How The Citadel Works

By: Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D.  | 
You can see how the new Citadel students might earn the name knob, based on their buzzcuts.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Each August in Charleston, S.C., new stude­nts leave their families behind to enter a college that's very different from most others -- The Citadel, more formally known as The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Once they pass through the school's gates, they leave their civilian clothes behind and don the uniform and life of a cadet in the South Carolina Corps of Cadets.

Besides losing their street clothes, they lose their hair; men's hair is cut to within a quarter inch (0.6 centimeters) of the scalp, while women's hair is cut to within 3 inches (7.6 centimeters). Their requisite new haircuts earn all new fourth-class students the title knob, so named because their bald heads resemble doorknobs. Upperclass cadets don't address them by their first names, but by Knob - last name.


­After knob parents leave, avoiding emotional displays in front of company officers, as the parental newsletter recommends, the knobs begin a year of intense military training, physical activity, academic studies, duties, discipline, emotional stress and endurance. According to The Citadel's internal attrition reports, about 16 percent won't make it through that first year. Some get homesick or decide the disciplined environment isn't for them; others leave for academic or financial reasons. Most, however, will stick it out to Recognition Day, which marks the end of the fourth-class year. After four years, about 62 percent of all enrolled cadets will graduate; that's the highest four-year graduation rate among public colleges in South Carolina [source: The Citadel].

Why would someone subject himself or herself to this type of intense year? It's a far cry from gaining the freshman 15 and the other adventures of a clueless student during that first year of college. One reason is that many applicants are driven to meet the challenge of this demanding training, sort of like the bragging rights associated with surviving boot camp or running a marathon.

Other students may enter The Citadel for the leadership opportunities. The school's philosophy is that to become a leader, you first must learn to be a follower (thu­s, that intense first year). Still other cadets may be continuing a family history of military careers, simply looking for a good education or some combination of all of the above.

­What types of intense training do cadets undergo? What is the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and how did it become associated with The Citadel? Keep reading as we delve into the storied history of life at The Citadel, starting with how it came to be.


Citadel History and How-to

Aerial view of The Citadel's campus today after it moved from its original digs in Marion Square
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Back when the memory of the British and the American Revolution still lingered, the South Carolina legislature established a municipal guard in 1822 to protect the city of Charleston and the surrounding area. The newly formed military force was given land both for the storage of weapons and for a guard house. In 1829, a building called the Citadel was built in Charleston's Marion Square. A similar building called the Arsenal sprang up to the north in the state capital of Columbia in 1833.

But it wasn't until the governor of South Carolina decided that the troop's guard duties should be combined with education that The Citadel began to take shape. State lawmakers established the South Carolina Military Academy in 1842. Troops in both the Citadel and the Arsenal were replaced by students, who were then and now called the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. The military training program resembled that of another U.S. military academy you've probably heard of: West Point. Initially, the Arsenal and the Citadel operated independently, but later were combined for economic reasons.


Citadel cadets have fought in every U.S. war starting with the Mexican War of 1846, which established the fledgling academy's reputation for military instruction. During the Civil War, the Corps of Cadets became part of the state troops and fought in several battles defending Charleston. In 1865, Union troops burned down the Arsenal, and they also set up camp in the Citadel, forcing it to close temporarily.

Seventeen years later, the Citadel reopened, sticking with its military education program. In 1910, the name was changed from the South Carolina Military Academy to The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. In 1922, the growing college moved to its current campus along the Ashley River. In 1966, The Citadel Graduate College opened and began offering evening programs to men and women and now grants graduate degrees in computer science, education, English, history, business and psychology, in addition to evening undergraduate degrees.

­The Citadel is a public, state-supported, senior military college. Its undergraduate student body numbers more than 2,000. The Corps consists of men and women of many races and ethnic backgrounds (6.4 percent women; 15 percent minorities) [source: The Citadel]. The school offers bachelor's degrees in sciences, mathematics, English, modern languages, computer science, engineering and many other fields of study.

All cadets enroll in Reserved Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) instruction in the. military branch of their choice, such as the Marines. Unlike West Point or other federal services academies at which the U.S. government pays for students' tuition in exchange for military service, Citadel cadets aren't required to join the military upon graduation. But about 30 percent of Citadel grads do choose to receive an officer's commission and join the military each year. Since 2001, more than 1,300 Citadel alumni have served. A small number of cadets in the National Guard and Reserves have been called to serve while enrolled in college, but that doesn't happen often, except say, in 1944, when the entire class of 1944 was called to fight in World War II.

Citadel cadets must meet the same height and weight requirements used by the U.S. Army. Once enrolled, potential cadets must pass a physical test of push-up repetitions, sit-up repetitions and a timed 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) run. (The Citadel lists exactly what those fitness standards are on its Web site.)

So you're in. What can you expect?


