When Matthew Vassar decided to open a college for women in 1861, he went big—
by erecting the largest building in the entire country.
That’s right: when it was first constructed, Vassar’s Main Building at the heart of the
campus was larger than any other American building. But then, Matthew Vassar was accomplishing
something big—the establishment of a college where a woman could obtain an excellent
and well-rounded education in a time when few women had access to such opportunities.
Vassar has always been an educational pioneer
in its dedication to academic discovery and
the spirit of true independence. When it opened, it
was the first college in the country to include a
museum in its facilities; today, Vassar’s Frances
Lehman Loeb Art Center has more than 18,000
works in its collection, including pieces by such
masters as Picasso, Rembrandt, O’Keeffe, and
Pollock. In 1982 Vassar became the first college or
university in the world to grant an undergraduate
major in cognitive science. Vassar was also the first
of the Seven Sisters colleges to become coeducational,
when it rejected a merger offer from Yale
and instead opened its doors to male students in
1969. Vassar’s student body is now forty-one percent
male, which is about the national average for a college
But the exceptionality of Vassar does not lie
merely in its history, but rather in its ability to balance
tradition and cutting-edge modernity. In the
new century, its newest additions include a Media
Studies major, the Interdisciplinary Robotics
Research Laboratory, and the Frances Daly
Fergusson Dance Theater. Today Vassar continues
to serve as a place where anything is possible.
Here’s the rundown on campus residences:
- Jewett House: At nine stories tall, newly
renovated Jewett towers over the campus.
Legend says that poet Edna St.
Vincent Millay threw herself from the top
of Jewett once but fell into a nearby oak
tree and was saved.
- Davison House, Raymond House,
Lathrop House, Strong House: These
four quad dorms are the places to be on
weekend nights. Strong is also the only
all-female dorm on campus.
- Cushing House: Set slightly apart from
the other dorms, Cushing provides a
tight-knit dorm community behind its
m Main House: Main is at the center of
campus, so it’s a convenient and happening
place to live.
- Noyes House: Its unique curved shape
and retro “Jetson” lounge were
designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect
of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis,
- Josselyn House: The first dorm at Vassar
that opened with showers (1912), “Joss”
has its own green stretch of lawn known
fondly as “Joss Beach.”
- Ferry Cooperative House: Ferry House
provides upperclassmen the opportunity
to try out communal living. This cooperative
housing environment is completely
operated and administered by the students
who live there.
- Terrace Apartments, Town Houses,
and South Commons: These apartments
provide Vassar seniors with a chance
to move away from dorm living and
toward more independent housing
On the day I graduated from Vassar, I expected
to feel miserable. After all, I was moving away from the
place that had been, for four whole years, my home,
and I was leaving behind the friends I’d grown to love
like family. Packing up my stuff the day before had
almost reduced me to tears, and so I thought, as I
walked across the amphitheater to receive my
diploma, that I’d start to feel a terrible sense of loss, a
palpable awareness of the end of an era in my life.
But among the sadness at what I was losing,
among the fear of the unknown, I actually felt so much
excitement, so much anticipation, and so much pride.
I knew then that Vassar had really, truly prepared me
for my postgraduate life; while I could look back on
what I had accomplished at Vassar with a fondness
and nostalgia that, even now, never seems to diminish,
I could also look forward to putting the experiences I
had known, the knowledge I had accrued, and the
strength I had gained from Vassar to good use.
Vassar is arguably the most brilliant and beautiful of the Seven Sisters.
Clearly, she is the most independent and rebellious, and the only one with
enough chutzpah to turn down a marriage proposal from Yale. —Samuel L. Jackson, Commencement speech to the Class of 2004
It’s an exciting feeling, knowing that you’ve got a whole big world waiting for you, and
an entire life to try and figure it out. And that’s what Vassar really gives you: the tools to
navigate life, and the courage to go ahead and use them.
