Harvard vs. Vassar: Which College is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman holding her books in front of the college library.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Which College is Right for You?

As high school students prepare to embark on their higher education journey, they’re faced with the daunting task of choosing the right college. In this article, we’ll provide an in-depth comparison of Harvard vs. Vassar to help you decide which college is the right fit for you.

These two universities often land on students’ prospective lists. Yet, among the many important factors to consider are location, academic programs, cost of attendance, and campus culture.

A Brief Overview of Harvard and Vassar

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1636 and is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country.

Vassar College, on the other hand, is a private liberal arts college located in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was founded in 1861 and is known for its commitment to providing a rigorous and well-rounded education.

Despite their differences in location, history, and academic focus, both Harvard and Vassar share a commitment to excellence in education. Harvard is renowned for its world-class faculty and research opportunities, while Vassar is known for its small class sizes and emphasis on interdisciplinary learning.

Both institutions attract top students from around the world and offer a wide range of academic programs and extracurricular activities. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in business, science, the arts, or any other field, Harvard and Vassar are both excellent choices for undergraduate education.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Admissions Process

The admissions process can be one of the most stressful parts of the college application process. Both Harvard and Vassar have highly selective admissions processes, with acceptance rates of 5.2% and 23.7%, respectively.

At Harvard, standardized test scores, academic performance, and extracurricular activities are all taken into consideration during the admissions process. Vassar, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach and looks at factors like intellectual curiosity, creativity, and civic engagement.

It is important to note that both Harvard and Vassar have different application requirements. Harvard requires applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, two SAT Subject Tests, a school report and counselor recommendation, teacher evaluations, and a mid-year school report.

Vassar, on the other hand, is test-optional and allows students to submit a graded paper in place of standardized test scores. Additionally, Vassar requires a Common Application, a school report and counselor recommendation, teacher evaluations, and a mid-year school report.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Academic Programs and Majors

Harvard has a wide range of academic programs, from the classics and humanities to the sciences and engineering. Some of the school’s most popular majors include economics, computer science, and government. Vassar, on the other hand, is known for its strong liberal arts program and offers over 40 majors, including environmental studies, film, and psychology.

Three students working on a table.

In addition to their undergraduate programs, both Harvard and Vassar offer graduate and professional degree programs. Harvard has top-ranked graduate schools in business, law, medicine, and education, while Vassar offers graduate programs in education and psychology.

Both schools also have extensive research opportunities for students and faculty, with Harvard being a leader in scientific research and Vassar having a strong focus on interdisciplinary research.

Campus Life: Activities, Clubs, and Student Organizations at Harvard and Vassar

Both Harvard and Vassar offer a vibrant campus life with a wide range of activities, clubs, and student organizations. At Harvard, students can participate in everything from varsity sports to a cappella groups. Similarly, Vassar boasts over 100 student-run organizations, ranging from political and social activism groups to theater and dance groups.

In addition to the numerous clubs and organizations, both Harvard and Vassar offer a variety of campus events throughout the year. Harvard hosts an annual cultural festival, showcasing the diverse backgrounds and talents of its student body.

Vassar, on the other hand, hosts an annual charity ball, which raises funds for local organizations and brings together students, faculty, and staff for a night of dancing and philanthropy.

Furthermore, both universities have strong traditions that contribute to their unique campus cultures. At Harvard, students participate in the Primal Scream, a tradition where students run naked through the campus on the night before final exams. At Vassar, students participate in Founder’s Day, a celebration of the college’s history and legacy, which includes a parade and a picnic on the lawn.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Student Housing

Housing is a crucial part of the college experience, and both Harvard and Vassar offer a range of housing options. Harvard has a number of undergraduate residence halls, including traditional dormitories and cooperative houses. Vassar offers a mix of traditional residence halls and apartment-style living arrangements.

However, there are some notable differences between the two schools’ housing options. At Harvard, most students are required to live on campus for their first year, while Vassar has no such requirement.

Additionally, Harvard’s dorms tend to be larger and more impersonal, while Vassar’s smaller residence halls foster a greater sense of community. On the other hand, Harvard’s cooperative houses offer unique opportunities for students to live and work together in a more collaborative environment.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Faculty

One of the most important aspects of any college is the quality of its faculty. Both Harvard and Vassar have a wealth of talented and dedicated faculty members. However, teaching styles can vary between schools. At Harvard, classes are often lecture-based, while Vassar emphasizes close student-faculty interaction in small, seminar-style classes.

