Swarthmore vs Vassar: Which College is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Female student smiling at the camera.

Swarthmore vs Vassar: Which College is Right for You?

Choosing the right college can be a daunting task, especially when considering the vast array of options available to prospective students. Two of the most prestigious colleges in the country are Swarthmore and Vassar. While both have their own unique strengths and qualities, it can be tough to determine which one is the right fit for you. In this article, we’ll explore Swarthmore vs Vassar’s campus culture, academics, admissions criteria, student life, housing options, study abroad opportunities, career services, campus facilities, financial aid, alumni network, sports programs, diversity on campus, and faculty teaching styles at both colleges to help you make an informed decision about which college is best for you.

New York

One major difference between Swarthmore and Vassar is location. Vassar is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, while Swarthmore is located near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both locations have their own unique benefits, such as access to cultural events, beautiful scenery, and diverse communities. However, those who prefer a more urban environment may find Swarthmore to be a better fit, while those who prefer a more suburban setting may prefer Vassar.

New York is a state with a rich history and diverse population. It is home to many famous landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Niagara Falls. The state is also known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, with many museums, theaters, and music venues. In addition, New York is a hub for business and innovation, with many major companies and startups based in the state. Whether you are interested in history, the arts, or business, New York has something to offer.

Campus Culture: What to Expect at Swarthmore vs. Vassar

One of the most important aspects of college life is campus culture. Swarthmore and Vassar have distinctive campus cultures that may appeal to different types of students. Swarthmore is known for its intense academic environment, with students who are passionate about their studies and engage deeply in intellectual discussions. Vassar, on the other hand, is known for its progressive and open-minded community, with students who are committed to social justice issues and advocacy. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide which campus culture is the most appealing to them.

However, it is important to note that campus culture is not static and can change over time. Both Swarthmore and Vassar have undergone significant changes in their campus cultures in recent years, with a greater emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This has led to the creation of new student organizations, events, and initiatives that promote a more inclusive and welcoming campus environment for all students. As such, it is important for prospective students to research and stay up-to-date on the current campus culture at both Swarthmore and Vassar before making a decision on which college to attend.

Academics: How the Curriculum and Majors Differ between the Two Colleges

While both Swarthmore and Vassar offer rigorous academic programs, there are some differences in the curricula and majors offered. Swarthmore has a strong focus on the liberal arts, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and research opportunities for students. Vassar, on the other hand, offers a more diverse range of majors, including programs in science and technology. Additionally, Vassar offers a unique “modular” system in which students take multiple classes at the same time for a few weeks rather than a full semester, allowing for a more immersive and focused academic experience.

Another difference between the two colleges is the availability of study-abroad programs. Swarthmore has a strong commitment to global education and offers a wide range of study-abroad opportunities in countries such as Spain, France, and China. Vassar also offers study abroad programs, but they are more limited in scope and primarily focused on language immersion programs in countries such as Italy and Japan. Both colleges prioritize experiential learning and encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities to broaden their academic and personal horizons.

Admissions: What Are Swarthmore and Vassar Looking for in Applicants?

Both Swarthmore and Vassar have highly selective admissions processes, meaning that getting accepted can be very challenging for many students. Swarthmore values students who are intellectually curious, engaged in their communities, and committed to making a positive impact on the world. Vassar, on the other hand, looks for students who demonstrate intellectual independence, creativity, and a commitment to social justice work. Additionally, both colleges have need-blind admissions policies, which means that they do not take a student’s financial situation into account when making admissions decisions.

an application form flashed unto a computer screen

Furthermore, Swarthmore and Vassar both highly value extracurricular activities and leadership experience. They want to see that applicants have pursued their passions outside of the classroom and have taken on leadership roles in their communities. This can include involvement in clubs, sports teams, volunteer work, or other activities that demonstrate a student’s commitment to their interests.

Lastly, Swarthmore and Vassar both prioritize diversity and inclusivity in their admissions processes. They seek to create a student body that is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors. They also value applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity in their communities and have a willingness to engage in conversations about social justice and equity.

