"Ole Miss had a better environment, better scholarships and learning opportunities, and was in closer proximity to my hometown," said Hardwick, who enrolled in the university's Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. "There are so many opportunities for community service here, which really excites me. The Honors College and campus in general are also more inviting than other schools."
Hardwick is among 3,089 new freshmen on campus, an astounding 19.9 percent increase over last fall. Among them are 34 National Merit and National Achievement finalists, and five National Merit and National Achievement semifinalists.
Preliminary enrollment figures show UM's total unduplicated headcount on all its campuses is 19,536, another record. That's 1,192 students more than last fall, a 6.5 percent increase.
"The most exciting thing about our large enrollment increase is that more and more students have the opportunity to experience amazing at the University of Mississippi," Chancellor Dan Jones said. "Students come to Ole Miss to transform their lives. We are thrilled that more students are choosing to do this."
The number of students choosing to return to campus after their freshman year also has increased, climbing from 78.3 percent two years ago to 83.1 percent this year.
"While we are excited about new students, we are just as excited about the increased retention rate," Jones said. "More students finding success in their freshman year means more sophomores and ultimately more graduates."
The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College has enrolled 900 students, up from 860 last fall. Among them are a record 288 freshmen, who come from 20 states and four foreign countries and have an average ACT score of 30.2.
Honors College applications were up 50 percent this fall over 2009, said John Samonds, the college's associate dean. "We accepted 25 percent more applicants than we originally planned," he said.
One of those new honors students is classics major Kaitlyn Barnes of Jackson, who chose UM over offers from Davidson College and the University of Florida.
"Ole Miss is a great fit for me," she said. "I was really looking to attend a large public school offering many academic opportunities. The SMBHC, the Residential College, the strong classics department and the Croft Institute (for International Studies), of which I am considering becoming a student, were just a few things that attracted me to Ole Miss.
"I was also invited to intern at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, with which I've done a lot of work over the past couple of years. And, of course, I wanted to be part of a passionately spirited community."
A new incentive for talented students is the Provost Scholars program, which offers seminars and other benefits for students who have demonstrated high academic achievement. The inaugural class includes more than 350 students, with an average GPA of 3.69 and average ACT of 28.
Another new program is the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which opens this fall with an inaugural class of 27 freshmen. The new program, established with funding from Toyota Motor Co., focuses on the latest concepts in manufacturing, incorporating elements from the university's schools of Engineering, Accountancy and Business Administration, and the College of Liberal Arts.
It was the critical factor that attracted Ethan Veazey of Ridgeland to Ole Miss.
"The CME attracted me because it provides an innovative approach to combining engineering and business that is not available in other programs or schools," he said. "The CME manufacturing facility will provide hands-on experience that will distinguish me from my competitors in the job market, and the contacts I make with the CME advisory board will provide invaluable networking opportunities."
UM requires its freshmen to live in residence halls, and the opening last month of the 332-bed Luckyday Residential College was a key in allowing enrollment to increase so dramatically. The university also purchased the 432-bed Campus Walk apartment complex for student housing.
Besides new residence halls, the university also offers new dining options for students this fall.
The Student Union food court has been completely remodeled and a new Subway Sandwiches, the nation's first Subway to be built with a new design, is open on the fourth floor of the Union.
Dillon Mooney, a sophomore pre-med major from Laurel, said he enjoys the atmosphere and variety of the food court.
"I like how commercial it is. It's not like a cafeteria," he said. "It has more of a going-out restaurant feel. And, if you want home cooking, you can go to the Magnolia Kitchen, like I just did today."
A record 2,469 students are enrolled at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. That's an increase of 57 students (2.4 percent) over last fall, with the largest increases coming in the School of Medicine (6 percent) and Graduate Medical Education programs (14 percent), said Tom Fortner, the Medical Center's chief public affairs and communications officer.
The Ole Miss student body also includes 14,154 undergraduates, 2,104 graduate students, 519 law students and 290 students in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.
Enrollment remains strong on the Tupelo campus, where 816 students are enrolled this year, and is growing at satellite campuses in Southaven (up 1 percent), where 966 students are enrolled, and Booneville (up 10.1 percent), where 98 students are enrolled.