In early October I made a trip to visit five New England colleges. Trinity College, located in Hartford, was the last on my trip. It was also my shortest visit, so my impressions will be briefer than most. I made a Pinterest page as well.
Founded in 1823, Trinity College is the second-oldest college in Connecticut after Yale. The older sections of campus, around the Chapel and the Long Walk, are among the nicest you will ever see at a liberal arts college. But what makes Trinity unique among co-ed liberal arts colleges is that it is one of the few directly located within a mid-sized to large city. Within the New England there are only two: Trinity College and The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, which I will cover in a later post.
While Trinity is secular and Holy Cross is Jesuit the two schools have two things in common: Both are test-optional schools while neither is in the nicest part of the city where they are located. The neighborhood surrounding the Trinity College campus is one of the worst that I have ever seen around an expensive, and relatively selective school. It does not help that the college has tight parking on campus. I was glad that my car had a back up camera when I went looking for a space.
Trinity College is one of those schools that frequently ends up on students lists when they want a liberal arts college and want to be in New England. It’s helped by its location, but also hurt by it. You do not go to Trinity College looking for a pastoral setting around campus. However, if you want to get into Boston or New York, explore a revitalizing downtown in Hartford or shop in tony West Hartford, and your heart says liberal arts, then look no further. Trinity students get a free bus pass that will take them all around Connecticut. This is not a perk that you will find at other colleges. Not to mention that Hartford is served by its own airport as well as Amtrak. Hartford is also a state capital. Students have the opportunity to intern not only for city government and business; they can also work in the governor’s office or the state legislature. Public policy is one of the college’s most popular majors.
Trinity retained 89 percent of the freshmen who entered in 2013. That’s very good, but not exceptional considering the school turned down two thirds of the students who wanted to be there. The most recent four-year graduation rate was 79 percent. Again, excellent. But there are many less-selective schools that do the same or better.
Trinity is going test optional for the first time this year. But at the same time there are plans to reduce the size of the student body from just under 2,300 today to less than 2,000. That will mean that the college will be able to house everyone more comfortably–though today nearly everyone lives on campus–but also that admissions will become more selective. About a third of those who applied to Trinity to join the freshman class in 2014 were accepted. Other New England schools, most notably Amherst and Williams, accept less than a fifth of those who apply. Trinity also wait-listed nearly 1,700 applicants, though only 16 were offered admission.
It was probably wise for Trinity College to go test optional. The middle 50 percent of the SAT range for the class that entered last year, for those who took that test, was between 1150 and 1340 (out of a possible 1600). Forty-one percent of the freshmen scored lower than 600 on the Critical Reading section of the SAT. By going test-optional, the SAT range, for those who report their scores, Trinity’s rankings will likely go up. U.S. News has Trinity College ranked 43rd among National Liberal Arts Colleges for this admissions cycle. Kiplingers ranked it 113th for value among all colleges, behind schools that turn less than half of their applicants away. I’m sure that alumni and trustees want that ranking to improve, too. Tuition and fees alone at Trinity College exceed $50,000 for this year, and this is a market segment where families pay for prestige.
However, if you want a great liberal arts education and need financial aid Trinity College is well worth a look. The college meets the full need of all students determined to have need. In 2014, this was 92 percent of the students who asked for need-based financial aid. The average need-based scholarship exceeded $41,000, which is very generous.
Among the students who had to take out loans, the average borrower owed approximately $28,200, according to the Project on Student Debt. On the surface that’s okay. However, nearly 40 percent of borrowers had to go to a source other than the Federal Government for student loans. But as Trinity College reduces the size of the student body, it might also be able to provide more scholarship and work-study assistance per student. That in turn should reduce the average student, and probably the average parent borrower’s, debt.
Trinity stands out in other ways besides its location and financial aid. It offers degrees in three engineering fields, unusual for a school of this size. Trinity grants degrees in Biomedical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. Engineers take a five-course load versus six courses a semester at a larger school. The college’s 4-1-4 calendar even allows them to go abroad, hardly possible at a larger school, and possibly take on a second major.
Study abroad is quite extensive at Trinity, with a campus in Rome as well as college-unique programs in Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, Capetown, Shanghai, Buenos Aires and Trinidad and Tobago. And for those who would prefer study-away within the United States to going overseas, Trinity College has programs on Broadway in New York City and though the 12 College Exchange with other selective liberal arts schools in New England and New York State. Students can spend a semester at a school that might have turned them down when they applied from high school.
There are also shadowing programs with health professionals as well as in the Connecticut Legislature. Trinity is also a member of the national Liberal Arts Career Network. It shares job and internship postings with 34 other selective liberal arts schools.
Trinity College students gave their faculty a rating of 3.78 (out of a possible 5) on RateMyProfessors.com. That’s about the same as Bowdoin, Brandeis and Holy Cross students regarded their faculty. But students at other selective New England colleges including Amherst, Bates, Colby, Connecticut, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Williams held their teachers in higher esteem.
Trinity stands out for housing. In addition to residence halls, Trinity offers apartment-style and townhouse living options on campus as well as Greek life, which attracts about a fifth of the student body. Most schools of this size do not offer as many living options. However, as mentioned before, this is not the best school for students who want to take a car to campus after their freshman year.
Trinity College is a fine school. I realize that people in New England might liken it to schools that typically appear higher in college rankings. It plays in the same sports conference as those schools, too. Those who go for selectivity over all things would probably prefer one of those schools. But had I been looking at a liberal arts college in “my day,” Trinity College would have been on my list.
I like the idea of being on a small college campus by day, with opportunities to explore other places outside of school. I also like the idea of going to a school that is located in a very accessible city. Of course I might have turned into a UConn sports fan. The Huskies are Hartford’s Team when it comes to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. The pros take second chair, and so do small colleges in the area. But that’s a small price for getting a fine liberal arts education.