Surviving the Knob's First Week

Thanksgiving dinner in The Citadel mess hall. The gentlemen with the festive headgear appear to be knobs.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Knobs report to The Citadel one­ week before classes begin. Some call this first week Hell Week because it's physically and mentally demanding. They receive their uniforms and rifles, have their hair shorn, report to their barracks and attend academic orientation and military training. During this time, upperclass cadets instruct knobs in the basics of military training and discipline. The knobs will undergo intense physical exercises, dropping to the floor for push-ups, sit-ups and crunches or scrambling to their feet to run. Knobs also learn how to shine shoes, polish brass, make a bed, keep their rooms in order and sweep the barracks, form for assembly, march, drill, salute and learn rifle manual basics. Got that? In addition, knobs learn to walk at a pace of 120 steps per minute and maintain good posture (rigid back).

If you're a sassy youngster, The Citadel may not be the place for you. Knobs must carry out all orders from cadets without question. When addressed by an upperclass cadet, a knob can respond in only these ways:


  • "Yes sir/ma'am."
  • "No sir/ma'am."
  • "No excuse sir/ma'am."
  • "Request better judgment sir/ma'am."
  • "Request permission to make a statement sir/ma'am."

[source: The Citadel Guidon]

Whenever asked (usually at meals), knobs must answer questions about the institution. These questions cover just about any topic related to The Citadel. If a knob doesn't know the answer, he or she is asked to find it and report back at the next mess.

­At meals (called mess), knobs must sit upright on the first 3 inches (8 centimeters) of their chairs. They serve the upperclass cadets in their mess (mess carver). Hands aren't allowed to rest on the table, and proper etiquette is strictly enforced.

One Citadel mess tradition called "stumping the stars" refers to answering and asking questions during the knobs' mess. Another no-longer allowed tradition or prank involved ordering a knob to sneak under the table and pour condiments on an upperclass cadet's shoes without getting caught. Another tradition comes at Thanksgiving dinner when the knobs make Thanksgiving hats of all sizes and decoration for their upperclass mentors to wear during the meal.

Knobs are very busy during that first week. What they learn and do during those days will continue throughout the knob year and become the foundation for the training they will receive throughout their time at The Citadel.

­Until 2008, knobs weren't allowed to have telephones, either in their rooms or cell phones. That has changed because of the campus shootings at Virginia Tech. Today, all cadets may carry cell phones. Knob aren't permitted to use their phones during the first week of military training and orientation, but they can text or e-mail family or friends.


A Year in the Life of a Knob

See? Knob life isn't all bad.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­A knob's life is extremely structured and full of duties, exercises and inspections. The knowledge needed by a knob is specified in several manuals: The Guidon, as well as the Red, White and Blue books.

Among other duties, a knob is assigned to a mentor cadet and helps his or her mentor with daily stuff like taking out the trash. Knobs also typically collect and distribute laundry bags and keep the barracks clean. They must always wear a clean, neat uniform with shined shoes and polished brass (uniforms vary depending upon whether knobs are in class, at parade or taking part in physical training). They carry their belongings in a small bag in the left hand so that their right hand is available to salute. They're restricted as to which areas they can walk and which entrances or stairs of buildings they can use.


For knobs, most days begin around 6 a.m. They must get ready by 7 a.m. for formation and breakfast mess. (There's even a specified time slot designated "personal hygiene" on the Citadel's official 24-hour schedule!) Their squad leaders inspect them, sometimes assigning push-ups before marching them to morning mess. As we mentioned, knobs sit erect at mess, observe table manners, serve upperclass cadets, eat quickly and answer questions when asked. After breakfast, they report back to their barracks to get ready for 8 a.m. classes.

Citadel classes are much like those in other universities. The faculty consists of male and female professors. Approximately 99 percent of the faculty have a terminal degree (the highest degree a professional can earn in her or her field [source: The Citadel]. Citadel classes have a low faculty-to-student ratio (approximately 14:1) [source: The Citadel]. Class attendance is mandatory, with few exceptions.

At noon, knobs gather for lunch formation and a repeat of the morning routine. Afternoon classes last from 1 to 4. Physical training (PT) usually occurs on Monday and Thursday mornings and some Friday afternoons for all cadets. Like breakfast and lunch, knobs assemble for evening mess and march there at 6 p.m. After dinner, they head back to the barracks to take care of any duties they may have or to attend club meetings. Mandatory evening study period begins at 8. Cadets may study in their rooms or other campus buildings, but they must be back in their rooms by 10:30 p.m. for accountability check-in. Lights-out is at 11 p.m.

Cadets during parade
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Amid that tight schedule, all cadets take part twice a week in drill periods and parade practice. Parade is where the cadet companies march in formation for review by the commanders. On Friday afternoons, the Corps of Cadets assembles for the weekly military dress parade. On weekends, knobs usually get a breather for study, rest and general leave.

Knobs begin receiving general leave a few weeks after they arrive. Parents often attend parade each Friday and can visit on the weekends. There's also a Parents' Weekend held each October. Knobs also have winter and spring breaks like other college students. During the second semester, they're allowed to go on overnight leave on weekends (although leave can be taken away for military and discipline infractions).

In April, just before exams, comes Recognition Day, which marks the end of their fourth-class year. It is then that knobs are recognized by their first and last names and they learn the full names of all the cadets in their company and throughout the Corps. By afternoon, the knob year ends, and the knobs are recognized in an emotional ceremony that involves the entire Corps of Cadets, faculty and staff.

