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Vassar College

VASSAR COLLEGE (visited 7/25/13)

Vassar 2I was less than impressed with the mediocre tour and presentation at Vassar than I expected to be; I guess they figure that they don’t have to try too hard to attract students. Our tour guide, a senior Film and Psych major from Connecticut, was sweet and knowledgeable about the school, but the tour was a canned, rushed presentation that didn’t allow his personality to come through. I tried to take notes and get pictures, and I was constantly running to catch up with the group (and I’m a quick walker) because he was moving us along so fast. I stayed for only about 20 minutes of the admissions info session (in my defense, I did have to leave to get to the next college in time for my appointment which had been moved up at the last minute), but the information presented was both a repetition of what we got on the tour and not delivered well. I was a little discouraged that I didn’t leave with a better impression of campus.

Vassar 1Vassar 6However, I was impressed that the students on the tour were from all over and interested in a diversity of things (one was interested in both music and econ, for example). Vassar definitely attracts these types of students; so many tours I’ve been on have only attracted relatively regional prospective students. Antonio (the tour guide) described the current Vassar students as open and cooperative, but did say that people who are super-focused on only one thing wouldn’t do well here. There is a very low transfer rate which indicates that students are both self-selecting and that the admissions people are good about selecting students for admission. Currently, 44% of the student population is male (the college went coed in 1969 and the population is inching upwards toward the 50% mark) and 35% self-identify as students of color (although there wasn’t a single non-white student visiting that morning). They have an active ALANA (African, Latin American, Native American) center on campus that sponsors many events throughout the year.

A co-op dorm

A co-op dorm

Almost all students (about 98%) live on campus for all four years, not surprising given the fact that once they hit junior year, students are guaranteed a single room, and seniors live in townhouses and apartments where they can cook and clean for themselves. Freshmen live in doubles and triples, but they aren’t “forced triples.” Those are larger rooms (often corner rooms) built as triples. Although many of the dorms are older buildings (including some of the original college buildings), the interiors have been renovated. The largest dorm has 300 students in it. Interestingly, bathrooms are gender neutral. Freshmen are put into Fellow Groups with 10-12 other students. Fellows are like RAs but have no disciplinary function and sign confidentiality waivers. There are also Faculty Fellows in dorm apartments.

Statue of Matthew Vassar

Statue of Matthew Vassar

The college was founded in the 1800s by Matthew Vassar, a brewer. It remained technically single-sex until 1969, but did allow some vets returning from WWII to take classes; their degrees were granted by the SUNY system because technically the males couldn’t matriculate at Vassar despite taking the classes and finishing the requirements for their degrees. Around the turn of the century, Rockefeller (who had an estate nearby), provided $10,000 for the “first academic building.” He didn’t like that there was no “academic building” even though the classes were housed in the main building. The stipulation for the donation was that the building was completed on time and under budget – and he wanted his change back. The school did finish the building both on time and under budget, and gave him a check for a dollar and change which he cashed the next day. The building now houses the PoliSci department among other things.

A typical classroom

A typical classroom

Many of the classrooms are set up in a round-table format. Our tour guide’s favorite classes have been TV History and Criticism and Social Psychology. The admissions rep who gave the info session was an alumnus; his favorite classes were about carbon (looking at everything from coal to diamonds) and one on prisons. The average class size is 17 with most capped at 30 with very few exceptions: only 2 classes (Intro to Art History being one) have 50 students. Vassar students only need to complete 3 core requirements: a freshmen writing class, a quantitative analysis class (psych can count for this), and a language requirement (which is the only one students can test out of). Their psychology department is strong, particularly in child/developmental psychology. In the daycare on campus, they have an observation lab with 2-way mirrors and cameras so students in both psychology and education can observe how children play. Professors are accessible and want to teach and be involved on campus; 70% living on or directly next to campus. The tour guide said that he only had one instance in which a professor didn’t respond quickly to an email.

