Brown vs Vassar ED Help!

I am a Senior in high school, American but living overseas my whole life (currently at boarding school in Australia). Due to Covid I haven’t been able to get to the US to visit colleges.

  • I am white, female, LGBTQ+, very left leaning, very nerdy, love theatre, hate sports, quite introverted

The current plan is to apply Brown ED and Vassar ED2. I also like Wesleyan, since its very similar to Vassar, but it doesn’t have ED2 option?
Other schools I am applying to include: Macalaster, Amherst, Oberlin, Carleton, Bard

Important to me:

  • Very left leaning campus
  • Open Curriculum
  • Very LGBTQ+ Friendly with large queer population
    -Diverse Campus (racially/internationally)
    -Close teacher-student relationship (to have lots of individualised discussions, and help)
  • Artsy Vibes (not sports focused!!!) (I hate sports)
  • Small Class sizes (under 20)
    -Laid back academic culture, but with very strong academics (I am Likely to be Valedictorian of my IB high school, this has taken an extreme toll on my mental health and I can’t go through that again)
  • Hoping to Study Sociology
  • Undergraduate focused
    -Open, friendly, nerdy, ‘weird’ student culture
    -Mental health support!

Vassar Pros:

  • Much Smaller
    -Only undergraduates
    -Very progressive community
  • Very artsy
    -(Mostly) open curriculum
    -Liberal Arts
    -Beautiful Campus

Brown Pros:

  • pass/fail option !!!
  • Very Progressive
    -Open Curriculum
    -Very laid back culture? (Known as one of the happiest schools)
  • More diverse/international ?
    -Going to Brown opens many doors
  • More extracurricular options

Brown Cons:

  • Much bigger!
    -Graduate students (not so undergrad focused)
  • Much more of a sporty scene!
    -Not liberal arts school
    -Campus is eh

Vassar Cons:

  • More preppy ?
  • Less (extracurriculuar/class) options
    -Doesn’t have pass/fail system :frowning:
    -Not a great neighborhood

Are any of my Pros/Cons wrong? Which school will have more of what’s important to me?

I am worried if by some chance I do get into Brown I will be unhappy there since its a very big school, so classes will likely be a lot larger and harder to have close connections with teachers. Any help???

One of the Collegekids came down to Brown, Vassar and William & Mary for the final decision, so we have swum in this pond a bit.

It is really hard when you are trying to figure out differences from a distance; it is easy to get distracted by small differences and not notice bigger ones; and it is hard to know what you yourself are going to want/be able for in 1-3 years.

Starting with the last point: you and your brain are/will be going through a (mental) growth spurt over the college years, so same as your parents might have bought clothes with ‘room to grow’ when you were small, a college with ‘room to grow’ is important. Also, college/uni is not HS (on so many levels!), so be careful not to over-focus on ‘fixing’ the things you don’t like about HS.

As to the specific pros/cons you list:

Class size- the difference in typical class size between the schools is not meaningful. Both schools emphasize engagement between students and profs. Difference in class size will relate more to the level and subject than anything else (ie, a core required intro class such as Bio 101 will be larger in both schools than an upper level class in French film).

Neighborhood: Brown is closer to a bigger town, so more choices for restaurants & shopping, but the area around Vassar is just fine if you are thinking safety when you say ‘not great’.

Preppy: both schools have students who come from ‘preppy’ backgrounds, who have chosen the school they did b/c they do not identify as preppy!

Sporty- there are colleges/unis where sports dominate the social environment, but Brown is not one of them. Don’t overweight this as a factor in your college selection process. Even at super sporty unis there is plenty of room for those who are not into sports*.

Diversity- both schools are comparably diverse in terms of international & racial/ethnicity of students; Brown has a slightly more even M:F balance, Vassar has a slightly more diverse faculty in racial terms, Vassar is more socio-economically diverse than Brown. IMO, overall there’s not enough difference between them to make it a meaningful decision metric.

Pass/Fail- to a student nearing the end of the grueling IB process, P/F must seem like a dream! The Brown choice (S/NC or A/B/C/NC) works b/c most students at Brown are self-motivated. In practice, most students take one S/NC class a year. Vassar has a limited version called NRO (Non-recorded Option - P/F), and the purpose is to encourage students to take classes outside their comfort zone. There are limits on how many you can do that way (I think it’s 4 total, but it’s been a while), but the overall point is similar: both schools have a high % of students who actually really do like to learn just for the sake of learning.

