The college offers B.A. degrees in more than 50 majors. Student groups at the college include theater and comedy organizations, a cappella groups, club sports teams, volunteer and service groups, and a circus troupe. Vassar College's varsity sports teams, known as the Brewers, play in the NCAA's Division III as members of the Liberty League. Currently, there are close to 2,500 students.
Vassar was founded as a women's school under the name Vassar Female College in 1861. Its first president was Milo P. Jewett, who had previously been first president of another women's school, Judson College; he led a staff of ten professors and twenty-one instructors. But after only a year, its founder, Matthew Vassar, had the word Female cut from the name, prompting some residents of the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, to quip that its founder believed it might one day admit male students. The college became coeducational in 1969.
Vassar was the second of the Seven Sisters colleges, higher education schools that were formerly strictly for women, and historically sister institutions to the Ivy League. It was chartered by its namesake, brewer Matthew Vassar, in 1861 in the Hudson Valley, about 70 miles (110 km) north of New York City. The first person appointed to the Vassar faculty was the astronomerMaria Mitchell, in 1865.
Vassar adopted coeducation in 1969. However, immediately following World War II, Vassar accepted a very small number of male students on the G.I. Bill. The formal decision to become co-ed came after its trustees declined an offer to merge with Yale University, its sibling institution, in the wave of mergers between the historically all-male colleges of the Ivy League and their Seven Sisters counterparts.
In its early years, Vassar was associated with the social elite of the Protestant establishment. E. Digby Baltzell writes that "upper-class WASP families educated their children at colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Vassar." A select and elite few of Vassar's students were allowed entry into the school's secret society Delta Sigma Rho, started in 1922. Before becoming President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Trustee.
Roughly 2,450 students attend Vassar, and 98% live on campus. About 60% come from public high schools, and 40% come from private schools (both independent and religious). Vassar is currently 56% women and 44% men, at national average for national liberal arts colleges. Students are taught by more than 336 faculty members, virtually all holding the doctorate degree or its equivalent. The student-faculty ratio is 8:1, average class size, 17.
In recent freshman classes, students of color constituted 32–38% of matriculants. International students from over 60 countries make up 8-10% of the student body. In May 2007, Vassar returned to a need-blind admissions policy without regard to a student'S financial status.
Vassar is home to one of the largest undergraduate library collections in the U.S. The library collection today – which actually encompasses eight libraries at Vassar – contains about 1 million volumes and 7,500 serial, periodical and newspaper titles, as well as an extensive collection of microfilm and microfiche, with special collections of Ellen Swallow Richards, Albert Einstein, Mary McCarthy, and Elizabeth Bishop. Vassar has been a Federal Depository library for selected U.S. Government documents since 1943 and currently receives approximately 25% of the titles available through the Federal Depository Program.
The interior and exterior of the Van Ingen Art Library was renovated from June 2008 – May 2009 in an effort to restore its original design and appearance. This was the library's first major renovation since its construction in 1937.
In November 2016, the gallery opened the Hoene Hoy Photography gallery on the second floor, named after Anne Hoene Hoy from the class of 1963.
In 2011, Vassar embarked on a $120 million project to improve science facilities at the college, centering on the construction of a new Bridge for Laboratory Sciences.
Davison, one of Vassar's nine residence houses, was renovated during the 2008–2009 school year. During the year of renovation, Davison's residents were absorbed into the college's remaining residence houses. This was the second dorm to be renovated as part of the school's master plan to renovate all dorms, following Jewett a few years earlier. Lathrop was scheduled to be closed and renovated during the 2010–2011 school year, but complete renovation was postponed due to the economic downturn, with a number of improvements phased-in instead. Improvements were also made to Josselyn in 2011.