Vassar 3Vassar arts bldgI had dinner on the evening of my tour with a friend who is currently teaching in the Anthropology department at Vassar; she lives in a campus-owned apartment which is about a 5 minute walk to her office – and that’s less than five minutes to her classroom and lab. She took me through the building that has the Anthro department (along with many others including Econ). It was a labyrinth of half-levels, short halls, and interesting twists and turns. She said it took forever to figure out the most efficient way to get through the building, and she has a lot of empathy for new students who are trying to figure out where there classes are when Room 2 is around the corner from Room 35. Many of the buildings are beautiful and old (although not all are as difficult to get around!). One of the turreted buildings houses the geology department and a Natural History Museum along with an art gallery that’s older than the Met. Arts are strong and active on campus. The theater department puts on 6-10 productions a year; there are 30-35 additional student-run productions. Students don’t have to be a music or theater major to be involved in these areas.

Vassar dormVassar treeCampus is pretty and safe. Security patrols all the time and the only time our tour guide has ever heard of anyone using the blue lights is when a curious parent pushed it. There are a few things to do directly off campus – some stores, bars, coffee shops, and a plethora of Thai restaurants. Downtown Poughkeepsie is not far away with other options of things to do. Anyone can have cars on campus (about ¼ of the students have one), but parking is way out of the way. There are shuttles every half hour as well as a town bus stop on campus; students ride free with their ID. I tried to get the tour guide to talk more about extra-curricular life on campus, but got very little information before he went back on script to tell us about the buildings we were walking by. He did tell us that each dorm hosts two off-campus events a year such as Paintball, Halloween events, or theme parties (one included people dressing up like Gatsby). These are open to everyone. There are also a variety of clubs and organizations, and they have 12 women’s and 11 men’s DIII sports teams, including an equestrian team. Their crew team has been downgraded to a club sport recently.

Vassar Library

Vassar Library

The Library might be the most impressive structure on campus; it was built specifically as a library, not converted from something else, and they’ve purposefully made sure that it was not open 24-hour a day because they want students to have some balance. The focal point is the Tiffany window depicting the first woman to receive a PhD in Padua in the 1600s. She’s in pink (the rosy dawn of women’s education) and gray. They have since darkened their colors to burgundy and gray because they were “getting laughed off the sports fields.” They do have a chapel on campus that offers a variety of services, but there is no religious requirement (and the school is no longer affiliated with any denomination). There is currently quite a bit of religious diversity and a variety of student-run religious groups.

(c) 2013

Marist College

MARIST COLLEGE (visited 7/25/13)

Marist chairs and riverEven driving onto campus, I was more impressed with Marist than with some other campuses. It was open, places were well marked, and the atmosphere seemed inviting to visitors. The admissions office was well-organized and people were genuinely friendly, greeting visitors and being willing to help, even though it was busy. Another person and I had trouble finding parking since the visitor’s lot was full, and the person (I later found out she was a student) immediately got on the phone to security to let them know where we parked so we wouldn’t get ticketed. All the students seemed to be like this: proactive problem-solvers.

Marist flagsmarist walkwayThe information session was one of the best I’ve ever attended. As people got settled into the room for the presentation, a slideshow played with some facts about the school. The rep, an alum, spoke beautifully about life at Marist from both sides – her love for it as a student and then as a rep who helps recruit students who will fit into Marist life and thrive there (with a 93% first-year retention rate and a 83% graduation rate – both 20-30% over the national average — they’re doing something right). She showed a short video showcased what students are involved in as well as the beauty of the Hudson (the campus sits directly on the river) and surrounding area. She talked about what made Marist unique (which is rare; too many presentations talk about the same sorts of things: study abroad, faculty accessibility, internships. All schools have those; we need to know what makes a school different!). They ended with a five-student panel, one of the few times I’ve ever seen that in a general info session. The students fielded questions for about 20 minutes before taking people out on tour so we got multiple perspectives on life on campus.

Marist 1Students raved about their experiences on campus; they’re intellectual without needing to flaunt it, they’re social, and they’re just nice. They talked about their academic experiences with enthusiasm: their favorite classes were Intro to Criminal Justice (she liked the topic and the professor who was a retired cop), Human Resources (taught by a professor with experience in HR and shared lots of stories), Creative Writing (this made her fall in love with English again), and upper level theater. Their smallest classes ranged from 7 to 12 students, and the largest class any of them took had 26 students in it.

