Vanderbilt University Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to Vanderbilt University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Mascot: Mr. Commodore

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 13,000 (6,900 undergrad)

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About Vanderbilt

Founded in 1873 with a $1 million gift from “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt today is a globally renowned research university. Its 10 schools reside on a parklike campus set in the urban heart of Nashville, Tennessee, providing a collaborative atmosphere of discovery that drives positive change in the world. Students there can choose from 70 majors and have the option to create their own, to explore whatever they may be interested in.

Vanderbilt Statistics

Year Founded: 1842

4 Year Graduation Rate: 91%

Gender Distribution: 53% male, 47% female

Acceptance Rate: 19%

Residency: 13.8% in state, 76.2% out of state, 10% international

Location Type: Urban

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1

Average Class Size: 20

Demographics: 41% Caucasian, 22% Other, 15% Asian, 12% Black, 10% Hispanic

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #7 Best Value Schools
  • #15 National Universities
  • #16 Learning Communities
  • #16 Service Learning
  • #20 Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • #27 First-Year Experiences
  • #34 Best Undergraduate Engineering Schools

Independent Rankings:

  • #1 Best Quality of Life per The Princeton Review
  • #2 Happiest Students, Great Financial Aid, College City Gets High Marks, and Best Athletic Facilities per The Princeton Review
  • #4 Best-Run Colleges, Most Beautiful Campus per The Princeton Review
  • #10 Best Value Among Private U.S. Universities per Kiplinger
  • #15 Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value per Money
  • #19 World’s Most Innovative Universities per Reuters

Vanderbilt Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision I: November 1st
  • Early Decision II: January 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 1st
  • Transfer Deadline: March 15th

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision I: Mid-December
  • Early Decision II: Mid-February
  • Regular Decision: Late March

Acceptance Rates:

  • ED: 20.7%
  • RD: 9.1% 
  • Transfer: 25.24%

Average Applicant Pool: 37,000

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 3,400

Average Number Enrolled: 1,600

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 3.83 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th% – 1450, 75th% – 1560

ACT Scores: 25th% – 33, 75th% – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections are not required.

Demonstrated Interest:

While Vanderbilt does not consider demonstrated interest, they do provide an alumni interview program that may be beneficial to your application.

CoRPs Alumni Interview Program Information

Recommendation Letter Policies:

One counselor recommendation and two teacher recommendation letters are required. Additional recommendation letters are accepted.

Recommendation Letter Tips

Vanderbilt Essay Prompts:

  • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)
  • Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150-400 words)

Vanderbilt Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

Vanderbilt offers two Early Decision plans, Early Decision I and II. Both Early Decision I and Early Decision II are binding admissions plans but they have different application deadlines and decision notification dates.


  • While students are encouraged to meet the March 15th transfer deadline, applications received afterwards will be considered on a rolling basis.
  • Admissions is done by school, and by major for the Schools of Education and Music. The school of music has additional audition requirements.
  • Two letters of recommendation are required, and they suggest at least one come from a college-level instructor.
  • Transfer credit is awarded on a course-by-course basis.

Vanderbilt Admission Strategy

Admissions Criteria: 

The primary criteria is academic success, as measured by GPA, course rigor, high school standing, and standardized test scores. Vanderbilt wants to ensure admitted students will be able to do the work required of them in college, and uses these factors to determine a student’s abilities. Grades and class rank are evaluated in the context of a student’s high school, so a lower class rank at a more competitive school is easier to understand. In the same vein, students won’t be penalized for not taking AP classes if their school doesn’t offer them. Students are expected to challenge themselves and excel in their academic circumstances, however.

Other factors that admissions deems important include extracurriculars, the personal essay, and letters of recommendation. These help round out admissions understanding of students as people, not just sets of numbers.

Finally, admissions considers the interview, first-generation status, legacy status, talent, volunteer work, race/ethnicity, geographic origin, and state residency. They heavily recruit athletes for their sports teams.

What is Vanderbilt Looking For? 

Vanderbilt’s admissions department focuses on holistic review and positive advocacy. This means each candidate is reviewed as the sum of their parts, and not rejected out-of-hand based on a poor showing in one area. Positive advocacy means each admissions officer is responsible for arguing in favor of admissions for the applications they read. It is, of course, easier for admissions officers to argue in favor of some candidates than others. 

