Tour D’Admission: Part II Two Small States but Large Enough to Have Colleges for Nearly Everyone

My previous blog left off as my fellow tour participants and I were bicycling from Trinity College in Hartford, CT to Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT on the first leg of the 2016 Tour D’Admission. After my inauspicious start, I did settle in and felt comfortable riding along with the other seven college counselors, all of whom, unlike me, were Tour veterans. Actually, it was more than just feeling comfortable; I thoroughly enjoyed the companionship and the cycling – even the congested and noisy streets of Hartford, New Haven and Providence. Those were the exceptions to the generally beautiful and gently sloping country and shoreline stretches that comprised the bulk of our journey of about 240 miles as we traversed across the “nutmeg” and “ocean” states.

Connecticut, a.k.a the “nutmeg” state, and Rhode Island, a.k.a the “ocean” state are tiny. Even combined, their total area is smaller than all of the other 48 states, except Delaware. Nonetheless, during my bicycle tour this past summer I discovered that they are home to a wide array of impressive colleges and universities. In fact, I came away convinced that there’s something there for nearly every college candidate.

For those seeking the classic, smaller, liberal arts college experience, you’ll find nearly a third of the NESCAC schools right in Connecticut, namely Trinity College, Wesleyan University and Connecticut College. Each has the kind of stately and picturesque campus layout and buildings that you expect from a NESCAC school, and the tradition of close, personal relations between faculty and students, but culturally, they are clearly distinct from each other and unique.

Trinity is the most urban of the NESCACs, and also, unlike almost all other, offers an engineering major. Perhaps once Trinity had the reputation of being more dominated by Greek life, but that seems to have changed under the leadership of its current president, Joanne Berger-Sweeney and her greater emphasis on social justice. Wesleyan, which has produced such diversely accomplished alums as Lin Manuel Miranda and Bill Belichick, has an artsy, hipster feel to it, but is also strong in the sciences and perhaps one of the more intellectual of the NESCACs. Its amenability to student-designed courses and its progressively independent housing system make it attractive to serious students and concerned parents alike. Connecticut College, originally set up as an all-women’s college after Wesleyan had temporarily decided to get rid of its female students back in the early 1900s, naturally has no Greek life. It also has a unique Honor Code allowing for “unscheduled” exams meaning students themselves determine when to take them and how long they need to finish, and one of the stronger career centers among the NESCACs, integrating career planning into its curriculum starting freshman year and providing for a $3000 stipend to each student for an internship the summer after junior year.

For those high-octane students seeking a larger university feel than that offered by the NESCACs, consider checking out the two Ivy League schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island – Yale and Brown. Yale offers amazing traditions in conjunction with progressivism. Its residential system with particular dining halls, amenities and styles for each of its 12 “colleges,” has served it well for many years, along with its multiple libraries – 21 in all. Yale has always struck me as being the Ivy that is most adept at keeping up with how and what students need to learn. Brown is perhaps the most diverse and progressive of the Ivies, renowned for promoting a culture of questioning and kindness. Brown students are clearly empowered, as evidenced by how the university runs its tours – completely by students who elect a “tour board” from among their classmates that then hires and trains all tour guides and determines how the tours will be conducted and what will be said.

The flagship state universities in Connecticut and Rhode Island both had a surprisingly accessible and close-knit feel to them. URI is well known for its marine science program, taking full-advantage of its scenic coastal location. It also boasts other state-of-the-art STEM facilities. URI’s campus is well laid out and easy to get around, its curriculum infused with global themes and its main dining hall and fitness center modern and spacious. UConn had an eclectic mix of older, more traditional architecture and sleek modern buildings. It seemed to have equally abundant resources and strengths in both the humanities and the STEM areas (it offers over 100 possible majors) and a strong school spirit supporting all of its sports teams (not just the amazing women’s basketball squad).

The other four schools we visited on our Tour D’Admission – Quinnipiac University, the University of New Haven, Salve Regina University and Providence College – though perhaps lesser known, were hardly less impressive. Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT has a spectacularly beautiful campus and facilities. It has grown tremendously over the last couple of decades in terms of its number of students, curricular offerings and sports programs. Many of its undergrad-to-grad accelerated programs, such as those in physical therapy and communications, are unique. Despite being a mid-size university, its administrators and faculty are very accessible and supportive – definitely working hard to have close relationships with students to help them succeed. The University of New Haven, another mid-size school, was arguably even more supportive and determined to see students do well as shown by its “first year student success center” which assigns “coaches” to all 1st-year and transfer students. This UNH (not to be confused with the one in New Hampshire) would be a great place for a less bookish but more hands-on or “experiential” learner, as experiential learning is a main component of its pedagogy. It also has one of the country’s foremost programs in forensic studies, as well as in music industry studies. Salve Regina’s campus, right on the beaches of elegant and historic Newport, RI, and its buildings, many of which were formerly the summer homes of Gilded Age titans, are breathtakingly beautiful. It has strong liberal arts and pre-professional programs in nursing, education and social work. Providence College is spirited, spiritual and intellectual, a place where it seems nearly the entire community gets behind its sports teams and also looks out for each other. Its demanding Western Civ core program, required of all students is often cited by alums as being transformative in the way they come to think of the world. It consists of two years of courses integrating Literature, History and Theology and entails weekly writing assignments, plus four major term papers.

So maybe the Tour D’Admission didn’t take me from the Pyrenees to the Alps to the Champs Elysees like the Tour de France would have. Nonetheless, it did take me from Trinity’s Longwalk building to Wesleyan’s Fisk Hall to Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center to Yale’s Harkness Hall to the University of New Haven’s Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science to Connecticut College’s surprisingly expansive quad to URI’s amazing fitness center to Salve Regina’s mansion-esque Admissions office to Brown’s inflatable bear to Providence’s Ruane Center to UConn’s “Jonathan the Husky” statue. And with what I saw and learned on that journey, I’ll be better able to serve my college candidates.

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