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I Heart My Home Town

What do you think of when reminiscing about your hometown? Do you recall the people you knew there or the scenery that surrounded it? This past year, we hosted the I Heart My Hometown Scholarship that asked college students and high school students what it was about their hometowns that they would carry with them as they phased into the next stage of their lives. We were so interested to learn about every student’s unique experience and were eager to discover some over-arching themes that young millennials value in their places of origin.

Along with the essay, we asked students to submit several other pieces of information to help paint a better picture of their background & hometowns.

Below are the questions from which we were able to draw informative data about our millennial-aged applicants.

  • In 180 characters, how would you describe your hometown?
  • How would you describe your hometown to college friends?
  • What three things would you recommend people see or do when visiting your hometown?
  • How many colleges have you applied to?
  • In miles, what is the closest you would consider going to school?
  • In miles, what is the furthest you would consider going to school?
  • Where are you planning on living while going to school?
  • How many times have you moved in your lifetime?
  • Grade level
  • Cumulative GPA


From 386 submissions, the majority came from the East Coast (more specifically, New Jersey) Below, we’ve broken down applicants by region:

  • East Coast: 205 (138 from New Jersey)
  • West Coast: 50
  • Midwest: 56
  • South: 62
  • International: 13
  • Total: 386

Of our applicants, 67% were high school seniors with 33% students identifying as either college freshmen, sophomores or juniors:


Looking at New Jersey alone, the majority of applicants were from counties located in the Northern region of the state:

  • North Jersey: 66
  • South Jersey: 44
  • Central Jersey: 28
  • Total: 138

Similar to the national data, the majority of students who applied were high school seniors. 83% of NJ submissions were high school students.


Another question that we asked students was to describe their hometowns in 140 words. Below are visual representations created with Tagxedo, that illustrated the most popular words used by students. Based on this information, we were happy to find that across the board, students used words such as beautiful, community, people, diverse & family to describe their hometowns.

To dig a little deeper, we wanted to remove these greater themes to see if descriptions varied based on what part of the country students were from.

New Jersey students described their areas with words like “cultures”, “parks”, “diverse”, “businesses”, “safe” and “residents” which paints the image of small-town, community-based places where traits like “welcoming” and “quaint” stick out in their minds.


Nationally, when asked to consider what the closest distance in miles students would be willing to travel to school, answers ranged from .1 miles away to 1500 miles. It appears that at one end of the spectrum, students would be willing to attend college just down the street, while the other end they would prefer to start with a buffer of a 4 hour plane ride when considering colleges. The average closest distance students would consider going to school was about 69 miles.

In New Jersey, students weren’t as eager as their national counterparts to high-tail it out of their state. As a starting point, NJ students would consider going from 1 to 454 miles as the closest they would go to school. On average, students would prefer to start with a buffer of 53 miles away from home when choosing a college.


Where you live your first year of school can be dependent on many factors. Are students looking to save money by commuting from home? Does the school provide on-campus housing? What are off-campus housing options? When comparing national data to New Jersey-specific data, 9% more of respondents would be living on-campus and would be less likely to pursue off-campus housing options for their first or second year of college.


In the spirit of inquiring about student’s hometowns, we thought it would be interesting to find out how many times students have moved in their lifetime. With the inclusion of moving away to college, all respondents claimed to have moved at least once in their lifetime.

When comparing national vs. New Jersey answers, it appears that less New Jersey students moved more than once in their lives, with no respondents having moved more than 10 times.


On average, New Jersey students apply to about 5 schools, compared to the national average of 4 schools. When picking apart the data by region, the NJ average was consistent with the East Coast average of 5 schools.


The New Jersey GPA ranks slightly above the national average of 3.51. This should come as no major surprise since New Jersey has been cited to have some of the best schools systems in the US, according to Wallethub.


This data is gives us a ton of food for thought and quite a bit of insight with young millennials. For instance, since New Jersey students have moved less times than the rest of the nation, this could be a reason as to why they have less of an interest to go to school more than 250 miles away. Attending school on the other side of the country would mean that there would be less opportunity for sporadic weekend visits back home to see their friends and family. However, despite their desire to attend school relatively close to home, New Jersey students are still excited about gaining independence from their home lives since a large majority expected to live on-campus at their colleges and not commute. Based on the New Jersey wordcloud, this could relate to their appreciation for small and close-knit communities that they learned to love about their hometowns.

When looking at the data on a national level and breaking up by region, it was interesting to see overarching themes to connect these students, as well as traits and choices that set them apart. Additionally, asking students to write an essay and answer a few additional questions about their hometowns and college aspiration, we were given the opportunity to glimpse into the minds of 18-22 year olds.