Marist new and old

Old and new parts of campus merge together

Marist is academically impressive in the range and strength of their curriculum. It has a nationally accredited Core Curriculum and they’re offering a First Year Seminar (FYS) for the first time. There will be a common reading expected of all entering students; this year, it’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and the author is coming to campus to talk to the students about the book. Their Business School is accredited by AACSB (which only accredits only the top 25% of business schools in the world). International Business majors must study abroad and present an independent project when they come back. Additionally, all students majoring in areas falling in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences must complete internships and/or field work before graduation. Marist maintains a close relationship with the NYPD, NCIS, FBI, CBI, Homeland Security, and the Hawaii Department of Education where several Marist graduates go to teach when they graduate. They’ve had a 100% law school placement rate over the last couple years, and 100% job placement for the Medical Technology majors since 1982. Over 90% of students are admitted into graduate, medical, and health professional schools. Since 2006, 3 Marist students have been selected as Goldwater Scholars.

Marist 5Their Politics and Public Policy programs are worth noting. Last year, 4 of the 20 students nationwide selected for the Hansard Scholars Programme were from Marist. This program sends Politics or Public Affairs majors to London for 14 weeks, allowing them to take classes at the London School of Economics and providing internships and other hands-on experiences with members of British Parliament and other similar places. There are plenty of other options for studying away, as well. The Albany Internship Experience allows students interested in politics the chance to work in the state capital, and anyone can study for a semester at American University in DC.

Marist archStudents don’t have to move off campus to have amazing internship or field-experience opportunities because of Marist’s location. Student use the Hudson and the entire Valley as a lab for study (one of FYS is about environmental activism in the Hudson Valley). Poughkeepsie and the immediately surrounding towns have a lot to offer including five colleges within about 40 minutes (Vassar and the Culinary Institute of America are both less than 10 minutes away) which makes this a great college town. Poughkeepsie is located almost exactly halfway between Albany and NYC, giving students opportunities for internships in all sorts of fields. The MetroNorth commuter rail station is five minutes from campus giving students easy access into New York, and busses regularly run up to Albany. The Marist Institute for Public Opinion pairs students with NBC News for Polling purposes (the got a lot of experience during the last election cycle). The FDR Library and Museum, located nearby, provides history majors or other interested students the chance to do research and internships. The university also has close ties to IBM which is located down the street. Because of this proximity, students have access to extensive research and internship opportunities. Even the library uses IBM digital library technology as an electronic gateway for advanced storage and retrieval technology. Marist stresses technology usage; the rep said that they use “advanced technology in the pursuit of excellence” which fits into their Mission Statement: “Help students develop the intellect, character, and skills required for enlightened, ethical, and productive lives in the global 21st century.”

In addition to the main campus, Marist maintains a Marist in Italy program. One of the programs they offer is the Freshman Florence Experience: approximately 20 students go together to study there their entire first year. Any student can complete a Bachelor’s in one of 8 areas, mostly in the arts (studio art, art history, conservation, fashion, and interior design); Italian Language is the only non-artsy major offered there. They also offer a 1-year Masters in Museum Studies.

One of the dorms

One of the dorms

Life on campus is vibrant, and students certainly don’t need to leave campus to have fun. Even visiting in the summer, there were students everywhere, walking across campus, studying on the grass, and in the library. Marist has 23 DI teams which are well supported with a fan base. There are over 90 clubs and organizations ranging from ice hockey and fencing to political and religious groups. Clubs, in keeping with the college’s mission, must provide some sort of community service as part of their charter if they want to continue getting funding from the school. Marist, although still named for the Marist brothers who started the college, is no longer religiously affiliated. The university went coed in 1968, and control of the college was turned over from the Marist Brothers to an independent Board of Trustees a year after that. However, there are several Marist Brothers who still live on campus and are active in Campus Ministry. However, today there is a great deal of religious diversity within the student body.

Admission is selective with about one-third of the applicants getting offered a spot. The top 10% of applicants are invited to the Honors Program which opens up additional opportunities and specialized coursework. Once in the program, they must maintain a 3.5 GPA. Marist is a test-optional school.

© 2013

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