NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — 18-year-old Jestina Bardhi from Mackinaw is part of Illinois State University’s largest freshman class in nearly 40 years.

ISU is boasting a freshman class of 4,147 students, up four percent from last year. Bardi said picking ISU was a no-brainer.

“I’d say its proximity and it’s a really great school. It has good programs, I’m in the nursing program. I heard it was one of the best programs in Illinois so it was an easy choice for me,” she said.

One-third of the Class of 2027 are first-generation students and 41 percent are racially diverse. The average GPA is 3.64, including 400 honors students.

“We’re super excited about the class. They’re academically talented,” said Jana Albrecht, associate vice president of enrollment management at ISU.

Albrecht said a sense of community plays a big role in why many students choose ISU over other institutions.

“We are definitely a spirited bunch. We like to have a lot of fun. We like our successes and we like to be successful in the classroom and in other areas…It does help to have a welcoming environment and to feel a part of a bigger community in order for that success to happen,” she said.

A whopping 96 percent of freshmen are from Illinois, including Bardhi, Makenna Lutz and Charles Connolly. ISU hosts Welcome Week for freshmen to get them familiar with resources, activities and groups on campus.

“There’s over 400 different groups to pick from, so there’s anything for everybody…All my friends live by me, there’s a Subway in my residence hall. It’s great, it’s good,” said Lutz, 18, from Gerard.

“I think there is something for everyone here. The classes are good and you learn a lot…I like it a lot living on campus. It’s a good time. I’m with four friends from high school and it’s really convenient…It was close to home and I have a brother here,” said Connolly, 18, from Chicago.

ISU’s affordability is also a draw for many freshmen. Tuition, fees, room and board at ISU run about $27,000 per year, but Albrecht said 80 percent of freshman receive financial aid.

“Each year, we try and take a look at where there are more students saying they need additional scholarships and need additional grants. We try to make those financial aid packages feasible for each family to be able to attend ISU,” she said.

Incoming freshmen are also rewarded financially for their good grades in high school.

“We take that seriously that we’re a public institution in Illinois…Students that have a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher will receive some sort of Redbird scholarship,” said Albrecht.

Albrecht said total enrollment at ISU is 20,989 students, an increase of 1.5 percent from last year.

“We are very excited about ISU’s success and we’ll do everything that we can to continue to make ISU a place that students select and want to come to,” she said.