How to Write the Vassar College Essays 2016-2017
Home to a 500-acre farm and ecological preserve, and located in scenic Hudson Valley north of New York City, Vassar College (founded in 1861) is a liberal arts college with a population of around 2,450 students. One of the first of the Seven Sisters, a group of historically women’s colleges in the Northeast, Vassar first opened its doors to men in 1969.
Today, Vassar students enjoy a strong sense of camaraderie on campus, with 98 percent of students living in residence halls or apartments on campus. The liberal arts community at Vassar also fosters a creative environment that has helped produce a number of notable alumni, including actress Meryl Streep, poet Elizabeth Bishop, and Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer Jane Smiley. Creativity continues to thrive at Vassar, which houses AirAcapella, an all-whistling a cappella group, which competes regularly at the International Whistlers Convention.
In addition to the plethora of unique extracurricular groups offered at Vassar, the classroom also allows for academic creativity; the college does not have a core curriculum and students are allowed to create their own major through the school’s Independent Program. Overall, the campus is humanities-leaning, with the most popular majors being Psychology, Economics, and English.
Vassar has two supplemental essays in addition to the Common Application, which we have analyzed briefly below.
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Vassar College Application Essay Prompts
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below. (Limit 350 words)
There are two main purposes of this essay. The first is to give you a chance to elaborate on an activity you wrote about briefly in the extracurricular section of the Common App. If there is an activity you are particularly passionate about, but did not have the chance to write about it in your regular Common app essay, this is a chance to further elaborate the extent of your role and the impact the activity had on your high school experience.
If you were the president of an a cappella group, go into detail about what you did for the group and how being president of that particular group shaped you — for example, perhaps it taught you how to resolve conflicts among group members or how to accept failure gracefully. To highlight personal passion or growth, choose an activity that has a particularly deep significance to you, such as volunteering at the local hospital after going through treatment there.
To highlight your capacity in a certain field, you can also choose to discuss research or internship experiences. As long as you focus on how you grew as a person and learned more about a field, these can set you apart from applicants who have not had a chance to work in a professional context.
However, always tie the internship or research job with work you would like to do at Vassar (for example, working with a specific professor on a project that is related to one you did at the lab you interned at). It would be to your advantage to do some research on Vassar’s specific academic departments if you plan to follow this route; don’t be afraid to name drop lab projects that you’ve researched to show your interest in this particular school.
Another purpose of this essay is to give students who held a part-time job an opportunity to provide more details about their situation. Sometimes student write off work experiences as different from and not as “credible” as typical extracurricular activities, like clubs or academic teams, but they can actually set you apart from other applicants, particularly if your work experience offered you a chance to try something new, provided you with some sort of obstacle that you were able to overcome, or shaped the way you think about the world.
For example, if you had a math tutoring job and found you greatly enjoyed explaining abstract concepts to kids, you may now have a budding interest in studying both education and math. In turn, this could have inspired you to want to create an interdisciplinary math and education major, which you could do with Vassar’s flexible curriculum.
You can also take this opportunity to briefly explain the circumstances that caused you to take a part-time job (such as if money is tight at home, you are saving up for a medical mission trip, etc.), and then paint that circumstance in a light that will reflect positive character traits.
For example, if you took a job to save money so that you could go on a medical mission trip over the summer, you can talk about what led you to make that decision, and how the dedication and patience you developed in the process might affect how you want to spend your undergraduate career at Vassar. Oftentimes, holding a job and being a student at the same time is complicated, and whatever characteristics you developed through the experience (selflessness, humility, maturity), you can highlight through your essay.
You can also take this opportunity to highlight aspects of yourself that you feel were not mentioned in your Common App. If it is clear in your application that you enjoy music and theater, but there is not much about your love for robotics, write about the time you made your first robot or entered your first robotics competition.
How did you learn about Vassar and what aspect of our college do you find appealing? Limit 350 words
This is a standard “Why us?” prompt, and although it is not given as much weight as other essays or different parts of your application, an extremely well-written response (or alternately, one that is obviously not your best piece of writing) may be what determines whether you are admitted to Vassar.
The key to this type of essay is to avoid generic statements such as “the campus is beautiful,” or the “students have a tight knit community,” as those could apply to literally hundreds of schools around the country. Admission officers want to see that you are interested in Vassar College because it is appealing for reasons other than the fact that it is a top-notch institution.
Accordingly, in your essay, you want to refer to factors that are specific and unique to the school. We at CollegeVine have provided a brief list of unique characteristics of Vassar, but strongly suggest you personally research the school to come up with more personal and tailored reasons for wanting to attend it.
- There is a farm/ecological reserve located on campus with wooded trails, open meadows, and sports fields for bucolic exploration.
- Vassar’s campus is also a certified arboretum.
- Vassar is home to one of the largest undergraduate libraries in the U.S., with more than a million tomes on campus.
- Vassar’s Lehman Loeb Art Center houses prominent collection of artworks; Vassar was the first college in the U.S. to be founded with a full-scale museum as part of its original plan.
- For language fanatics, Vassar offers the Self-Instructional Language Program, which allows students to become proficient in languages such as Irish/Gaelic and Swahili.
Best of luck in getting to Hudson Valley!
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