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The Characteristics of a Liberal Arts College

Updated on September 23, 2014
Allegheny College. Meadville, PA. Founded in 1815. Brooks Walk, made entirely of red brick, leading to Brooks Dining Hall.
Allegheny College. Meadville, PA. Founded in 1815. Brooks Walk, made entirely of red brick, leading to Brooks Dining Hall.

Guilty as Charged

I attended Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, and it is one of the most liberal arts colleges out there. With only 2,100 undergraduate students enrolled, there are certain characteristics you notice when the campus only takes 15 minutes to cross end-to-end. For those of you who went to a big university, like Penn State or Ohio State, this is what it was like going to a small liberal arts college. For people who know what I'm talking about, you can probably relate.

When you really think about it, a liberal arts college is a lot like high school. Except it's harder and you're paying more money for it.

And we've heard all the jokes...

Class sizes are small, and attendance and participation count towards your grade.

This was an actual nightmare for four years. As an English student, your presence in class pretty much determined your grade for the semester because the only thing we were graded on was papers and participation in class discussions. Absent one day? You're down a third of a letter grade. Some professors were more strict or lenient than others and by your senior year you knew who to avoid and who to sign up for. And you couldn't skip a class and it go unnoticed. Most professors actually took attendance with a roster; the biggest class I ever had was only about 18 kids anyway, so if a seat was empty, everyone knew exactly who was missing.

Philosophy and art are just as popular majors as biology and science.

The classes are so mixed with who majors in what that we didn't really have one outstanding specialty at our school. You major in what you enjoy and what you're passionate about, not what will necessarily make you the most money in the future. We didn't even have an engineering option. We did have pieces of art all over the buildings on campus, though.

Social issues are a constant topic of discussion.

We had an ally week every year that encouraged people to openly support the LBGQ community both on campus and elsewhere, with chalk drawings all over the sidewalks and driveways. A Fag Bug, a traveling Volkswagen Beetle that promoted LBGQ awareness, visited our campus at last once a year. Motivational speakers were usually those who had been met with social, racial, sexual, or economic averseness. One of the most well-known clubs on campus was ReProCo, a club to promote sexual health and responsibility among Allegheny students. Republicans and Democrats would be best represented by the image of Tom and Jerry. Everyone has an opinion, and more often than not, it's voiced on social media and gets them extreme support or backlash.

Our food doesn't totally suck.

Maybe because we're privately funded, but our cafeteria food wasn't all that disgusting compared to the food at other colleges. Since Allegheny supported the local Meadville markets, we had a lot of our vegetables, baked goods, and dairy products provided by farms in the nearby area. Our food provider was the same company as the owner of Eat 'N' Park (which unless you're from PA you've probably never heard of). As a recent graduate, I'm not ashamed to say that I actually miss the food court there.

Our classes don't sound real or useful in the real world. And pretty much aren't.

I took a class all about vampires in literature and film. When am I ever going to use that in a real world context? What job would prove that knowledge useful? It's like our majors: they're more for the enjoyment of learning and being in class rather than just mindless obligation. I loved the classes I took, but by the same token, I never took anything like biology or math. Maybe that's because I was an English major and had no reason to. But from what I understand, even our math and science classes are fun - still hard, but worth it.

There are cliques.

Just like high school, majors tend to stick with their own majors. Sports teams especially always stick together, whether they were in class, eating, going to parties, or living in the same dorm room. Not that there were "cool" kids or anything - sorry to break it to you, Allegheny, but everyone has a quirk or two or twenty - but you could always guarantee that everyone stayed in their usual groups. If you saw one person, you probably saw the same people with them every single time.

Pretentiousness and self-righteousness come free of charge.

Because it's a private expensive liberal arts school, everyone thinks that their school is basically Harvard's lesser known sibling. Allegheny had the academic rigor of an Ivy League, but you'd think we were better than Yale and MIT put together. People treat fellow students that way, too, with condescension, as if we all don't go to the same school and therefore have what it takes to be there. The most pompousness came from the pseudo-philosophizers who thought they were too smart for everyone else and mankind and anyone they could ever deal with ever in their whole lives.

It's the only place where sports don't carry the weight they do everywhere else.

Athletes aren't praised at liberal arts colleges because, frankly, they're usually in the lower divisions. The only football games everyone went to was homecoming and senior rec, and even then attendance was unimpressive. If it could be categorized stereotypically, the nerds rule the school and the jocks are just kind of there in their own world. Since liberal arts schools give hefty athletic scholarships out, the jocks get the reputation of only getting in because they can throw or catch or kick a ball. While this was only true maybe a tenth of the time, the self-appointed intellectuals on campus had their own ideas of the college hierarchy.

The amount of tuition you pay and the standard of living are not directly proportional.

You'd think that because tuition is an arm and a leg, more expensive because it's a private school, that you'd have showers that couldn't be condemned by the health department or dorm rooms the size of elevators. You'd be wrong. In fact, most money goes towards beautification of the campus, random tributary structures, landscaping, and new but not better to-go containers at the cafeterias. Is it too much to ask for a showerhead that doesn't feel like you're just being spit on?

No one has ever heard of your school.

In the Pittsburgh area, any college with "Allegheny" in it immediately makes people think the Community College of Allegheny County, CCAC. So when I told people I was going to Allegheny, they'd say, "Oh, what campus? Like near the mall?" You can always tell when someone is familiar with your school if they sound impressed or tell you it's a good school. I've taken up saying "Allegheny in Meadville" but no one knows where Meadville is either, so the final revised answer is "Allegheny in Meadville, 30 miles south of Erie." You don't realize how local the college actually is until you talk to someone from out of the area. For the pompous conceited people, the less someone knows about your school, the better: you can make it sound like the hardest most prestigious college ever graced by humankind.

But Maybe We'll Have the Last Laugh After All


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