Degrees and Courses of Study

Vassar College offers a balanced course of study leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. To permit flexibility, it also offers an opportunity for a four-year program leading to a combined Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts or Science degree in a limited number of specified areas. It encourages students to pursue the degree through the development of a coherent program of study that recognizes, as much as possible, individual needs.

Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts


Each candidate for the bachelor of arts degree is required to complete 34 units of work, equivalent to the standard of 120 semester hours recognized by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York. The system of units is fourfold:

  • the single unit, a course for one semester
  • the half unit, equivalent to one-half of a semester course taken over an entire semester or for a half-semester only
  • the double unit, consisting of a year sequence of semester courses or the equivalent of two semester courses in one term
  • the unit and a half earned in one course over one semester

Freshman Course, Quantitative Course, and Foreign Language Requirements

All graduates must comply with the Freshman Course requirement, the Quantitative Course requirement, and the foreign language proficiency requirement as described on page 43.


Four years of full-time enrollment is the usual length of time expected for the baccalaureate degree. However, students may be permitted to spend a longer or shorter time. The fact that many students will benefit from a break in the four-year sequence is acknowledged and reflected in the residence requirement. While students are expected to make orderly progress toward the degree, they are encouraged to move at the pace and in the fashion which suits their needs and those of their chosen program. Students who want to accelerate their degree program should consult with the Dean of Studies.

Residence Requirement

  • A student choosing a regular four-year program must spend at least three of those years in residence.
  • Students on a three-year program (accelerating students, those entering with a considerable number of prematriculation Advanced Placement credits, those transferring after one year at another college) would normally be expected to spend two and one-half years in residence. If special one-year off-campus programs—e.g., Junior Year Away or academic leave of absence—were deemed essential to their studies, the residence requirement would be reduced to two years in those cases by permission of the Committee on Leaves and Privileges.
  • Students entering Vassar as juniors must spend two years in residence and elect at least 17 units—the minimim amount of Vassar work required of transfer students for a Vassar baccalaureate degree.
  • Any special permissions relating to the residence requirement (academic leaves of absence, acceleration) must be sought individually from the Committee on Leaves and Privileges by February 15 of the previous academic year.
  • All students must be in residence for at least two semesters of their junior and senior years in college.

Attendance at Class

The educational plan of Vassar College depends upon the effective cooperation of students and teachers. Each student bears full responsibility for class attendance, for completing work on schedule, and for making up work missed because of absence. In cases of extended absence the instructor may, with the approval of the Dean of Studies, refuse a student the opportunity to make up work or to take the final examination, or may exclude a student from the course.

To protect the integrity of the academic year, students are required to be in residence by midnight of the day before classes begin in each semester. Exception from this rule is by prior permission of the Dean of Studies.

The Vassar Curriculum

Vassar offers students a choice of four ways to proceed toward a degree which embodies an education that is personally significant. They are: concentration in a department, the Independent Program, and the multidisciplinary and interdepartmental programs.

Freshman Courses

Each year several introductory courses, designated Freshman Courses, provide entering students the opportunity to develop particular abilities in a small class setting along with fellow freshmen who are making the transition to college work. Intended as introductions to the collegiate experience, these courses are limited in enrollment to nineteen freshmen and are offered in a variety of disciplines. In general, they serve as introductions to those disciplines. Particular attention is given to the effective expression of ideas in both written and oral work.

All entering freshmen are required to elect at least one Freshman Course. The Freshman Course offerings are listed every year in the Freshman Handbook.

Quantitative Courses

Numeracy, like literacy, is important in a liberal education. Accordingly, all Vassar students are required before their third year to complete at least one full-unit course that shall develop or extend the student’s quantitative or numerical skills. Qualifying courses are designated by the faculty and are noted in the schedule of classes.

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.

Foreign Language Proficiency

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

All three- and four-year students whose first language is English are required before graduation to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by one of the following six ways:

  • one year of foreign-language study at Vassar at the introductory level or one semester at the intermediate level or above;
  • 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;
  • Advanced Placement score of 4 or 5 in a foreign language;
  • SAT II achievement test score in a foreign language of at least 600;
  • equivalent foreign-language coursework completed at another institution; such courses may involve languages not taught at Vassar; or
  • completion of Old English and Beowulf (English 235 and 236); both Old English and Beowulf must be completed to satisfy the requirement.

College Course

The College Course program was established to ensure that students can have direct exposure in their years at Vassar to some important expressions of the human spirit in a context that is both multidisciplinary and integrative. The aim of introductory level College Course is to study important cultures, themes, or human activities in a manner that gives the student experience in interpreting evi­dence from the standpoint of different departments. The courses relate this material and these interpretations to other material and interpretations from other departments in order to unite the results of this study into a coherent overall framework. The interpretations are expected to be both appreciative and critical; the artifacts will come from different times, places, and cultures; and the instructors will come from different departments.

Concentration in a Department

A student may choose a curricular program and a major within a field of concentration at any time until the end of the second year of study or the midpoint in the student’s college years. The choice must be filed with the Registrar.

Minimum requirements for the concentration vary with the department. At least half of a student’s minimum requirements in the field of concentration must be taken at Vassar.

Of the 34 units required for the degree, students may not take more than 50 percent or 17 units in a single field of concentration. At least one-fourth of the 34 units, or 81⁄2 units, must be in one or more of the divisions of the curriculum outside the one in which the student is concentrating. This minimum may, with rare exceptions, include interdepartmental courses or courses offered by the multi­disciplinary programs. No more than 2 units of the 34, with the exception of physical education 110, 390, and all dance, may be for work in physical education.

It is strongly recommended that students take courses in each of the four divisions at Vassar. Students are also expected to work in more than one department each semester.

These are the curricular divisions:

Arts Foreign Languages and Literatures Social Sciences Natural Sciences
Physical Education 
   and Dance

German Studies
Hispanic Studies 
Russian Studies

Political Science 

Computer Science 

Independent Program

The Independent Program is available to any student who wishes to elect a field of concentration that is not provided by one of the regular departments or the interdepartmental or multidisciplinary programs of the college. Consequently, the student’s own specially defined field of concentration will be interdisciplinary in nature, and may draw upon various methods of study, on and off campus.

