College review by Beth Cassie
Feb. 2012- I visited Vassar earlier this fall and had a similar overall impression of the college. We arrived early to campus and were waiting in the student center/cafeteria. There was very little activity at 8:30 am on a Friday morning but when a youngish looking professor walked through seeking his morning coffee, he stopped at our table and asked us where we were visiting from. He introduced himself as the chair of the drama department and when my son, Rob, expressed and interest in the field, he offered to give us a tour of the theater facilities after his 9 am staff meeting. We needed to decline, due to the timing of the info session and tour, but this is a very good indication of the accessibility of the faculty at Vassar. By midday the student center had filled with students who were grabbing lunch and hanging out before their afternoon classes began. Vassar is considered to be a “big small” – with approximately 2500 students, Vassar is among the largest of the small, liberal arts colleges. In fact, the admissions director stated that the largest application overlaps with Vassar are large, urban universities rather than other small colleges. Vassar is a great place for the intellectual student who is self-motivated, eclectic, and wants an individualized education.
Feb. 2011 – This past week, my daughter and I continued on our college visits with a new parameter of being within a 2-hour drive from our home in New Jersey. As I’ve mentioned before, the college search process is indeed a process of self-discovery and understanding needs and interests. A few years ago, my daughter couldn’t wait to be as far away from New Jersey as possible, but as the time became more real, she had a desire to stay close to home. So we identified three schools that fit her academic criteria of a strong creative writing department along with her geographic criteria. Ironically, most of these schools did not make the list originally for one reason or another, but as this is indeed a process, we reworked the list.
Our first stop was Vassar College; next we went to NYU and ended the tour with Sarah Lawrence College.
Vassar’s open curriculum provides great opportunities for students who desire academic freedom and want to explore a lot of different areas of study. Vassar has only three requirements, Freshman Writing Seminar, a Quantitative class and a foreign language requirement (this can be waived if students receive a 4 or 5 on their AP language test or a 600+ on the SAT subject test for foreign language). While students have free reign to design their curriculum, Vassar provides them with extensive academic advising starting with a pre-major advisor, a major advisor, a minor advisor, a study abroad advisor, an internship advisor, pre-med or pre-law advisor, and pretty much any other type of advisor that student wishes.
Vassar is equally strong in performing arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences. There are also numerous multi-disciplinary options and inter-departmental options for students. The top five majors are English, Biological Sciences, Political Science, Economics, and Psychology. Students also have ample opportunity to perform undergraduate research and Field Work/Internships.
The campus itself is quite beautiful with red brick building and a grey stone library that is spectacular. The inside of the library is filled with light and comfortable seating areas for students to study. There is also a gorgeous stained glass window that sits at the back of the library.
Students are well dressed with a slight sense of an artsy, dramatic flair mixed in from colorful scarves, to colorful hair (for some students, to pants checkered with colored skulls.)
Vassar is highly select; last year it accepted 23.6% of its applicants. Vassar places the most emphasis on the academic rigor and success of a student’s transcript. They expect that their students take the highest level class for every subject offered at their school and do well. So if your school offers both AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature, they would prefer that you take both. However, if your school only offers one of those, then they do not expect you to go beyond the highest level, even if you reach that level during your junior year.
Poughkeepsie offers students a wide variety of internship opportunities. One of the students spoke about her internship developing a micro-lending program for women in the Hudson Valley. She applied for this after taking a class in Asian studies and doing a research project on the success of micro-lending practices in Indonesia. She was able to translate that research/academic experience into a real-word experience and secure the internship. She also spent her junior year studying in Madrid, Spain.
We were less impressed with our tour guide. He was very involved with theater and dance and while good at telling Vassar stories; he did not seem as knowledgeable as the other people we met. When asked what his most challenging academic experience was to date, he replied, “Well I just had to learn how to manage my time better so I don’t procrastinate, but I haven’t found a class that is too hard yet.”
96% of students live on campus all four years and students live in the same house for the first three years. This creates a very cohesive campus community. Weekends are filled with shows, movies on campus, dances,, speakers, and other campus run events. This year Vassar is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary with a two-day long schedule of events. The President lives on campus and is very active. Professors and students also interact on a personal level and get to know each other beyond the classroom.
Vassar is a great place for students who want to have a lot of interaction with faculty, desire a highly flexible curriculum, and want a strong arts presence on campus coupled with excellent academics in all areas.
My daughter’s impression: “I love the academic freedom and the campus is gorgeous, but the people seem a bit pretentious and I don’t like Poughkeepsie.”