Student Life: Clubs, Activities, and Social Scene at Swarthmore vs. Vassar

Another crucial aspect of college life is the social scene and extracurricular activities available to students. Swarthmore has a thriving arts scene, with a wide variety of music, theater, and visual arts performances and events. The college also has a strong focus on community service and social justice work, with many student-run activist groups and community service organizations. Vassar, on the other hand, has a highly active student government and a wide range of clubs and organizations that appeal to a diverse range of interests. The college also boasts a vibrant party scene, with many on-campus parties and events throughout the year.

Additionally, Swarthmore offers a unique opportunity for students to participate in the Chester Community Fellowship program, which allows students to work with community organizations in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania. This program provides students with hands-on experience in community organizing and social justice work, while also allowing them to make a positive impact on the local community.

At Vassar, students can also take advantage of the college’s extensive outdoor recreation program, which offers opportunities for hiking, camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. The college is located in the scenic Hudson Valley, providing students with easy access to beautiful natural landscapes and outdoor adventures.

Housing Options: Dorms, Apartments, and Living Arrangements Compared

Both Swarthmore and Vassar offer a range of housing options for students, including traditional dorms, apartment-style housing, and theme houses. Swarthmore has a strong residential college system in which students live together in close-knit communities and participate in activities and events together. Vassar, on the other hand, offers a wide range of living options such as shared apartments, singles, and traditional dorm rooms.

Two women looking out the window of their dorm room.


It is important to note that while Swarthmore’s residential college system fosters a strong sense of community, it may not be the best fit for all students. Some students may prefer more independence and privacy, which can be found in Vassar’s apartment-style housing or traditional dorm rooms. Additionally, Vassar’s theme houses offer unique living experiences centered around specific interests or identities, such as the Women’s Center or the ALANA (African, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American) Center.

Study Abroad Opportunities: Swarthmore vs. Vassar

Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience for many students, and both Swarthmore and Vassar offer a wide range of study-abroad programs. Swarthmore has over 200 approved study abroad programs, including programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Vassar offers study abroad programs in over 50 countries, with a strong emphasis on language immersion and cultural exchange.

Additionally, both colleges offer various scholarships and financial aid options for students who wish to study abroad. Swarthmore has a dedicated study abroad office that provides resources and support for students throughout the application process and during their time abroad. Vassar also has a study abroad office that offers advising and assistance with program selection and application. Both colleges prioritize safety and security for their students studying abroad and have protocols in place to ensure the well-being of their students while they are away from campus.

Career Services: How Swarthmore and Vassar Support Graduates in Finding Jobs

One of the main concerns for college students is finding a job after graduation, and both Swarthmore and Vassar offer strong career services programs to help students achieve their career goals. Swarthmore has a close-knit alumni network, with many alumni who are active in mentoring and career services for current students. The career services office at Vassar offers individualized career counseling and assistance with job searching, networking, and interviewing skills.

Young woman talking to an interviewer.

In addition to these services, both Swarthmore and Vassar also offer internship and job shadowing opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in their desired fields. Swarthmore has partnerships with various organizations and companies, providing students with access to internships in fields such as finance, healthcare, and education. Vassar’s career services office also offers job shadowing programs, allowing students to observe professionals in their desired fields and gain insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of different careers.

Campus Facilities: Libraries, Gyms, and Other Resources Compared

Both Swarthmore and Vassar have top-notch campus facilities, including state-of-the-art libraries, athletic facilities, and other resources. Swarthmore’s campus boasts a beautiful arboretum, a variety of dining options, and a newly renovated science center. Vassar’s facilities include an innovative learning commons, a fitness center, and a variety of dining options.

However, Swarthmore’s library is larger and has a wider range of resources, including a rare book collection and access to numerous online databases. Vassar’s gym, on the other hand, is larger and has more equipment, including a rock climbing wall and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Additionally, Swarthmore has a dedicated center for career services, offering students personalized career counseling, internship opportunities, and job search resources. Vassar, on the other hand, has a renowned art museum on campus, featuring works by both established and emerging artists.

Financial Aid: How Much Does it Cost to Attend Swarthmore vs. Vassar?

Both Swarthmore and Vassar are committed to making college affordable and accessible for all students, regardless of their financial situation. Swarthmore offers need-based financial aid packages that cover up to 100% of tuition, room, and board for students with demonstrated financial need. Vassar offers a similar program, with need-based aid covering up to 100% of demonstrated need and no loans for students from families with income below $125,000 per year.

