The Best Colleges in New York City

Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in New York City
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The best college in New York City represent an impressive range of small, large, public, and private institutions. If you're looking for an urban college experience, NYC has lots to offer as a world financial and cultural hub. Few locations in the United States have such a high concentration of places for college students to gain hands-on experience through volunteer work, internships, and research partnerships.

As you consider the different options for higher education in New York City, be sure to consider some of the issues that are unique to urban life. NYC is large, and some of the city's great schools are quite removed from popular locations in Manhattan. It's also an expensive place to live, so be sure to see if your favorite school guarantees housing for four years, or if they have a program to help you find and afford off-campus housing.

The schools below were chosen for the strength of their academic programs, quality of the faculty, campus resources, student experience, and graduation rates. Because the schools differ in so many significant ways, they are listed here alphabetically rather than being forced into any kind of dubious ranking.

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Barnard College

Barnard College from Broadway
Barnard College from Broadway. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Barnard College is a women's liberal arts college located on an attractive and compact campus adjacent to Columbia University on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. With 2,600 students, an entirely undergraduate focus, and a 9 to 1 student / faculty ratio, Barnard offers all the advantages of a top-ranked liberal arts college: the community is tight-knot, classes are small, and students develop meaningful relationships with their professors. At the same time, the college has a seamless cross-registration agreement with Columbia University, so students also have access to the breadth of classes and research opportunities afforded by a larger comprehensive university.

Admission to Barnard College is highly selective. In fact, at 14%, the college has the lowest acceptance rate of all of the nation's top women's colleges. The college has a strong 85% four-year graduation rate. The college also does well with financial aid. For students who qualify for grant aid, the average award is over $47,000 a year.

Psychology, history, English, economics, political science, and neuroscience are the most popular majors. High school women who plan to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields should check out Barnard's summer pre-college program: STEMinists in Training Institute.

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Baruch College (CUNY)

Baruch College

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One of the 11 senior CUNY colleges, Baruch College has the highest bar for admissions. The acceptance rate is 41%, and admitted students typically have SAT or ACT scores that are well above average. The college has over 15,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students. Business fields such as accounting, management, and marketing are the most popular majors. The campus is one of the most diverse in the country with students who speak 110 languages and hail from 168 countries.

The college's campus consists of a few large buildings located between 22nd and 26th Streets in Manhattan's Part Avenue South area. Many students live in New York City and commute to campus. The school does offer housing but can accommodate only a small percentage of students.

Baruch College's in-state tuition is under $8,000 a year and the school consistently ranks among the nation's best value colleges. Even with its low tuition, 91% of students receive some form of grant aid from the college. The CUNY system was built upon the idea of making college accessible to everyone, and CUNY still works to make college affordable regardless of one's financial resources.

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Columbia University

Panoramic view of Columbia University campus at daytime
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Columbia University is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan's Upper West Side. Barnard College adjoins the campus. As one of the prestigious eight Ivy League schools, getting in is difficult. The university has an 7% acceptance rate, and straight 'A's and combined SAT scores over 1500 are the norm. A successful application to an Ivy League school requires a complete package of strong academics, impressive extracurricular accomplishments, high standardized test scores, and winning application essays.

Columbia is a research-focused comprehensive university with an impressive 6 to 1 student/faculty ratio. With about 8,000 undergraduates and three times that number of graduate students, undergrads will find a wealth of opportunities for getting involved in research both on and off campus. The school's academic strengths span the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences. Popular majors include English, computer science, history, economics, political science, and various engineering fields.

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The Cooper Union

Cooper Union building, East Village.
Allan Montaine / Getty Images

The Cooper Union has a small campus in the East Village of Manhattan. One of the college's historic buildings was the location of Abraham Lincoln's important Cooper Union Address that was instrumental to his path to the White House and the eventual abolishment of slavery.

The school's full name, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, speaks to its specialized mission. All students study art, architecture, or engineering. When Peter Cooper founded the school in 1859, his goal was to provide a free education. Financial exigency has not allowed that practice to continue, but even today, every admitted student receives at least a half-tuition scholarship valued at over $22,000 a year.

The school is small and selective. The diverse student population is under 1,000, and under 20% of applicants are admitted. SAT and ACT scores are optional, but self-reported data suggests that typical scores are well above average and students tend to earn 'A' grades in high school. Architecture applicants also need to complete a studio test, and an art portfolio will be important for the School of Art.

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Fashion Institute of Technology

Nagler Hall dormitory at the Fashion Institute of Technology
Nagler Hall dormitory at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia Commons /  CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the exciting features of attending college in New York City is that you can go to a highly specialized school but still be in close proximity to hundreds of thousands of college students in every field imaginable. FIT, Fashion Institute of Technology, is an example of a school with a narrow mission that couldn't exist in many places other than NYC. It's also highly unusual for such a specialized school to be a public institution, but FIT is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

One of the best fashion schools in the U.S., FIT is located in Midtown Manhattan just south of the Garment District. The curriculum focuses on both the design and business side of the fashion industry. With 8,500 undergraduates, FIT is large for a fashion school, but this is in part because of the breadth of the curriculum. The school offers 2-year, 4-year, and graduate degrees, and students can focus on merchandizing, communications, manufacturing, advertising, illustration, or design. Specialized programs include Packaging Design, Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing, Jewelry Design, and Menswear.

Admission to FIT is selective with a 59% acceptance rate. SAT/ACT scores are optional, but all students must write an essay focused on their reasons for wanting to attend FIT. Applicants to art and design programs will also need to submit a portfolio.