A student may apply for admission to the independent program no earlier than the second semester of the freshman year and normally no later than the end of the sophomore year. The guidelines and requirements of the independent program are described on page 245.

Interdepartmental Programs

Interdepartmental programs are concentrations in which the concerns of two or more academic departments come together, under the supervision of participating faculty members. They differ from the multidisciplinary programs mainly in that their subjects are by their nature joint concerns of the departments involved and are accessible through the methods and approaches appropriate to these disciplines. Through cooperation in curricular planning, scheduling, and advising, interdepartmental programs offer students coherent courses of study within the levels of instruction of the participating departments. At the present time, Vassar offers six interdepartmental programs—biochemistry; earth science and society; geography-anthropology; medieval and renaissance studies; neuroscience and behavior; and Victorian studies. The regulations and requirements of these programs are specified under course listings.

Fulfillment of distribution requirements for students in an interdepartmental concentration is determined in consultation with an adviser in the program.

Multidisciplinary Programs

Each multidisciplinary program concentrates on a single problem or series of problems that cannot be approached by one discipline alone. The integration and coherence of the program are achieved through work of ascending levels of complexity. At the present time, Vassar has ten fully developed multidisciplinary programs—Africana studies; American culture; Asian studies; cognitive science; environmental studies; international studies; Jewish studies; Latin American and Latino/a studies; media studies; science, ­technology, and society; urban studies; and women’s studies. The regulations and requirements of these programs are specified under course listings.

Fulfillment of distribution requirements for students in a multidisciplinary concentration is determined in consultation with the adviser in the program.

Double Major

Students wishing to apply to the Committee on Leaves and Privileges for permission to take a double major, in which they fulfill all the requirements of each field of concentration concerned, may do so after obtaining the permission of the appropriate advisers and department chairs. Generally, students seeking a double concentration are expected to have a good academic record. They should present a clear statement to the committee indicating the academic advantages expected from study in the two proposed fields.

Correlate Sequence

In addition to an elected field of concentration, a student may undertake an optional correlate sequence in one of the following areas:

Africana studies, ancient societies, anthropology, art history, astronomy, biology, chemistry, Chinese, classics, computer science, economics, English, French, geography, geology, German, Greek, Hispanic studies, history, Italian, Japanese, Jewish studies, Latin, Latin American and Latino/a studies, mathematics, medieval and renaissance studies, music, philosophy, physics, political science, religion, Russian studies, urban studies, Victorian studies, women’s studies.

The correlate sequence provides the opportunity to organize studies outside the major field of concentration, progressing from introductory to advanced work under the guidance of an adviser in the relevant department or program. A sequence usually consists of 6 units, selected to acquaint the student with the methodology of the field and to permit achievement of some depth of learning in at least one of its areas of knowledge. The mere amassing of units is not acceptable. Ordinarily, no more than 2 units may be courses taken at another school. Specific requirements for each sequence are noted in the individual department or program section of the catalogue.

Students interested in pursuing a correlate sequence should complete a Declaration of Correlate Sequence form available from the Office of the Registrar.

Part-Time Status

Ordinarily, all matriculated students will be required to register full time (a minimum of 3.5 units) for eight semesters or until they complete the requirements for their degree, whichever comes first. Part time status (fewer than 3.5 units, reduced tuition) is reserved for students who, for documented (e.g. medical) reasons, will need to reduce their course load for several semesters. Students who, for documented reasons, require a reduced course load for a single semester may be eligible for full time underload status (fewer than 3.5 units, full tuition). All requests for part time status or full time underload status should be submitted to the Committee on Leaves and Privileges, which will evaluate the academic merits of each request. Students considering part time status who receive financial aid should also consult with the Office of Financial Aid about possible financial implications.

Leaves of Absence

Vassar allows its students two kinds of leaves of absence: academic and nonacademic. Both kinds of leaves are granted upon application through the Office of the Dean of Studies before appropriate deadlines announced annually. Applications for academic leaves, except when of an emergency nature, should be made before February 15 of the academic year before the one for which they are sought.

An academic leave of absence will be granted to a student for a semester or a year within the general framework of sensible and promising academic purpose. It may be granted to a student who wishes to take coursework of a particular kind at another institution or to a student who wishes to gain a different academic perspective. Departmental advisers help students in planning programs which include academic work elsewhere. In certain departments, leaves in the sophomore year may be more desirable than leaves in the junior year, and vice versa. Approved academic leaves may be rescinded if a student’s grades fall below the level required for approval.

Any student seeking such an academic leave should consult the appropriate adviser in the Office of the Dean of Studies in sufficient time to allow for conferences with faculty advisers, followed by submission of an application to the Committee on Leaves and Privileges before the February 15 deadline. Nontransfer students may include no more than 10 units of work taken elsewhere in the 34 units presented for the Vassar baccalaureate degree. For transfer students, the maximum is 17 units.

Leaves of a nonacademic nature generally fall into two categories—leaves for medical reasons and leaves for students who want a period of time off to do something quite different from academic work. These may be leaves for employment or merely for personal reorientation. To aid students seeking employment during personal leaves of absence, Vassar has joined in consortium with seven other colleges and universities in the College Venture Program, which develops job placements in public or private organizations, and which maintains a job bank in the Office of Career Development. In any of these cases, the request for leave should be carefully considered by the appropriate adviser and approved by the Dean of Studies. Applications for nonacademic leaves, except when of an emergency nature, should be made before April 1 of the academic year before the one for which they are sought. Students should submit a written, signed request for nonacademic leaves to the dean of studies. In exceptional circumstances, students may apply for retroactive credit, but in general, students will not receive credit for academic work undertaken while on a personal leave of absence.

The college reserves the right to limit leaves, within the framework of residential and academic policies. Ordinarily, nonacademic leaves of absence are limited to at most two consecutive semesters.

Foreign Study

Study Abroad

Appropriately qualified students may study abroad on approved programs under conditions set by the Committee on Leaves and Privileges. Usually, but not always, foreign study is planned for the junior year.