The most popular undergraduate majors, based on 2021 graduates, were:
For the class of 2026 (enrolling fall 2022), Vassar received 11.412 applications and accepted 18.7%. For the class of 2025 (enrolling fall 2021), Vassar received 10,884 applications, a 25% increase over the previous year, and accepted 2,068 (19%). For the class of 2023 (enrolling fall 2019), Vassar received 8,961 applications and accepted 2,127 (23.7%), with 691 enrolling. For the class of 2025 (enrolling fall 2021),the middle 50% range of SAT scores for enrolling freshmen was 710-760 for evidence-based reading and writing, 710-780 for math, and 1420-1540 for the composite. The middle 50% ACT score range was 28-33 for math, 32-34 for English, and 32-34 for the composite.
Students of color (including non-citizens) made up 45.5% of the incoming class; international students were 8.8% of enrolling freshmen.
The 2023 edition of U.S. News & World Report's "Best Colleges" ranked Vassar as the 13th best liberal arts college in the U.S. out of 223 rated. In previous years the college was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as high as tenth. Also in 2023, U.S. News & World Report ranked Vassar second for "Best Colleges for Veterans", 31st for "Best Value", tied at 20th for "Top Performers on Social Mobility", and 31st in "Best Undergraduate Teaching". It also ranked Vassar tied for second among top liberal arts colleges for economic diversity as measured by low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants.
In its 2021 edition, Washington Monthly ranked Vassar 11th among 215 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. based on its contribution to the public good, as measured by social mobility, research, and promoting public service.
In its 2020 edition, The Princeton Review rated Vassar first for "Best Financial Aid" of all colleges and universities in the United States. In its 2018 edition, The Princeton Review rated Vassar second best for financial aid and 41st best for "best value". In 2019, Forbes rated Vassar 27th among liberal arts colleges and 61st overall in its America's Top Colleges ranking, which includes 650 military academies, national universities, and liberal arts colleges.Kiplinger's Personal Finance places Vassar 11th in its 2019 ranking of the 149 best value liberal arts colleges in the United States.Money magazine ranked Vassar 145th in the country out of 739 schools evaluated for its 2020 "Best Colleges for Your Money" edition.
In an article in The Christian Science Monitor, Vassar president emeritus Catharine Bond Hill argued that rankings "will always be limited in what they can tell consumers. Part of higher education's role about the rankings should be to remind students and their families that these are only one piece of information that they should take into account in deciding where to go to college. Intangibles will and should play a role in these decisions, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't also look at the tangibles".
Over half of Vassar graduates pursue advanced study within five years of graduation, including one-fifth immediately post-graduation. Of the seniors who applied to medical school in 2017, 76% were accepted; to law school, 96% were accepted.
Founder's Day is an annual campus festival at Vassar College that usually takes place in late April or early May. It started as a surprise birthday party for college founder Matthew Vassar's seventy-fourth birthday and evolved into an annual celebration. Originally, Founder's Day was a spontaneous event consisting of lectures, but was soon replaced with plays, pageants, and more recreational activities. Circus and fair activities followed, with the eventual addition of the modern day music events over the course of two days. More recently themes have been added, including Alice in Wonderland, Dinosaurs, Vintage 1800s Vassar,Nickelodeon, Nintendo, and Candyland. Recent artists at Founder's Day have included The Walkmen, Edan, DJ /rupture, Odd Nosdam, Jel,Toro y Moi, and Odesza.
The Night Owls, established in the 1940s, are, as of 2017, one of the oldest extant collegiate a cappella groups in the United States, and one of nine vocal music groups at Vassar. Other groups include the Vastards (specializing in the music of the 2000s), Broadway and More (BAM; showtunes), the Accidentals (the Axies; the sole all-men's a cappella group at Vassar), Beauty and the Beats (focusing on music from Disney movies), Home Brewed (formerly Matthew's Minstrels, the college's first mixed-gender a cappella group), the Vassar Devils, Measure 4 Measure (both themeless groups), and AirCappella (an all-whistling ensemble). Some a cappella groups tour and compete, including the Vassar Devils, who competed in the 2015 International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.