Vassar’s academic curriculum is based upon fierce intellectual curiosity and uninhibited
scholastic exploration. Here, course offerings are numerous, professors are often
mentors and friends, and classes can be as small as just three or four students. Vassar
prides itself on being a place where students can discover new academic pursuits while
continuing to study their old favorites. And one of the ways this happens is through Vassar’s
unrestrictive academic requirements.
In my junior year, Professor Darlington walked into our Romantic Poets
class and told me that she thought my paper was ‘brilliant.’ You don’t know what
that meant to me—there I was, a small-town girl from Ohio who had worked so
hard to get into college, and now my hard work was really paying off. I’d never
felt so encouraged before, so completely free to write and think as I chose. To this
day, whenever I mess up or feel silly, I think back to what Professor Darlington
said to me, and I remember how much I gained from my classes at Vassar.
One of the most popular aspects of the Vassar curriculum is its flexible graduation
requirements. Unlike some other schools where graduation requirements are rigid and
intended to force students to follow a one-size-fits-all academic program, Vassar’s requirements
allow students to choose what they want to study while still exposing them to subjects
they might not otherwise have taken.
To graduate from Vassar, students need thirty-four credits (with most regular, semester-
long courses worth one credit), including a freshman writing course (a writing-intensive
intro course in a particular field), a foreign language credit, and a quantitative course
credit. At least 8.5 credits must be taken outside the student’s major division. Each student
will also have specific requirements for his or her particular major.
Students have until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major. Majors may
be declared in either a single department (such as English or biology), an interdepartmental
program (such as medieval and Renaissance studies or neuroscience and behavior), a multidisciplinary program that
draws from multiple fields and
numerous departments (such as
cognitive science or media studies),
or an independent program, which
allows the student to design his or
her own major. Students can also
choose to declare a correlate
sequence (the equivalent of a
“minor”) in any one of a wide variety
of fields. Vassar is known for helping
students to customize the curriculum
to fit their educational interests
and professional goals.
Vassar credit can also be earned outside the classroom. Last year, more than 500 Vassar
students participated in field work internships for credit, in Poughkeepsie and the surrounding
Hudson Valley, and many as far as New York City. Vassar’s study abroad program
is also very popular, with many students studying at other institutions in the United States
or abroad during their junior year or over the summer. Vassar has its own programs in
Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, and Russia, but accepts credit from a large number
of other study abroad programs.
Studying At Vassar
At Vassar, classes are often intimately small; the average class size is sixteen, but classes
can run even smaller. As a result, many students find that they are easily able to get to
know their professors and to establish a relationship that goes beyond student-teacher formality.
Most Vassar students meet with professors outside the classroom, either for extra
help during office hours, to work on a special research project, or just to discuss a particular
issue over lunch at the dining hall.
Vassar Courses: A Sampler
- Africana Studies 263: Words of Fire: African American
Orators and Their Orations
- Biology 172: Microbial Wars
- Computer Science 379: Computer Animation: Art,
Science, and Criticism
- Economics 388: Global Imbalances, Global Consequences
- English 362: Woven Stories: Medieval and Renaissance
Tapestry and Text
- Film 214: Genre: The War Film
- German Studies 101: Vampires, Lunatics, and Cyborgs:
Exploring the Uncanny Recesses of the Romantic
- History 381: Love and Death in Tokugawa Japan,
- Music 259: Soundscapes: Anthropology of Music
- Urban Studies 350: New York City as a Social Laboratory
- Women’s Studies 254: Bio-politics of Breast Cancer
Most students spend at least some study time in the fabulous Frederick Ferris
Thompson Memorial Library, a cathedral-like building that houses one of the finest
undergraduate collections in the country, including a million print volumes, numerous electronic
resources, and a computerized learning center known as the Media Cloisters. Also
housed there is the Archives and Special Collections Library, a collection of rare and primary
sources that can be accessed by appointment. The rare books in the collection date
from as early as the fifteenth century, and the manuscript collection includes unique
medieval manuscripts, original documents by alumnae writers Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth
Bishop, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the papers of naturalist John Burrows, astronomer
Maria Mitchell, and physicist Albert Einstein.