Students who stand out to admissions officers, based on extracurricular involvement especially, are easier to argue for, and make a larger impression. Students who display a deep passion for one subject are more impressive and less generic.

The essay is a further important piece of the process, as it introduces admissions officers to who the student is as a person, and should do a good job of this in order to stand out. While there are myriad ways to write the essay, it should always be personal to the writer, and tell a story only you can tell.

Vanderbilt targets recruitment towards populations of students they want to recruit. While this does not directly affect admissions decisions, it does affect which students decide to apply to Vanderbilt. This recruitment has greatly increased the overall number of applicants, and further increased the number of first-generation and underrepresented students admitted, which was one of Vanderbilt’s goals.

Vanderbilt Strategy: 

While Vanderbilt does not consider demonstrated interest, their admission rates for ED are twice those of RD. Thus if Vanderbilt is your first choice, your best method to increase chances of admission is to apply early decision. They also offer Early Decision II, and while the rates for that aren’t nearly as high as for ED, if you were unable to meet the deadline to apply ED, then consider applying ED II.

Having strong grades and test scores, and taking a rigorous course of study in high school is the best way to ensure your academic preparation does not disqualify you. While Vanderbilt does use holistic review, they only have so much time, and there is less to argue in favor of a student who does not appear academically prepared for the rigor of college.

Vanderbilt fills a number of places off the waitlist each year, averaging 7-10% of each class. While there is no guarantee of getting off the waitlist, students who are waitlisted and consider Vanderbilt their top choice are encouraged to reach out to let admissions know they remain interested. Students admitted off the waitlist will receive need-based by, but not merit-based aid. If you are waitlisted, you should still confirm your place at another school, but it isn’t necessarily the end of your Vanderbilt ambitions.

As Vanderbilt is need blind, a student’s ability to pay is not factored into admissions decisions. Indeed, their recent recruitment efforts for underserved and first generation students show a current push to increase economic diversity on campus.

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Vanderbilt Academics


Core Requirements:

The Vanderbilt AXLE (Achieving Excellence in Liberal Education) core curriculum consists of two parts: the Writing Requirement and the Liberal Arts Requirement.

Courses of Study: 

AP Credit Policies:

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • College Scholars ProgramThe College Scholars Honors Program offers promising undergraduates in the College of Arts & Science the opportunity to take honors seminars in several different categories to satisfy AXLE requirements and conduct independent research.
  • Departmental Honors – Students normally begin departmental honors work in the junior year. To qualify for consideration, students must have (a) attained a minimum grade point average of 3.00, and (b) exhibited the adequate dedication required for an independent study.
  • Latin Honors –  those who earn grade point averages of 3.732 or higher will graduate cum laude; 3.837 or higher, magna cum laude; 3.924 or higher, summa cum laude.
  • Academic Honors Society: Phi Beta Kappa
  • Additional Honors Information

Research Availability:

  • Vanderbilt provides undergraduates with many research opportunities ranging from biology research in a laboratory to music performance at a senior honors recital.

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

Pre-Med Options:

Vanderbilt does not offer a pre-Med major, but they offer ample advising for pre-Med and pre-Health students.

Pre-Law Options:

Computer Science Options: 

  • The School of Engineering offers a BS in Computer Science. This shares a department with electrical engineering, and there is some overlap in coursework between the two degrees.
  • Computer Science is also offered as a minor by the same department.
  • Undergraduates are encouraged to get involved with the department’s research initiatives.

Additional Specialty Programs: 

  • Four Plus One Program – The College of Arts and Sciences offers students in most departments and programs the opportunity to complete a combined BA/MA program in under 5 years.
  • Vanderbilt School of Nursing Bridge Program – An undergraduate pre-nursing program.
  • Teacher LicensureCollege of Arts and Science students may combine their academic majors with appropriate education programs through Vanderbilt’s Peabody College to satisfy various licensure requirements for teaching.

Programs for High Schoolers:

Student Life at Vanderbilt

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: Vanderbilt University is a center for scholarly research, informed and creative teaching, and service to the community and society at large.Vanderbilt will uphold the highest standards and be a leader in the quest for new knowledge through scholarship, dissemination of knowledge through teaching and outreach, and creative experimentation of ideas and concepts.
  • Values: Inquiry, Equality, Compassion, and Excellence
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Cappex)

Residential Housing System:

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons is Vanderbilt’s residential campus for all first-year students and it consists of five historic houses and five new houses. Each house is guided by a faculty head of house who will live among the students in a faculty apartment. To learn more about the first-year residential experience watch this video. After first year, students move into another residential college which will be their home for the rest of their time living on-campus. Most students are required to live on campus for their entire time at Vanderbilt.