All students interested in foreign study should discuss the possibilities with their departmental advisers, and then submit an application to the committee through the study away office. Study abroad can be especially valuable for students majoring in foreign languages and literatures, and international studies. It may also complement work in other departments and programs. Students should discuss their program with their academic adviser.

As study abroad generally poses particular challenges for students, the college must require reasonable standards of academic performance of students applying for this privilege. In order to merit consideration by the committee, a student requesting permission to study abroad must have a compelling academic rationale as well as the strong support of the adviser and the department concerned, a good academic record (ordinarily with a Vassar College gpa of 3.2 or better), and the foreign language background specified in junior year away guidelines, usually a minimum of two years of college study.

Information on procedures and an application are available in the reading room of the study abroad office in Main Building, room N-173. Students wishing to make an application should consult these office materials.

Students planning any academic leave for one term only should plan to take the leave during the first semester. Leaves for b-term only are limited to those who can provide strong, specific justification based on academic grounds.

Vassar German Summer Program in Münster

Vassar College, in conjunction with the College of William and Mary and Sweet Briar College, conducts an intensive summer program with the opportunity to study and travel in Germany during a seven-week period. The program entails a five-day informal trip through Germany, a five-week homestay with a German host-family, and a six-day excursion to Weimar and Berlin. While in Münster, students take courses in German conversation, literature, and culture. Students who successfully complete the program receive 2 units of graded Vassar credit. Minimum requirements are the completion of German 105 and 106, or the equivalent, and the recommendation of the instructor. For further information consult the Department of German Studies.

Vassar Siena Summer Program

Vassar College offers an intensive summer program with the opportunity to study and travel in Italy during a seven-week period. Program participants are matched with a student of the University of Siena with whom they meet regularly. Special lectures supplement the program.

Classes at the third and fourth semester level meet three and one half hours a day, Monday through Friday, and focus on contemporary language and culture. These courses, designated Italian 205 and 206, count towards both the Italian major and the Correlate Sequence in Italian at Vassar College. The program includes visits to Rome at the beginning and the end of the program. As guests of its owner, a Vassar alumna, there is a visit to the Villa Spannocchia, the seat of the Etruscan Foundation and a center for the study of alternative farming and environmental preservation. There are long weekend trips to Venice and Padua, local field trips to Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, the countryside around Siena (Pienza, Castiglione d’Orcia, the Chianti Region) and some open-air spas. Students also have two free weekends to explore nearby regions: the Italian Riviera, Portofino, and the Cinque Terre, the Tuscan islands (Elba, Giglio, Capraia), the hill-towns of Umbria (Assisi, Spoleto, and Perugia), and the marble quarries and beaches of Versilia.

The program is also open to students in good standing at other institutions who have completed two semesters of elementary Italian, or the equivalent. The program is directed by Vassar College Italian Department faculty. Courses are taught by local university faculty with teaching experience in the United States. For further information consult the Department of Italian.

Vassar Spanish Language Summer Program in Mexico

Vassar College offers an intensive six-week summer program in Oaxaca, Mexico. This program offers a mix of classroom and experiential learning opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, located 250 miles southeast of Mexico City, nestled in a highland valley at an altitude of 5,000 feet above sea level. Students have three hours of intensive language instruction and a one-hour of conversation class Monday through Friday. Students also participate in a seminar course two afternoons a week taught by a Vassar College professor.

In the afternoons, students also have the option of participating in workshops on topics such as Mexican history, cooking, back strap loom weaving, ceramics, music and dance. These two-hour sessions are taught by indigenous instructors of these arts. Students may also participate in the intercambio or language exchange program with local university students and professionals who are eager to speak Spanish with institute students in exchange for a chance to practice their English.

On the weekends, the Vassar College Summer Program in Mexico organizes tours and trips that build on the students’ course work. Program fees include two extended weekend trips to destinations such as Mexico City, San Crist6bal de Las Casas or Yucatdn. On other weekends, students have the opportunity to tour nearby archaeological sites, indigenous markets and artisan villages around the central valley of Oaxaca.

The intermediate Sanish language courses offered in this program are taught by qualified instructors at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca and focus on contemporary language and culture. These intermediate level courses count towards both the Hispanic Studies Major and Correlate Sequence, and fulfill Vassar College language requirement.

During the program students receive room and board in carefully screened, private homes, where they experience Mexican family life and practice their Spanish.

This program is open only to matriculated Vassar students. To be eligible the student must have completed Elementary Spanish Education, Basic Spanish Review, or equivalent (two or three years of high school Spanish).

Vassar-Wellesley-Wesleyan Program in Bologna

Vassar College, Wellesley College, and Wesleyan University offer a study abroad program at the Università di Bologna in Italy. The program is committed to high academic standards and to providing opportunities for students to develop their knowledge of the Italian language and culture in one of the most venerable and prestigious academic environments in Europe.

Undergraduates wishing to study humanities and social sciences may enroll for the fall or spring semesters or for the full academic year. Students who enroll for the full year or for the spring semester and who have at least an intermediate knowledge of Italian will complete two regular university courses at the Università di Bologna, as well as take courses in language and Italian studies offered by the program. Since all courses are offered in Italian, participants must have completed the equivalent of second-year Italian. Those interested in applying should consult with their advisers before making a formal application to the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris

Qualified students majoring in any discipline may spend a semester or an academic year with the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris. The program offers courses in language, culture, literature, art, the social sciences, and women’s studies. Additionally, many courses are available through the University of Paris. Courses cover France and the French-speaking world (for course descriptions, see the listing for French). Students normally participate in their junior year, but sophomores and seniors are also eligible. Since all courses are given in French, participants should have completed a 200-level course above French 213 or the equivalent. Those interested in applying should consult with their advisers and with the Department of French before making formal application through the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Spain

