The Vassar curriculum has always been characterized by boldness, breadth, and flexibility. Vassar was among the first colleges to offer courses in drama, psychology, and Russian, the first to offer an undergraduate degree in cognitive science, and among the first to experiment with interdepartmental courses in the early 20th century. Today, the curriculum is broader, richer, and more varied than ever, with an increasing emphasis on a multidisciplinary approach to intellectual inquiry. Students choose among 29 departments, 6 interdisciplinary programs, 12 multidisciplinary programs, 50 majors, and over 1,000 courses.
Vassar offers a balanced course of study leading to the degree of bachelor of arts and encourages students to pursue the degree through a program of study that recognizes their individual goals. The general curricular requirements are flexible: each student must fulfill the Freshman Course (first-year writing seminar) requirement, the quantitative course requirement, and the foreign language requirement. In addition to these general requirements, the student must fulfill the specific requirements of his/her major.
In the Freshman Course, small groups of first-year students and a professor examine topics such as “Perspectives on the Global Village,” “Russia and the Short Story,” and “Reimaging America.” Intended as introductions to the Vassar experience, Freshman Courses are offered in a variety of disciplines and generally serve as introductions to those disciplines. All Freshman Courses stress the effective expression of ideas in both written and oral work.
By the end of sophomore year, every Vassar student must take at least one course that demands a significant amount of quantitative analysis. To fulfill this requirement, students may choose from a broad array of courses in disciplines that span the curriculum. All courses offered in mathematics, computer science, and the laboratory sciences satisfy the requirement; the requirement is also satisfied by many courses offered in the social sciences (such as economics, psychology, and geography).
Vassar also expects students to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. The curriculum provides for both study of and concentration in Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish. In addition, students may learn Hebrew and Arabic, and, through the Self-Instructional Language Program, Gaelic, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Swedish, Swahili, Turkish, and Yiddish. Students also may demonstrate proficiency based on results of SAT Subject Tests or Advanced Placement exams.
Vassar students generally declare a major (also called a concentration) by the end of the sophomore year. Students have a choice of four paths to the bachelor’s degree: concentration in (1) a department; (2) an interdepartmental program such as biochemistry or geography/anthropology; (3) a multidisciplinary program such as urban studies, American culture, or science, technology, and society; or (4) an individually tailored course of study in the independent program. Within the major field, requirements range from 10 to 17 courses.
In addition to the major concentration, a student may undertake an optional correlate sequence (basically the same as a minor) in most departments and programs. The correlate sequence provides the opportunity to organize studies outside the major field of concentration, progressing from introductory to advanced work under the guidance of an advisor in the relevant department or program. A sequence ordinarily consists of six courses.
Vassar students have multiple opportunities to apply what they’re learning to real life situations. About 500 students annually do field work for academic credit in the local community, Albany, and New York City; in some disciplines, such as anthropology, earth science, education, and geography, field work is an expected part of the student’s work. About 300 students annually work as paid research assistants or academic interns in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. More
Students (usually juniors) may apply for a year or a semester away in either Vassar-sponsored programs or one of the many preapproved programs offered by other colleges. Vassar sponsors academic-year programs in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Spain. Students may also apply for study away at various U.S. institutions, such as the historically Black colleges and members of the Twelve College Exchange. More
The Vassar-Dartmouth Dual Degree Program in Engineering
Under this cooperative program, Vassar students (usually majors in physics, mathematics, or chemistry) spend their junior year at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering. They return to Vassar for their senior year to receive their degrees, and then have the option of returning to Dartmouth for an additional year to earn a general engineering degree.
The Advising System
Entering students are assigned to faculty pre-major advisors until they decide on an area of concentration, at which time they choose a departmental or program advisor. Students may seek advice from the Dean of Studies, the Dean of Freshmen, the sophomore advisor, the junior advisor, or the senior advisor, and informal advice from the house fellows or individual faculty members.
Advising for Law, Medicine, and the Other Health Professions
For Vassar students considering careers in medicine, other health professions, or law, the Office of Fellowships and Pre-Health Advising (medical/health) and the Career Development Office (law) provide specialized services, including advice on course selection and sequence, information and referral to summer programs, and assistance in applying for admission to professional schools and in securing financial support for graduate studies.