Last week, we brought our virtual tour home—here to New York State, with a look at public four-year colleges in New York. We focused on our two systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York, with its 64 two-year and four-year colleges and universities, and The City University of New York, with its 24 two-year and four-year colleges located in the five boroughs of New York City.
This week, we are going to start our examination of private options in New York State. While the institutions we will be discussing will be only a sample of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York, we do want to say that there are many, many great private options in the state for our own high school students, but—just as important and maybe more important—for high school students from other states to consider. This is your chance, non-New Yorkers, to move outside your geographic comfort zone and come see New York. So, let’s start with a double handful of nationally known higher education universities—some in New York City and some in upstate New York.
And once again, no college—not even our own alma maters, which will be discussed in this episode—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.
1. Ivy League Institutions
Let’s start with New York’s two Ivy League institutions: Cornell University in the upstate town of Ithaca and Columbia University in upper Manhattan in New York City. While we are talking about Columbia, we will take a look at Barnard College, which is one of the Seven Sisters women’s colleges we have mentioned in a couple of previous episodes and which is affiliated with Columbia—the only women’s college affiliated with an Ivy League institution that has kept its own separate identity (others have become part of their universities at Penn, Harvard, and Brown).
Now, I hesitate to start with Cornell and Columbia and Barnard because Marie and I went to them and, therefore, we could talk about them for hours. My undergraduate days were at Cornell, and my graduate days were at Columbia (as were my husband’s). Marie’s undergraduate days were at Barnard, and her first graduate school days were at Columbia. We have said relatively little about the Ivy League schools in our episodes so far, reasoning that lots of people are already aware of them, that they are even harder to get into now than when we went there some years ago, and that they are ridiculously expensive—though many other colleges are also ridiculously expensive, as we have learned on our virtual tour. Nonetheless, if you have a child with excellent grades and excellent test scores, we alumnae can’t resist saying a few things to you.
So, here are five reasons you should send your child to Cornell:
- Because, while perhaps not an ideal location for anything else, Cornell’s campus in Ithaca is an idyllic spot to go to undergraduate school. It is a bit remote, so students don’t leave on the weekends. There is a lot of natural beauty in the Finger Lakes region. There is cold and snow and rain—but they never put a damper on anything. The campus is large, but accessible. The old buildings are lovely and very collegiate, and the new buildings are—well, new. And parts of the campus look like a picture postcard that should be entitled “The Great American University.”
- Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The “any person” meant women as well as men and meant students of all racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. In 1865, Cornell was the last Ivy League school founded and the first founded with that mission. It is why my father—a die-hard University of Pennsylvania fan and alumnus—sent me to Cornell. Because it was the only Ivy League school where women and men had been treated equally from the first day. Today, “any person” means 14,000 undergraduates and another 7,000 graduate and professional students. The undergraduate students are almost evenly split between men and women (just as Ezra Cornell would have wanted it), and almost 40 percent of the U.S. students are African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Native American.
- Because as founder Ezra Cornell said, Cornell is “an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” We talked last week about the three Cornell schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students and are partnered with the State University of New York and are essentially public: the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Human Ecology. But we also have four private schools that serve undergraduate and graduate students: the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; the College of Engineering; the School of Hotel Administration (with its own hotel on campus); and the very best, the College of Arts and Sciences (where I majored in English, but also studied Latin, French, psychology, U.S. and world history, biology, art history, and more). While the broad range of subject fields offered by the seven undergraduate schools is impressive academically, the fact that, as a student, you live with and play with undergraduate students who are pursuing their studies in all of those fields makes your life on campus and even after you graduate truly stimulating. (Let me also note, in passing, that Cornell has some excellent graduate schools, too: a very fine SUNY-partnered College of Veterinary Medicine, a law school, and a management school in Ithaca as well as a medical school and the new Cornell Tech graduate campus in New York City.)
- Because there are a million productive and enjoyable ways to spend whatever extra time you have when you aren’t studying—from writing for The Cornell Daily Sun, which used to be “Ithaca’s Only Morning Newspaper”; to joining one of 36 fraternities or 13 sororities; to participating in more than 1,000 student organizations; to playing on one of 36 varsity sports teams (yes, we all remember the year that football star Ed Marinaro didn’t win the Heisman Trophy).
- Because there are brilliant professors, some of whom you will remember forever. Every student had his or her favorites—from the super-popular genius lecturer and sleep research expert James Maas, who taught me Psychology 101 in my freshman year, along with 1,800 other students in a huge concert hall; to Stephen Parrish, a quiet Wordsworth scholar, who was editing a 20-volume series of Wordsworth’s poems from their earliest drafts to final publication while I took his class; to the inimitable Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Kammen, who wrote and lectured about American history like nobody else and who, from his lofty perch, somehow managed to know that I covered sports for The Cornell Daily Sun.
I have to say that I loved my four years at Cornell—both while I was there and in retrospect—but I never really thought about why until I wrote those five reasons.
