First Impressions: Vassar College (NY)

If you want a liberal arts major within a liberal arts education, it is better to choose a liberal arts college, especially one that has the resources of Vassar.

Founded as an all-female alternative to the Ivy League schools in 1861, Vassar became co-ed just over a century later. Prior to becoming co-ed, Vassar’s leadership considered an association with Yale much like Columbia’s current relationship with Barnard. Today this 2,500 student college is approximately 55 percent female, 45 percent male. I had the privilege to visit Vassar during a Fall Open House, gathering First Impressions and assembling photos for a Pinterest page.

If a Vassar alum told you that their alma mater was the best liberal arts college in the US, it would be wise to listen. Vassar stands out by being an exclusively undergraduate college with an open curriculum as well as a major emphasis on helping students find credit-bearing internships in the local area as well as in New York City. The older buildings would fit on an Ivy League campus while the college also operates its own farm and ecological preserve.  And, like the Ivy League schools, Vassar will meet 100 percent of demonstrated need. Graduates of its class of 2015 who took out loans borrowed, on average, less than $20,000 towards their degrees, lower than New Yorkers—they make up the largest share of the student body—borrow to attend their state universities.

Vassar’s downsides are community related. Poughkeepsie, while a major location for IBM as well as a seat of county government, is not a true college town. It is a 90-minute commute to New York by train for students who wish to work in the city as interns during the school year. The college’s Clery Report also showed a high number of reported incidents of sexually related crimes for a school of this size for each year from 2013 to 2015. Whether this is a result of better crime reporting and campus and community law enforcement or a town-gown related problem, this is something that prospective students and parents should ask about, just as they would if they were considering city schools such as Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Penn or Yale.

It is very hard to fault Vassar for the education that it offers its students as well as the academic and career development support that it provides to them. Bright students who are seeking to pursue a liberal arts education on the East Coast would be wise to take a visit. Many will learn that they can receive an education that is likely to better than it is likely to be at a few larger schools with more famous names.

The Report Card for Vassar College

  • Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A
  • Freshman Retention: A
  • Costs: A
  • Curriculum: A
  • Comforts: A
  • Community: B+
  • Connections: A

Check out my First Impressions of Vassar!

Check our my Vassar Pinterest page!

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