WashU vs Vanderbilt

I am conflicted. WashU pros for me is more flexibility around what I want to study & the people seem more my vibe, Vanderbilt pros are I think (I haven’t tried it though) I would like my major more (that is not at WashU) and academically like the school more, yet the culture does not outright feel like a bad match. Please help me decide, thanks!

Surprising you believe that WashU has more flexibility around what you want to study. The Vanderbilt AXLE curriculum is fewer overall courses than the GE “IQ” curriculum of WashU. If you are pre-med, you’ll have very little room to “explore” STEM courses outside of your track, as much of the GE requirements are humanities-related, and there are a lot of the. Compared to somewhere like Northwestern or Rice, it’s not as easy to double major at WashU in fields that don’t have some overlap.

As far as academic strengths and weaknesses, WashU and Vandy are very similar. I’d say if you want to go to med school, WashU is a slightly better option, but for most other fields they are about the same, if not a bit better in some for Vandy. Also, if name brand/prestige matters to you at all, Vanderbilt blows WashU out of the water (don’t be fooled by the USNews rankings). WashU is also less socioeconomically and demographically diverse if that matters.

I guess my next question is what do you want to study/what is your anticipated major?

Both are great schools. Without any more information than you’ve provided, I’d say to go with what feels like a better fit for you personally, which would be Wash U.

I think you need to do a side by side curriculum comparison with your specific concentrations to determine double major flexibility. WashU is generally quite flexible. A relatively high proportion of students double major. The poster up thread is correct in that WashU has a more lengthy list of liberal arts distributions HOWEVER what the poster did not mention is that WashU’s requirements are often cross listed. Other school’s requirements tend to be a bit more discrete. There are three different distribution components. You can’t count a course as two areas within a single component. So an anthro class can’t be used to fulfill social sciences AND culture within the academic areas component. But it can be used to fulfill one of those two academic areas AND a core skill AND an integrations requirement. So you can kill 2 or 3 birds with one stone. That’s common. Looking at your posts, you’re looking at a history/econ double major. That’s very doable because those majors are in two different academic areas of the four required.

I would not assume that WashU is more or less flexible without doing a side by side comparison with Vandy. Confirm it based upon your needs/interests.

In terms of prestige, having been out of school and hired/worked with people at 18 or so of the so called T20s, there’s no difference. It just doesn’t exist. Vandy, Rice, WashU in particular are all viewed on an equal plane. You could add Cornell and others into that group too. Frankly, it doesn’t matter unless you’re talking about specific programs as each school will have different areas of strength.

If you’re interested in communication: WashU doesn’t have it and Vandy does. If you find yourself leaning WashU in all respects but communication, you may also want to consider dual degree with ArtSci and Olin to pick up a degree in marketing which covers a lot of the same ground as communications. It’s easy to pick up a second major Olin from ArtSci. It may be enough to satisfy your communication curiosity/interest. It may not. But give it a look.

If you have a preference related to culture, I’d caution that the cultures aren’t too different. When you compare the proportion of entering freshman coming from the four main regions of the US, the three schools that are most representative of the country overall by region of residence: UChicago, WashU and Vandy. UChicago skews a bit more Northeast, WashU more Midwest and Vandy more South. There are some differences, but some of your perception may be down to short visit impressions: who you randomly met, what the weather was like, etc. You can really only go with your gut there.

You’re going to get a great education either way. I don’t think you can go wrong.


Quick update for distributions. Someone doing a double major in history/econ could realistically knock out all of the distributions for the four core academic areas taking only history, econ and courses related to/required for those concentrations by interest. There are a lot of culture classes (1 of the 2 other core areas) in the history department and a history major could apply those to that requirement as there will be a lot of humanities requirement redundancy. With econ, someone will need calculus (natural sciences and math). A combination of the calculus sequence calculus/research methods/GIS would address that requirement.

Those majors would also knock out two of the four core skills requirements, leaving only writing and the writing intensive.

I didn’t look at integrations requirements, but given that there are several integrated history/econ/policy courses, it’s not a stretch to say that normal coursework and/or a research project in a major would cover those.

So someone who is strategic about history/econ coursework would have one general writing course and another writing course that may contain content that is history/econ/policy focused. To sum up: there is a very long list of liberal arts requirements, but the curriculum allows someone to fulfill those requirements with a high degree of flexibility.