Qualified students, regardless of their field of concentration, may spend a semester or an academic year with the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Spain studying at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. The program offers courses in Spanish language, literature, history, art, politics, and society (for course descriptions, see the listing for Hispanic Studies). Students normally participate in their junior year, but qualified sophomores and seniors are also eligible. Since all courses are given in Spanish, participants must have completed the equivalent of second-year Spanish (Hispanic Studies 205, 206). Those interested in applying should consult with their advisers and with the Department of Hispanic Studies before making formal application through the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Vassar Program in Morocco

Qualified students may spend the fall semester with the Vassar Program in Morocco. The program offers courses in Moroccan and classical Arabic, history, and anthropology as well as an elective option in the French speaking division of Mohammed V University (for course descriptions, see the listing for Africana studies). Students normally participate in their junior year. Participants are expected to have taken appropriate area courses offered at Vassar before studying abroad. Those interested in applying should consult with their advisers and with the Africana Studies Program before making a formal application through the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Oxfordshire, England: 
Internship in British Primary Schools

Vassar College, in cooperation with the primary schools of Oxfordshire, offers a one-semester internship in British primary schools. Students interested in teacher certification, the theoretical study of education, or the study of cross-cultural education are assigned as interns in infant or junior schools in the vicinity of Oxford University. They also take a “half-tutorial” of study at Oxford-Brookes University in some area such as history, English, psychology, history of art, physical sciences, geography, or many other subjects taught in the university. Those interested in applying should consult with their adviser and the Department of Education before making formal application through the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Clifden, Ireland: 
Internship in Irish Schools

Vassar College, in cooperation with the Clifden Community School, Clifden Ireland, offers a one-semester internship in Irish secondary education. Students interested in teacher certification, the theoretical study of education, or the study of cross-cultural education are assigned as interns in the secondary school in Clifden, Ireland. They may also take a “half-tutorial” of study at University College, Galway, in areas such as history, English, psychology, history of art, physical sciences, geography, or other subjects taught in the general university curriculum. Those interested in applying should consult with their adviser and the Department of Education before making formal application through the dean of studies, study away office, Main N-173.

Domestic Study, Off Campus

Venture/Bank Street 
Urban (NYC) Education Semester

Vassar College, in cooperation with Venture/Bank Street, offers a two-semester program in urban education. Students interested in teacher certification, the theoretical study of education, or the study of cross-cultural education are assigned as interns in New York City public schools. In addition to the 2 unit internship, students also take three additional courses at Bank Street College. Those interested in applying should consult with their adviser and the Department of Education before making formal application through the Office of the Dean of Studies.

Exchange Programs

Vassar students may apply, with the approval of their major department adviser, to study for a year or a semester at Amherts, Bowdoin, Connecticut College, Dartmouth (year only), Mount Holyoke, Smith, Trinity, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Wheaton, or all member colleges of the Twelve College Exchange Program. Included in the possibilities are a semester at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut, with academic credit sponsored by Connecticut College, and a semester of studies in maritime history and literature, oceanography and marine ecology at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut, with academic credit sponsored by Williams College. In addition, students may apply to study at one of the following historic black colleges: Howard University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. Election of specific courses at Bard College is also possible. For a more complete list of programs within the United States as well as an explanation of the Academic Leave of Absence, students should consult the Study Away website which can be accessed through the Vassar home page.

For information about the application process and credit transfer related to exchanges and Academic Leaves of Absences students should consult the office of the Dean of Studies.

Field Work

Offered by most departments for academic credit, field work enables students to examine the way the theories and the practical experiences of a particular discipline interact. It provides opportunities for observation and participation which are not ordinarily available in classwork. Depending on their academic interests, students undertake internships in a variety of organizations and agencies in the local community and other places. Every field work student is supervised by a faculty member who evaluates the intellectual merit of the proposed field work, determines the amount of credit to be given, and decides upon the academic requirements for the awarding of credit. Generally, field work students have prerequisites or a corequisite in the faculty member’s department.

Field work may be done during the academic year or in the summer. Students interested in field work placements should consult the director of field work during preregistration or at the beginning of each semester. Students seeking credit for summer placements must complete their registration before they leave campus. Students may not apply for retroactive field work credit.

During the academic year, some students commute to New York City or Albany one or two days a week to serve as interns in government, nonprofit organizations, or businesses. In cooperation with the career development office, the field work office also maintains an extensive listing of summer internships. The field work committee may approve academic credit for nonresidential placements for a semester away for special programs proposed by students and their advisers in consultation with the director of field work.

Transfer Credit

Students attempting to transfer credit from other institutions are advised that only those courses completed with a grade of “C” or better will receive credit toward the Vassar degree. Beginning with work completed Fall of 2002, all post-matriculation transfer credit will be listed on the Vassar transcript along with the grades earned at the home institution. However, only Vassar work will be computed into the Vassar cumulative grade-point average.

Summer Work

Summer Work Taken at Vassar

Students taking summer ungraded work of any kind for Vassar credit are limited to a maximum of 2 units per summer. The deadline for application for summer work is June 1. Students may not apply for retroactive credit. There is no tuition charge for the first 2 units of Vassar summer independent study or field work.

October 1 is the deadline for the completion of summer ungraded work. Students registered for Vassar summer work will be held responsible for completing the work unless they notify the Registrar by registered mail before July 1 of their intention to drop the work. Failure to complete the work by October 1 or to notify the Registrar by July 1 of termination of work will result in a mandatory grade of “Unsatisfactory.”

Summer Work at Another Institution

Work taken at another institution in the summer may be counted as transfer credit provided a grade of “C” or better is earned. Credit earned by means of distance learning is not transferable. In order to guarantee transfer of credit in advance, students must obtain signed permission from the chair of each department in which they are seeking credit before the end of the second semester. Forms for registration of this work are available in the Office of the Registrar. Nontransfer students may include no more than 10 units of work at another institution in the 34 units presented for the degree. See section on transfer credit above.

Students may apply for retroactive credit, but the college makes no guarantee of transfer of credit unless summer work has been approved in advance.

Academic Internships at Vassar College

Each summer, Vassar sponsors academic internship programs in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences where students collaborate with faculty mentors on original research projects. All internship participants receive stipends to cover room and board expenses and meet their summer earnings requirement.


The Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) began in the summer of 1986 to support collaborative student-faculty research in the sciences at Vassar. Each year, students spend ten weeks during the summer working with faculty members from the Departments of Anthropology, Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Geology, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology on research projects at Vassar and at other sites. Recent URSI students have worked at archeological sites in Alaska, examined closely interacting galaxies NGC3395 and NGC3396 with the aid of the Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona, developed interactive animation programs in Computer Science, explored the relationship between marriage and physical health, and studied proton transfer in perovskite oxides at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Information on the program and a complete listing of last summer’s projects is available on the URSI website.

Ford Scholars

The Ford Scholars Program at Vassar provides special opportunities for students in the humanities and social sciences to engage in collaborative scholarship with faculty. More than 20 different academic departments and multidisciplinary programs, plus the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center and the library, have participated in the program. Examples of recent Ford Scholars projects include research conducted with a curator and an English professor on nineteenth-century objects of or by women from the Magoon Collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center for an exhibition mounted in Spring 2000. Since 1995 students working with a history professor have participated in a critical oral history project on the Vietnam War involving former United States and Vietnamese policy makers. One student working with a professor of Italian developed a Web site on Dante’s Divine Comedy locating manuscripts illuminations, frescoes, paintings, statues, architecture, maps, and photographs that are representative of what Dante had seen and drawn on in writing his masterpiece. Working with two professors in German Studies students built a German-English bilingual MOO for German courses to be used as an interactive educational tool The Moo—Multiple user domain—Object Oriented is now in use with German Studies 210. The Ford Scholars program allows students to test their own interests in an academic life.

General Academic Regulations and Information

Students preregister for each semester’s classes toward the end of the previous semester. Additions in registration are permitted during the add period, which extends through the first ten class days of each semester, and courses may be dropped, provided minimal full-time status is maintained, until the midpoint of each semester. No changes may be made without consultation with the student’s adviser.

The average course load in each student’s program is 4 or 41⁄2 units per semester. Permission from the Committee on Leaves and Privileges is required if the student wishes to take more than 5 or less than 31⁄2 units, with the exception of first-semester freshmen who may, in special circumstances, drop to 3 units with the approval of the dean of freshmen and their premajor adviser.

All students in residence are expected to enroll in at least 31⁄2 units each semester, and permission to elect fewer units is granted only in exceptional cases, usually for reasons of health.

Every course elected, including independent work, must be completed even though the course may be in excess of the minimum number of units required for graduation. Students may not drop any semester course after the sixth friday of the term. When for reasons of health or serious emergency the dean withdraws a student from a course after this date, the notation WD signifying a withdrawal without penalty is recorded in lieu of a grade for the course.

Evaluation of Work

The Grading System

A student’s standing in college and the requirements for graduation are determined by a dual standard, one of quality and the other of quantity. The quality of the work is measured by the quality points and the grade average, the quantity is measured by the units completed. The semester and cumulative grade averages are based on the ratio of the total number of quality points received to the total number of graded units elected at Vassar.

Letter Grades

A indicates achievement of distinction. It involves conspicuous excellence in several aspects of the work.

B indicates general achievement of a high order. It also involves excellence in some aspects of the work, such as the following:

Completeness and accuracy of knowledge

Sustained and effective use of knowledge

Independence of work


C indicates the acceptable standard for graduation from Vassar College. It involves in each course such work as may fairly be expected of any Vassar student of normal ability who gives to the course a reasonable amount of time, effort, and attention. Such acceptable attainment should include the following factors:

Familiarity with the content of the course

Familiarity with the methods of study of the course

Evidence of growth in actual use both of content and method

Full participation in the work of the class

Evidence of an open, active, and discriminating mind

Ability to express oneself in intelligible English

C–, D+, and D indicate degrees of unsatisfactory work, below standard grade. They signify work which in one or more important respects falls below the minimum acceptable standard for graduation, but which is of sufficient quality and quantity to be counted in the units required for graduation.

Work evaluated as F may not be counted toward the degree.

Provisional Grades

A department may offer provisional grades for a-b and a/b courses. For the student electing both terms of such a course, the final grade received at the end of the year automatically becomes the grade that will be recorded on the student’s transcript for both the first and the second semester. For the student who elects only the a-term of an a/b course, the first semester grade is final. A student who elects to take a provisionally graded course under the Non-Recorded Option must take both semesters on this basis.

Uncompleted Work

Incomplete indicates a deferred examination or other work not completed, for reasons of health or serious emergency. Grades of incomplete are granted by the dean of studies, the dean of freshmen, and the class advisers, usually in consultation with the instructor or the college health service. Unless otherwise specified, work must be completed by May 1 of the following year in the case of a first semester mark of incomplete and by October 1 of the same year in the case of a second semester mark of incomplete, otherwise the grade for the work outstanding automatically becomes a failure. If a class dean or class advisor, in consultation with the appropriate instructor, determines that the overall objectives of a class cannot be achieved by the completion of the outstanding, incomplete work, then the student will be withdrawn from the course without penalty.

Credit Restrictions

A student who chooses to drop the second semester of a hyphenated course after passing the first semester automatically receives a grade of WP and loses credit for the first semester. No course for which credit has been received may be repeated for credit. Records are not kept of audited courses.

Non-Recorded Option

Courses designated by a department or program as available under the Non-Recorded Option are noted in the Schedule of Classes each semester. Most departments limit the option to nonmajors only. In order to elect the NRO in a designated course, a student must file a NRO form, signed by his or her adviser, with the Office of the Registrar indicating the lowest letter grade the student wishes to have recorded on the permanent record. The deadline for electing a course under the NRO is the last day of the sixth full week of classes. After this deadline, a student may neither change the choice of the NRO nor change the minimum grade elected.

