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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Vanderbilt University

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Located in Nashville, Vanderbilt University is a private research university that has produced numerous proud alumni, including Stanley Cohen, Al Gore Jr., and Muhammad Yunus. Ranked 15th (by U.S. News and World Report) among National Universities and 8th for Best Undergraduate Teaching, Vanderbilt is a formidable school and has an acceptance rate of just 11.7%. Interested in applying? Read on!


Want to learn what Vanderbilt University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Vanderbilt University needs to know.


Introducing Vanderbilt University

Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt University today is composed of about 6,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate and professional students. Within the university, there are ten schools (four undergraduate, the largest being the College of Arts and Science, and six graduate and professional), an art and public policy center, and the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.


Vanderbilt is located in Tennessee, a mile and a half southwest of downtown Nashville. It’s easy to get into the city, but there’s a lot to do on campus, too! Campus is composed of 330 acres and has 392 buildings. Also, the Peabody section of campus has been a registered National Historic Landmark since 1966.


Moreover, Vanderbilt is home to the Jean and Alexander Heard Library system, containing more than 8 million items for students’ use. The library system is comprised of eight individual libraries and Special Collections. Included in the Special Collections, is the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, also known as “the world’s most extensive and complete television news archive.”


At Vanderbilt, 92% of students live on campus. There are 31 residence halls and apartments, and ten are exclusively first-year housing. All first years live in one of these ten first-year residence halls located on the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons. After your first year at Vanderbilt, housing options are more varied and, starting your sophomore year, you can apply to any of the residential facilities, regardless of your campus affiliation, undergraduate school, or academic major.


There are over 500 student clubs and organizations at Vanderbilt. Additionally, there are a total of 24 Greek life chapters — 15 sororities and 19 fraternities. You can read up on student life in the Vanderbilt Hustler, Vanderbilt’s student newspaper that has been around since 1888.


Sports are a big part of Vanderbilt student culture as well. There are ten women’s and six men’s varsity sports teams. Plus, they have great stadiums to watch and play sports in: Vanderbilt Stadium (for football, seats 40,350 spectators), Memorial Gymnasium (for basketball, seats 14,326), and Charles Hawkins Field (for baseball, seats 3,700). And, if you’re not interested in watching but want to play, there are 32 club sports and over 40 intramural sports available for all students. Remember to wear black and gold and celebrate your mascot: the Commodore!



The student-to-faculty ratio at Vanderbilt is 8:1, and 91% of classes have fewer than 50 students. Also, 80% of classes have fewer than 30 students. 50% of students conduct undergraduate research (see more on undergraduate research at Vanderbilt below), and 1 in 2 students conducts research independently. And, in addition to small classes and ample undergraduate research opportunities, the Princeton Review rated it the second school with the happiest students.


Though it was originally founded as a school for men, there were never any rules against women’s attendance at Vanderbilt, and at least one woman has been in every class since 1875. Undergraduates in 2015 were made up of 50% women and 50% men.


In regards to admissions, Vanderbilt University’s acceptance rate for the class of 2015 was 11.7%. The SAT Critical Reading Middle 50% was a score of 710–790, the SAT Math Middle 50% was 720–800, and the SAT Writing Middle 50% was 690–770. The ACT Middle 50% was 32–35.


Undergraduate Research

At Vanderbilt University, undergraduates have ample opportunity to conduct research. In fact, 50% of students conduct research during their four years and 15% do so over the summer (and nearly half have internships). 1 in 2 students conducts research independently, and 1 in 3 students conducts research with a professor.


Because research is so integral to the institution, most research opportunities are paid for by professors’ research funds and are of no cost (and sometimes even offer stipends) to students. Any undergraduate may conduct research, and students are encouraged to do so outside of their chosen major or school. You can even conduct your undergraduate research at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.