Mental health support- i am not up on that aspect of either school, but would keep your expectations in check. Not many colleges/unis shine at this. Do more research if this is critical for you.

Now, a key question for you: can you afford both schools? Both will meet your financial need if they accept you- as they define your need. Have you run the NPCs to see how you fare? Do your parents agree with what they would be expected to contribute? Aussie uni fees are so low compared to US fees- are they willing to pay more?

*Also, is it really that you hate all sports, or is it more the social behaviour of sports fans? the social status that some schools give athletes?


I’m going to suggest that you consider Emerson in Boston. Very theatre/film arts centered, extremely, lgbt+ friendly, but not sporty.


Thank you so much for your extremely helpful response!
In regard to sport - a bit of both I suppose? I’ve never liked participating and many of the schools I’ve attended had very sports centered cultures where you become the odd-one-out if you don’t enjoy them and where the administration focused much more on funding sports than the arts - I really want to avoid this at college. What are Vassar/Brown like in this way?

A few points:

  1. Wesleyan does have ED2.

  2. As someone pointed out above, Vassar does not have a real town/gown coexistence the way Brown and Wesleyan do (it’s further removed from the town center), but safety is not a factor either.

  3. IMHO, Brown is a mixed-bag in terms of every day mental health - and, it is by no means alone in this. The Brown P/F system is a nice safety valve to have in case you find yourself having trouble with a difficult course load. OTOH, that doesn’t save you from the same bio-load of entitled, hyper-judgmental, future Masters of the Universe who self-select for the Ivies (See,


Neither Brown nor Vassar fit that description! tbh there are fewer selective colleges that do fit it than do. Even at a “Big-10” school there is a vibrant social life for the non-sporting ones. Really, the presence of sports in the campus culture of either school is not a meaningful selection metric.

Congratulations on your achievements and considering two great schools. I have spent a lot of time on both schools campuses.

Although Vassar is on the edge of Poughkeepsie the school feels bucolic and self enclosed. Aside for a few stores on Raymond avenue you won’t (and this is a good thing), need to experience Poughkeepsie. You will spend the vast majority of your time on campus and interact primarily with Vassar students and staff. The campus is impressive with eclectic architecture, well maintained gardens and generally beautiful. While a fairly easy trip to NYC most kids don’t go frequently.

Brown is often described as an urban school but I actually have found it over time to be more defined and contiguous then I originally realized. Students do enjoy the benefits of a great city in Providence that offers amazing food and a diverse set of cultural and professional opportunities. It is a vibrant college town with Brown and RISD alongside one another but Brown a top college hill. Plenty of off (but feeling like on) campus areas to enjoy like Thayer or Wayland.

Browns campus is impressive when taken in its totality but requires someone who knows the school to fully appreciate. When you walk through the main gates the sense of history dominates as the schools quads with age old dorms and buildings surround you and a variety of modern art is on display with an array of Bruno statues. It is very easy however not to realize how expansive the school is and just how state of the art and new some of the facilities are.

The campus is well maintained and the newer buildings are in good shape but some of the dorms are a bit worn out and need some help. The school is heavily investing and improvements and additions.
Per your question Brown is a making a significant investment in a state of the art wellness and mental health facility…

In terms of sports culture I think everyone’s experience may vary. Candidly those lines and definitions seem to break down pretty quickly at both schools. Most of the kids that attend both schools had the ability to choose the type of school they are at and consequently sports wasn’t the primary driver. Both schools are proud of their diversity of thought and student populations that aren’t easily defined.

At either school athletes, scholars, artists, not only interact but frequently are embodied in the same student. The LBTQIA communities are extremely active and supported at both schools. Both schools are left leaning but while my Vassar experience in this regard is likely dated I am told that at Brown political discourse and discussion takes place in a mutually respectful way.

I am sorry if I have rambled but hope I have given you a flavor for both schools. Happy to try and answer any specific questions.

Good luck!!


You have no safeties or anything close to one. Great list of mostly reaches though. Love all these colleges.

Big con for Brown…it’s super hard to get in, even ED. OTOH, applying to Vassar ED1 will likely serve you well. I think you ought to consider that.

As far as Providence versus Poughkeepsie, IMO, I don’t see Providence as a big draw, though it’s perfectly fine.

I have to say that reading your post, Oberlin and Vassar sound by far like the best places for you. Wesleyan is also a great option. I am not sure Amherst or Carleton are quite what you are looking for.


I think Brown meets many of the priorities you have identified.