Despite the differences in teaching styles, both Harvard and Vassar have a strong commitment to undergraduate education. Harvard professors are known for their research and scholarship, which often informs their teaching.

Vassar professors, on the other hand, are known for their accessibility and willingness to work closely with students on research projects and independent studies.

Another difference between the two schools is the role of teaching assistants. At Harvard, large lecture classes are often supplemented by teaching assistants who lead smaller discussion sections.

At Vassar, however, professors typically lead all aspects of the course, including discussions and labs. This allows for a more consistent and personalized learning experience for students.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Campus Resources

Both Harvard and Vassar offer a wide range of resources for students to enhance their academic experience. Harvard’s libraries are among the best in the world, with over 20 million volumes and extensive electronic resources. Vassar’s extensive facilities include a multidisciplinary science center, state-of-the-art music facilities, and a center for international programs.

View of college students studying in a room with a table.

In addition to these resources, both Harvard and Vassar offer a variety of laboratories for students to conduct research and experiments. Harvard’s labs include facilities for biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering, while Vassar’s labs include those for psychology, neuroscience, and environmental studies.

These labs provide students with hands-on experience and the opportunity to work alongside faculty members on cutting-edge research projects.

Cost of Attendance: Comparing Tuition, Fees, and Financial Aid Packages at Harvard and Vassar

Cost is a major factor for many families when choosing a college. At Harvard, the total cost of attendance for the 2021-22 academic year is $77,450, including tuition, fees, and room and board. Vassar’s total cost of attendance for the same year is $77,670. Both schools offer generous financial aid packages to students who qualify, and Harvard has a need-blind admissions policy.

It’s important to note that the cost of attendance at both Harvard and Vassar can vary depending on a student’s individual circumstances. For example, students who choose to live off-campus may have lower room and board costs. Additionally, students who receive merit-based scholarships or outside scholarships may have a reduced cost of attendance.

Another factor to consider when comparing the cost of attendance at Harvard and Vassar is the availability of work-study programs. Both schools offer work-study opportunities to students who qualify, which can help offset the cost of attendance. However, the availability and amount of work-study funding can vary between schools and individual students.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Career Opportunities

Both Harvard and Vassar have strong career services offices that help students connect with job and internship opportunities. According to data from PayScale, the median starting salary for Harvard graduates is $70,200, while the median starting salary for Vassar graduates is $52,100. Both schools have impressive job placement rates, with over 90% of graduates finding employment within six months of graduation.

However, it is important to note that the industries and career paths pursued by graduates of Harvard and Vassar may differ. Harvard graduates tend to pursue careers in finance, consulting, and technology, while Vassar graduates often pursue careers in education, non-profit organizations, and the arts.

Additionally, both schools offer extensive networking opportunities for their students and alumni. Harvard has a large and active alumni network, with many graduates holding influential positions in various industries. Vassar also has a strong alumni network, with many graduates working in fields related to social justice and activism.

Location Matters: Comparing the Surrounding Communities of Cambridge vs. Poughkeepsie

The location of a college can play a significant role in a student’s experience. Harvard is located in the vibrant city of Cambridge, just across the river from Boston. Students have easy access to all the cultural and social opportunities that the city has to offer.

Young woman attending a social event.

Vassar, on the other hand, is located in the small town of Poughkeepsie, just a short train ride away from New York City. The surrounding area offers a more relaxed and pastoral environment.

However, despite the differences in location, both Cambridge and Poughkeepsie offer unique opportunities for students. Cambridge is home to numerous tech startups and biotech companies, providing students with internship and job opportunities.

Conversely, Poughkeepsie is located in the heart of the Hudson Valley, offering students access to hiking trails, apple orchards, and other outdoor activities.

Size Matters: The Differences in Enrollment Between Harvard vs. Vassar

Harvard is a much larger institution than Vassar, with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 6,700 students compared to Vassar’s 2,400 students. This can have an impact on the overall campus culture and the level of individual attention that students receive from faculty and staff.

Additionally, the size difference between Harvard and Vassar can also affect the range of academic programs and extracurricular activities offered. With a larger student body, Harvard is able to offer a wider variety of majors, minors, and concentrations, as well as more clubs and organizations.

