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Academic Information

This section of the handbook contains information you will need as you decide on the courses you would like to take in your first semester. As you look through these pages of academic information and the descriptions of departments and programs, do remember some of the goals and purposes of your education. To quote the Vassar mission statement, the college aims to provide an education “that inspires each individual to lead a purposeful life. The college makes possible an education that promotes analytical, informed, and independent thinking and sound judgment; encourages articulate expression; and nurtures intellectual curiosity, creativity, respectful debate and engaged citizenship.”

At the end of this section you will find the instructions for registration. Before you go to register, however, please read what follows carefully. You can also consult the Vassar catalogue online if you have any further questions.

There are four Vassar graduation requirements beyond those in your major:

First-Year Writing Seminar Requirement

All entering first-year students are required to complete at least one First-Year Writing Seminar during the first two semesters of study. The First-Year Writing Seminars provide entering students the opportunity to develop as critical thinkers in a small class setting along with fellow first-year students who are making the transition to college work. These courses, offered in a variety of disciplines, are limited to first-year students and have a maximum enrollment of 17. Particular attention is given to writing as an intellectual process as well as the effective expression of ideas in both written and oral form. Please consult the section on “First-Year Writing Seminars” in this handbook for the 2020/21 offerings.


Quantitative Course Requirement

Facility in quantitative reasoning is an important component of a liberal education. Quantitative reasoning includes the ability to understand and evaluate arguments framed in quantitative or numerical terms, to analyze subject matter using quantitative techniques, to construct and evaluate quantitative arguments of one’s own, and to make reasoned judgments about the kinds of questions that can be effectively addressed through quantitative methods.

Accordingly, all Vassar students are required before their third year to complete at least one unit of course work that shall develop or extend the student’s facility in quantitative reasoning. Qualifying courses are designated by the faculty and are noted in the schedule of classes. Exemption from this requirement may be granted to students who have completed equivalent coursework as certified by the dean of studies.

Courses that fulfill the quantitative requirement are marked in the schedule of classes with a QA. Select “Quantitative Analysis” from the “Select a Course Type” drop-down menu in the online schedule of classes to list all such courses.


Foreign Language Proficiency Requirement

Recognizing the unique importance in undergraduate education of the study of foreign languages, the Vassar curriculum provides for both study of and concentration in Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish. In addition, students may learn Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, Old English, and, through the self-instructional language program, American Sign Language, Hindi, Irish, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, and Yiddish.

All three- and four-year students whose first language is English are required before graduation to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language. Departmental proficiency examinations will be given in the afternoon on the first day of classes in the fall semester; the exact time and locations will be listed in the orientation schedule. Other methods by which you may meet this requirement are listed in the section on “Registration for Courses.”


Distribution Requirements

All Vassar students are expected to reflect both depth and breadth in their course selection. Depth is demonstrated by completing a major field of concentration; breadth is demonstrated by taking courses across the four curricular divisions—arts, foreign languages and literatures, social sciences, and natural sciences—and in multidisciplinary programs. In order to graduate, you will be required to elect at least 50% of your work outside of your major, and 25% of your work outside the division in which you major. For example, a history major must complete at least 16 of the 32 units in courses outside of the history department, and 8 of the 32 units in courses not in the social sciences. Advanced Placement credits are not permitted to count toward fulfillment of the distribution requirement. You should also be aware that all candidates for Phi Beta Kappa honors must demonstrate breadth and substance of course work outside the major in addition to overall academic excellence. You should not take two courses in a single department in the same semester in your first year. As you consider your course selections for your first two years, you should be sure to include introductory work in any department or program in which you might major. All students must declare a major by the end of their fourth semester; applicants for education abroad must declare by December of their sophomore year.