Housing Statistics:

  • All freshmen are required to live on-campus.
  • 94% of undergraduates live in on-campus housing for the entirety of their stay

Campus & Surrounding Area:  


  • With your Commodore (Vanderbilt ID) Card, Vanderbilt’s EasyRide program provides students with free rides on local buses, regional buses, and the Star train.
  • Member of Zipcar Program
  • Transportation Options
  • Parking Information


  • V-U Hand Sign – Extend your thumb, index, and middle fingers of the right hand (palm facing out) to form a “V” and “U”.
  • Founder’s Walk – An annual event when incoming freshmen walk through the gates of Vanderbilt to begin their undergraduate careers. Students walk out of the gates to symbolize the completion of their undergraduate years during the graduation procession.
  • Honor Code Signing – At the beginning of each year, the incoming freshmen gather to sign the Honor Code which is then framed and displayed in the Sarratt Student center as a reminder of the commitment students have made. 
  • Star Walk – Vandy students, fans, and the Spirit of Gold marching band line a sidewalk painted with stars, cheering for the football team as they enter and exit Dudley Field.
  • Alma Mater and Fight Song – Win or lose, Vanderbilt students and fans stand and sing the alma mater. Dynamite, the Vanderbilt fight song, was written by a Vanderbilt student, Francis Craig in 1924.
  • Commodore Quake – An annual concert for students in Memorial Gym that kicks off Homecoming weekend. Past headliners have included Ludacris, Chingy and Yin Yang Twins, and the Counting Crows.
  • Rites of Spring – An annual music festival held on alumni lawn the weekend before finals. Past performances include Spoon, Nelly, My Morning Jacket, Phoenix, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, Kid Cudi, and Talib Kwali.
  • For more, check out specific VU Football Traditions!

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life: 


Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $75,974
  • Tuition: $52,780
  • Fees: $1,377
  • Room & Board: $17,601
  • Books: $1,194
  • Personal Expenses: $3,022

Financial Aid:

Vanderbilt offers need-based financial aid via a combination of grants, scholarships, and employment opportunities/expectations. The school has pledged that all students receiving need-based aid will get packages which do not include loans.

Types of Financial Assistance

Additional Financial Aid & Student Loan Information


Vanderbilt offers three types of merit-based scholarships.The application for the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship is required; you must apply to be considered. For the Ingram Scholars Program and Chancellor’s Scholarship, the application is strongly encouraged. The application is due December 1st.

  • Ingram Scholars – students who plan to combine a professional or business career with an exceptional commitment to civic-minded service, innovation, an entrepreneurial spirit, and leadership. The program supports students who are committed to developing their personal roles in the solution to societal problems and who have the maturity and initiative to lead positive social change.
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholars – students who combine outstanding academic achievement with strong leadership and contributions outside the classroom.
  • Chancellor’s Scholars – students with outstanding high school records who have worked to build strong high school communities by bridging gaps among economically, socially, and racially diverse groups and who have demonstrated significant interest in issues of diversity education, tolerance, and social justice.
  • Additional Merit-Based Scholarships

Fun Facts

  • Al Gore attended both graduate school and law school at Vanderbilt.
  • Considered a NCAA Conference rebel, Vanderbilt is the ONLY private institution in the SEC.
  • When Vanderbilt recruited Perry Wallace to their basketball team in 1966, they threw the conventions of the South to the wind – he was the first African-American on the team.
  • In 1928, a blind Vanderbilt student brought the first seeing-eye dog back to the U.S. and started the Seeing Eye Inc. in Nashville.
  • The campus was designated as a national arboretum in 1988 by the Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta; approximately 190 species of trees and shrubs can be found on campus.
  • One tree, the Bicentennial Oak between Rand Hall and Garland Hall, is certified to have lived during the American Revolution and is the oldest living thing on the campus. 
  • In December 2015, a hackberry tree fell, leaving 10 students injured with “broken bones and stitches.”