The Philaletheis Society, which was founded in 1865 as a literary society, is the oldest theater group on campus. It has now become a completely student run theater group. Others include Unbound (experimental theater), Woodshed (a troupe focused on devised theater), and Idlewild (an all-female ensemble). Britomartis, Vassar's only theater group exclusively creating devised theater, was founded in 2011. Further groups include the Future Waitstaff of America (for musical theater), Ebony Theatre Ensemble (focusing on Black theater), and two Shakespeare-specific troupes, Shakespeare Troupe and Merely Players. Performances happen throughout campus including in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater, an all-student-run black box theater. The college also hosts the Powerhouse Summer Theater workshop series.
Happily Ever Laughter ("HEL") is the college's oldest continually active sketch comedy group, founded in 1993. Another comedy group, Big K1dz (formerly No Offense), which was started by two former members of an earlier group called Laughingstock (for which recognition by the student assembly was withdrawn in March 2000, as a result of a controversial sketch), was started in September 2000. Another sketch comedy group The Limit was started a few years later. Indecent Exposure, an all-women's troupe performing both sketch and stand-up comedy, was founded in 2004. Comedynormative, which began in 2009, performs exclusively stand-up comedy. Vassar has three improv comedy groups: Vassar College Vassar Improv (VCVI), Committed, and Casual Improv.
The Vassar Greens are Vassar's environmental group.
Vassar College Television (VCTV) is the college's first student-run video production company.
The Miscellany News has been the weekly paper of the college since 1866, making it one of the oldest college weeklies in the United States. It is available for free most Thursdays when school is in session. In 2008–09, it became one of the only college newspapers in the country to begin updating its website daily.
Squirm "is a submissions-based magazine about sex and sexuality. Squirm seeks to create a sex-positive forum on campus for the artistic, literary, and creative exploration of sex." The magazine, published annually since 1999, typically runs around 60 pages and is only distributed to the campus community.
Boilerplate Magazine is a student-run publication that calls itself an "alternative news source... that aims to publish radical pieces and creative works which address issues through a socially conscious lens." Due to its independence from collegiate funds, Boilerplate Magazine is generally more critical of the college than other student-run outlets.
Unscrewed (1 October 1976 - 1 April 1989) was a student-run consumer report on campus residential and classroom safety, local food and drug price comparison, an annual local pizza delivery survey, and long-term topics such as the college's endowment and staffing.
WVKR, 91.3 FM, is the college's radio station, established in 1971. The station's disc jockeys, primarily student volunteers, play an eclectic variety of music genres.
In March 2016, in a 15–2 vote, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) passed a resolution calling for the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the boycott of Israel. In April 2016, the BDS resolution went to a school-wide referendum, where it was defeated 573–503.
Vassar teams, known as the Brewers, compete in Division III of the NCAA, as a member of the Liberty League. The nickname originates from the college's founder and namesake Matthew Vassar, whose family ran a brewery in Poughkeepsie and would later amass a sizable fortune in the industry.
In 2008, the Vassar men's volleyball team made the school's first appearance in a national championship game, beating UC Santa Cruz 3–0 in the semifinal before falling to Springfield in the championship game.
In 2007, the Vassar cycling team hosted the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Championship in Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, New York. The competition included a 100-mile (160 km) road race over the Shawangunk Mountains in New Paltz as well as a criterium in Poughkeepsie just blocks from the school's campus.
In a controversial move, on November 5, 2009, the athletics department leaders decided the men's and women's rowing team would transition over a two-year period from a varsity to a club sport as a cost-saving measure.
Bruno, Maryann; Daniels, Elizabeth A. (2001). Vassar College. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN978-0-7385-0454-4.
Elet, Yvonne; Duncan, Virginia (2019). "Beatrix Farrand and campus landscape at Vassar: pedagogy and practice, 1925–29". Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes. 39 (2): 105–136. doi:10.1080/14601176.2018.1556509. S2CID150106489.
Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz (1993). Alma mater: design and experience in the women's colleges from their nineteenth-century beginnings to the 1930s (2nd ed.). Amherst, MA: University of Massachuchusetts Press. ISBN0-87023-869-8.