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Guidelines for Course Selection

First-year students are strongly encouraged to take 4 or 4.5 units in their first semester (full-time enrollment is between 3.5 and 4.5 units). Students will be limited to no more than 4 units of classroom-based courses (designated with “CLS” on Ask Banner) in any given semester. Students may also elect .5 units of Intensive (designated with “INT” on Ask Banner) coursework for a total of 4.5 units in a given semester. Vassar offers a limited number of 0.5 unit courses, mostly in the departments of music and physical education. You will need to consult the schedule of classes on the New Students website for a thorough listing of these and other half-unit academic courses offered in the fall semester. Elementary and intermediate language courses in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean grant 1.5 units per semester. During summer pre-registration, you may attempt to enroll in a maximum of 3.0 units (or 3.5 if electing elementary Chinese, Japanese, or Korean).


Intensives are a new style of course offering and are innovative learning opportunities that will complement traditional classroom courses by extending beyond the classroom for a variety of faculty-mentored experiences requiring a high level of student agency and independence. Every intensive is different, but the following descriptors capture the spirit of the intensives.

Project-, group-, or workshop-basedCollaborative engagement between students and instructorsIntentional partnerships within the nearby community, the Hudson Valley, or other parts of the worldField/travel experiencesMentoring rather than lecture-basedIntegrating various aspects of students’ previous studiesFluid time and space structuresFocused research experiencesStudent-driven, responsive to student initiativeNon-traditional course schedules

Intensives will be designated with “INT” on Ask Banner. Some intensives may require special permission or a proposal process, similar to a senior thesis or independent work. Please reach out to the professor of the course with any questions.


Vassar strongly recommends that students take courses in each of the four divisions (Arts, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences). Students are also expected to work in more than one department or program each semester.

In addition, please keep these three specific requirements in mind when selecting your first-year courses:

1. First-Year Writing Seminar Requirement

All students must successfully complete a First-Year Writing Seminar within the first two semesters of study; please consult the section on “First-Year Writing Seminars” in this handbook for the 2019/20 offerings. Courses are offered in both fall and spring semesters, with the far greater number in the fall.


2. Quantitative Analysis Requirement

All students are required before the beginning of their third year to complete one unit of course work requiring the learning and practice of a significant amount of quantitative analysis through the semester. Exemption from this requirement is limited to students who have completed equivalent coursework at another college or university as certified by the dean of studies. Courses that satisfy this requirement are designated QA in the schedule of classes. Select “Quantitative Analysis” from the “Select a Course Type” drop-down menu in the online schedule of classes to list all such courses. For descriptions of these courses, please consult the relevant section of the catalogue.


3. Foreign Language Proficiency Requirement

This requirement applies to all entering first-year students whose first language is English; if your first language is not English, you will need to apply to the Office of the Dean of Studies once you are on campus to confirm your exemption. (Exemptions may be granted to students who have done literature or language study in their first language at the secondary school level.) Many first-year students will have already demonstrated proficiency by reporting a score of 4 or 5 on an AP exam or of 600–800 on an SAT II test in a foreign language. If you have Higher Level IB credit in a foreign language, please consult with the Dean of Studies Office. For the rest of you: although this is a graduation requirement, we strongly recommend that you complete it early in your Vassar career. “Proficiency” at Vassar is the level achieved at the completion of the elementary course. Consequently, you must successfully complete a full year at the introductory level or a semester at the intermediate level to demonstrate proficiency.

Please note that if you are considering applying to a non-English-speaking country for study abroad, you will need to have completed, by the end of your sophomore year, at least a full year at the intermediate level of the appropriate foreign language.

Proficiency can also be demonstrated by passing an exam prepared by Vassar faculty. Proficiency exams in Ancient Greek, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish will be given on Tuesday, September 3, the first day of classes in the fall semester. Check the orientation schedule for times and locations. Students who are continuing a language studied prior to Vassar are placed at the level appropriate to their previous training. To identify the appropriate level for you, please consult the guidelines given by the various language departments in the section on “Departments of Instruction” in this handbook. Additional placement advising will be given by the foreign language faculty during orientation. First-year students are not encouraged to take two elementary level foreign languages.

To summarize: All students whose first language is English are required before graduation to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by one of the following six ways:

  1. one year of foreign language study at Vassar at the introductory level or one semester at the intermediate level or above;
  2. the passing of a proficiency examination administered by one of the foreign language departments, the Self-Instructional Language Program, or, for languages not in the Vassar curriculum, by the Office of the Dean of Studies;
  3. an AP exam score of 4 or 5 in a foreign language;
  4. SAT II achievement test score in a foreign language of at least 600;
  5. equivalent foreign language coursework completed at another institution; such courses may involve languages not taught at Vassar; or
  6. completion of Old English and Beowulf (English 235 and 236); both Old English and Beowulf must be completed to satisfy the requirement.