Vassar vs Occidental: What Are the Differences?

November 21, 2023
By AdmissionSight
A woman sitting on the floor holding a tablet and pen

Vassar vs Occidental: What Are the Differences?

If you’re considering colleges, you may be looking at some of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Vassar College and Occidental College are two such schools, located on opposite coasts of the United States. While both offer liberal arts degrees, there are many differences between the two schools that are worth exploring. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at Vassar vs Occidental to help you make an informed decision when choosing a university.


Let’s start by taking a closer look at Occidental College. Located in Los Angeles, California, Occidental is known for its vibrant campus culture and its focus on education that engages with the world. It has a diverse student body, with approximately 1,900 undergraduates from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Occidental College sign

Occidental College offers over 40 majors and minors, including popular programs in economics, psychology, and biology. The college also has a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, encouraging students to explore multiple fields of study and connect them in meaningful ways.

Outside of academics, Occidental has a thriving student life with over 100 clubs and organizations, including a student-run radio station and a sustainability club. The college also has a strong athletic program, with 21 varsity sports teams competing in the NCAA Division III.

Campus Culture: A Comprehensive Comparison

The campus cultures of Vassar and Occidental are quite different. Vassar, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, is a small, close-knit community where students often form tight bonds with each other and with their professors. Occidental, on the other hand, has a more diverse and bustling campus culture. The school has a strong focus on social justice and environmental sustainability, and this is reflected in its many student organizations and events.

One notable aspect of Vassar’s campus culture is its emphasis on the arts. The school has a renowned arts program, and students are encouraged to explore their creative passions through various extracurricular activities and events. In contrast, Occidental’s campus culture places a greater emphasis on athletics. The school has a strong sports program, and many students are involved in intramural and varsity sports.

Another difference between the two schools is their approach to community service. Vassar has a strong tradition of community engagement, and many students participate in volunteer work both on and off campus. Occidental also values community service, but the school’s focus is more on activism and advocacy. Students are encouraged to get involved in social justice causes and to use their education to make a positive impact on the world.

Academics: A Comparative Study

Both Vassar and Occidental offer a strong liberal arts education, with a focus on critical thinking and interdisciplinary studies. However, there are some differences in the academic cultures of the two schools. At Vassar, for example, students have the option to design their own majors or pursue interdisciplinary programs like Environmental Studies or Cognitive Science. At Occidental, students can take advantage of a unique study abroad program called the Global Crossroads.

Additionally, Vassar has a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, with opportunities for students to work closely with faculty members on research projects in a variety of fields. Occidental, on the other hand, has a strong focus on community engagement and social justice, with many courses and programs dedicated to exploring issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both schools offer a rich and diverse academic experience, but with distinct areas of focus that may appeal to different students.

Student Life: A Closer Look

Student life at Vassar and Occidental is also different. Vassar has a strong tradition of student activism and community service, with many students participating in community outreach programs or advocating for social justice causes. Occidental, meanwhile, is known for its vibrant social scene, with many opportunities for students to participate in club sports, music groups, and other extracurricular activities.

However, both schools offer a variety of resources to support student well-being. Vassar has a robust mental health center that provides counseling services, workshops, and support groups. Occidental has a wellness center that offers resources for physical and mental health, including yoga classes and meditation sessions. Both schools also have career centers that provide guidance and resources for students seeking internships, jobs, or graduate school opportunities.

Admission Requirements: How to Apply to Vassar and Occidental

Applying to Vassar or Occidental involves submitting transcripts, test scores, and other materials. Vassar has a highly competitive admissions process, with an acceptance rate of 19%. Occidental’s acceptance rate is slightly higher at 39%, but it is still a selective school. Both schools value extracurricular activities and leadership experience in their applicants.

applying in schools

In addition to academic achievements and extracurricular activities, Vassar and Occidental also consider personal essays and letters of recommendation in their admissions process. These essays and letters provide insight into an applicant’s character, values, and potential contributions to the campus community. It is important for applicants to take the time to craft thoughtful and well-written essays, and to choose recommenders who can speak to their strengths and potential.

Tuition Fees and Financial Aid: Vassar vs. Occidental

The cost of attending Vassar or Occidental can be quite high, but both schools offer generous need-based financial aid packages. The total cost of attendance at Vassar for the academic year is $85,220, while the total cost of attendance at Occidental is $81,730. However, most students receive some form of financial aid to help cover these costs.

It is important to note that the financial aid packages offered by Vassar and Occidental differ in their structure. Vassar offers a need-blind admissions policy, meaning that a student’s financial need is not taken into account during the admissions process. However, Occidental practices need-aware admissions, which means that a student’s financial need may be considered when making admissions decisions. Despite this difference, both schools are committed to making their education accessible to students from all backgrounds.

Athletics Programs: A Look at Sports in Vassar and Occidental

Varsity athletics are an important part of both the Vassar and Occidental campus communities. Vassar boasts 25 varsity sports teams, including basketball, volleyball, and cross country. Occidental, meanwhile, has 21 varsity sports teams, including soccer, football, and swimming and diving. Both schools also offer club sports and intramural activities for students who may not want to participate in varsity athletics.

At Vassar, the athletics department places a strong emphasis on the academic success of its student-athletes. The department offers academic support services, such as tutoring and study halls, to ensure that athletes are able to balance their athletic and academic commitments. Occidental also prioritizes the academic success of its athletes, with a high percentage of student-athletes earning academic honors each year.