Of course, if you’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere, you could study in the Java
City café, where you can grab a snack to keep you focused or a latte to keep you awake during
late-night homework sessions. Or hang out in the Atrium Juice Bar in the Athletic and
Fitness Center, which serves delicious flatbread pizzas and a seemingly endless variety of
fruit smoothies—while you’re there, you can grab a quick stress-busting yoga class or jogging
session in between studying.
Because of Vassar’s adaptive requirements, engaging faculty, and comfy study spaces,
studying at Vassar is often a limitless and adventurous experience. It’s a place where you
can really explore all your options, discover novel passions, and develop your academic
potential in whatever direction you choose.
Most Popular Fields of Study
So you’ve read all the glossy brochures, checked out the Web site, had Coke and hors d’oeuvres at an informational function, talked with a representative, and maybe even visited the school. And you’ve decided that, yes, Vassar is for you. Now for the important part – applying.
Although Vassar students form a diverse community, they all share a background of high academic achievement. For the class of 2010, the admissions committee accepted a record low of 30 percent of the 6,075 applications submitted, the third-largest pool in college history. Of those accepted, 670 students (36.6 percent) enrolled.
The class of 2010 had a particularly strong academic profile. Nearly ninety percent of them came from the top twenty percent of their graduating class, while forty-four percent were in the top five percent. Their average SAT score was 1380 and their average grade point average was an unweighted A.
Naturally, Vassar does not require every candidate to present the same credentials, but they do expect applicants to have taken the most rigorous course load available to them. A qualified student ideally will have elected to take four years of English, mathematics, laboratory science, history or social science, and foreign language. If available, most of those courses will be at the accelerated, honors, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate level.
How to Apply
Early Decision applications (for students who know Vassar is their first-choice school)
are due on November 15 with notification in mid-December, or on January 1 with notification
in late January; Regular Decision applications are also due on January 1, but don’t
receive admissions decisions until mid-April. Vassar uses the Common Application, which
is accepted at a wide variety of schools across the United States and can be filled out online.
Candidates should plan to take the SAT I and two SAT II subject tests, or the ACT, by no
later than December of senior year for Regular Decision applicants or November or
December for Early Decision I and II applicants, respectively.
In addition to the basic application, candidates must include a personal essay and a
$60 application fee. Then there’s “Your Space,” an optional blank space where you can
express who you are without SAT scores or biology grades. Some people send poems they’ve
written, some send notes to the admissions office, and some send drawings or sketches. You
can do anything for “Your Space”—even leave it blank. Also optional are alumni interviews
(although they are definitely recommended).
Vassar accepts a limited number of transfer students each year; most years, only about
twenty transfer students enroll. Applicants from other colleges or universities must
demonstrate high academic achievement and cannot have taken more than four full semesters
of college-level work.
About 10% of Vassar’s student population holds foreign citizenship, and current students
represent fifty different nations, with the largest representation coming from Bulgaria,
China, India, Jamaica, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Ecuador, and Romania. International
applicants use the same application and must take the same standardized tests as
American applicants; however, if English is neither your first language nor the primary language
of instruction you have used throughout secondary school, you will need to submit
the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Vassar typically expects
scores of at least 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL. Vassar also accepts IELTS as an alternative
For more on applying, check out Vassar’s Admissions Web site: http://admissions.
Don’t assume that a private, selective school such as Vassar is out of your reach. Its
financial aid program is strictly need-based, with fifty-eight percent of students receiving
some aid and an average Vassar scholarship of $28,224. As a need-blind school, Vassar
doesn’t take your family’s financial situation into consideration when making admissions
decisions, and the school meets one hundred percent of the demonstrated need of all admitted students for all four years.
Vassar has also recently established a policy that eliminates
loans from the financial aid packages of students whose families earn $60,000 or less,
and replaces them with scholarship aid.