Undergraduate tuition at Vanderbilt University is $44,496 for the 2016–17 academic year. Housing is $9,772 and meals are $5,190. There is also a $1,114 activities and recreation centers fee. With books and supplies and personal expenses (but not including travel expenses or health insurance, which is required for each student) the overall cost for the 2016–17 year as a Vanderbilt undergraduate is $64,654.

Also, as a first year, you will have to pay extra fees: $732 for the first-year experience fee and $30 for the new student transcript fee. Additionally, if you are majoring in engineering, you will have to pay a $650 engineering lab fee, and you will be expected to buy a laptop from Vanderbilt ($1,500) or provide your own that meets the requirements.


Financial Aid

94.5% of Vanderbilt first years receive Vanderbilt grant assistance. Vanderbilt conducts need-blind admissions for all U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens. Vanderbilt will meet 100% of demonstrated need. Demonstrated need is the difference between cost of attending and your family’s expected contribution, which is determined using the documents you submit (like the FAFSA).


So, aside from what the financial aid office determines your family can pay, Vanderbilt will work with you and your family to make sure your education is paid for. Furthermore, Vanderbilt does not administer loans — only grants, which do not need to be paid back.


There is no income limit to qualify for financial aid because other factors are taken into consideration, including family size, assets, etc. For this reason, you need to submit all of your documents on time — financial aid award decisions are determined on a case-by-case basis, so you must submit everything on time if you want to receive your financial aid decision before the date to commit to Vanderbilt (May 1). You can use Vanderbilt University’s Net Price Calculator to get an idea of what studying at Vanderbilt may cost you.


Note that if you apply Early Decision, your ED agreement is binding regardless of your financial aid award. You will receive a tentative financial aid award notification, but final official financial aid awards are not mailed to admitted students until on or around April 1. If you want to compare your financial aid package to those from other schools before committing, you are advised to apply Regular Decision.


To apply for financial aid at Vanderbilt, you must submit the following documents:


    1. The College Scholarship Service Financial Aid Profile (CSS Profile): This allows you to be considered for Vanderbilt need-based grant assistance. (While you may elect to not fill it out, that will render you ineligible for most of the types of financial aid Vanderbilt offers.) The Vanderbilt University school code is 1871.
    2. The 2016–17 Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA): This is used in considering you for federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs. The Vanderbilt University school code for the FAFSA is 003535.
    3. Signed copies of your and your parent or parents’ 2015 Federal Income Tax Returns, schedules, W-2 forms, and any corporate and partnership returns that were submitted to the IRS. If you are accepted for admission, you must upload these documents to IDOC (the CollegeBoard Institutional Documentation Service). If you and/or your parents are not required to file a Federal Income Tax return, you must fill out the appropriate Non-Filer form, which can be found on the IDOC website. Be sure that you submit all of these documents (tax returns, schedules, W-2 forms, etc.) to IDOC, not the Vanderbilt Financial Aid office.


Financial Aid Deadlines and Notification Dates

Note that the financial aid application deadlines for Vanderbilt are a little earlier than many of other schools. As explained above, you will not receive your official financial aid award decision until or around April 1, 2017, but below you can find dates for the preliminary notices.


  • If you are applying Early Decision I… you must submit both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile by November 8, 2016. Tentative financial aid decisions will be mailed by December 15, 2016.
  • If you are applying Early Decision II… you must submit both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile by January 2, 2017. Tentative financial aid decisions will be mailed by February 15, 2017.
  • If you are applying Regular Decision… the priority deadline for both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is February 1, 2017. Financial aid awards will then be mailed by April 1, 2017. “Priority deadline” means that you need to submit your financial aid application by the specified date if you want “priority” to receive your aid decision around April 1 (and before May 1). While you can still submit a financial aid application after the above dates, you are not guaranteed an answer by the time you may need it.


It is critical that you submit the documents on time (and remember the earlier deadline!) because the financial aid office reviews each application case-by-case, so it can take a while to receive your aid decision.


Note: Vanderbilt also has merit-based scholarships to which all students can apply. For more information on scholarships, check out this CollegeVine guide.


