The Vassar College supplement, on first glance, seems relatively easy to tackle and somewhat straight-forward. What we’ve learned from years of advising students on this supplement is that a) it’s a bit more complex than it seems but also b) it’s more work than you think. There are three optional components. We implore you to explore at least two of those three, and not just because many students will overlook them (though that fact will help you). The first two responses are limited to 350 words. We assure you, 350 words is longer than you think. Keep that in mind when brainstorming. Additionally, we encourage students to keep Vassar’s culture and community in mind while they write this. Vassar is a free-spirited, very liberal place with a diverse community. This should be in the back of your mind while you’re writing. Let’s get going.
- Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below. Limit 350 words.
Like we said above, 350 words is longer than you think. It’s more space to explore, and it’s certainly enough space within which to tell a story (after all, you can tell a story in one sentence). This prompt requires you to bring the admissions reader inside your actions and participation within an extracurricular or work setting through a story. We like to tell our students that it doesn’t necessarily matter which extracurricular activity they choose to tell the story about, because the story is more about the interest or quality that they want to shed light on the most. You choose the topic for this question based on something that you are proud of or an action that you are deeply connected to. So much so that might argue it typifies who you are as a person.
We had a student who wanted to write about her work helping underprivileged children. While on the surface, this seems like a run-of-the-mill activity, she dug deep. She wrote about a breakthrough moment that she had with one of her students, but not before she engaged in an honest discussion about her challenges with this particular student. It was a very genuine story about how one small event, in the context of the situation, can be a marker for long-term change. This student will be attending Vassar in the fall.
In the vein of authenticity, we remind you to recall that Vassar has a lot of student activism on campus. Students are passionate and often liberal, albeit privileged. It is necessary to interrogate your instincts with this essay and steer clear from writing about a service trip or a volunteer gig in a soup kitchen. This will highlight your privilege and you won’t be in the room to defend yourself. That’s no good.
- How did you learn about Vassar and what aspect of our college do you find appealing? Limit 350 words
This is an interesting question. We like it for some reasons: the language, and the fact that it’s a “Why X College?” question with a twist. We don’t love it for others—namely, the first part. Let’s talk about that. It’s a hard ask when 95% of students don’t recall how they first actually heard of Vassar. Vassar is just a college that people have been talking about for a long time, because one of the top 15 schools in the nation. That is most likely how you heard about it. If we’re being honest, that part of the question mostly has to do with marketing. 50% of money spent on marketing is wasted, but it’s hard to know which category it’s wasted in, and this question can shed some light on that mystery for the college. We wouldn’t worry too much about this aspect of the question, unless you have a truly interesting story (your parents met at Vassar a year after the school went co-ed and you’ve been coming back for reunions since you were born). Don’t spend too much time on it, because the story here is Vassar’s appeal.
Now onto the good news—we love that Vassar asked about what “appeals” to you. It’s a wonderful choice of words, and you can do a lot with it. With research. Do your research for a “Why X School?” question—find classes that fascinate you, specify a professor whose brain you want to pick, and some extra-curriculars that sound right up your alley. Talk about what major interests you and some potential minors you might want to explore. Be sure that everything is Vassar-specific. They want to know why you want to study Comparative Literature at Vassar over every other school out there. That said, very rarely do students know exactly what their major is going to be ahead of time, though they might think they do. If this is the case, don’t worry—choose a subject that interests you. Remember: there’s no right or wrong answer for this question. Vassar is interested, more than anything, in how you think, not what you want to study. Go with your gut on this one.
If you wish to provide details of circumstances not reflected in the application, please upload a file here. Similarly, if you wish to upload your resume, include it here.
Let us be clear when we say that this portion is not optional. This is the space to elaborate on any significant events that happened in high school that may have affected your ability to execute at your peak academic or social potential. If you experienced a death or illness in your family, or went through an event that resulted in a grade drop or an inconsistency on your record, by all means tackle that here. If not, though, do not leave this space blank.
Every one of our students has a resume when they are applying to college. If they don’t have one going into the application process, then we help them format and create a resume. It’s important to have a working document that lists all of your academic, extracurricular, and work experiences in an organized format. You can upload that document here for Vassar to see—it will only help you tremendously for them to see all of your accomplishments concisely typed out in a visually appealing format on a page.
Your Space is your opportunity to allow the Committee on Admission to learn something about you that you have not addressed in another section of the application. Your Space is entirely optional. If you choose to include a Your Space submission, be sure it is labeled with your name, high school, and date of birth. Due to the volume of submissions, we will be unable to return your work. Please do not send anything that is irreplaceable.
Again, while this might read as optional, we advise that you use Your Space and fill it with something that shows Vassar a different part of yourself. Perhaps you have a piece of creative writing that you are particularly proud of that you’d like to share. If not, be creative in some other way—this is literally your space to do with what you’d like. You could write a letter to them introducing yourself. You could write a poem about your new dorm room. Don’t overlook this opportunity just because it’s a bit more work. You can make it interesting and even have a bit of fun with it. Consider this your introduction to Vassar.
You are welcome to submit a photograph of yourself to personalize your application.
This isn’t something you see that often with college applications. So we’ll reiterate what we’ve said to our students in the past:
- Don’t send a selfie.
- If you do send a photo, make sure it looks polished.
- It should look professional but don’t get a headshot professionally taken. That’s too extra.
- Don’t send a photo if it makes you feel weird.