If you are awarded financial aid, your aid package will typically include a combination
of different sources, including Vassar scholarships, government or private scholarships
or loans, and work-study jobs. Work-study allows students to work between eight and ten
hours per week at a campus job in a particular administrative or academic department in
order to earn money. The Office of Student Employment always gives job priority to financial
aid students, which makes it easier to find the right job match for incoming freshmen
with financial needs.
In order to receive financial aid, you must apply as early as possible—don’t wait to find
out if you were accepted! In addition to a Vassar form, applicants must complete the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS PROFILE, the College Board’s
online financial aid application service. For more application information and for specific
application deadlines, visit Vassar’s Financial Aid Web site at http://admissions.vassar.edu/
Student Financial Aid Details
Let’s face it: studying is only a part of college life. And while getting an education is
a large part of the equation, your social life and activities are also just as crucial to finding
the real you.
So what’s life like at Vassar?
For one thing, community spirit runs high. The school is small, with only about 2,400
students, and ninety-eight percent of students live on campus, which makes the college feel
homey and intimate. While you won’t know everyone on campus by name, you won’t be able
to walk across the Quad without seeing at least two or three familiar faces. The absence of
any fraternities or sororities means that the student body socializes together, rather than
in fragmented, isolated groups.
I like the College very much—and think that it is a superior boarding
school—nearly everything that could be done is done for the students… I am
much better contented than I ever expected to be away from home. —Letter, dated Nov. 18, 1865, from Mary Coe Tompson, ’65–Feb. ’66
Vassar students generally love to have fun, mingle with one another, and get involved
with their community. No matter what you love, chances are you’ll find someone else who
shares that passion at Vassar.
There are more than one-hundred student-run organizations at Vassar, and about 1,650
campus-wide events are held each year, including guest lecturers, visiting artists and
performers, exhibits, workshops, athletic events, and concerts. Chances are, you won’t ever
be bored at Vassar.
Theater is definitely big at Vassar. Numerous student performance groups, two intimate
black-box theaters, and the new 300-seat Martel Theater provide a multitude of opportunities
to create and attend shows. There are also improv and comedy troupes, and seven different a
capella groups, including the Night Owls, the nation’s oldest continuing women’s collegiate a
capella group. Students in the Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (organized by the Dance
department) present a fall season and an annual spring weekend of gala performances at the
historic Bardavon Theater in downtown Poughkeepsie, and students lead their own dance
troupes such as FlyPeople and Vassar Tap. If you play an instrument or enjoy singing, there are
plenty of ensembles (both through the music department and independently) that perform
throughout the year. And not only are there an abundance of Steinway pianos in the Skinner
Hall of Music, there are also a bunch sprinkled throughout the dorms and other social spaces.
Interested in social activism? Amnesty International, Democracy Matters, Feminist
Alliance, Habitat For Humanity, and the Moderate Independent Conservative Alliance
are just a few of the groups that are active on Vassar’s campus. Vassar also has student political
party groups, including the Vassar Democrats, Vassar Republicans, and the Vassar
Greens. Cultural groups include the Black Students’ Union, the Caribbean Students’
Alliance, the Queer Coalition of Vassar College, and Poder Latino, among many others.
Vassar was founded as a college independent of particular denominational ties, which
makes it the perfect space for a variety of religious and spiritual beliefs to coexist. The
Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (whose motto actually is “Believe It Or Not”) supports
and sponsors many student religious groups, including the Vassar Catholic Community,
Vassar Christian Fellowship, Buddhist Sangha, the Vassar Jewish Union, and the Pagan
Study Group, to name just a few.
Vassar also has several student-run publications and broadcasts—the Miscellany News
is one of the oldest student weeklies in the country, and WVKR is one of the most powerful
college radio stations in New York State. For creative writers, there is the literary journal
Helicon; for aspiring Scorseses, there is the Vassar Filmmakers. Every year new student
journals, newsletters, and publications spring up, so there’s always a fresh new take on current
events and artistic goings-on.
And these are all just a slice of the student groups at Vassar. From the Barefoot
Monkeys (the student circus troupe that gives fire shows on the Quad) to Hip Hop 101, from
PHOCUS (photography and cooperative darkroom) to the Outing Club, there’s always something
new and challenging to try.
