Normally, the Mogul Presidents who tackle this "X Things You Know If You Attend XYZ School" assignment are farther along in their college career than I am. As a freshman, I'm excited to see how this list will have changed by the time I graduate.
For now, though, here are 5 things I find most central to the Mercer University (freshman) experience.
1. It doesn't feel like such a small school.
One characteristic of Mercer that admissions counselors love to tell potential students about is how, while it boasts only 2,900 traditional undergraduates on the main campus, it maintains a "big-school feel." But is that really true?
So far, I believe it is. Halfway through my first semester of college here, I'm guaranteed to see a handful of people that I know relatively well while walking across campus, and my longest walk to a class takes seven minutes. I know my advisor well (he teaches one of my classes), I feel like an individual with a name and an identity rather than simply a number to my professors, and my largest class is an introductory psychology gen-ed with a whopping... forty students. The average class size is 21, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1.
Our student government is effective and involved on campus. They go so far out of their way to know the student body's names, faces, and interests that just this week, they served the food in our cafeteria.
At the same time, there's always something different happening on campus or in Macon. The student body is diverse, and there's something for everyone: 65+ academic majors; over 150 clubs centered around language, culture, intramural sports, religions, and even anime, poker, or natural hair; vibrant Greek organizations; and student- or administration-led events such as make-your-own-stuffed-animal day and free Coke float day.
School spirit is central to the Mercer community in a way that echoes a bigger state school. Our football games draw both students and impassioned Maconites with fireworks, orange and black smoke shooting through the air, free MU swag, and professional hype videos produced by students. All athletic events are free to us, so the turnout is impressive.
Perhaps it's the rose-colored glasses from the excitement of finally starting college, but for now, Mercer embodies to me the perks of both a big university and a small liberal arts college.
2. The food isn't bad, but the hours can be.
One thing that larger schools have that Mercer doesn't? 24/7 dining options. Far from it, actually.
It's not that the food is bad; the problem just lies in the hours that the food is available.
We have two dining halls on campus and a handful of restaurants where we can eat with our ~unlimited~ freshman meal plan. The first dining hall, the caf, serves your typical college food with the occasional surprise and some impressive vegetarian/vegan options (though sometimes the veg choice might just be rice and vegetables or salad, and the gluten-free offerings are limited to a lonely box of donuts). It's open all day until 8:00pm. For students with late labs, club meetings, or other obligations, that can be frustratingly early.
The other is the Farmer's Market. With a vibe more akin to a comfortable cafe, "the Farm" sources Georgia-grown food as much as possible and offers the healthiest options on campus: salads, sandwiches, smoothies, stir-fry, and actually substantial vegetarian options. However, they're only open for lunch (11:00am - 2:30pm) and dinner (5:00pm - 9:00pm) Monday through Thursday and don't open their doors at all on the weekends besides those truncated lunch hours on Friday.
Most of the restaurants -- Panda Express, Chick-fil-A, and Which Wich -- close at 10:00pm on weekdays. Einstein's on the first floor of Tarver Library stays open until midnight, which is definitely a blessing. On Saturdays, Panda and CFA open from 10:30am - 8:00pm, while Which Wich and Einstein's don't open at all. On Sundays they switch: only Einstein's and Which Wich are open.
It's complicated, but not so bad if you keep track of what time it is before getting your hopes up for something specific. But during school holidays or breaks ... good luck finding something open. If anything, it's probably the caf, and it'll be one of those days where the food and service are lackluster.
3. Triple-majoring isn't weird, and everyone is pre-professional.
When I was a senior in high school and friends or teachers asked where I was going to college, the response I got when I told them about Mercer was often underwhelming and usually along the lines of, "Where is that...?"
I've found that people underestimate the academic rigor of Mercer and the drive of its students. Pursuing more than one major is the norm here. It's actually somewhat unusual to meet someone who is only studying one field. I know someone triple majoring and a handful who are double majoring and double minoring.
Mercer encourages pursuing multiple degrees as part of the importance they designate to a well-rounded liberal arts education.
It's also not odd for people to combine fields of study that don't typically align. For instance, I know a student majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Military Science on the pre-med track.
