For more than a century, Vassar College has educated some of the nation’s best and brightest women. And the now-coeducational school has only gained steam since then.
Located in Poughkeepsie, New York, approximately 75 miles north of New York City, Vassar was just the second higher-education facility in the country to grant degrees to women when founder Matthew Vassar opened the school in the 19th century.
Today, nearly 2,500 undergraduates attend this well-known liberal arts college that grants degrees in over 50 majors. Several of its academic programs have earned high national rankings from Niche, including anthropology and sociology (27th out of 758), public policy (28th of 623), and the performing arts (35th of 555). Art, global studies, history, and international relations also earned high-ranking spots.
But academics isn’t all Vassar has to offer. Students can add to their learning while helping others through community-engaged learning (a type of experiential learning), participate in sports (including 27 varsity teams plus intramurals), and join a wide alumni network ready to help them begin their careers once their time at Vassar ends.
Below, we’ll explain what it means to be Ivy League, where Vassar fits in, how it ranks, and how to get accepted to this selective college.
Is Vassar Ivy League?
No, Vassar College is not an Ivy League school, but it is one of the “Seven Sisters,” a collection of liberal arts colleges whose prestige rivals that of the Ivies.
The name “Ivy League” came about through an NCAA athletic conference that started in the 1950s and today refers to eight of the oldest schools in the nation: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities, plus the University of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, in addition to Vassar, the Seven Sisters consisted of Mount Holyoke, Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe colleges. All are prestigious schools; the Seven Sisters began as places where women could receive an advanced education just like the men of that time could get at the Ivies.
Like all of the Ivies, Vassar now has a co-ed student body, although five of the Seven Sisters continue to serve only women. Sixty-two percent of Vassar’s students are women.
Vassar has a smaller student body than any of the Ivies and only offers undergraduate degrees. The number of undergrads at the Ivy League schools ranges from about 4,400 at Dartmouth to more than 15,000 at Cornell, while Vassar had just over 2,400 undergrads in the fall of 2020.
Don’t let Vassar’s size fool you, though. It’s a small but mighty school, especially when it comes to academics. Students have more than 1,000 courses to choose from among 30 departments.
“There’s a reason why Seven Sisters colleges are viewed as Ivy League sister schools,” Niche noted. “Like their Ivy League counterparts, they generally have excellent academic reputations paired with low acceptance rates.”
Why Is Vassar Confused As an Ivy League School?
Vassar’s name has become synonymous with high-quality education and a selective admissions process, just like its Ivy League counterparts, thanks to its long history and a wealth of prestigious alumni.
Add in Vassar’s location in the picture-perfect Hudson River Valley, not far from Ivies like Cornell and Columbia, and it’s easy to imagine Vassar included in that list.
In addition to being one of the Seven Sisters, Vassar also is considered one of the “Little Ivies.” The esteemed colleges in this group have reputations and academics on par with the traditional Ivies but with smaller student bodies.
It generally encompasses the members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference and some other schools outside New England, like Vassar.
Vassar has many of the same attributes as the Ivy League schools, too, including its longevity and classic architecture. Vassar has been around nearly as long as many Ivies, having been founded in 1861 (Cornell was not founded until four years later).
Its campus boasts architectural wonders like the Gothic-style library that has more than 1 million volumes, according to Forbes, and other brick and stone edifices surrounded by towering shady trees.
And in the 160 years since its founding, Vassar has established itself as an educational powerhouse.
Vassar College – Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
Vassar’s liberal arts education has helped earn it top marks from a slew of publications. Forbes ranked the college 19th on its 2021 list of top liberal arts universities and 34th among schools in the northeast.
Meanwhile, the Princeton Review has included Vassar on several lists, including “Colleges That Create Futures,” LGBTQ-friendly colleges, and most beautiful campuses.
Vassar, Barnard, and Wellesley colleges are the toughest of the Seven Sisters to get admitted to, as each has an acceptance rate of less than 30%, Niche noted.
For its class of 2024, Vassar received 8,663 applications and admitted just over 24% (approximately 2,100 students). That’s actually fairly higher than the average acceptance rate for the Ivy League schools, which was 6.78% for the class of 2023, according to Shemmassian Academic Consulting.
Those who choose to join the Vassar community have 51 majors to choose from, along with several other offerings: two accelerated and dual-degree programs, five interdepartmental programs, 13 multidisciplinary programs, and the interdisciplinary Independent Program. English, political science, and psychological science are Vassar’s most popular majors.
Vassar students get an intimate experience in those lessons, with a student-faculty ratio of 8:1 in the 2019-20 academic year. Outside the classroom, students participate in 27 varsity sports in NCAA Division III.
While such an education comes with a higher price tag (students can expect to pay upwards of $78,000 in tuition, room, board, and other fees for 2021-22), the Princeton Review ranked Vassar first on its list of the 20 best private schools for financial aid. The college bases its financial aid awards on a student’s need rather than merit.
How to Get Into Vassar College
While some might think the best way to get into an important college like Vassar is to attend a fancy private high school, that’s not the case. The majority of Vassar’s class of 2024 (68%) attended public schools, and the college also participates in QuestBridge.
Still, high schoolers hoping to get into Vassar will need to prove that they can excel. Vassar officials consider each student’s high school GPA, class rank, and letters of recommendation when deciding whether to admit them, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Vassar accepts the Common and Coalition applications. Prospective students need to submit a letter of recommendation from their guidance counselor or school adviser and one from a teacher.
Arts portfolios and interviews with a Vassar student or alumna/alumnus are not required but can be included. Prospective students also can share more about themselves in a special section of the application. Previous applicants have submitted items such as videos, poetry, or art projects.
Like many other colleges and universities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vassar will not require applicants to include SAT or ACT scores through the 2022–23 admission cycle.
Students who have taken the exams can include their scores if they want to, and although the college will consider them, the scores will be “secondary to the applicant’s high school transcript,” according to Vassar. Vassar does superscore the tests.
Recap: Vassar Is Not an Ivy League School. However, It Is a Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College
Vassar might not be an Ivy League school, but its history and the opportunities it provides students have earned it a reputation as a top-ranked liberal arts college.
The college’s position as both one of the Seven Sisters and one of the “Little Ivies” makes Vassar one of the most sought-after schools in the country.
With its small student body size and low student-teacher ratio, Vassar offers a close-knit community where students can thrive. Just 18% of students lived off-campus in fall 2020, and approximately 90% of students stay on campus each weekend.
Students can augment their experience with more than 100 student activities and NCAA Division III sports. Vassar embraces diversity and inclusion with organizations and programs that support the wide range of students who call the campus home.
While Vassar’s tuition is above the national average ($62,870 vs. $43,337), having a degree from the college puts alumni in an elite group. Many celebrities, activists, and other movers and shakers have earned degrees from Vassar through the years, giving even more gravitas to its reputation. In the 160 years since its founding, Vassar’s alumni include actress and activist Jane Fonda, actress Meryl Streep, poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Even recent alumni will find their hard work pays off. The starting median salary for Vassar alumni is $56,300. That number almost doubles for the mid-career median salary ($107,700). And thanks to its extensive alumni network, Vassar can prepare the next generation to follow in their footsteps through networking, internship, and mentorship opportunities.