Vassar has so much to offer in terms of entertainment that few students feel the need to
leave every weekend in order to have fun. There are always plays to attend, films to see,
parties to check out at Matthew’s Mug (the campus pub) or in the College Center, concerts
to take in, or friends to see at the Students’ Building.
But if cabin fever gets you down, there are plenty of things to do off campus, as well.
Student-friendly cafés and restaurants pepper the area around the college, such as Baby
Cakes Bakery (a great place to have breakfast on Saturday morning), the Acropolis Diner
(a Vassar standby), Sushi Village (home of the best spicy tuna roll in the world!) or the
Cubbyhole, a great hole-in-the-wall hangout.
Further off is the Galleria Mall and downtown Poughkeepsie, which has the historic
Bardavon Theater, the Civic Center, and the Chance Club for touring acts. Poughkeepsie is
also surrounded by several nice locations, including artsy Rhinebeck, college-town New
Paltz, and Beacon, home to the world-renowned DIA contemporary art museum. And of
course, New York City is only an hour-and-a-half train ride away!
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Vassar fields twenty-five teams in the NCAA’s Division III (no athletic scholarships), and
annually boasts athletic and academic All-Americans. In recent years, Vassar’s men’s
volleyball team reached the national championship game; women’s rugby competed in the
USA Rugby National Championships; and women’s tennis played in the NCAA tournament
for the seventh time in eight years. As a group, Vassar athletes often maintain an average
GPA higher than that of the general student body.
Vassar offers excellent facilities, whether you’re a varsity athlete, you play a club sport
or in an intramural league, or you just like to work out. The combined Athletics & Fitness
Center and Walker Field House includes a wood-floor gymnasium, a multipurpose playing
surface for everything from tennis to fencing, a six-lane Olympic-size swimming pool and diving
well, an elevated running track, several fitness studios, a large exercise room, and a
sports medicine facility. The soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, and track teams are
ecstatic over the multimillion dollar renovation and expansion of the Prentiss Field complex.
Kenyon Hall features one of the few dedicated volleyball gymnasiums at a U.S. college,
and several international standards squash courts. There are varsity and recreational tennis
courts behind Josselyn House, the nine-hole Vassar Golf Course welcomes golfers of all levels,
and only minutes from campus, Vassar crew teams row across the Hudson River.
- Afternoon tea: A simple spread of tea
and cookies in Main’s Rose Parlor.
- Convocation: Incoming seniors
ascend to the top of Main to
announce themselves with a ritual
ringing of the bell. Your camera is a
must for the stunning view.
- Daisy Chain: Group of sophomore
women and men who bear a chain of
daisies during Commencement.
- Founder’s Day: All-day annual celebration in late April celebrating
Matthew Vassar’s birthday. Must be
seen to be believed.
- Nilda’s Cookies: Favorite Retreat
snack from a local baker, the famed
Nilda. A sign reminds you not to stick
them in the toaster.
- Primal Scream: At midnight before
exam week, students congregate in
the residential quad to scream.
- Serenading: Honoring/roast of the
seniors at the beginning of the year
with songs from each dorm and
class. Water guns and silly string are
- Vassar Devil: Devil’s food cake with
vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and
marshmallow sauce. Its lesser-known
angel-food cousin is, naturally, the
College is an experience in itself, but it also serves to prepare you for a future career.
Vassar graduates have gone into so many fields and taken so many different paths that it’s
easy to imagine that a Vassar education can help you to get virtually anywhere you want to go.
On graduation day, it was amazing to see how far we’d all come. I
remember sitting there and thinking about what lay in store for each of my
friends as they walked up to receive their diplomas—grad school for some, jobs
for others, and for a few, travel or relaxation before starting the next phase of
their lives. We were all about to go off on so many different paths, and while it
was a scary feeling, it was also incredibly exhilarating.
