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The big picture: Vassar is in a time of transition right now. Ten years ago Vassar was considered a very politically active, progressively minded school. I would say that is changing. The study body is getting much more culturally heterogeneous. More much moderate, like-minded, politically apathetic, and socially straight-edge kids are being admitted. The older Vassar generation tries continuously to "Keep Vassar Weird" but that truth is, Vassar is getting more and more "normal" every year. I still love this place. The education I've received and the Professors I've had the honor of coming in contact with have changed by life but, with every new year I feel more and more distance from the Vassar student body. Here is a quick example. Every year the sophomore class gives a "gift" to the student body. This gift is supposed to be community orientated. It is supposed to help improve life for Vassar students and, historically, has been very socially and environmentally minded. Gifts in the past include: starting up a shared bike program, donating the money to help fund Vassar's transition to solar and wind power, and creating an internship fund for those students who cannot afford to take an unpaid internship over the summer. This years sophomore class gift, however, is Vassar card swipers for every vending machine. Once the class gift was announced there was a great outcry from both students and professors. There was a long article in our school newspaper that admonished the gift as being environmentally unconscious (because of the waste that results from all those prepackaged foods), socially irresponsible (because of the big companies that would benefit from increased vending machine sales), unhealthy and irresponsible (after all, isn't this just another way for Vassar kids to spend their parents money?) And, on top of it all, how does increased access to Vending machines really help the community? In the end the sophomore class refused to change their gift and next year, yes, we will all be able to use our Vassar Cards to buy Doritos.
I didn't want to come to a small school at first, but Vassar surprised me. Instead of the intense scrutiny that tends to come with a small school, Vassar gives a personal feel without being smothering. That is to say, you don't have to try that hard in order to stand out, but you're not exactly under the microscope either.
Little Tony Freshman
Vassar, like most colleges and universities, is what you make of it. Though I'd say it straddles the line of being too small, its size does allow for some incredible opportunities. For example, just through classes I've taken and people I've met, I'm now a Research Assistant for one class and I've been asked to help interview faculty candidates in a department on campus. Because Vassar is so small, the academic opportunities are not only plentiful, but they're attainable. Professors are incredibly available; if you need an extension on a paper or if you just want to sit and chat with them about something, they're typically quite open. I've had some incredible conversations with professors, and I genuinely don't think I would be able to say that were I at a larger institution. If I could change one thing about Vassar, I think it would be the social scene, to be honest. There's often a sense of hostility--a kind of "too cool" attitude--that permeates campus. People don't smile a lot when you walk by them (which may not seem like a big deal, but for a girl from the Midwest, this was kind of shocking), even if you've had a class with them or done projects together. And nothing gets vented about more than the dating scene at Vassar, or lack thereof. The female students get bitter because they vastly outnumber the male community, and the guys on campus tend to have an inflated sense of self regarding what kinds of ladies they can get. What's even more depressing is that the female students let this happen. I can't count how many times I've seen my incredibly intelligent, strong, confident female friends dumb themselves down for a guy who doesn't deserve them for the sake of a random hook up. This is where the small size, which is so great academically, comes back to bite you in the***socially. Everyone knows everyone's business. Gossip runs amok. In a lot of ways, it can seem like high school all over again. When I tell people I go to Vassar, they're either extremely impressed, or they give a look of vague recognition and then say, "That's an all-girl's school, right?" For the latter people, I simply smile and explain that no, in fact, we've been co-ed for almost 40 years, to which they seem embarrassed. I'd say, outside of my room, I spend the majority of my time in Main Building. Administrative offices, the Retreat (one of the dining options), the parlors for rehearsals and studying, conference rooms for meetings, the Villard Room for concerts, Matthew's Mug for late-night dancing--Main houses a lot of things. It's kind of great to have most everything right there in one place. If I ever have to run errands on campus, they can generally all be taken care of in Main. Poughkeepsie, as I'm sure many people will tell you, leaves much to be desired. It's not the most accessible town to explore, so having a car has been a pretty great advantage for me. I've been able to find places to go and things to do that make Poughkeepsie a much more available place. The town really does have things to offer--great restaurants, for instance--you just have to be willing to invest time into finding them. The surrounding towns, such as Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, and New Paltz, are even more fantastic. They're quaint, quirky, and definitely jive with the alternative lifestyles many Vassar students have. I have to say that I'm really excited by the lengths the college is going to to make Poughkeepsie more available to students. They've just implemented a community shuttle that stops at numerous places around the town, and our new President, Cappy, has started some great initiatives to make Vassar's relationship with the community stronger. I wish Vassar had more school pride. Athletics, while they're often good, are not really supported by the majority of students on campus. Coming from a high school that had a lot of school pride, it was a big adjustment that I would rather have not made. But we do all have pride for our school, though it's not necessarily boasted through athletics or other competitions. We know we're lucky to be at this school, and I don't think we take it for granted. There are some great experiences about Vassar that I'll always remember: serenading in the fall to kick off the school year (where the whole campus essentially gets in a huge food fight after every dorm serenades the senior class), primal scream before finals (walking to the quad and screaming at midnight), Founder's Day (a big carnival in early May to celebrate our founder's birthday), Gays of Our Lives (a panel during Freshman Week that challenges gender norms), countless theater and a cappella performances--these things make Vassar unique.
Vassar is definitely a unique school. You get a VERY high quality education (and yes, that means a lot of work) but without the overwhelming size, preppiness, and pushiness/competitiveness of larger schools. It is true, Poughkeepsie is a dump, but no one actually goes into Po-town anyway, so it's like it doesn't even exist. You get a lot of personal attention from your professors, small classes, and a lot of freedom to study and do what you want. Nevertheless, Vassar can get to be a little homogenous in some respects, particularly in regards to political views. Add to it the fact that it is a very small school, and what you have is an environment that some will love and others will hate. Personally, I love it. Pretty much everyone I know who still goes here loves it, too. Still, there are always a few people each year you absolutely hate it.
If Vassar is anything, it's not your high school. Almost everyone is eccentric here, in some way, shape, or form; and while some might be more judgmental than others, by and large people just don't care if you're off or not "normal". We almost never go into Poughkeepsie, both because Vassar always has things going on, and also because actual minorities scare the crap out of us. Sports aren't big, student government isn't big...actually, there really isn't anything that's particularly popular, but most things have enough of a following to keep them going. Vassar is a fantastic place to go if you have a good sense of self definition - but if you don't, well, that's ok too.
The best thing about Vassar is definitely the feeling of community. The fact that the professors live with us and their kids park their tricycles next to student's bikes makes for a very unique college experience. It's a good size for making sure you feel like you know people but very difficult to remain anonymous. The town-college relationship sucks, not because Poughkeepsie is so awful but because Vassar tries very hard to keep the students on campus all the time, which gets very smothering. The reaction I get when I tell people I go to Vassar is either "where?", "ooh, a smarty", or "good luck finding a husband", which is kind of representative of the experience here, strangely enough.
Liz FreshmanReviews provided by: Unigo