A regular letter grade will be assigned at the end of the course by the instructor, who will, before turning in grades to the Registrar, have knowledge of whether the student has elected the NRO, although the instructor will not have knowledge of the minimum grade set by the student. If the grade assigned by the instructor is lower than the student’s elected minimum grade, but is still passing (D or better), a grade of PA is entered on the permanent record. (The grade of PA is permanent; it may not be revoked and the letter grade assigned by the instructor may not be disclosed.) If the letter grade assigned by the instructor is an F, an F is recorded and serves as a letter grade on the student’s permanent record. The election of a course under the NRO counts in the total ungraded Vassar work allowed each student, even if a letter grade is received.

Non-Recorded Option Limit — Students may elect a maximum of 4 units of work under the Non-Recorded Option. For transfer students, this limit is reduced by 1 unit for each year of advanced standing awarded to the student.

Ungraded Work

Ungraded work is open to all students who have the appropriate prerequisites subject to limitations imposed by departments on work done in the field of con­centration. This work is graded SA (Satisfactory) and UN (Unsatisfactory).

“Satisfactory” work is defined as work at C level or above.

“Unsatisfactory” work will not be credited toward the degree.

298 and 399 Independent Work is graded “Distinction,” “Satisfactory,” or “Unsatisfactory.”

Ungraded Limit — Students may elect a maximum of 5 units of Ungraded Work. For transfer students, this limit is reduced by 1 unit for each year of advanced standing awarded to the student. This ungraded limit does not apply to any units taken in excess of the 34 unit maximum required for graduation.

Categories of Ungraded Work

Independent work, field work, and reading courses are treated as ungraded work and may not be taken for letter grades. To elect any of these opportunities for ungraded work, a student needs the permission of an instructor.

INDEPENDENT STUDY. Independent study in any field is intended to give students responsibility and freedom in investigating subjects of special interest to them. It may take a variety of forms, such as independent reading programs, creative projects in the arts, research projects, group tutorials, or additional work attached to specific courses. The categories are:

290 FIELD WORK—Open to students in all classes who have appropriate qualifications.

297 READING COURSES—Reading courses offer an opportunity to pursue a subject through a specified program of unsupervised reading. They make possible intensive investigation of specialized fields in which classroom instruction is not offered, and allow a student to develop the capacity for critical reading. Reading courses are open to all students who have the appropriate requirements as set by departments.

298 INDEPENDENT WORK—Open to students of all classes who have as prerequisite one semester of appropriate intermediate work in the field of study proposed.

399 SENIOR INDEPENDENT WORK—Open to students in their senior year plus other qualified students who have taken 200 level independent work in the discipline.

The Grade Average

The grade-average ratio is determined on the basis of quality points: each unit given a mark of A counts 4 quality points; A–=3.7; B+=3.3; B=3.0; B–=2.7; C+=2.3; C=2.0; C–=1.7; D+=1.3; D=1.0; F=0. The grade average is arrived at by dividing quality points by graded units.

Work graded PA under the Non-Recorded Option, ungraded work at Vassar, and work done at other institutions but accepted for Vassar credit does not enter into the grade average.

Standards for Continuance at Vassar College and Graduation

Compliance with the standards of scholarship is expected at Vassar College. Instructors are urged to notify the Dean of Studies of students whose work falls below the satisfactory level, and the college reserves the right to require a leave of absence or withdrawal for any student whose academic performance falls below its standards. The status of all students with unsatisfactory records is reviewed at the end of each semester by the Committee on Student Records, and this committee may, at its discretion, allow students to continue at the college or require a leave or withdrawal. Students whose work is below C level are placed on probation if they are allowed to continue. Students on probation may expect academic reports to be made to the deans’ offices during the semester of their probation. The committee reviews the records of juniors and seniors with grade averages below C in their areas of concentration and may require changes in concentration, leaves, or withdrawal. A student remains in good academic standing as long as he or she is matriculated at Vassar and is considered by the committee to be making satisfactory progress toward the degree.

The Senior Year Requirements

All students must be registered at Vassar College for their senior year requirements. The nature of the required senior work varies with the several departments or programs. Senior-level work is described under departmental offerings and in the statements on the independent, interdepartmental, and multidisciplinary programs.

Graduation depends upon the student’s successful completion of all stated requirements for the degree, including those of the senior year.

Graduation Grade

An average of C for all courses, i.e., a 2.0 grade average, and an average of C in courses in the field of concentration or major program, constitute the minimum grade requirement for graduation.

Written Work and Final Examinations

Normally, in introductory and intermediate courses, some form of written work will be assigned and returned to students by the midpoint of the semester. The instructor may set the due date of final work, excluding final exercises, no later than the last day of the study period. Exceptions to this deadline must be approved by the dean of studies.

Final examinations may be given on both a scheduled and a self-scheduled basis at the option of the instructor. The instructor in each class announces within the first week of the semester what the requirements of the course will be and whether there will be a written examination or another form of evaluating student accomplishment, such as papers or special projects.

If the examination is to be on the regular schedule, it must be taken at the posted time and completed at one sitting. If it is self-scheduled, the student will obtain the examination at the beginning of the period chosen, take it to an assigned room, complete it at one sitting, and return it at the end of the allotted time.

A student fails an examination unless the prescribed procedures are followed or unless the student has been excused from the examination by the appropriate dean. A student who is ill should report to health service which, if it thinks it advisable, will recommend to the dean the need for an incomplete. In cases of an emergency, students should be advised by the Office of the Dean of Studies.

Rules governing conduct in examinations and expected standards of academic integrity are cited annually in the Student Handbook, and students are responsible for conforming to these expectations.

Academic Honors

Honors at Graduation

There are two categories of honors at graduation: departmental, interdepartmental, multidisciplinary, or independent program honors, which will carry the designation “With Departmental Honors”; and general honors, which will carry the designation “With General Honors.” A student may graduate with one or both. In the first category, honors will be awarded to those students designated as meeting predetermined standards and so recommended by the departments concerned, the Committee on the Independent Program, or the faculty of the multidisciplinary programs to the Committee on Student Records, which oversees the continuity of standards. In the second category, honors will be awarded to the top twenty percent of each graduation class.

