Where Did Nikki Haley Go to College?

The GOP presidential candidate might champion red during the Republican primary, but she's still loyal to the purple and orange of her alma mater Clemson University.
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Published on May 24, 2023
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  • Haley graduated from Clemson University in 1994, earning a bachelor's degree in accounting.
  • The former governor of South Carolina is still involved with the university, serving a lifetime position on the board of trustees.
  • Haley comes from a family that greatly valued higher education.

Nimarata Nikki Randhawa, now known as Nikki Haley, has collected many "firsts" during her political career.

In 2011, she was sworn in as the one of the first minority female governors in America in her home state of South Carolina. She was the first U.S. governor to have a spouse deployed during her time in office. And before she was known in politics, her family was the first and only Indian and Sikh family to move into their neighborhood in rural Bamberg, South Carolina, according to her election website.

Now, she's running for president in 2024, battling against former President Donald Trump — and, potentially, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — for the GOP candidate spot.

So how did Haley notch so many firsts? It started with her education.

Growing up just an hour south of Columbia, South Carolina, Haley grew up knowing she would go to the University of South Carolina. But she ended up sporting bright orange and purple instead of garnet and black as a college student in the early 1990s.

"All growing up, I wanted to go to the University of South Carolina. That was my school, that's who I cheered for … everything I was going to do was based on USC, and I had decided that was where I was going to go," she said in an interview with Clemson University.

But after touring Clemson for the first time, Haley had a change of heart.

"I felt it. I mean just in my soul, I felt it. Walking on campus, I felt it. That was where I was meant to be. And I never looked back after that," she said.

"It will truly go down as one of the best times of my life. I know everyone says that about college, but it was so much more than just school. It was so much more than just friends. You really felt like it was a family."

Haley's parents, both from the Punjab region of India, were heavily invested in education. Her father received his master's degree in biology while in India before getting his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. He taught at Voorhees College, an historically Black college and university (HBCU) near Bamberg, starting in 1969.

Her mother received her law degree in India and taught sixth-grade social studies at a public school in Bamberg before opening up a gift-shop-turned-million-dollar-boutique in their town, according to Politico.

Haley followed in her parents' footsteps in 1990 when she enrolled at Clemson, with a scholarship in textile management. From the age of 13, Haley kept the books for her mother's business, so when she graduated from Clemson in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in accounting, it was not a surprise to many. During her time in college, she met her future husband, Michael Haley.

Even after graduating nearly 30 years ago, Nikki Haley is still heavily invested in Clemson.

In February, to announce her run for president, Haley took the stage in Charleston to "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor, a nod to her time as a Clemson Tiger. But like other Republicans –– including Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney –– who were criticized for using the rock 'n' roll tune in politics, Haley kicked off her campaign with negative buzz.

In 2017, after the Tigers took home the College Football National Championship trophy, then-Gov. Haley issued a proclamation designating a "Clemson Tigers National Football Champions Day" and ordered a Clemson flag to fly from the Statehouse.

"Clemson showed their heart and humility throughout the entire season, and in an unforgettable national championship victory, they reminded us that, with faith and hard work, anything is possible. That's what defines South Carolina," she told The Tiger.

In 2021, Haley was appointed to a lifetime position on the university's board of trustees.

And most importantly, Haley's daughter, Rena Haley, is also a Clemson alum. "I look back with such fondness, and I love that Rena goes there now because she feels the same thing I felt back then," Haley said in an interview when her daughter was still a student.

While at Clemson, Rena Haley majored in nursing, and she also met her future husband, Joshua Jackson, a former wide receiver for the Tigers. She also tried her hand at politics, running for student government vice president at Clemson back in 2019.