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  • Writer's pictureJessica Chermak, CEP, LPC

College Tour Highlights: Connecticut


Each year, Virtual College Counselors spends time attending and presenting at the Annual Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference. In addition to the standard conference events and professional development, we also take the time to visit local colleges. This year’s conference was held in Uncasville, Connecticut and we had the opportunity to visit six southern Connecticut colleges during our time there.


Table of Contents:


Disclaimer: The highlights of our college visits below are by no means exhaustive or all-encompassing. These are just some thoughts and notes about our experiences on the particular day of our visit and some facts we feel make each institution stand out. Information is based on admissions presentations, discussions with student tour guides, and basic research from an institution's website.


 

I’m always a fan of colleges with unique mascots (Geoducks, Banana Slugs, Green Waves, etc.) because those mascots tend to be pretty outlandish and seem absurd out of context. Naturally, when I heard we’d be visiting Connecticut College (Conn College), home of the Camels, I was excited to see what the school had to offer. 


Conn College is a small liberal arts school of about 1900 undergraduate students. It was founded in 1911 as a women’s college but went co-ed in 1969. With a 10:1 student/faculty ratio, it’s really easy to get to know your professors and for them to get to know you. However, the institution has taken significant steps toward providing more holistic support for students, as evidenced by their commitment to assign, at minimum, five advisors per student (two sophomore student advisors, a career advisor, a staff advisor, and a major advisor). Additionally, each student is required to take a first-year seminar course, wherein that professor becomes their primary advisor until they declare a major by the end of sophomore year. The support system on campus creates a sense of community and also empowers students to develop agency and independence on their educational journey.


Speaking of community, Conn College is filled with creative and engaged students who are consistently engaged in various campus activities. They have seven a capella groups, an incredibly active theater club (any student can audition for shows on campus, they don’t need to be a theater major), a student-run campus garden, and one of their largest groups is Mob Roc, a student-run and led music performance center housed in a red barn near the garden. Unlike most institutions, any student may take music lessons on campus at no additional cost, regardless of their proficiency level, so there is ample opportunity to join the music community on campus. Needless to say, creative and artistic students would likely find their people on campus.


Unlike most colleges with an honor code, Conn College’s honor code encompasses their social lives in addition to the academic experience. The code is so interwoven within the community that all final exams are self-administered and self-proctored. Students are afforded the flexibility to take the exams when and where they feel ready, well-rested, and in the most appropriate mindset to maximize student success.


About 20% of the student body are varsity athletes (Conn College is a DIII institution, and a member of the NESCEC conference), and an additional 20% engage in club and intramural sports. As a result, it’s a very active community and athletes are easily integrated into the campus community. They don’t have a football or baseball team, but soccer (both men’s and women’s) is popular on campus. Due to their location and access to their own water frontier, they have a strong varsity sailing team as well. It should also be noted that there is no Greek life at Conn College, and students have found it easy to find work/life balance on campus.


Housing is guaranteed all four years, and more than 95% of the student body lives on campus for the duration of their education. Their core curriculum mirrors that of most liberal arts institutions (major and non-major coursework, study abroad, internships, and a senior project), with one major difference: students are encouraged to connect each piece of their core curriculum to a meaningful theme. There is also a strong emphasis on the importance of career exploration and obtaining professional experience, so almost 90% of students participate in internship programs. 


The administration has also made significant efforts to create a welcoming community for all students on campus, as evidenced by them meeting 100% of the demonstrated need for both domestic and international students. On top of that, they purposely do not require an application fee, and the vast majority of admitted students are offered merit scholarships to help make a Conn College education affordable for applicants.