Phi Beta Kappa

Vassar College was granted a charter by the national honor society of Phi Beta Kappa in 1898. Members are elected by the Vassar chapter each year. The basis for selection is evidence of high distinction in an academic program which exhibits breadth and substance and in which each of the general areas of the liberal arts—arts, languages, social sciences, and natural sciences—is well represented.


Vassar College awards prizes each year from certain endowed funds, according to the terms of the gifts. The recipients are selected by the appropriate departments.

Prizes from endowed funds:

  • Gabrielle Snyder Beck Prize—for summer study in France
  • Catherine Lucretia Blakeley Prize—for a study in international economic relations
  • Wendy Rae Breslau Award—for an outstanding contribution of a sophomore to the community
  • Beatrice Daw Brown Poetry Prize—for excellence in the writing of poetry
  • Virginia Swinburne Brownell Prizes—for excellent work in biology, political economy, and history
  • Sara Catlin Prize—for an outstanding contribution of a senior to the religious life of the community
  • Man-Sheng Chen Scholarly Award—for excellence in Chinese Studies
  • E. Elizabeth Dana Prize—for an individual reading project in English
  • Eleanor H. DeGolier Prize—to the junior with the highest academic average
  • Jean Slater Edson Prize—for a work of music composition chosen in a college-wide competition
  • Lucy Kellogg English Prize—for excellence in physics or astronomy, alternately
  • English Department Prize in Fiction—to a senior for excellence in the writing of fiction
  • Helen Kate Furness Prize—for an essay on a Shakespearean or Elizabethan subject
  • Ida Frank Guttman Prize—for the best thesis in political science
  • Janet Holdeen-adams Prize—for excellence in computer science
  • J. Howard Howson Prize—for excellence in the study of religion
  • Evelyn Olive Hughes Prize in Drama and Film—to an outstanding junior drama major for a summer study of acting abroad
  • Ruth Gillette Hutchinson—for excellence in a paper on American economic history
  • John Iyoya Prize—for creative skills in teaching
  • Agnes Reynolds Jackson Prize—for excellence in written work in economics
  • Julia Flitner Lamb Prizes—to a junior major and a senior major for excellence in political science
  • Helen D. Lockwood Prize—for excellence in the Study of American Culture
  • David C. Magid Memorial Prize in Cinematography—for the most outstanding combination of achievement in cinematography and excellence in film study
  • Helen Miringoff Award—for a substantial contribution to an agency or the community through field work
  • Edith Glicksman Neisser Prize—to a student demonstrating a commitment to child study or child development
  • Dorothy Persh Prize—for summer study in France
  • Ethel Hickox Pollard Memorial Physics Award—to the junior physics major with the highest academic average
  • Leo M. Prince Prize—for the most notable improvement
  • Gertrude Buttenwieser Prins Prize—for study in the history of art
  • Betty Richey Memorial Sports Award—to a member of the women’s field hockey, lacrosse, or squash team who embodies the qualities of loyalty, initiative, sportswomanship, leadership, and team support
  • Kate Roberts Prize—for excellence in biology
  • Marilyn Swartz Seven Playwriting Award—to a junior or senior in any discipline who submits the best dramatic work written for the stage
  • Erminnie A. Smith Memorial Prize—for excellence in the study of geology
  • Deanne Beach Stoneham Prize—for the best original poetry
  • Harriet Gurnee Van Allen Prize—for excellence in biology
  • The Masha N. Vorobiov Memorial Prize—for summer Russian language study
  • Frances Walker Prize—for the greatest proficiency in the study of piano
  • Laura Adelina Ward Prizes—for excellence in English and European history, and English literature
  • Weitzel Barber Art Travel Prize—to provide a junior or senior in the art department with the opportunity to travel in order to study original works of art
  • Vernon Venable Prize—for excellence in philosophy
  • Mary Evelyn Wells and Gertrude Smith Prize—for excellence in mathematics
  • Jane Dealy Wirsig Memorial Prize—in recognition of outstanding promise and accomplishment in journalism
  • Sophia H. Chen Zen Memorial Prize—for the best thesis in Asian studies; alternate years, for the best thesis in history

Departmental prizes:

  • Jeffrey Chance Memorial Award—for excellence in both classwork and research in chemistry
  • June Jackson Christmas Prize—for academic excellence in Africana Studies
  • John F. DeGilio Prize—for creative skills in secondary teaching
  • Clyde and Sally Griffen Prize—for excellence in American history
  • Betsy Halpern-Amaru Book Prize—for excellence in the study of classical texts of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam
  • M. Glen Johnson Prize—for excellence in international studies
  • Jesse Kalin Book Prize—for excellence in Japanese language and culture studies
  • Molly Thacher Kazan Memorial Prize—for distinction in the theater arts
  • Olive M. Lammert Prizes—for excellence in the study of biochemistry and chemistry
  • Olive M. Lammert Book Prizes—for excellence in analytical and physical chemistry, organic chemistry, and general chemistry
  • Neuroscience and Behavior Senior Prize—for excellence in neuroscience and ­behavior.
  • Philip Nochlin Prize—for a senior thesis of highest distinction in philosophy
  • Harry Ordan Memorial Prize—for excellence in philosophy
  • Paul Robeson Prize—for best senior thesis in Africana Studies
  • Douglas Saunders Memorial Prize—for an excellent senior thesis in history
  • Marian Gray Secundy Prize—for meritorious achievement in field research and community service
  • Ellen Churchill Semple Prize—for excellence in the study of geography
  • Sherman Book Prize—for distinguished accomplishment in Jewish Studies
  • Alice M. Snyder Prize—for excellence in English
  • Lilo Stern Memorial Prize—for the best paper submitted for an anthropology, geography, or sociology class
  • Lilian L. Stroebe Prizes—to the senior German major for the most outstanding work, and the sophomore German major showing the greatest promise
  • Florence Donnell White Award—for excellence in French
  • Frederic C. Wood, Sr. Book Prize—for excellence in moral and ethical concerns

Prizes awarded through outside gifts:

