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Archive for the tag “Residential Colleges”

Connecticut College

Connecticut College (visited 10/13/16)

conn-college-studentsConn draws curious students who are go-getters; to be successful here, students need to want to engage, take initiative, and follow through on ideas. They go above and beyond academically, seeking out connections between disciplines and creating context for what they’re learning.

Admissions is selective and test-optional, but demonstrated interest is important. They want to make sure that students will thrive in this very particular learning environment. Interviews are recommended, preferably on campus, but alumni interviews are an option for students who may not be able to get to campus in time to interview.

conn-college-quadConn is gorgeous, just up the road from the Coast Guard Academy and not far from the water. Campus is long and relatively narrow with buildings (mostly made of stone) largely organized around a couple quads. Even early (by college standards!), students were walking places, some with yoga mats, some off to classes. It was a little too early and cool for students to be congregating outside, but the students I encountered were together, having conversations, and seeming to be very comfortable in their surroundings.


A cafe, one of the many meeting/study spots on campus.

There are a couple things that contribute to this level of comfort and camaraderie. First, most students (98%) live on campus, and dorms are called ‘houses.’ “We do think of them that way.” Students really know each other, and because they aren’t leaving on the weekends, they’re involved and engaged with each other outside the classroom – both academically and socially. Additionally, the admissions rep thinks that close-knit feelings also stem from the First Year Seminar. These writing-intensive classes, taught only in the first semester, are capped at 15 students and taught by faculty advisors from across departments. About 35 interdisciplinary topics are offered ranging from Epidemics, Sports Psychology, From the Holy Land to Disneyland, and Bioluminescence and Disease. Students forge a common bond with 14 other students who are interested in a variety of things.

conn-college-2There are three general areas that make Conn distinctive from many other liberal arts schools:

  1. This year, they’ve instituted a new core curriculum called “Connections” which very much aligns with the types of students that Conn attracts and retains. Students still engage in the liberal arts, but in a more focused and interdisciplinary way.
    1. conn-college-quad-2The former distribution requirements are now grouped in one of 5 Pathways: Public Policy, Sustainability, Interrogating Liberal Arts, Global Capitalism, Arts and Tech.
    2. They will be increasing the number of Pathways over the next three years, hopefully ending with 40 choices, including Education and Human Rights.
    3. This change was a student-based initiative; students wanted their education to be more interdisciplinary and focused.
    4. One requirement is 2 semesters of a single language; students can test into higher level, but can’t test out of the language requirement.
  2. conn-college-chapel-2Academic Centers: The 5 Centers have distinct themes. About 20% of the students will opt to join; entrance requires an additional application. These are designed to help students take passions to the next level by taking classes within the center and completing an independently designed project (funded by the center or career services). Students will graduate with a certificate.
    1. International Studies and the Liberal Arts: This is the most competitive. Students must continue past the required 2 semesters of a language, must study abroad, and must do a project abroad between junior and senior year.
      1. A double major in Islamic Studies and Dance is now studying in France and will go back to study the hip-hop culture there.
      2. An International Studies major with minor in Arabic has studied in Jordan and will also go back to do her project.
    2. Arts and Technology: This is the most quickly growing center.
      1. One student created audio-based video games because his visually impaired brother wanted to be able to play games, too.
      2. A Psych major is looking at how people could overcome their fear of heights using virtual reality.
    3. Community Action and Public Policy: This focuses on social activism and social outreach.
      1. A Government major, while studying in Buenos Aires, saw a lot of school dropouts. She did a study on options for them, then went back to implement strategies to keep them in school or provide other paths.
      2. Other students are working at Boston Hospital, on the housing crisis in NYC, and in the RI Dept of Health.
    4. conn-college-sprout-garden-2

      The student-run sustainable garden

      Center for the Environment: Conn was the second college to have an Envi Sci Dept, so this is a huge part of who they are as a school, but this center is not just for science related topics. Students see something and want to take action. One student is looking at environmental impacts of the fashion industry.

    5. Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity: This is the newest Center, looking at topics such as globalization, historical traumas (ie genocide), comparative histories of race, effects of race and gender on education and the workplace, etc.
  3. conn-college-athletic-cntr

    The athletic Center

    Career Center: Every student is guaranteed a $3,000 stipend for an internship between junior and senior years. This guarantees that they have access to internships that might otherwise be cost-prohibited, particularly if they need to pay room and board in a major city. Almost 20% intern abroad. Over 80% of students do use this stipend.

    1. Students are all assigned 3 advisors right as freshmen: a faculty advisor (who teaches one of the student’s first semester classes), a staff advisor (from the career center), and a peer advisor. Students will meet with all of these during the first semester to ensure that they’re adjusting well and are on track.

The majors and minors here are phenomenal, bringing a great deal of flexibility to meet students’ interests, but also providing multi-disciplinary and global approaches to their students, offering majors such as Global Islamic, German, Slavic, Italian, and Hispanic Studies. They have a particularly strong arts program (dance is phenomenal, as is fine arts). Sciences offer more than the usual choices for a school this size, such as Botany and Behavioral Neuroscience.

