If you had to guess the top states sending students to Clemson University, the first three would be easy. South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina are predictable. Try your hand at No. 4, though, and you might get thrown off.
There were more undergraduates at Clemson from New Jersey than from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Michigan and Missouri combined in 2019.
The number of undergraduates from New Jersey has grown steadily in recent years from 460 in 2013 to 570 this year, making it the fourth-highest state of origin for students according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.
Virginia comes in at No. 5 with 498 students among the 19,650 undergraduates at Clemson.
The University of South Carolina has seen similar growth in enrollment from New Jersey. An estimated 300 new students from New Jersey will start at the University of South Carolina in the fall, an increase of about 6% from the fall of 2017. Applications from New Jersey to the University of South Carolina were up about 28% from 2017, said Jeff Stensland, the university’s director of public relations.
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For UofSC students who started in fall 2016, the most recent class for which the school has data in its online Fact Book, the top feeder states were South Carolina, then North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia.
South Carolina schools are not alone in drawing students from New Jersey. The Garden State continually ranks first for net migration of students. In 2016, 32,014 students left New Jersey for college while only 4,496 students entered the state for a net loss of 27,518 students — the highest net loss in the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Other states do not send as many students out of state because they have bigger scholarships and programs to keep students in-state, said Clemson director of admissions David Kuskowski. For example, Texas guarantees admission to state schools for the top 10% of all graduating students, and Clemson has only 181 students from Texas.
For seven years straight, New York native and New Jersey resident John Kennington has had one of his kids at Clemson. His oldest daughter wanted to go south for college and fell in love with the Clemson political science and honors programs when she visited. His middle daughter transferred to Clemson and will graduate this week. Ceremonies are today and Friday and Kennington is flying in for the festivities.
For both, he saw going out of state for college as a chance for them to “spread their wings.”
Kennington knew that even in-state tuition would be relatively steep, and he felt a school like Clemson offered “bigger bang for your buck.” In-state tuition, room and board at Rutgers University in New Jersey is $34,138, and Clemson’s out-of-state total cost is about $49,352.
Kennington now serves on the Clemson Family Advisory Board and has stepped in to man a table for Clemson at college fairs in New Jersey.
Kuskowski has made three trips to New Jersey for student recruitment since starting at Clemson in 2017. While Kuskowski said Clemson is committed to keeping the student body at a 65-to-35% mix of in-state and out-of-state students, he also sees a geographic spread of students as important for diversity and varied perspectives.
In 2019, Clemson received undergraduate admissions applications from all 50 states, Kuskowski said.
Kuskowski hears a number of reasons for New Jersey students selecting Clemson, from escaping Northeastern winters to finding a place that is not across the country but still provides a chance to get away from home.
Kuskowski has also had students from the Northeast whose families traveled through South Carolina for vacations in places such as Myrtle Beach when they were kids, building fond memories of the state.
Jennifer Nuechterlein has seen a different connection to Clemson over her 11 years as the college and career counselor at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey. It is a large, suburban school of about 3,000 students, and it has historically had the highest number of applications to Clemson from New Jersey.
In 2016, Nuechterlein had 17 students apply to Clemson. In 2017, 30 students applied.
Kuskowski said Clemson received 44 applications for the class of 2023 and accepted 25 students. Seven are planning to attend.
Nuechterlein, who has visited Clemson, said her students often like Clemson because they are used to a big school with a lot of spirit and active sports.
On May 1, Nuechterlein’s students celebrated National College Decision Day. She said there was no shortage of orange in the building.
“The Carolinas are just a nice, healthy distance,” Nuechterlein said.
Nuechterlein’s students average eight to 10 college applications, and those applying to Clemson also tend to apply to the University of South Carolina and Virginia Tech, she said.
Part of the growth in applications to Clemson is because of word of mouth, Nuechterlein said. When the school has a well-known senior go to Clemson, it increases awareness of the college. Parents also spread the the word.
“Parents are sitting at baseball games and lacrosse games talking,” said Nuechterlein, who had students go to 175 different colleges last year.
New Jersey native Mollie Hayes just finished her junior year as a political science and criminal justice student at Clemson. On Friday, May 3, she made the 11½-hour drive home.
When Hayes was visiting colleges while in high school, she added Clemson to her list only because she was stopping at UofSC. She ended up applying to two in-state schools upon her parents’ request, but that was “against her will.”
Hayes immediately loved the Clemson campus. She was accepted at both UofSC and Clemson, but her final choice came down to the University of Florida, her mom’s alma mater, and Clemson.
Hayes now serves as a tour guide at Clemson, and she can tell when New Jersey schools are on spring break because she will see an influx of visitors from there.
During 2018, the Clemson visitors center saw 1,088 prospective students from New Jersey, with each typically bringing two to three family members, said visitors center director Tracey O’Kelley.
Among her peers at South Brunswick High School, Hayes was one of the students who went farthest away. When she got to campus, though, she ended up meeting others from across New Jersey.
Hayes is from Middlesex County, which has 15 Clemson students this year.
Two counties in New Jersey, Monmouth and Morris, each had more students attending Clemson this year than there were students from the entire state of Alabama. Monmouth County had 102, and Morris County had 76. The state of Alabama had 58.
Notably, both Monmouth and Morris have bigger populations than any South Carolina county. Greenville is the biggest Clemson feeder with 2,413 students at the school for the 2018 to 2019 year.
At 8.9 million residents, New Jersey has about 3.8 million more residents than South Carolina’s 5.1 million, according to the United States Census Bureau. Alabama’s population is approximately 4.9 million.
“Clemson was so under the radar for me from Jersey, but I came and found so many people here from the Northeast in general,” Hayes said. “Students from New York and New Jersey, we are all drawn to this small town in South Carolina.”