 

I don’t think I need to tell you much about Yale, or what sets it apart from other schools. It’s one of the eight Ivy League institutions, founded in 1706. The campus is nestled in New Haven, CT, a quaint town filled with excellent food, and a mere 1.5-2 hours from Boston and New York City. The architecture is stunning, featuring a mix of Gothic, Georgian, and Contemporary styles


Fun Facts:

  • Yale is home to the oldest collegiate daily newspaper in the country (running five days a week since 1878)

  • Yale claims to have the longest-standing acapella group, too (The Wiffenpoofs)

  • Supposedly, the frisbee was invented by Yale students on the New Haven Green.


Given Yale’s absurdly low admit rate, we thought it may be fun to switch things up and share with you some other schools to consider, based on what you like about Yale:


  • If you like the architecture: Rhodes College (Memphis, TN), University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA), Trinity College (Hartford, CT)

  • If you like the residential colleges idea: Rice University (Houston, TX), University of California San Diego (La Jolla, CA), California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA), Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO), University of Chicago (Chicago, IL), University of Michigan (Ann Harbor, MI), Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), and Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ)

  • If you like a capella: University of California Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA–The Scattertones), University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA–The SoCal VoCals), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC–Clef Hangers), University of Oregon (Eugene, OR–On the Rocks)

 

The University of New Haven is a beautiful campus atop a hill in West Haven, CT (the students like to joke that they’re the only school that can look down on Yale). However, the school actually began on Yale’s campus (1920-1925), and they shared both classrooms and faculty. In 1960, they developed their own campus and grew to be the incredibly robust medium-sized institution they are today. 


The school boasts a population of about 5,000 students, with over 100 academic programs, more than 85 minors and certifications, and 92 graduate and professional programs. They also offer more than 50 dual degree programs, wherein students can obtain a graduate-level degree in a shorter period of time, often utilizing some of their merit award from their undergraduate education. While they indicate that their average class size is around 19 students, most typically only have between 10-12. These small class sizes lead to particularly engaging instruction and discussion in all subject areas, and students and faculty build strong relationships as a result. Additionally, 90% of the faculty hold the highest degree in their field and most have had professional experience outside of academia that they are able to integrate into their classroom teaching. 


It is common to hear students describing the student life on campus as being “impossible to be bored” because there is so much going on all of the time. This is important to note because many students are fearful of exploring small-medium-sized colleges and universities because they worry about access to opportunities, which are particularly abundant at the University of New Haven. 


But what really sets the University of New Haven apart from other institutions is some of its program offerings and student supports:

 

This was our second visit to Quinnipiac University, and they continue to impress me. I would classify the school as on the larger side of medium, with about 7,000 undergraduates and roughly 3,000 graduate students. Despite their size, Quinnipiac generally keeps class size below 20, and every course is taught by a professor, not a TA. There are technically three campuses, but they’re all close by and there is a shuttle that runs between them. Most core academic offerings are held on the main campus, but there’s a North Haven campus that houses both undergraduate and graduate programs in education, health sciences, law, medicine, and nursing. There is also the York Hill Campus, which is home to the Rocky Top Student Center (which is reminiscent of a luxurious ski lodge) and upperclassmen housing.


As with most small/medium schools, academic offerings are a bit more limited. Quinnipiac offers 55 majors, 47 minors, and 20 accelerated/dual-degree programs. It’s a fabulous school in general, but particularly great for students with clear post-college professional goals. The accelerated and dual programs offered at Quinnipiac can shave a lot of time off of their extended educational commitment for many careers. Another benefit: Quinnipiac allows merit scholarships to carry over to the graduate portion of the accelerated programs. Some programs of note: nursing, physician assistant, MBA, 3+3 law, health sciences, and engineering.


Not only does the institution focus on experiential learning, which ultimately sets students up for success post-graduation in any field of study, but each college within Quinnipiac also has its own career development center with experts in those fields. In the business school, there are funds available to help students comfortably afford to engage in unpaid internships, and they even offer classes in salary negotiation (sign me up!).


The campus community is composed of students from all around the country and globe and is home to 21 NCAA Division I sports teams. Fun fact: they’re the 2023 Frozen Four champions! About 20% of students engage in Greek Life on campus, but there isn’t any Greek housing so those who participate are well-integrated into the rest of the community. 

