Vassar is well known for its academic excellence, and this excellence is well apparent in its graduate acceptance rates into law school and medical school. According to the 2015 Fact Book, Vassar has had acceptance rates consistently higher than the national average to both medical school (as much as 35 percent higher in 2013) and law school (as much as 13 percent higher in 2014).
Vassar’s career counseling staff attribute such high rates to a combination of highly-motivated students and a strong set of departments which help students to apply. As Director of the Office for Fellowships and Pre-Health Advising Lisa Kooperman wrote in an emailed statement, “Vassar has a robust advising system with a dedicated faculty committee […] Pauline [Saavedra, Assistant Dean of Studies] and I work with students and alumnae/i to prepare them for an application to the schools in the health professions making sure that they take advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom, utilize their summers wisely and chart an academic course that will prepare them for competitive applications.”
Vanessa Hung ’17, an aspiring neuropsychiatrist currently applying to medical school said, “I’ve been seeking advice from Lisa Kooperman from the pre-med office since sophomore year and she has given me a lot of guidance since then. I have also talked to the pre-med interns from last semester, Lucy Morse and Domenic Pedulla, which helped me a lot in preparing for MCATS and selecting med schools to apply to.”
In addition, premed advising is available to anyone in the Vassar community with an interest in pursuing a medical degree. According to Kooperman, “We support everyone who wants to apply, we do not have GPA cutoffs or criteria beyond deadlines that would prevent someone from using the support of the committee.” This openstyle advising has, in fact, led to incredible results: “Look at the five-year trend which includes stats for a cohort of people who may be in more than one of the application cycles (re-applicants), this acceptance rate is more around the 80 percent, which means that Vassar alumnae/i are very successful in gaining admission to schools in the health professions,” remarked Kooperman.
Medical school is not the only area in which Vassar graduates’ acceptance rates are higher than the national average; acceptance rates to law school are higher than average as well. According to Director of the Career Development Office (CDO) Stacy Bingham, pre-law advising begins early with an info session during freshman orientation. From there, advising can take many forms depending on the need of the student: They might be advised to work more closely with the field work office, be put in touch with an alum working in legal careers or just get advice on how to ask for letters of recommendation. Bingham also notes that the CDO offers services even after graduation, which is a contributing factor to the fact that 85 percent of Vassar law school applicants in a given year are alumnae/i instead of seniors.
All of these factors make the CDO an invaluable resource and many students utilize it every day. “Going into senior year and the law school application process, I know that I need to make sure to present myself in a professional way. The first step toward this goal was getting help from the CDO in updating my resume. As I move forward with the application process, I plan on utilizing the CDO to make sure that my application materials stand out in the best way possible,” stated Brianna Taylor ’17, who is currently applying to law school in order to pursue a career in environmental law.
Alumnus Chris Brown ’16 is currently enrolled at Berkeley Law School. He recalls his experience with the CDO, remarking that, “If I hadn’t utilized the resources at Vassar, I do not think I would be at the law school I am at today…but the CDO and [Assistant Director of the CDO] Janette [Swanson] told me the importance of using the application to tell the whole story of myself to the readers. She encouraged me to write about something that would show people my fun and creative side in my personal statement. I ended up writing about my time in a cappella at Vassar, and the Boalt admissions team wrote me back in my acceptance letter saying they couldn’t wait to hear me sing. We worked together to highlight parts of me and my personality that an admissions team simply can’t get by looking at a resume and two numbers. You have a limited amount of ways to get information to these schools, and if there is one thing that the CDO is good at, it is fitting your life’s story into that small application.”
So, aspiring medical and law students, what steps should you take? Bingham recommends seeking experiences related to the career path you have in mind, Kooperman encourages students to meet with pre-professional advisors frequently and Brown urges students to ask questions, saying, “The CDO, as well as many other Vassar resources, like professors, other students or alums (like me!) are always willing to help.” Whether wanting to apply to graduate school is a new interest or one you’ve had your whole life, take it from the experts: you don’t have to do it alone.
Reflecting on his experience, Brown said, “The CDO is an amazing resource … They can give you tips and secrets that someone like me, a first-generation college student, could have never been able to find out by myself. They sincerely are there for every student. I can only speak to the pre-law branch of the office, but if that sector is any indication of how the rest of the office functions, then Vassar students are in amazing hands.”