On to life as an upperclass cadet, at last.


Life as an Upperclass Cadet

Coming through those gates as an upperclass cadet gets a little easier after you survive your first year as a knob.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Once a cadet returns in his or her sophomore year (third class), life is more relaxed. Third-class cad­ets don't have to walk at 120 steps per minute. Occasionally, they might even slouch during mess, but habit probably dies hard. Their responsibilities include maintaining the bulletin boards of the barracks, as well as keeping a neat room, clean uniform and proper appearance. During their second semester, third-class students have the opportunity to become rank holders, taking on leadership responsibility among their peers if their academics, discipline record and military training are in good standing. Rank isn't a given. Some cadets will enter as cadet privates and graduate as cadet privates.

­As cadets progress from third class to second class (juniors) and first class (seniors), they can take on more responsibility in the Corps of Cadets. For example, each year a select group of first- and second-class cadets are asked to help train the following year's knobs. Throughout their college career, cadets have opportunities to learn leadership skills, especially how to motivate their peers. In addition to their academic studies, they can take on administrative duties in the running of the squads and battalions.


Indeed, The Citadel heavily emphasizes leadership skills in its students. At a regular college, motivated students tend to have to seek out leadership opportunities, whether in student government or in another capacity, such as resident assistant. The Citadel also offers a minor in leadership studies through its Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics.

­All cadets can participate in athletic and intramural activities as part of their physical training. The Citadel has many collegiate sports such as basketball, football, baseball, soccer and others. And as you well know by now, those sports aren't just for men.



Women and The Citadel

Before 1995, female cadets had yet to set foot on The Citadel campus in Charleston.
Photo courtesy Russell K. Pace/The Citadel

­Although women have taken evening classes in The Citadel's graduate school since 1966, none had been admitted to the Corps of Cadets. That changed in 1994 when Shannon Faulkner applied and was accepted for admission. She had left her gender information off the application. When it was discovered that she was a woman, The Citadel revoked her offer, so Faulkner filed suit against The Citadel to gain admission.

In her court case, Faulkner's lawyers argued that she was entitled to admission under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Citadel lawyers argued that separate, but equal military education wasn't provided because there was little demand for military education for women. The court rejected The Citadel's arguments, clearing her way to attend the school under court order. Faulkner became the first female knob in 1995, but resigned a few days into her first week. A similar case occurred about this time that forced the Virginia Military Institute to open its doors to women. On June 28, 1996, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Virginia, The Citadel's governing board voted unanimously to remove a person's gender as a requirement for admission.


In the summer of 1996, four women enrolled at The Citadel. Two would later drop out, alleging they were harassed and hazed by cadets. They subsequently sued The Citadel over the incidents; one lawsuit was settled while the other was dismissed. The Citadel has since instituted training and instruction designed to prevent hazing and sexual harassment.

In 1999, Cadet Nancy Mace, who was one of those first four women after Shannon Faulkner, became the first female cadet to graduate from The Citadel. She was followed by Cadet Petra Lovetinska in 2000. Upon graduation, Lovetinska, a Czech national who was granted U.S. citizenship, attended Marine Corp Officer Candidate School and was made a Marine second lieutenant, making her the first female Citadel graduate commissioned in the U.S military. Since those first women enrolled, more than 145 have graduated from The Citadel. As of fall 2008, 134 female cadets made up 6.4 percent of the Corps of Cadets. Today, women are members of every company in the Corps and can be found in classrooms throughout campus.

­Hup to for more articles on topics you might find interesting, like the Army Rangers, mercenaries and the French Foreign Legion.


Frequently Answered Questions

Is The Citadel affiliated with the US military?
The Citadel is not affiliated with the US military.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States. Home page. (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States. "The Citadel." (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States. "Virginia Military Institute." (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • The Citadel. "Brief History of the Citadel." 2007. (Jan. 12, 2009)
  • The Citadel. "Cadet Personal Financing Worksheet." (Jan. 12, 2009)
  • The Citadel. "The Citadel Five-year Dashboard." October 2008. (Jan. 12, 2009)
  • The Citadel. "Fact Book 2007." 2007. (Jan. 12, 2009)
  • The Citadel. "Student Enrollment Profile." Fall 2008. (Jan. 12, 2009)
  • Daniel Library, The Citadel. "Knob Knowledge -- Shannon Richey Faulkner." (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • Devine, T., Canady, J., Perry-Smith, O. and Foster, J. "Barracks Life." The Citadel magazine (2004). (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • "Evolution of a Knob." The Citadel magazine (2003). (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • "The Guidon: The Citadel Cadet Handbook." 2008-09 edition.
  • Labberton, K. "Life as a knob." Charleston City Paper. Dec. 19, 2007. (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • "This is the Citadel." (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • Woodside, T. "When Pomp and Circumstance Fade." The Citadel magazine (2005). (Dec. 22, 2008)
  • Woodside, T. "Six Words." The Citadel magazine (2008).