 

Despite visiting on a rainy day, Fairfield University’s campus was stunning. Similar to other schools on this list, Fairfield, a Jesuit institution, is considered medium-sized with approximately 5,000 students. Since many Jesuit institutions draw from the same student applicant pool, it’s important to understand how Fairfield has differentiated itself: they are a suburban closed campus that is highly student-centric. Their average class size is impressively low, too, at approximately 8-30 students. About 60% of students on campus identify as Catholic, and it is a welcoming community of all religious viewpoints.


As is the case with many institutions in current times, Fairfield tends to be outcome-focused, and they rank in the top 1% for long-term value. That’s not a surprising statistic given that about 75% of students engage in pre-professional experiences while enrolled, including internships. The most impressive statistic about the ROI of a Fairfield education: it is ranked #2 in the state of Connecticut for starting salary ($62,719), only behind Yale.


Fairfield offers an honors program along with several pre-professional programs in their four different colleges. The Magis Core Curriculum is a robust Liberal Arts curriculum that encourages interdisciplinary learning and exploring subjects of interest, and it also offers 22 4+1 programs wherein students can earn a master’s degree in one additional year on campus. Their most popular programs are in Engineering, Nursing, and other STEM subject areas. Lastly, the College of Arts and Sciences offers students a guaranteed $2500 grant for internship or research participation.


There isn’t Greek Life on campus at Fairfield but, there is a strong sports culture on campus, which is common amongst those who participate in the NCAA Division 1. There are also many other ways to engage in the campus community through a variety of extracurricular clubs and organizations. Fairfield guarantees on-campus housing for all four years and even hosts an annual beach party for seniors who are 21+ (the Clam Jam!). Unlike some other institutions built upon a religious foundation, Fairfield has become very welcoming of all students (as evidenced by their gender-inclusive housing options, and the political and religious diversity on campus).

 

By the time we get to the final school on our college tours, we’re pretty exhausted and burnt out. And yet, Sacred Heart University reeled us in with its impressive offerings and beautiful campus. Foundationally, SHU was the first Catholic university that was started and led by non-clergy members, resulting in what they deem to be a humanistic and mission-driven institution. It’s on the larger side for a medium-sized school, with about 11,000 students (the 2nd largest Catholic university in New England), and similar to Fairfield, about 60% of students identify as Catholic.


They are most known for their programs in Business (Marketing and Finance included), psychology, and exercise science. However, there are many other programs that are quickly gaining more popularity and attention, including Journalism/Media Production, Neuroscience, Catholic Studies, Esports (minor), Sports Management, Cybersecurity, Game Design/Development, and Communication Disorders. SHU offers a strong liberal arts education and a compelling honors program (which includes additional grants and funding, priority housing, and honors-specific courses). D1 athletes are a strong force within the Honors Program, a testament to how engaged all students on campus are in the academic experience.


Similar to Quinnipiac, SHU offers several dual degree programs and has some off-campus facilities available for advanced studies in fields like medicine. They boast an impressive 99% first-time pass rate for the Nursing exam, too! In addition to these facilities, SHU has invested significantly in its growth and development in all areas of study, including the development of a new Artificial Intelligence Lab and performing arts wing. Of note, the performing arts program is open to students at all levels of interest, and there are grant and scholarship opportunities, even for non-majors.


In addition to their strong Division 1 sports culture, they offer dozens of clubs and intramural opportunities as well. Additionally, they have several spirit teams, including cheer, dance, and Kickline. In 2023, they opened a brand-new ice hockey rink, and the new basketball arena is slated for a Fall 2024 opening. While Greek Life does exist on campus (they have 14 fraternities and sororities), there is no Greek housing. However, the four-year housing guarantee does bode well for maintaining a strong campus community amongst all students.


Good luck (but I know you won't need it),

Jessica Chermak, LPC, CEP

Independent College Counselor

Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors



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