Vassar vs University of St. Andrews/William & Mary

Trying to help my son narrow down his school choice. He was planning on attending Vassar but just received an acceptance to the International Relations dual degree program at St. Andrews/William & Mary. He really likes the flexibility of Vassar’s curriculum, small student body and the feedback indicating supportive professors. The concern for him is that he is pretty conservative and is worried he will be an outcast in this very liberal environment. His brother and sister are ultra liberal, so it’s not that he isn’t accustomed to divergent thought, but he is concerned that he could be potentially ostracized from the Vassar community, especially in what is a very emotionally charged time. Also, Vassar isn’t particularly known for its International Relations and Business programs, areas that he is interested in. However, it does have a great reputation which is always helpful in securing employment in the future.

The benefit of the St Andrews/William & Mary program is that it is four years studying all of the things he loves- history, politics, and economics. The program has you spend two years and each institution. In doing so, it gives him experience in a foreign country, and exposure to different social and political perspectives. St. Andrews seems very aligned with what he is looking for both academically and socially- laid back atmosphere and lots of activities, sports, social groups. The concern here is that I have read William & Mary can be very rigorous and academically pressurized. Conversely, it is also known to have great professors and the students at W&M seem to be very happy with their experience. Another downside is the moving back and forth between campuses which can be difficult in terms of forging relationships and settling into one’s environment. But, the dual degree is a definite plus and it also gives him two different perspetives on International Relations-- more philosophical from St. Andrews and more scientific from W&M.

If anyone can weigh in on the decision and shed some light on potential concerns- in particular, being a conservative and business/IR major at Vasssar OR being challenged by two different campuses, and the potential for W&M to be too pressurized-- I would be most grateful! Any insight would be helpful in making this decision. Thank you, in advance!

Based on the info shared about your son, the College of William & Mary / St. Andrew’s program seems to be a great match while Vassar College seems to be a mismatch.

No reason to worry about academic pressure at WM. & Mary as the students are just smart & hardworking–not cut-throat competitive.

P.S. Will he start at St. Andrew’s or at William & Mary ?

I second that the joint program would probably be a better match. My only comment is that the couple of kids I know who chose the joint degree ended up transferring to St. Andrews for all 4 years . Also your son should think about how he’ll feel leaving friends in each place because I think they switch every year. Might make his college experience a bit disjointed.

^^ I have heard the same thing about the joint program. They wish that they only did St A.

According to the website: If one applied to the program through Wm. & Mary, then the first year is spent at Wm. & Mary & the second year at St. Andrew’s. How to split the remaining two years is a joint decision between student and advisor, but I think that participants must spend two years at each school in order to receive the joint diploma.

One could, for example, do the first & fourth years at Wm. & Mary with the second & third years at St. Andrews.

The conservative issue depends on what ‘conservative’ means to your son. Thoughtful conservative students do (or did, last I knew) just fine at Vassar. We know a recent head of the young republicans group who had a very happy 4 years there- though he graduated in 2016, so things may be different now. American students are often a little non-plussed at the way that students in other countries talk about the US, and it is not easy to be the foreigner when your country’s shortcomings- real, imagined and/or exaggerated- are hung out to dry, and frankly right now perceptions of the US are not a high point. Good prep for somebody interested in IR! but if you are concerned about how his politics will affect his social life at Vassar I wouldn’t assume that Scottish and English students will be easier going.

The dual program has been restructured in recent years, in ways that I think improves the overall experience. If your son applied through W&M he will spend the first year there, then head to StAs in Y2, which gives him a year to settle in to college, and build a local cohort before he head’s off.

We have been through a Vassar v W&M decision, and in the end it came down to fit. Has your son actually visited Vassar and W&M? if so how did they feel to him? I would go encourage him to go with his gut.

St. Andrews is among the best universities in the world for the study of IR. Vassar cannot compare in this discipline to St. Andrews & Wm. & Mary.

Thank you for all of the great input and advice! And, to answer the question, he is scheduled to start at St. Andrews.

To clarify, what do you mean by a “business major” at Vassar?

Also, unfortunately, we were never able to visit the campuses, as our intention had always been to tour the schools after he received acceptances. Needless to say, Covid put a crimp in that plan.

I’d also add it’s worth considering what type of college experience your son is looking for. As a LAC Vassar will be very different than St. Andrews: residential campus with small classes (1800 undergrad) vs. a school contained within a town, a beautiful town, but it’s definitely more of a “the town is the campus” situation (9,000 grad and undergrad).

Probably a bit more hand holding at Vassar vs St. Andrews, which is a bit more hands off. Just a different philosophy between US and UK schools.

The first year lectures are large then broken into smaller groups for the tutorials. Might take a bit more effort to get to know your professor.

Also, as far as fall opening, St. Andrews is inviting all students back, lectures on line, tutorials in person face to face as of now. Not sure of the status of sports and societies… the school is following Scotland health guidance. Fresher week events are online as of now.

Great choices…your son really can’t go wrong. Good luck!

merc81- Forgive me if I was nebulous. His areas of interest are in International Relations and Business. My comment was that Vassar isn’t necessarily known for these two fields. But, if anyone has information to the contrary, I would love to learn more about this.

In the unlikely case that there might be uncertainty, note that Vassar — as is the case at many highly ranked colleges — doesn’t offer a business major. Nonetheless, Vassar would be very strong for the study of political science and government and related social sciences such as economics. Vassar also received a nice mention in Forbes a few years ago that would be worth a view (below).

to answer the question, he is scheduled to start at St. Andrews.

Don’t forget he’ll need to come two weeks early to undergo quarantine beforehand.

Poughkeepsie vs. St. Andrews??? Vassar is a wonderful school, but having the chance to live and study in St. Andrews for two years would be an entirely different sort of experience. I don’t know whether you’ve had the chance to visit St. Andrews, but it is a wonderful place, beautiful and full of history. I am less familiar with W&M, but I understand it also has a distinct character, and friends who have graduated from the school have adored it. I have heard that it can be a challenge for the kids to pull themselves into and out of the two environments over the four years, but if he is attracted to that type of experience, he might want to make the leap. From St. Andrews, which is a mid-size town that revolves entirely around the university, he would have easy access to Edinburgh as well as the Scottish Highlands and, really, the whole of Europe.

Vassar offers ample opportunity to go to NYC on the commuter train line. It’s a day trip–UN and the international opportunities of that City are unparalleled. Getting internships in the City are common as the alumni network is strong there and it’s a simple trip for interviews.

Vassar also has had a history of conservative groups. The Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union is one. Earlier than that, the campus conservative group even published a newspaper called the Vassar Spectator. In other words, it has history of hosting a small but strong conservative groups for the past several decades. Politics at Vassar historically haven’t been front and center, with some exceptions–this is not a Reed or an Oberlin or a Hampshire or a Smith college where you could expect fiery protests in the classroom or anywhere else on campus. Maybe the occasional banner might go up, but basically people tend to focus more on arts and academia than politics. It’s more live and let live though trending more liberal.

Vassar’s campus is large, wooded, an arboretum, includes a small golf course, lakes, beautiful gardens, museums, and stately buildings.

The library was for decades a repository for UN and other documents–allowing for original research (and the library is gorgeous.

The Political Science department is excellent.

Thank you for this information regarding Vassar. It is very helpful to have this insight and perspective. I appreciate your input!