Let us know if you have any questions at all. We know this supplement can be a bit challenging. We’re here to help.
Applying to Graduate School
Graduate School Application Materials
Most graduate and professional schools require the following from applicants: an application form, standardized test scores, an essay or personal statement, a resume or CV, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Some schools require interviews as well. Depending upon the type of program, you may also be asked to submit work samples or a portfolio, or to perform an audition. Even if you’re not ready to commit to graduate school, think about collecting recommendation letters and application materials now. That way you will have recommendations if and when you are ready to apply.
Application Form and Fees
Most applications are now online and most programs have an application fee. Accuracy, neatness, and thoroughness are important. If you are submitting a paper form, make copies of the form to use for your first drafts and type the final version. Proofread your applications carefully and submit them by the deadline (if not earlier). If the programs you are applying to have rolling admission where applications are reviewed and decisiosn are made as they are received, apply as early as possible so long as it does not sacrifice the quality of your application.
Most graduate and professional degree programs require some form of a standardized test to be completed as part of the application. Commonly required tests are the GRE (academic disciplines), LSAT (law), GMAT (business), MAT (sometimes used for education and psychology), and MCAT (medicine). Additional unformation about the MCAT can be found in the Office of Fellowships and Pre-Health Advising (Main North, Office 162). Questions about all other standardized tests can be directed to the Career Development Office.
The GRE, MCAT, MAT and GMAT are given in a self-scheduled, computer based format at off-campus locations. The LSAT and the GRE Subject Tests are paper based, and typically held on-campus. Scores are available anytime from immediately to 2 months after you take the test (depending on the specific test). Exam scores are usually valid for 3 to 5 years. Closely research the graduate schools you intend to apply to as each program may have specific requirements regarding admission.
The following official websites will provide you with specific information on test content, dates, and locations:
Essay or Personal Statement
The purpose of the personal statement is to articulate your goals and reasons for applying to graduate school in your particular field of study. Discuss how your background and qualifications have prepared you for graduate work and show evidence of your motivation to succeed. Personal Statements should represent your best writing efforts and be proofread carefully. Successful essays often go through many drafts and revisions.
Our Writing the Personal Statement publication provides more detail on personal statements and prompts to help get you started. The CDO is available to review drafts of personal statements/statements of purpose (and any additional application materials) prior to your application deadlines.
Resume or CV
Come by the CDO or download a copy of our Resume Guide for assistance. Stop by the CDO to receive feedback on your resume/CV draft and work closely with a Career Counselor to ensure that it is polished before you submit your application.
Request official copies of your transcript from the Registrar’s Office and from every college you have attended (even if you were not awarded a degree). If you are sending a transcript before completing your degree, you will likely also be asked to provide a final transcript at the end of your last semester.
Letters of Recommendation
Graduate and professional schools and some employers, particularly in education or research, will request letters of recommendation. Three letters of recommendation is standard, but applicants should always check each school's specific requirements. Most applicants request letters of recommendation from faculty for graduate and professional school and from a combination of faculty and previous employers/supervisors for employment.
When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation, do so in person if at all possible and be sure to ask your recommenders early in the application process. Only ask individuals who know you well enough to write a meaningful reference. Provide your recommenders with appropriate details such as a transcript, resume/CV, example of your class work, or any accomplishments, special projects or promotions, and any relevant details on the graduate programs you are applying to. Letters which are detailed and specific are usually more valuable to your candidacy.
The Career Development Office maintains a reference letter mailing service for all students and alumnae/i. Check with our Administrative Assistant to open a file. Any letters of recommendation for health professions should go to the Office of Fellowships and Pre-Professional Advising.
Some schools will require an interview for acceptance. If the school does not require an interview, it would still be advantageous to schedule a time to meet with a faculty member or chairperson of the department for which you are applying. This meeting will provide you with the opportunity to find out more information about the school and the program. Remember that the goal in any interview is to communicate to the interviewer that you are ready for and excited about their graduate program.
Graduate and professional school interviews can take various forms: one-on-one meeting, group interview, campus/faculty visits, panel interviews, and/or phone/Skype interviews. Here are some general guidlines to help you papre before a graduate and professional school interview:
- Do your homework: Know the school, the program, and the faculty, especially those that you want to work with while in the program. There was a reason why you applied to this school and chose this field -- recall why and convey that during the interview.
- Know your goals: Consider whether your goal is to teach, to do research, to go into industry, etc. Really think about what area you'd like to specialize in and what topic you might pursue for your dissertation/thesis (if required).
- Review your transcript: Be aware of "glitches" in your transcript and be prepared to explain them. In addition, remind yourself of commitments outside of academica that may have contributed to making you a strong candidate to succeed in graduate school.
- Practice: Schedule a mock interview with the CDO or an appointment to discuss interview strategies so you are more prepared for the interview.
- Prepare questions for the end of the interview: Most likely you will be given a chance to ask your own questions. Ask meaningful questions that demonstrate you have researched the department and field carefully, as well as ones that show you've been listening to the interviewer. It's also appropriate to ask when you can expect to hear from the admissions committee.
- Be prepared to answer the following questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our program and why did you choose to apply to our program?
- What other graduate/professional schools are you considering?
- How has your previous experience and academic background prepared you for graduate study?
- How will you make a contribution to this field?
- What are your professional/career goals? How will this program help you achieve those goals?
- What do you plan to specialize in?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you believe will be your greatest challenge if you are accepted into this program?