EDing there is a high reach for everyone without a hook/recruited athlete. Many students with similar stats apply ED.

My suggestion is to look for some selective schools that meet some of your priorities with non-binding EA with notifications in December or January. This helps break up the long wait to the end of March for any RD applications and deferred decisions from ED or EDII.

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This is a very worrisome comment to me. All of these schools are going to be full of high fliers that want to fly higher.


There is a nuanced conversation to have on this point- and the likelihood is that for the OP it matters what elements were challenging to her/his mental health. I don’t see a lot of stress in Vassar and Brown kids: lots of them do push themselves pretty hard, but they seem to be doing it for themselves, not somebody else. And, as Collegedad says every time somebody asks how he deals with all the stress in his work life (which looks like a lot to most people): “it’s only stressful if you aren’t having fun”. The Collegekid who chose between Brown, Vassar and William & Mary concurs- and she had a very happy time at college :slight_smile:


Stress is definitely at an individual level. My point is that a student that was having difficulty managing it in HS isn’t likely going to be able to do it in an even a higher stress level environment. You have a high concentration of students at elite schools that can make it look easy. This can make it even worse for a student that struggles with it.


As an active alumni member of one of these schools and a parent of a student at the other my observations are very similar.

I would add that while they are largely “doing it for themselves” they aren’t doing it alone. Both schools are extremely collaborative with students actively engaging one another.

Students certainly push themselves and have experienced prior academic success but the flexibility of both schools curriculums allows them to interact in the classroom with peers who share their academic interests. They tend not to compete with one another but challenge and support one another.

While this is a generalization my kid recalls the prep school experience as much more mentally taxing. There was a sense of competition for a limited number of acceptances at top schools.

Kids that choose Vassar, Brown, and more flexible schools typically do so because they are on either end of an academic interest spectrum from what I have seen. Meaning they either attract kids who know exactly what they want to focus on and use the flexibility to “over” concentrate in a particular area or kids that have no preconceived notion and use the flexibility (and grading system at Brown) to sample and try things.

In both instances this allows for a self aware and evolving student and lessens mental stress.

FYI OP both schools have very accessible and engaged professors. I stayed in touch with several of my professors years after graduation and recently had dinner with my thesis advisors son who I met while a student 30 years ago. My kid has similarly described professors as mentors, geniuses and friends. This sense of community I think also greatly reduces stress.


Both colleges are going to have recruited athletes. Sports at Brown are probably a bigger deal than at Vassar. But you are not going to get away from sports at ANY of these colleges. They will all have athletic recruits and most probably have at least one sport that will draw students out at least a few times in the season.

I suggest stop worrying about sports. You don’t have to do them. My kid contemplated most of the schools on your list and ended up at Bates, which is probably more on par with Carleton, Amherst and Macalester in vibe. It has a lot of recruited athletes. She is not athletic at all and dislikes sports in general. In her four years, she attended a sports event twice. She found her people. You will find yours, but probably not in the sports crowd.

Edit: Just saw you listed Bard. A good choice for you I think.


Some input from a parent who has a kid at Brown.

  1. Brown focuses a ton on undergrad. In fact, that’s prob why their ranking isn’t as high because of the undergrad focus.
  2. It is not really a sports culture. I attended a PAC-10/12 school. Sports ain’t it at Brown.
  3. I would definitely put Brown in the LAC bucket.
  4. Something to be mindful of, P/F is an option and it’s mandatory for some classes, but your concentration dept may want you to take more classes with grades in their dept vs S/NC.
  5. Campus beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder so I can’t comment on that, but the college is set up where it’s an easy walking distance for students. First year campuses are in two concentrated areas and easily walkable to campus. I was there for a week and I got the hang of the major buildings down. Upperclass residence halls are also within the campus area. No one needs a car on campus so everything is within walking distance, so it’s not that big.

Just thought I’d update this thread to say I ended up applying to Brown ED and got my acceptance a couple of days ago!!
Still quite nervous I could have made the wrong choice, but that’s because I’m a very anxious person. Super happy to have been accepted!


Speaking in the absence of any numbers for this student, Bard would seem like a pretty safe bet to me for most students with reasonably high high school accomplishments, assuming that finances are not an issue.

She got accepted to Brown ED. Great job and congratulations OP!!

Welcome to the Brown community and as a Vassar alum our loss😀



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If you read my post from 10/2 above, you will see that I added an Edit, stating I didn’t see that Bard had been added and that it was a good choice.

Congratulations to the OP!

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