Speaking of which, it seems like everyone is on a pre-professional track, with pre-health leading the way. Almost every other person I speak to holds pre-med aspirations. Pre-PT and pre-dent aren't far behind. There are, of course, also a fair amount of pre-law students eyeing Mercer's 3+3 degree program with our Walter F. George School of Law (shown above) down the street.
Mercer doesn't need to be reserved as a "safety school" or perceived as some tiny college tucked away in a sleepy southern town. In my experience, it's an increasingly-renowned institution that attracts students with big dreams, open minds, and diverse interests.
4. "Service" isn't just a word that the admissions team throws around.
It also speaks to students who engage in community service as a hobby and not just for their National Honor Society requirement. In fact, one of Mercer's slogans reads, "At Mercer, everyone majors in changing the world."
I feel like that's not just something we say but something that many students actually embody and facilitate. Each Greek organization on campus, for example, works closely in support of a philanthropy. In my first few weeks of being a pledge for my sorority, we had the opportunity to go into the Macon community and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House to directly benefit the area around our campus.
Mercer wants students to engage with Macon and its people to foster a broader sense of community and camaraderie rather than remain comfortably on the beautiful campus. The school hosts voluntary event days such a Be a Good NeighBear Day and Service Saturdays that boast record-breaking turnout, and various clubs lead fundraising or community service endeavors on- and off-campus for their chosen causes. With my work for the campus newspaper, the Cluster, I've interviewed students making waves doing anything from hosting a sex-positivity event to combat the South's traditionally lackluster sex-ed to being recognized by the United Nations for remarkable fundraising efforts benefitting women in developing countries.
One of my favorite offerings at my school is the Mercer on Mission program. Enrolled students pay the fee for a regular summer semester for the chance to spend two weeks on-campus learning and preparing for the proceeding three-week service project in a focus country abroad. Some notable programs include Vietnam, where students design and fit prosthetics for amputees, and Kenya, where students can be found installing water filtration systems to provide access to clean drinking water and prevent disease outbreak.
Mercer on Mission embodies another one of our slogans: "Research that Reaches Out."
5. Mercer is vastly underrated, even in Georgia.
Apparently, that message was true last year and the year before, too. While many small private schools report the opposite, Mercer University is growing.
It's becoming more and more attractive not only to Georgia students (traditionally, 80% of Mercer students are from in-state) but to out-of-state students as well.
Perhaps it's partly due to the distinctions Mercer has amassed lately proving to the world what students already know.
According to a recent article on Mercer's site, "Last year, due to factors such as an increase in research expenditures and doctoral programs, Mercer was elevated to the national universities category following 17 years as a top 10 regional university in the South."
Mercer has been named No. 133 in U.S. News & World Report’s national universities rankings, tied with six others including state schools Louisiana State University, Rutgers University, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Kentucky. MU is one of only four Georgia schools to even make the list.
We've been named the 39th Best Value out of 311 national universities (only two Georgia schools made that list), and our College of Engineering is the 38th best in the nation among institutions not offering Engineering Doctorates.
But why doesn't the world at large seem to know this? It's been suggested to me that some people don't consider Mercer because of its location.
Macon-Bibb County is striving to improve despite being one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the state with a reputation for violence: high-school graduation rates are nonetheless climbing while crime rates are actually decreasing, and the city has begun to implement poverty-reduction plans as well as embarked on major beautification and development projects amid an uncharacteristic business boom.
On its brighter side, Macon's cultural background and musical history are unmatched in Georgia, and the city was almost the state's capital. According to the Wikipedia page about Macon, the city of 100,000 is home to the "Ocmulgee National Monument [which] has large Native American earthen mounds from around 1000 A.D., and its museum displays artifacts spanning thousands of years. The Tubman Museum’s exhibits on African-American art, history and culture include a huge mural and the Inventors Gallery. The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House shows memorabilia in the rock band’s former home."
The downtown area has undergone renovations making it "downright trendy" according to an article about city improvements.
Mercer is more than meets the eye to an outsider, and Macon-Bibb is hopefully on its way to carrying that same qualification.
My Mercer journey has only recently started. These 5 characteristics are ones I find very representative of my experience here thus far, and I look ever forward to what I stand to both gain and give during my time here.
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Hi! My name is Emily Rose, I'm from Athens, Georgia, and I'm excited to be the Mogul President here at Mercer University. I'm a writer, musician, and pre-law student hoping to double major in Journalism and Law & Public Policy.