improve your success.

First semester CR/NC is permanent on your official transcript

  • You will have access to your shadow letter grades, but first semester shadow letter grades are not ever "uncovered" the way other CR NC shadow grades can be prior to the deadline, see the full policy on CR NC.

More information about grades and shadow grades

Return to Lesson number 2


Email is Official

Check it every weekday: Please check your email at least once every weekday

Read it: If you get an email from a professor, a dean, or the registrar, read it

  • Answer it: If one of them asks you a question, answer it

Use Swarthmore etiquette: "Dear Professor, ..."

  • Open with "Dear" and use the title "Professor" (or "Dean" etc.) as a sign of respect
  • Avoid "Hey"

Most official communication will be by email. Some is also by paper mail or other formats. You are responsible to read and as appropriate, reply, to all official communication.

Return to Lesson number 2


Understand the Lottery System

Swarthmore uses what we call "lotteries" to manage course enrollment in the few classes that have enrollment limits. Lotteries are not just random. Department policies ensure that students get what they need, even if not their first choice.

The lottery system makes most pre-registrations equal, regardless of when during pre-registration you register; this is true for everything except the first-come, first-served courses and labs (listed in 'Registration at a Glance'). Lotteries are no reason to stress -- just be prepared to be flexible.

Departments each have their own different lottery rules and procedures, but in general, students should ...

Enter only one lottery per department.

  • Departments might limit students to only one lottery submission in their department per semester.
  • Rules for lotteries are not enforced automatically during online pre-registration, but are enforced by departments when they lottery courses (after pre-registration).
  • Departments that have specific Lottery Procedures usually list them under the "Courses" section of their departmental home pages. If you can't find them there, please ask the department directly.
  • Otherwise, departments use a random lottery.

Always have good alternates ready and be flexible enough to use them.

  • You can't always get your first choice, but as you progress through Swarthmore, you will find that the curriculum is flexible enough that if you remain flexible, you will get what you need.

After lotteries, many departments and professors keep a wait list of names of students who were lotteried. Wait-listed students may be given some preference to join the class if space opens in the class, but students in this situation should continue to express interest in joining the class.

Return to Lesson number 5