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Fordham University

Fordham University

Kristine Paulus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Fordham is the only Jesuit university in New York City, and it ranks among the nation's top Catholic colleges and universities. For students who want an urban campus but also appreciate green spaces, Fordham's 85-acre Rose Hill campus in the Bronx is located next to the New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo. The university was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for it's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, and its law campus in Manhattan ranks among New York state's top law schools. On the athletic front, the Fordham Rams compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 Conference.

Fordham University has close to 10,000 undergraduates and another 7,000 graduate students. Academics are supported by a 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio. Admission is selective—roughly half of applicants are admitted each year, and they tend to have grades and SAT/ACT scores that are well above average. Popular undergraduate majors include biology, business administration, finance, economics, psychology, and political science. Students will also find strong programs in the arts and humanities.

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The Juilliard School

The Juilliard School and Reflecting Pool at Lincoln Center
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After Columbia University, The Juilliard School is the most selective school on this list with an 8% acceptance rate. Juilliard is focused entirely on the performing arts, The school draws some of the most talented musicians, dancers, and actors in the world, and its alumni list includes hundreds of Grammy, Tony, and Emmy award winners. Admission is based almost entirely on a rigorous audition process, and successful applicants need to be truly accomplished in their discipline and have had previous professional training. Grades, test scores, and the application essay matter far less, but applicants do need to demonstrate that they are capable of college-level work.

As a conservatory, Juilliard is a poor choice for a student looking for a well-rounded and versatile liberal arts education. For students who want to truly immerse themselves in their craft and become professional artists, Juilliard is hard to beat. It's location at the Lincoln Center means that students are learning in the heart of one of the world's great artistic hubs. Central Park is just a block away, so students can easily escape the bustle of the city.

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The New School

Parsons, the New School for Design
Parsons, the New School for Design. René Spitz / Flickr

The New School was founded over a hundred years ago with a focus on social research and the mission of promoting progressive thinking. Today, The New School remains an excellent choice for students interested in the rigorous debate in the social sciences, but other units of the university have developed with far different specialties. The New School, in fact, is really a consortium of multiple schools: Parsons School of Design (made famous by Project Runway), Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School for Social Research, Schools for Public Engagement, and College of Performing Arts. The College of Performing Arts is home to three schools: the School of Drama, School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and Mannes School of Music.

The New School buildings have an enviable location in Manhattan between Union Square and Greenwich Village. New York University is a short walk to the south. The admissions process is selective with a 69% acceptance rate, although that number will vary considerably for different programs within the school. SAT/ACT scores are optional. Some programs will require a portfolio or audition. The New School is home to about 7,500 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students.

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New York University

New York University
New York University.

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With over 52,000 students, half of them graduate students, New York University is the largest school in New York City. The main undergraduate campus surrounds Washington Square Park in Lower Manhattan, and as the school has grown, many residence halls have sprung up around Union Square to the north. NYU also has a campus in Brooklyn for the Tandon School for students studying engineering and applied sciences.

NYU tends to do well in the national rankings of private research universities, and it also does well in specialized areas such as art, business, law, and medicine. The Stern School of Business and Tisch School of the Arts are among the best in the nation for their respective fields.

Students shouldn't expect a traditional college campus at NYU, for the school is very much an urban university where you'll step out of academic buildings and onto city streets. The school takes over Washington Square Park in order to hold its graduation ceremony. Admission is highly selective with a 21% acceptance rate. Students will want a combined SAT score over 1400 to be competitive.

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Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute Library
Pratt Institute Library. bormang2 / Flickr

Pratt Institute is made up of six schools: Art, Design, Architecture, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Information, and Continuing and Professional Studies. The school has a top-ranked program in fashion design, and Pratt also ranks among the country's top art schools. The school has three campuses. The main campus occupies 25 acres in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the Manhattan campus is home to a public art gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood. Students in many disciplines can spend their first two years studying at Pratt's extension campus in Utica, New York, and then move to the city for their final two years.

Admission to Pratt is selective with a 66% acceptance rate, and admitted students tend to have grades and standardized test scores (which are optional) that are above average. Because of Pratt's focus on art and design fields, nearly all applicants will need to complete a portfolio of their writing or visual art.

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St. John's University

St. John's University

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St. John's University is one of the nation's many excellent Catholic universities. Students can choose from over 100 majors through St. John's numerous schools and campuses. The main campus is located in Queens with branch campuses in Manhattan, Staten Island, and Oakdale. Outside of the U.S., St. John's has campuses in Rome, Italy, and Paris, France.

St. John's is made up of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, College of Business, and College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Preprofessional fields are extremely popular with undergraduates, and some of the largest majors are within business, legal studies, criminal justice, and health. Biology and psychology are also extremely popular.

St. John's University is one of the less selective schools on this list with an acceptance rate of 75%. That said, admitted students tend to have grades and standardized test scores that are above average. The university is home to 21,000 students including nearly 5,000 graduate students.

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Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University
Yeshiva University. Scaligera / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Yeshiva University has 11 schools spread across four locations in Manhattan and the Bronx. Undergraduates generally study at the Uptown Wilf Campus and the Midtown Beren Campus. The great majority of undergraduates who attend Yeshiva are Jewish, and the school's curriculum combines Jewish studies with a liberal arts education. More than 600 students also study in Israel each year through the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program. Yeshiva's Cardoza School of Law ranks among New York State's top law schools, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine is a top medical school in the state.

With just 2,800 undergraduates and a 7 to 1 student / faculty ratio, Yeshiva delivers the type of intimate and student-focused experience one would expect with a top liberal arts college while also being engaged with a bustling and diverse urban environment. Admission is moderately selective with a 67% acceptance rate. Successful applicants tend to have grades and test scores that are above average.

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Grove, Allen. "The Best Colleges in New York City." ThoughtCo, Aug. 2, 2021, Grove, Allen. (2021, August 2). The Best Colleges in New York City. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "The Best Colleges in New York City." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).