After graduation, you’ll have access to a network of more than 3,000 alumnae/i who
volunteer as career advisors. You’ll have a degree that opens doors to numerous graduate
schools, jobs, and career paths. And you’ll have four years of amazing memories and friendships
that will last for the rest of your life.
The majority of Vassar students opt for graduate study
following the completion of their undergraduate
degrees; seventy percent of Vassar grads find themselves
in graduate school within five years after graduation.
Many alumnae/i opt for professional schools to study law,
medicine, or business; in 2007, eighty-five percent of
Vassar grads who applied to medical school and eightyeight
percent of those who applied to law school were
accepted, compared to the national averages of fortyeight
percent and fifty-nine percent, respectively.
And how do they pay for all this? With scholarships
and fellowships. Vassar awards $150,000 in graduate
fellowships, and every year Vassar students receive
Fulbrights, Rhodes, Mellons, Watson, and many more
renowned awards. Vassar’s Office for Fellowship and Pre-
Professional Advising helps students get information on
all sorts of grants and awards for graduate school.
Of course, not everyone chooses to continue with education
after completing their undergrad degree. For
those with an eye toward immediate employment, Vassar
can help you jumpstart your career through the Office of
Career Development. It can help you figure out what
sorts of jobs interest you, where to find them, and how to
get them. The Office can also connect you to alumnae/i
in your field or with your interests who can advise and
mentor you as you move into post-Vassar life.
Ultimately, though, the best part about graduating
from Vassar is knowing that you’ve got a degree that
is applicable in so many different fields and on so many
different paths. No matter what you major in, you’ll
come out of your Vassar experience knowing more
about who you are—and where you’re going.
- Ellen Swallow Richards, 1870,
Founder of Ecology
- Crystal Eastman, ’03, Coauthor of the
Equal Rights Amendment
- Edna St. Vincent Millay, ’17, Pulitzer
- Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper,
’28, Computer Pioneer and Co-inventor
of the Computer Language COBOL
- Mary McCarthy, ’33, Pulitzer
- Elizabeth Bishop, ’34, Pulitzer
- Vera Cooper Rubin, ’48, Astronomer,
proved existence of “Dark Matter”
- Anne Armstrong, ’49, Counselor to
two U.S. Presidents
- Mary Oliver, ’54, Pulitzer Prizewinning
- Elizabeth Titus-Putnam, ’55, Founder
of the Student Conservation
- Sau Lan Wu, ’63, High-Energy
Particle Physicist, Co-discoverer
- Nina Zagat, ’63, co-founder of the
Zagat Survey and guidebooks
- Bernardine Healy, M.D. ’65, Director
of the National Institutes of Health,
- Ellen Silbergeld, ’67, MacArthur
Fellow, Public Health Scholar and
- Lucinda Franks, ’68, Pulitzer Prizewinning
- Meryl Streep, ’71, Academy Awardwinning
- Jane Smiley, ’71, Pulitzer Prizewinning
- Vicki Miles-LaGrange, ’74, Federal
Court Judge, First African-American
Woman Named a U.S. Attorney
- Richard W. Roberts, ’74, U.S. District
- Eben Ostby, ’77, Acadamy Awardwinning
- Phil Griffin, ’79, President of MSNBC
- Rick Lazio, ’80, US Congressman
- John Carlstrom, ’81, MacArthur
Fellow and Astrophysicist
- Matthew Brelis, ’80, Pulitzer
- Lisa Kudrow, ’85, Emmy Award-winning
Actress and Costar of Friends
- Marc Thiessen, ’89, Chief
- Noah Baumbach, ’91, Academy
Award-winning Writer and Director
- Ethan Zohn, ’96, Survivor: Africa
Winner and Co-founder of Grassroot
- Sam Endicott, ’99, Lead Singer of
Professors at Vassar also serve as academic advisors. Freshman students are assigned
temporary “pre-major’ advisors in their academic fields or interest; these advisors help
underclassmen to decide what courses they should take and what majors might interest
them. After declaring a major, a student is given a new advisor from his or her academic
department. Students often choose their new advisors based on previous classroom experience
or on mutual research interests.