For the start of our Hidden Gems series, we’re spotlighting Connecticut College. Hidden Gems are colleges that aren’t on the top of everyone’s mind: they’re non-Ivy League schools that are often overlooked, but shouldn’t be. We’ve decided to do a series on colleges like these because when we help students form their college lists, they always miss or disregard schools that would be great fits but the name isn’t Harvard or the school isn’t necessarily ranked high by US News & World Report. These Hidden Gem schools have a lot of amazing programs and features that are snubbed. We’re here to change that, and as a result, change your perception of which schools do and don’t belong on your college list.
There are many things that make Conn a great place, but we’re going to focus mainly on three: the self-scheduled exams, the CELS program, and the professors.
Every college student dreads finals. They’re stressful, time consuming, and somehow all of them fall on the same two days. Conn students do not share these sentiments. Because of the Honor Code, Conn trusts its students to self-schedule and self-proctor exams. Finals period is carved out at the end of each semester, and students can choose to take their finals during designated chunks of time each day. If a student isn’t ready to take her final on the first day, she can wait until the fourth day. All she has to do is walk to Blaustein Hall, say her name and the course number, and someone will give her an exam. Then, she can walk to any room in the building, and take the exam alone. There are no proctors and there’s no pressure. When she is done, she simply hands the test in. Although finals at Conn stand out amongst its peers, the honor code and self-scheduled/self-proctored exams take place all the time. This is incredibly unique.
Next, the CELS (Career Enhancing Life Skills) program at Conn is a unique aspect of Conn that is worth discussing. The post-college job search is an inevitably stressful and high-pressure time that typically spans a student’s senior year. But again, Conn students do not participate in this frenzy, as they begin this process freshman year and avoid the senior year crunch altogether. As a freshman, students are assigned a career counselor that works with them over the course of four years to develop a resume and career skills through both one-on-one meetings and a series of workshops. After completing the workshops, the school writes you a check for $3,000 to fund an internship of your choice during the summer after your junior year. Most jobs want to see “relevant experience” before applying to post-grad jobs, which is very hard for many undergrads. CELS makes it possible by taking the pressure off. Students can take unpaid internships because Conn will subsidize them with $3,000.
Finally, faculty. While every college boasts about the professors, few graduated students keep in touch with their professors after college. We talked to over a dozen Connecticut College alumni to write this article, and all of them noted that they were personally and professionally affected by their professors. One alumna we talked to shared this story:
“My first assignment for my freshman seminar at Conn was to write a philosophy essay. I had never written a philosophy essay, so I approached it as five-paragraph essay. I got a 72. I ran to the professor in tears and told him I didn’t understand what I did wrong. He told me I had no idea how to write a philosophy paper and asked if I wanted help. Emphatically, I said yes. He promised to take the 72 essay through as many drafts with me as I needed and change the grade at the end to reflect my effort. I went to his office once a week for the next five weeks and we took the draft through, no exaggeration, nine edits. The essay, by the way, was a page long. He scrutinized and explained his changes for every single word. At the end, I got a 100 on the paper, but more than that I felt confident in my ability to replicate the work because of how much time the professor spent with me.”
If you tour Connecticut College, the school sells itself. It’s set on an arboretum and overlooks the Thames River and the Long Island Sound. The people who attend Conn are just as wonderful as the surroundings. They will stop you and ask if you have questions or give you a spontaneous guided tour. The students are motivated and know how to make their own fun. The student body’s social life is inclusive and robust. The classes are intimate and animated, and the professors want to help. Students we interviewed boasted about staying in contact with their professors long after graduation. As one Conn alumnus said, “I could not have asked for a better undergraduate education and experience, and I’ll forever be grateful for it.”