Vanderbilt not only lists the dates by which you’re required to submit your application, but also details the preferred last standardized testing dates. As with any school, submission deadlines vary according to which application plan (Early Decision I, Early Decision II, or Regular Decision) you choose. (Remember that both Early Decision I and II are binding, while Regular Decision is non-binding, so you can choose to go to a different school, whether or not you are accepted at Vanderbilt. For more information on different types of admissions plans, read the CollegeVine guide EA vs ED vs REA.)


Early Decision I

  • October 1, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the SAT Reasoning Test
  • October 22, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • November 1, 2016 —  Deadline for completed application

Early Decision II

  • December 3, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the SAT Reasoning Test
  • December 10, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • January 1, 2017 — Deadline for completed application

Regular Decision

  • December 3, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the SAT Reasoning Test
  • December 10, 2016 — Preferred last day to take the ACT
  • January 1, 2017 — Deadline for completed application


Types of Applications Vanderbilt University Accepts

Vanderbilt accepts four different applications: the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success; the Common Application; QuestBridge; and the Universal College Application. All applications are considered equally, and the application you choose to use has no impact on your admissions decision, so you should use the platform that works best for you.


That said, be sure to use only one application and to submit all of your documents through that application. If you submit half of your application through the Common App and the other half through the Universal College App, you will not be considered for admission because it will be understood that you did not submit one and only one complete application.


Also, if you are applying to the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt, you must also complete a music resume and submit forms for two music teacher recommendations. You must submit these through the Blair Decision Desk application. Additionally, if you apply through the QuestBridge National Match program, you may not list Blair as your first-choice school because the audition timeline for Blair does not line up with the QuestBridge timeline.


Vanderbilt Supplement

Vanderbilt has only one supplemental essay, regardless of which application you use. The prompt for the 2016–17 admissions cycle is as follows:


Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences (150-400 words).


Because it has only one essay, it is crucial that you write a solid essay that both answers the prompt and demonstrates that you are a great applicant for Vanderbilt. For more information on how to write this type of essay for Vanderbilt, read this helpful CollegeVine guide.


Decision Dates

Admissions decisions for Early Decision I will be available on December 15, 2016. If you are accepted, your matriculation deposit will be due by December 31, 2016.


Admissions decisions for Early Decision II will be available on February 15, 2017. If you are accepted, your matriculation deposit will be due by March 1, 2017.


Admissions decisions for Regular Decision will be available on April 1, 2017. If you are accepted, your matriculation deposit will be due by May 1, 2017.


Do note that, if you apply through the Early Decision I or II plans, the deadline for your matriculation deposit is due within 15 days of your decision, unlike with Regular Decision, where you have a full month from the decision release date to pay.



Vanderbilt University has interview opportunities for first-year applicants, so you should definitely request an interview. These informational interviews are arranged and conducted through the Commodore Recruitment Programs (CoRPs). (Mr. Commodore is Vanderbilt’s mascot.) CoRPs alumni interviews are not guaranteed, as scheduling depends on alumni availability, and, as a result, you may not get an interview.


This, however, will not be held against you, as interviews are not a required part of the admissions process (but highly recommended here at CollegeVine).


How do you request a CoRPs alumni interview? After you submit your application (whether using the Coalition Application, Common Application, Universal College Applicaiton, or QuestBridge), you will receive an email with instructions to set up a MyAppVU account. Through the MyAppVU portal, you can search for alumni in your area and then submit a request for an interview through the portal online.


The alumnus or alumna will then reply to you directly to set up a meeting. After the interview is complete, the interviewer submits a report to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. It is added to your admissions file and is treated like an additional letter of recommendation.



When applying to Vanderbilt University, it is important to keep in mind the deadlines for both general application documents and financial aid applications, which are due a few days earlier than most schools. Make sure that your one Vanderbilt essay is strongly written and addresses “Why Vanderbilt?” in some way. Relax and enjoy the process!


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Julia Mearsheimer
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.