I'm going to base this off my experience at Clemson thus far so that I may help others.
I'm from South Carolina which may not help out of staters form their opinions but just hear me out. I have really enjoyed my time at Clemson so far and I wouldn't even think of going anywhere else. Although I know alot of people from my hometown here, I went to a small private high school and only 2 of us from my class went to Clemson. When applying for schools my senior year, I first looked to private schools such as wofford and Roanoke college (in va); I didn't think I could adjust to anything larger than my class of 19. Also, my family is not originally from SC so I didn't have any preconceptions of sc schools from my parents.
The one thing I wanted in a school was spirit and after my first Clemson football game, I was hooked. The 80,000 people cheering along with me was addictive.
I grew up in the lowcountry so the foothills was a change for me, but I've grown to love it. I don't particularly care for big cities other than to visit on occasion so being in a rural area didn't bother me. There's great hiking all around the area and all the hills are great for running. Not to mention there are 3 large lakes nearby. Although lake hartwell is said to be somewhat dirty, I haven't noticed.
Honestly, the city of Clemson is not too bad. I wish there were more things to do for those of us who are not quite of age to do but there are some places to hang out with friends. I also wonder how a town that seems to live solely on selling Clemson themed stuff makes a living.
I live off campus in an appt a few miles down the road from campus. I really like it because the rent is a good value and my neighbors are cool.
We hang out and have a good time so I don't usually feel inclined to try for downtown too often. One complaint I have about the social life is that it can be difficult for a non-Greek or athlete. Whatever way you look at it, Greek life has a big impact in the university. I rushed, and found it to be an unfriendly and unrewarding process. However, I know a few people who joined a frat and love it. I remember being told right when I got to Clemson to "get involved." While not absolutely necessary, I'm glad to had joined a couple of student organizations. Although they predominate, you don't have to be a jock, go to church, or go Greek to make friends. Although my freshman year roommate and I were not friends very long, I made great friends on the hall who I see regularly despite me living off campus while they stayed on. Just remember, if you want to make friends, you can't just expect everyone to come to you. It's common for dorm residents to leave their doors open so just go say hey. If that isn't your style, then find an organization that interests you.
Clemson has a history of being a white, male school. Fortunately that seems to change more as the years go by. Even as opposed to last year I've seen a slightly more diverse population. However, for better or for worse the school is mostly white students from sc who are generally preppy. Someone on my hall last year, from Boston I think, complained about the number of south carolinians at Clemson. While I am happy to see out of staters, one must keep in mind that it is a state school
Students are generally conservative but I've found that differing political opinions are at least tolerated. I can't say respected because I don't know that for certain. Basically, if you don't shove your beliefs onto others, they won't do it to you. I'm not particularly religious and have not had a single problem from those who observe. Also, a tip to newcomers to the south, people don't invite you to their church because they think you need to be saved, they're just being friendly.
I have found that Clemson on a whole is obsessed with sports. I know it irritate some but I like it. The football, basketball, and other games can be really fun. Although some students may be perplexed as to why, you don't had to attend the games. I have friends who don't, and it's all fine. I do recommend attending at least one sporting event, namely football but I won't downplay other sports.
Anyway, after that long spill on some of the facets of the student population...
Frankly, the freshman dorms could be alot better. I lived in the shoeboxes, last year and while I met alot of people and had a positive experience overall, the facility was disappointing. The showers were hot and I liked having a big window in my dorm, but it could be gross on occasion. It's not that housing didn't clean regularly, it's just that the shoeboxes were old and there were alot fo guys who just lived like slobs. The nice thing though is that when Clemson university has a problem, they fix it. Since last year, my former dorm has been put into better shape. There are also plans to completely revamp Clemson housing but that probably won't start 'til after I graduate. Anyway, my RA last year was friendly and happy to work with me as I adapted to living away from home. Unfortunately, food choices can be slim on some days. Freshman are required to have a meal plan and while the dining halls can sometimes churn out quality meals, the food is usually better in theory. It definitely makes me miss my mom's cooking but it's edible. Understandably, only one dining hall is open on the weekends. It was annoying to walk across campus to eat but not too bad.
One can walk anywhere on campus without a problem despite it being somewhat large. I like to walk so I don't mind going in between classes and the commuter lots on foot. The cat buses are orderly and run late but be sure to learn the schedule if you want to have an easy trip to your destination. The drivers are helpful, especially if you ask how their day is, but sometimes you may need to take 2 or 3 different buses.
Resident lots are inconveniently far and the commuter lot can get a little crazy around class time. The key commuting is to to get there early.
Anyway, this post is ridiculously long.
As a biosci major and Spanish minor, I've found academics to be challenging yet satisfying. I know I'm working hard and not wasting my time. My class sizes have varied from 16 to 300 students. Despite the many other students, I do just fine. I sit near the front so I'm not distracted. Also, my profs have all been helpful to me. Even my prof for intro bio class, which had 300 students in it, knows my name. I've had good profs/ TAs (in lab) for the most part. I wish the bio and chem labs were in better condition; they're just getting old. I hope this way too long of a post is helpful