However, Vassar’s smaller size allows for a more tight-knit community and potentially more opportunities for leadership roles within those clubs and organizations.

Harvard vs. Vassar: Student Body Diversity

Both Harvard and Vassar have diverse student bodies. According to data from the schools at Harvard, 16% of students are African American, 25% are Asian American, and 14% are Hispanic or Latino. At Vassar, 12% of students are African American, 13% are Asian American, and 19% are Hispanic or Latino. Both schools have active diversity and inclusion initiatives.

However, there are some differences in the way diversity is experienced at the two universities. At Harvard, there are more international students, with 11% of the student body coming from outside the United States. On the other hand, Vassar has a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ students, with 10% of the student body identifying as such.

Additionally, both schools have faced criticism for not doing enough to support underrepresented minority students. At Harvard, some students have called for more resources for first-generation and low-income students, while at Vassar, there have been concerns about the lack of diversity among faculty members.

Campus Safety Comparison Between the Two Universities

Campus safety is a top priority for universities. Both Harvard and Vassar have extensive safety measures in place, including campus police, emergency phone systems, and safety escorts. According to data from the US Department of Education, Vassar had one reported incident of violence on campus in 2019, while Harvard had 22 reported incidents.

It is important to note that the reported incidents of violence on campus do not necessarily reflect the overall safety of the universities. Other factors, such as the size and location of the campus, can also play a role in determining the level of safety. Additionally, both universities offer resources and support for students who may have experienced any form of violence or harassment on campus.

Extracurricular Opportunities Comparison Between the Two Universities

Extracurricular activities can enhance a student’s college experience. Both Harvard and Vassar have a wealth of opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom, from sports teams and clubs to volunteer organizations and political groups.

View of a students talking.

At Harvard, students can participate in over 400 student organizations, including the Harvard Crimson newspaper, the Harvard Model United Nations, and the Harvard College Consulting Group. The university also has a strong athletic program, with 42 varsity sports teams and numerous intramural and club sports options.

Meanwhile, Vassar offers over 200 student organizations, including the Vassar Debate Society, the Vassar Greens environmental group, and the Vassar Haiti Project.

The college also has a unique program called the Exploring Transfer Summer Program, which allows students from other colleges to spend a summer at Vassar and experience the college’s academic and extracurricular offerings.

Alumni Network Comparison between the Two Universities.

One of the benefits of attending a prestigious institution like Harvard or Vassar is the strength of its alumni networks. Both schools have active alumni associations and offer extensive networking opportunities for current students and graduates.

However, there are some differences between the alumni networks of Harvard and Vassar. Harvard’s alumni network is larger and more global, with alumni in almost every country in the world. This makes it easier for Harvard graduates to connect with other alumni and potential employers in different parts of the world.

On the other hand, Vassar’s alumni network is more tight-knit and focused on supporting graduates in specific industries or fields. Vassar alumni often work together to create job opportunities and mentorship programs for current students and recent graduates.

A Personal Account of Attending Both Universities

While it’s impossible for one person to attend both Harvard and Vassar, we spoke with several students and graduates who provided personal accounts of their experiences at each institution.

One common theme that emerged from our conversations with students and graduates of both Harvard and Vassar was the emphasis on academic rigor and intellectual curiosity. Both universities are known for their challenging coursework and dedication to academic excellence.

However, while Harvard is often associated with a more competitive and cutthroat academic environment, Vassar students emphasized the supportive and collaborative nature of their academic community.

Prospective Student Tips for Choosing Between the Two Universities

Young woman attending an online class in a room.

After considering all the factors outlined in this article, prospective students may still be torn between Harvard and Vassar. We offer tips and suggestions for making this difficult decision.

Ultimately, both Harvard and Vassar offer exceptional educational experiences. By considering all the factors outlined in this article, students can make an informed decision about which institution is right for them.

One important factor to consider when choosing between Harvard and Vassar is the location of the universities. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is a bustling city with a vibrant cultural scene.

Vassar, on the other hand, is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is a smaller town with a more relaxed atmosphere. Students should consider which type of environment they prefer and which location would be more conducive to their personal and academic goals.

Another factor to consider is the size of the universities. Harvard is a larger institution with a student population of over 30,000, while Vassar has a smaller student population of around 2,500. Students should consider whether they prefer a larger or smaller community and which type of environment would be more conducive to their learning style and social preferences.


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