© 2016

Yale University

Yale University (visited 10/12/16)
yale-fountainYale, of course, is physically impressive as an institution. Their distinction – and maybe the big claim to fame beyond the reputation – is their Residential College System. Beyond that, I could not find any way to differentiate their academics from many other institutions (even though they tried to say they were different because of small classes, dedicated professors, and even some Nobel Laureates. There are lots of schools that with the very same things). In response to a direct question from a family, the senior giving the info session, even after waxing poetic about how special Yale and the students were, couldn’t actually characterize the students here or what perhaps made them or the institution different from others. She simply said, “Well, all colleges aren’t for everyone. I guess you’ll have to visit and see if you get that vibe.”

yale-6Yale College is technically the undergraduate portion of Yale University with 5300 undergrads (there are 11,000 students total); “we’re a liberal arts college within a research university,” so students have access to all the resources of the other colleges. Education here is “student-centered and student-driven. We sit in the middle of the spectrum between Core requirements and an Open Curriculum.” Students must complete distribution requirements in 6 areas, but they simply have to take 2 classes within each distribution from a list of several hundred options.

yale-doorwayYale issues credits differently from many schools; most classes are worth 1 credit (Labs = .5 and languages = 1.5). Students need 36 credits to graduate including 12 in the major and 12 distribution credits. This allows for flexibility for exploring, a double major, study abroad, etc. The directors of undergraduate studies will look at AP or IB credits and will place students in appropriate levels; students can take a placement exam if they want to try to place out of a class.

yale-sculptureBeing Yale, there are certainly a ton of options for majors, many of which are unusual, such as Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health; and Ethics, Politics, and Economics. Students who don’t find what they’re interested in can create own major such as recent students studying Socio-Linguistics or Sports History. There are no minors but plenty of concentrations in majors.


Sterling Library

Students get a 2-week shopping period for classes. All freshmen have 3 advisors to help choose and figure out schedules: the Dean of Residential College, a Freshman College Advisor (a senior within the college who run study breaks, orientation, etc), and a Freshman Advisor. Seventy percent of classes have fewer than 20 students; 30% have fewer than 10. Most classes are taught by faculty, not adjuncts; language classes taught by native speakers tend to be the exception. They have an unusually low student-to-faculty ratio (6:1 over, but 2:1 in engineering and 3:1 in science).


In the quad of one of the Colleges

The Residential College System (which, although rare, is not exclusive to Yale) is a housing affiliation that determines where and with whom students live. Students are sorted randomly but “it’s an organized random. They will go back in to check to make sure that they didn’t put the whole hockey team in one place.” Freshmen room together in suites in Old College (the oldest quad on campus) in buildings or halls according to their College affiliation, and then will move to the physical college as sophomores. The Colleges have their own library, dining hall, laundry, fitness center, and a Buttery for late night food: “It’s cheap, student run, and great for jobs,” said the tour guide. Each has something unique such as a pottery or dance studio, a printing press, or half-basketball court; students from other colleges have access to these.



A statue in the Old Quad

The student giving the info session and the tour guide both played up social aspect of the colleges. Every college has its own traditions such as “Running of the Trumbull” (the name of the college), snowball fights on the first snowfall, annual events when they sneak into other colleges to “steal their trinkets, then we roast a pig and smores, and watch How to Train Your Dragon.” Each college has a Dean of College and Head of College. The Dean is in charge of academics: they sign off on schedules, give passes to push back deadlines if students are sick, etc. The Head is in charge of administrative tasks, planning trips and study breaks, and the Teas where famous people come to College to talk to the students.



The Old College quad

Housing is guaranteed all four years. “Why wouldn’t you live here? It’s a castle! And it’s where your food is and the fitness center. It’s great not to have to go outside,” said the tour guide. Currently there are 12 colleges, each housing about 450 students, with plans for two more going up in the next couple years. Yale will be increasing class size by 200 for the next 4 years.



The stacks inside Beinecke Library


New Haven is “small enough to be intimate but large enough to be interesting.” The city claims the first burger, first Frisbee, and first planned city. It has theater, music, and a “world class dining scene” including a new Laotian restaurant. If that gets boring, it’s a quick train ride into NYC for $15 off-peak.



Light shining through Beinecke’s marble windows

Beinecke library is their famous Rare Books library. The marble is only 1.5 inches thick so light comes through. It’s stunning from the inside, and they have a Gutenberg Bible.



School of Music

Music is pretty big on campus with lots of a cappella groups (“Stay away from arches; it’s where they practice!”). Woolsey Jamboree, an annual a cappella concert, draws big crowds, as does the Yale Symphony Orchestra, particularly for the Halloween Movie. They film a silent movie in advance then play along. People come in costume, including the musicians. People are given candy at the door.


Food at the College dining halls is standardized (aka they all serve the same food on same days) but Commons Dining Hall, big enough for a whole class, has more choices (and there’s a separate Kosher dining hall, as well). “Chicken Tender night is a big deal!” The Freshman Christmas banquet every year is held in the Commons every year: “Bring Tupperware for leftovers”

© 2016

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