  • Academy of American Poets Prize—for excellence in the writing of poetry
  • American Chemical Society Award—for excellence in analytical chemistry
  • Chemical Rubber Company Award—to the outstanding freshman in general chemistry
  • Elizabeth Coonley Faulkner Prize—to a junior for research on a senior thesis or project in Washington, D.C.
  • Frances Aaron Hess Award—for sustained volunteer activity on behalf of an off-campus organization
  • The Hinerfeld Family Annual Award—for outstanding work in sociology
  • Phi Beta Kappa Prize—to the member of Phi Beta Kappa who has the most distinguished academic record of the graduating class
  • The Richard Feitler ’86 and Margery Kamin Feitler ’86 Sister Arts Prize—for poetry based on a work of art in the collection of Vassar’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
  • The Wall Street Journal Prize—to a student with an excellent record in economics

The Advising System

The role of the faculty adviser at Vassar is that of educator rather than overseer. The student is expected to take the initiative in seeking advice from an appropriate adviser. There are three types of advisers: premajor advisers, assigned to freshmen upon arrival, who advise them until a field of concentration is chosen or until they enter the Independent Program or a multidisciplinary or interdepartmental program; departmental advisers, for those concentrating in a discipline; and advisers for students in the Independent Program or in a multidisciplinary or interdepartmental program.

Advising involves multiple functions. It helps the student discover appropriate individual goals and intentions. It also provides the student with information about alternative programs and modes of study and, through special counseling offers appropriate help and guidance. The Office of the Dean of Studies serves to centralize information for advisers as well as students. Students are urged to avail themselves of the services of the Learning and Teaching Center, the Office of Career Development, the Office of Field Work, the house fellows, the Health Service, and Counseling Service, as well as of faculty advisers.

Withdrawal and Readmission

The student facing a personal emergency which jeopardizes continuance at college should consult the dean of studies, the dean of freshmen, or the class advisers. After appropriate consultation and advice, and upon written request, a student may be voluntarily withdrawn.

Astudent who seeks readmission after having withdrawn in good standing may reapply to the dean of studies, who will bring the request to the Committee on Readmission. To apply for readmission, a student should write a full letter of application before March 15 of the year of intended fall reentrance, or by December 1 for reentrance in the second semester.

A student whose withdrawal has not been voluntary, or about whose readmission there are special questions, should address any questions to the dean of studies.

The college tries to accommodate the student who wishes to resume interrupted study if it is felt that the student is ready to return.

Transfer Students

Every year, Vassar accepts transfer students into the sophomore and junior classes. When the students arrive at the beginning of the semester in which they are to enter the college, they are assigned advisers after consulting with the appropriate person in the Office of the Dean of Studies. Evaluations of the students’ previous work are made as they enter the college. Courses taken at other institutions similar to courses at Vassar will be accepted automatically provided a minimum grade of “C” is earned. Credit earned by means of distance learning is not transferable. Occasionally, some of a student’s previous work will not be acceptable for Vassar credit. In such cases, the Committee on Leaves and Privileges will act as the final arbiter of credit. Students who have taken unusual courses would do well to inquire before admission about any problems that are foreseeable. It is sometimes difficult to anticipate problems in maintaining sequences and continuity between the programs of study at the previous institution and Vassar’s offerings and requirements. Therefore, it is frequently necessary for students to make adjustments of one kind or another after they arrive. All transfer students must take at least one-half of their 34 units, or 17, at Vassar College. Prospective transfer students should particularly notice that at least half of a student’s minimum requirements in the field of concentration must be taken at Vassar.

It may be difficult for junior transfer students to complete the necessary courses for teacher certification in addition to the other degree requirements, especially since practice teaching involves a heavy time commitment in the schoolroom upon placement. Students wishing further information on this subject should consult the chair of the Department of Education.

Graduate Study at Vassar College

A limited program of advanced work leading to the master’s degree is available to qualified students who hold baccalaureate degrees. Graduate programs may currently be taken in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry. The minimum requirements for a master’s degree are one year of resident graduate study and 8 units of work, of which 6 units must be at Vassar or under Vassar’s auspices. Programs must include a minimum of 3 units of graded course work, and may include 300-level courses considered suitable for graduate credit, but must include 2 units of 400-level graded courses designed primarily for graduate students. Departments may require a reading knowledge of one or more relevant foreign languages, a thesis, and written or oral comprehensive examinations, as evidence of the candidate’s proficiency. Requirements differ among departments.

Detailed information concerning admission to candidacy and specific requirements for the degree may be obtained from the chair of the department of interest and from departmental statements.

The B.A.-M.A. Program

Accelerated four-year B.A.-M.A. programs (42 units) are offered to superior students by the Department of Chemistry. An applicant must have a distinguished college record during the first two years of study in order to be accepted into the program. Application should be made to the department by the end of the freshman year, if possible, and no later than the end of the second year. The student must be recommended by the department when applying to the Committee on Leaves and Privileges for final acceptance into the program upon the completion of the second year of study.

Students who have been accepted into the program are expected to maintain a high level of achievement and to meet all the requirements for the master’s degree as well as the undergraduate requirements; the M.A. evidence of proficiency will substitute for the undergraduate senior project. The student must take at least 3 units of 300-level coursework during the third year. In addition to the minimum number of units required by the department for the completion of the undergraduate concentration, the student must have 8 units in the field of concentration suitable for graduate credit. These must include 5-7 units of coursework and may include 300-level courses considered suitable for graduate credit, but must include 2 units of 400-level graded courses designed primarily for graduate students. Also, they must include 1-3 units of thesis work or other demonstration of the candidate’s proficiency.

Candidates for the B.A.-M.A. degree will normally complete their course of study in four academic years, three of which must be at Vassar or under Vassar’s auspices. A student may spend the third year away from Vassar only if he or she participates in a program that satisfies the third-year requirement and is approved by the department.

Students who are interested in qualifying for the B.A.-M.A. program are urged to consult the department as soon as possible in order to acquaint themselves with details and requirements.

Procedures for Complaint

Complaints concerning classes and other academic matters are normally made to the appropriate department chair or program director. They may also be brought to the Office of the Registrar, Office of the Dean of Studies, or the Office of the Dean of Faculty. Further information may be obtained from these offices.