Getting To Know: Montclair State University (NJ)
I have taken several visits to Montclair State University since my junior year in high school. But I had not taken one as a college admissions advisor until July, 2023. I’m glad that I did.
This campus has changed a lot since I last visited 18 years ago, back when I was a software marketing executive. In some ways Montclair State has changed for the better, Several academic buildings have been constructed or updated. The university constructed new residence halls since I last visited, and now houses about 5,000 students on campus. I gathered some photos on Pinterest for you, and also recommend that readers watch the College Tour program about the university.
Montclair State is a decent value for the money.
The estimated total cost of attendance for an on-campus student, including direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board) and incidentals (books, transportation, clothes, etc.) is approximately $35,000 for a New Jersey resident and just over $43,000. Interestingly, the university adds $3,000 for students who live in off-campus housing. I was glad to see this, since the campus is surrounded by communities where apartments easily rent for over $1,000/person/month and travel by bus is less practical than it would be in a college town that hosts a larger university.
New Jersey residents with a 3.4+ high school GPA may qualify for merit awards to further reduce their costs; the minimum GPA for non-residents for non-residents from other states is 3.0. Montclair State is also one of the more transfer-friendly schools in New Jersey, even offering scholarships to attract New Jersey residents who attend out-of-state colleges.
Montclair State has the second-largest population of any New Jersey public university after Rutgers-New Brunswick.
The undergraduate population has grown from just over 10,000 in 2000 to nearly 18,000 today. It will grow further. On July 1st Bloomfield College, formerly a small school less than ten miles away, officially became part of Montclair State. Bloomfield will operate pretty much business as usual for the upcoming admissions cycle, even offering NCAA D-2 varsity scholarship athletics. If you like both schools you will have to make separate applications to each one.
Montclair State has also lost around a fifth of every freshman class since 2017. About half of the classes that have entered since 2016 have graduated on time. Other public colleges in New Jersey do better, but I must consider these numbers in light of the school’s location. The campus is smack in the middle of a two-county region with approximately 1.4 million people. Most of the students commute between home, class, and likely jobs or internships. It’s quite possible to drop courses, work more hours and take more time to graduate, if you commute.
Montclair State has many academic strengths.
The student ambassadors I met were quite proud of the university’s arts, theatre, music, nursing and education programs. If someone told me that Montclair State has one of the best musical theatre programs around, I would not argue, based on my conversations as well as a YouTube that I watched after I got home from my visit. There are also business and communications programs with more options than you would find at Rutgers’ main campus. Community health programs are comprehensive and abundant. The same is true for Psychology.
Montclair State is surprisingly undergraduate focused for a relatively large school. Only five percent of all classes offered during the 2021-22 academic year had over 39 students. By comparison, this number for Rutgers’ main campus was 28 percent. There are also a wide variety of opportunities for accelerated admissions to graduate programs.
Montclair State’s current president, Dr. Jonathan Koeppel, came from Arizona State University, where he was formerly the Dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Dr. Koeppel wants Montclair State to become known as New Jersey’s Public Service University, leading community engagement partnerships near campus. Montclair State is already the most residential of New Jersey’s Hispanic Serving Universities and the most diverse among the more residential state college campuses that are not part of Rutgers.
Admissions to Montclair State are not overly selective for most programs, excluding nursing, dance and theater and visual communication design.
Overall, the university admitted 90 percent of the students who applied to be in last year’s freshman class. The exceptions are nursing, which caps enrollment to the first 50 students who deposit, the audition-based programs in the performing arts and portfolio-based program in visual communication and design. Montclair State was the first public college in New Jersey to go test-optional. Only 14 percent of freshmen in the Class of 2026 submitted SAT scores. The average high school GPA was just over 3.3.
Montclair State was one of the first schools in the country to use direct admission, first targeting 3,000 candidates from New Jersey through the Common Application.The university also uses an Early Bird admissions program where high school juniors may send their transcripts (up to mid-year grades) by mid June. and receive a decision around July 1st. However, there are restricted majors where applicants go through a second review and receive a decision in the Fall.
The location and layout of the campus have their strengths
Montclair State was built on a mountain. The campus appears to have different levels when you look down from the highest point, where the newest residence halls are located, classroom buildings, the newest theatre, administrative buildings, the football field and older residence halls are at the bottom Most of the architecture has a white and red Spanish motif that might lead you to think that you’re in California instead of only 12 miles from New York City. Even the newest parking structures carry the theme. I dropped five photos below.