It’s important to note that the cost of attendance at both Swarthmore and Vassar goes beyond just tuition, room, and board. Additional expenses such as textbooks, transportation, and personal expenses can add up quickly. However, both schools offer resources and support to help students manage these costs. Swarthmore has a textbook lending program and provides funding for transportation and other expenses through its student emergency fund. Vassar offers a similar program, with emergency grants available to help students cover unexpected expenses.

Alumni Network: Which College has a Stronger Alumni Community?

Alumni networks can be a valuable resource for students and graduates, offering mentoring, networking opportunities, and job connections. Both Swarthmore and Vassar have strong alumni networks, with many graduates who are active in mentoring and career services for current students. Swarthmore alumni are renowned for their work in a variety of fields, including politics, business, and the arts. Vassar alumni are known for their contributions to social justice work and advocacy.

However, when it comes to alumni giving, Swarthmore has a higher percentage of alumni who donate to the college. This not only shows a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the institution, but also provides financial support for scholarships, research, and other programs. On the other hand, Vassar has a larger alumni population, which can also be beneficial for networking and career opportunities. Ultimately, the strength of an alumni network depends on various factors, including the size of the college, the demographics of the alumni, and the level of engagement and support from the graduates.

Sports Programs: Athletics at Swarthmore vs. Vassar

While athletics may not be the most important aspect of college life for everyone, it can be a major factor for student-athletes and sports fans. Swarthmore has a strong athletics program, with many varsity sports teams and a competitive Division III conference. Vassar also has a strong athletics program, with varsity teams in over 20 sports and a strong focus on student-athlete well-being and success.

View of two students practicing fencing.

However, there are some differences between the athletics programs at Swarthmore and Vassar. Swarthmore has a strong tradition in cross country and track and field, with many athletes competing at the national level. Vassar, on the other hand, has a strong fencing program, with both men’s and women’s teams consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally. Additionally, Vassar offers a unique program called “Athletes into Careers” which helps student-athletes prepare for life after college by providing career counseling and networking opportunities.

Diversity on Campus: Comparing the Student Body Makeup at Both Colleges

Diversity is an increasingly important factor for many students when considering colleges. Both Swarthmore and Vassar are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive communities on their campuses. Swarthmore has a student body that is approximately 40% students of color and 12% international students. Vassar’s student body is similarly diverse, with a student body that is approximately 44% students of color and 10% international students.

Side view of students talking in front of a laptop.

However, diversity on campus goes beyond just racial and ethnic backgrounds. Both Swarthmore and Vassar also prioritize creating a welcoming environment for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Swarthmore has a robust financial aid program that ensures that students from all economic backgrounds can attend the college. Vassar has a strong LGBTQ+ community and offers gender-neutral housing options for students.

Furthermore, both colleges have a variety of student organizations and clubs that celebrate different cultures and identities. Swarthmore has a Multicultural Center that hosts events and provides resources for students of color. Vassar has a student-run organization called the ALANA Center that supports students of African, Latino/Asian, and Native American descent.

Faculty and Teaching Style: Differences in Teaching Approaches between Swarthmore vs. Vassar

Finally, it is important to consider the teaching styles and faculty at both Swarthmore and Vassar when making a decision about which college to attend. Swarthmore has a strong emphasis on small class sizes and individualized attention from faculty. Vassar has a similarly strong emphasis on faculty-student interaction, with a student-faculty ratio of 8:1.

In conclusion, choosing between Swarthmore and Vassar can be challenging, but by considering the factors discussed in this article, including campus culture, academics, admissions criteria, student life, housing options, study abroad opportunities, career services, campus facilities, financial aid, alumni networks, sports programs, diversity on campus, and faculty teaching styles, you can make an informed decision about which college is right for you. By carefully weighing these factors, you can find the college that best fits your unique interests, goals, and aspirations.

It is worth noting that while both Swarthmore and Vassar have excellent faculty, there are some differences in teaching approaches between the two colleges. Swarthmore professors tend to focus on a more traditional lecture-style approach, while Vassar professors often incorporate more interactive and discussion-based teaching methods. Additionally, Swarthmore places a strong emphasis on research and scholarship, with many faculty members actively engaged in cutting-edge research in their fields. Vassar, on the other hand, places a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary studies and encourages students to explore a wide range of academic disciplines.


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