Congrats on having two (or more) excellent options! I second everything @JustVisiting76 said above – two great schools, equally strong academics, equally vibrant student life, equally prestigious, equal job opportunities/grad school competitiveness for a humanities student. I was WashU '14, my brother was Vandy '20, we both had a great time and got a successful start in the world, and so will you!

I’d love to hear more about what your ‘gut’ is telling you – how did you feel on each campus, what did you notice about the people you talked to, have you looked up the professors each has in your fields of interest?

Also, is the cost comparable to you?

And just to add on to @derakiii33’s comment, WashU has actually become much more socioeconomically diverse in the last 5ish years than it was during my time – the % of Pell-eligible first year students grown from 6% in my time to 16% this year (Vanderbilt is 19%), and the school finally went need-blind. It’s also introducing a new program, Kessler Scholars to provide extra support to first-generation students. Of course, both WashU and Vandy should do more to make their excellent educations accessible to high-potential students from all backgrounds, just wanted to call out the steps they’ve taken recently.

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And here’s a great post with more details on the students admitted to WashU’s class of 2026! WashU Fall 2022 Admissions - Class of 2026 - #492 by CasablancaFan


I meant flexibility in options for majors, not flexible in classes but I get why it came off like that. def not pre med, thinking business track at both

I did a side by side course comparison, and found that vanderbilt’s classes do look a lot more interesting to me but washU has more options for what I could end up majoring in that sound interesting to me. I am interested in communications tho so that’s def a factor. good to know about the cultures though!

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I don’t think i’d do econ and history tbh id switch to communications, does that change your opinion?

Thank you so much! I am not going to be able to go to the campuses unfortunately. I have friends at washU so talking to them was different than the people I talked to at Vandy, but my academic/class orientated mind wants Vandy but my social life mind wants WashU, and I keep flipping back and forth so I don’t really have a good gut feeling. Cost is comparable though

The variable is the professor. Regardless of the course description, a great professor can make any course interesting and a mediocre one can bore you to tears. Both are terrific schools.


When is your decision date?

So from a curriculum it seems like WashU has more interesting courses in areas where you’d be spending more of your attention. Vandy has the more interesting courses overall. And Vandy has the communication program.

Just my opinion: the first two net clearly in WashU’s favor. You’ll be spending probably 50% or more time in your major(s). Advantage WashU. And if you’re liking through the entire catalogue across all departments Vandy classes may look more interesting on average, but you can only take a couple of classes from the hundreds offered outside your major each semester. You’re going to find interesting classes to fit those two slots regardless of school.

Third point: Vandy obviously. They have a communication major. WashU does not. Only thing that could mitigate even to some degree would be if marketing/advertising at Olin has some things that are decent substitutes. But even then it won’t be the same.

If you’re reaonably confident that communication is what you’ll do or even if you want that option, Vandy seems like a no brainer.

Re: culture. I think 25 years ago when top schools were less selective, people gravitated towards certain schools more knowing that they were more likely to hit their target. Applicants could sort by “culture” more easily. Today, with it being more selective, all types of students are applying to all types of schools with a much longer lost in the hope they hit 1 or 2. WashU was more of a “social nerds who like to have fun” place and Vandy was more preppy. Today, they’re much more similar. WashU a bit more nerdy and Vandy a bit more preppy (but also a bit more diverse). Probably not a huge difference. Certainly enough diversity to find your people at either school.

The only other thing I’d say is that having friends at WashU is a bit of a mixed blessing. I think I you were a freshman, I’d be inclined to go to the school that did not have those friends. That was part of my decision making process. There are many freshman activities and opportunities to meet people. Those exist as a transfer too, but not nearly to the same extent. Your integration is less formalized. In that case, I think knowing people there will definitely help reduce your period of integration. If you view those friendships as healthy/stable at least.

Still, i think you’re in a great spot either way.

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Actually Wash U does offer a Communications major, but it’s in University College, which is their college for adult learners similar to SGS at Columbia.

If being able to major in Communications is a make or break issue for a student who would otherwise prefer Wash U over Vanderbilt, I think hat it’s certainly worth a call to Admissions Office to explore whether this major or a version of it vis an individualized or interdisciplinary major can be made available. They already have the model for the major with the course sequence specified.

I chose WashU! I’m not really sure what I want to do at the end of the day, and I can get a broader education at WashU in places that seem interesting to me


Congratulations! I think there’s every reason to believe you’ll thrive there. Best of luck! And thanks for sharing your process here.