Additionally, both Vassar and Occidental have a strong tradition of athletic rivalry with other colleges and universities. Vassar’s biggest rival is nearby Bard College, with whom they compete in the annual “Seven Sisters” competition. Occidental’s biggest rival is Pomona College, with whom they compete in the annual “Battle for the Drum” football game.

Alumni Network: How do Vassar and Occidental Support their Graduates?

After graduation, Vassar and Occidental alumni go on to successful careers in a variety of fields. Both schools have strong alumni networks, with resources available to help graduates find jobs or connect with other alumni in their area. Vassar is especially known for its tight-knit alumni community, and many graduates remain involved with the school long after they have graduated.

Additionally, both Vassar and Occidental offer various programs and events specifically for their alumni. Vassar hosts an annual reunion weekend, where alumni can reconnect with old classmates and participate in campus activities. Occidental offers career development workshops and networking events, as well as opportunities for alumni to mentor current students. These programs and events help to strengthen the bond between the schools and their graduates and provide ongoing support for alumni throughout their careers.

Research Opportunities: Comparing the Research Facilities in Vassar and Occidental

Research opportunities are an important part of the academic experience at both Vassar and Occidental. Vassar has a number of research centers and institutes, including the Environmental Research Institute and the Science, Technology, and Society program. Occidental has a strong focus on undergraduate research, with opportunities for students to work on research projects with faculty members in a variety of fields.

reasearch facility

In addition to the research centers and institutes at Vassar, the college also offers students the opportunity to participate in research through its Undergraduate Research Summer Institute. This program allows students to work on research projects with faculty members over the summer, providing them with valuable hands-on experience in their field of study.

Occidental also has a number of research facilities, including the Keck Geology Consortium, which provides students with the opportunity to conduct field research in geology and environmental science. The college also has a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research, with programs such as the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, which brings together faculty and students from a variety of disciplines to work on research projects related to urban and environmental issues.

Diversity and Inclusivity: Vassar vs. Occidental

Both Vassar and Occidental value diversity and inclusivity on their campuses. Vassar has a number of student groups and initiatives focused on promoting diversity and inclusion, including the ALANA Center, which serves students of African, Latino/Asian, and Native American backgrounds. Occidental has a similar center for Multicultural Affairs, which serves students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

However, despite these efforts, both campuses have faced challenges in creating a truly inclusive environment. At Vassar, there have been incidents of racial bias and discrimination reported by students of color. Occidental has also faced criticism for its handling of sexual assault cases and lack of support for survivors. Both institutions continue to work towards improving campus climate and addressing these issues.

Student Organizations: Vassar vs. Occidental

Both Vassar and Occidental have a wide variety of student organizations and clubs for students to participate in. Vassar has over 200 student groups, including political organizations, arts groups, and service organizations. Occidental has over 100 student organizations, including social clubs, sports teams, and academic groups.

However, despite the difference in numbers, both schools offer unique opportunities for students to get involved. Vassar has a strong focus on community service and activism, with organizations such as the Vassar Haiti Project and the Vassar Refugee Solidarity Initiative. Occidental, on the other hand, has a strong emphasis on sustainability and environmentalism, with organizations such as the Occidental Sustainability Alliance and the Green Bean Coffee Co-op. Both schools also have a variety of cultural and identity-based organizations, providing spaces for students to connect with others who share similar backgrounds and experiences.

Faculty Profiles: Vassar vs. Occidental

Both Vassar and Occidental attract highly qualified faculty members with a strong commitment to teaching and research. Vassar has a student-faculty ratio of 8:1, meaning that students have many opportunities to work closely with their professors. Occidental has a slightly higher student-faculty ratio of 9:1, but still emphasizes close relationships between students and faculty members.

However, there are some differences in the qualifications of professors at Vassar and Occidental. Vassar has a higher percentage of faculty members with PhDs, with 87% of professors holding a doctorate degree. Occidental, on the other hand, has a higher percentage of professors with industry experience, with 25% of faculty members having worked in their respective fields before entering academia.

Career Services: Vassar vs. Occidental

Vassar and Occidental both have strong career services offices that offer resources and support to help students prepare for life after college. Both schools offer internship programs, job fairs, and other career-oriented events. Vassar also has a strong network of alumni who can offer career advice and mentorship to current students.

Internship for college students

In addition to these resources, Vassar and Occidental also provide students with access to career counseling services. These services can help students identify their strengths and interests, explore potential career paths, and develop job search strategies. Vassar’s career counseling services also include workshops on resume writing, interviewing skills, and networking. Occidental’s career counseling services offer similar resources, as well as career assessments and guidance on graduate school applications.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways from Comparing Vassar and Occidental

Overall, Vassar and Occidental are two very different schools with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Vassar is known for its tight-knit community and strong focus on social justice, while Occidental is known for its diverse and bustling campus culture. Both offer top-notch liberal arts education and strong resources for students. Ultimately, the choice between the two will depend on your personal preferences and goals.

One important factor to consider when choosing between Vassar and Occidental is location. Vassar is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, a small town with limited off-campus options. Occidental, on the other hand, is located in Los Angeles, California, a large city with endless opportunities for internships, networking, and entertainment. If you thrive in a bustling urban environment, Occidental may be the better choice for you.

Another factor to consider is the size of the student body. Vassar has a smaller student body of around 2,400 students, while Occidental has around 1,900. This may impact your experience on campus, as smaller schools often have a more intimate and personalized feel, while larger schools offer more opportunities for meeting new people and getting involved in a variety of activities. Consider your own personality and preferences when deciding which school is the best fit for you.

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