Most of the academic facilities that I saw on tour are very nice. So are the newest residence halls, which opened 12 years ago. Older residence halls that I saw on YouTube, Blanton Hall and the Hawks Crossing apartments, also have nice amenities. However, I felt that the student center and dining areas needed an interior update. You can also see the Manhattan skyline at a distance from campus. But as you see from the photo below it was hazy, hot and humid on my tour day.
You can walk from one end of campus to the other in about 20 minutes. But it will feel like you are walking in a wind tunnel during cold winter months if you’re coming from a parking deck. Montclair State is also the only New Jersey college that has its own commuter rail station. That’s great for treks to New York for internships and Thursday or Friday night adventures. But there are no trains on weekends which makes no sense to me. The campus is the last passenger stop on the line before the train goes to the rail yard to be cleaned and prepped for the next trip. I live near the last stop on a train to Philadelphia that takes far fewer passengers. But the trains always stop there to drop passengers off.
Aside from no weekend train service the campus has other weaknesses.
From watching several YouTubes and well as The College Tour. I got the sense that Montclair State is in high spirits during the week, but nothing like that on the weekends. This visit made me appreciate college towns where you can walk into downtown from campus. College towns have a vibrant life on and near campus, even when the school cannot house most of its students, because there might be affordable housing within walking distance of most places students want to go. Montclair State houses about 5,000 students. But less than half of the freshmen live on campus and they cannot have cars. They must take shuttles to go to downtown Montclair, which is fairly nice, or rely on Uber or Lyft.
Montclair State is also located off one of the busier exits on the Garden State Parkway, because it feeds into Routes 46 and 3, two very busy state highways that have always been in some state of reconstruction. Since the campus is in a bedroom community for New York; commuting students jostle in traffic with commuting workers. This school also has one of the worst parking situations I have seen on a college campus. Students and visitors scrambled to find a space 18 years ago. Two decks have been completed since then, but scrambling persists.
I could not see a path to tackling the commuter vibe at this school.
The university closed an older residence hall, Webster, for COVID testing. Even if the building could be renovated and reopened as a residence hall or taken down and replaced with a new building, the students would still want parking. The most cost effective action I see would be to push NJTRANSIT to have the commuter rail serve the campus on weekends to better support the student community and make proximity to the Big Apple more of an asset in recruiting and retaining students. This campus is only 250 acres and no one is making more land for colleges in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. The College of New Jersey has 290 acres, but supports a third as many undergraduate and graduate students.
Montclair State is one of the largest schools to compete in NCAA D-3 (non-scholarship) varsity sports.
However, I could not tell if sports, especially football, bonded the campus and the community, though I would believe that the opportunity to play attracted students to attend the university.
The most recent NCAA data that I could find for football attendance was for 2019. That year, the RedHawks averages 2,200 fans per home game. They have qualified for post-season play 11 times since the current coach took over in 1985. But they averaged only 2,500 fans in the last season (2010) that they got into a D-3 playoff. The late NFL Hall of Fame linebacker, Sam Mills Jr., is a Montclair State alumnus. His son, Sam Mills III, also played there, then became an assistant coach in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Commanders.
Montclair State also has one of the nicest baseball parks that you will find a college campus. Named for Yankee great Yogi Berra, who lived in Montclair for many years, it hosted not only the college’s team, but also the Independent League New Jersey Jackals. However, the Jackals stopped playing there after last season. The Yogi Berra Museum, a “must visit” for baseball fans, is right next to the ballpark.
During the late 1970’s Montclair State was a major power in women’s college basketball. Carol Blazejowski, aka “The Blaze,” was one of the best players in the sport. She was indicted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. Three years later, she became general manager of the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
I saw a lot to like about Montclair State that would benefit anyone who wants a school close to, but not directly located in New York City. The academics are quite extensive and the ambitions for public service are quite achievable. But while Montclair State has a relatively large student body, the campus and community do not have a college town vibe that I see at comparable schools such as Rowan University (NJ) and West Chester University (PA).
Report Card: Montclair State University
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: C/C
- Freshman Retention: B
- Costs: B (New Jersey residents)/A (Out of State)
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: A (New York City/NJ)/C (elsewhere)
Want to know more about me?
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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