Let’s move south to New York City and talk about Columbia University, where Marie and I both got master’s degrees. Columbia was founded in 1754 by royal charter from King George II and thus was named King’s College. Today more than 250 years later, Columbia enrolls about 8,500 undergraduates and about 19,000 graduate and professional students. Columbia undergraduates study at Columbia College (which is a college of arts and sciences) or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition, Barnard College enrolls about 2,400 undergraduate women.
Columbia is well known for its Core Curriculum, which is described this way:
The Core Curriculum is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major. The communal learning—with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time—and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core…. Not only academically rigorous but also personally transformative for students, the Core seminar thrives on oral debate of the most difficult questions about human experience. (quoted from the website)
The Core courses include literature, writing, art, music, civilization, science, and more. You can see the common texts that students will be reading and discussing by checking out the website; it’s a greatest-hits-of anything-ever-written list. And here is a remarkable statement from the website of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science:
Engineering has been called the newest liberal art. At Columbia Engineering, students not only study science and mathematics and gain technical skills but also study literature, philosophy, art history, music theory, and major civilizations through the Core Curriculum in the humanities. (quoted from the website)
But we did not come here today to talk about Columbia College or Fu, no matter how impressive they both are; we came to talk about Barnard. Here are Marie’s top five reasons for sending your daughter to Barnard (you will see that her theme is that Barnard is “the best of both worlds”):
- Because it is a single-sex college (which is great for developing smart, strong women), but with many coeducational opportunities conveniently located across the street at Columbia (including many chances for Barnard students to take courses at Columbia and vice versa).
- Because it is a small college with all of those inherent advantages, but located within a large research university with all of the resources that such an institution can make available to its students.
- Because it has flexible pathways through the curriculum, but also some structure for guidance, such as certain distribution requirements.
- Because it houses 90 percent of students on campus and offers all of the activities that would make campus living exciting, but does not require students to live on campus if they prefer to live at home or in an off-campus apartment.
- Because it is 125 years old and has an impressive history, but is not stodgy and creates innovative programs to keep the curriculum up to date.
Though we have not spent much time on our virtual tour talking about graduate schools, we have mentioned them, and we need to mention ours. Columbia has an amazing set of graduate schools in architecture, planning and preservation; the arts; arts and sciences; business; medicine; dental medicine; nursing; engineering; international and public affairs; journalism; law; theology; and social work. In addition to those, Marie attended the Mailman School of Public Health, and I attended Teachers College. Both were outstanding. No one asked me, but I have to believe that Columbia University is one of the best graduate institutions in the U.S., if not in the world—for its rigor and its diverse students and its professors and its enormous range of graduate and professional schools and programs. And it is in a world-class city, with all that offers.
I will say that I enjoyed my undergraduate days in the protected atmosphere of Ithaca on Cornell’s ivy-covered campus, putting off the high-energy craziness that can be New York City until my graduate days when I could better handle it. It was the best of both worlds—and, for me, done in the right order. Of course, I never left New York City once I had seen Broadway, to paraphrase the old song. So, for those of you who are imagining that your child will get both an undergraduate degree and a graduate or professional degree, give some serious thought to lining up colleges and locations in the best order for your child. That kind of planning could be a lot more important than you think.
2. Other Nationally Known Institutions in New York City
Let’s turn now to the largest private university in the U.S., with a name that sounds as though it should be public: New York University (commonly known as NYU), located in New York City in Manhattan’s famed Greenwich Village. Marie got her second graduate degree, an M.B.A., at NYU from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and she worked in student affairs there as well.
NYU offers its approximately 25,000 undergraduates a choice of studies in colleges and schools in the arts and sciences; dentistry; nursing, business; social work; engineering; and culture, education, and human development. It also has the Tisch School for the Arts, which is well known in the New York City performing arts community, and the interesting Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where students create their own programs (named for Albert Gallatin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who founded NYU in 1831).
NYU’s approximately 24,000 graduate and professional students have additional choices, including highly respected law and medical schools and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. NYU also has a variety of intriguing undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs, including Liberal Studies freshman programs (in which students spend their first year at NYU in Paris, Florence, London, or Washington, D.C.) and campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. About 25 percent of NYU’s students are international students. At home in Greenwich Village, NYU is a truly urban university; but, unlike Columbia, NYU does not have Columbia’s retreat-like fenced and walled and gated campus.
Like the Ivies, NYU is hard to get into. Its recent incoming freshmen posted SAT subtest scores in the high 600s and an average unweighted high school GPA of about 3.5. And, like the Ivies, I don’t think you choose to go to NYU for its athletics—though it fields 21 varsity teams. And, like the Ivies, NYU is expensive—about $48,000 in tuition and fees per year, and that’s not counting trying to live in New York City (campus housing runs, on the average, about $12,000 per year).
Heading uptown from the Village, let’s take a look at Fordham University, with two New York City campuses: the main Rose Hill campus in the Bronx—a lovely green oasis, filled with beautiful collegiate buildings—and the newer Lincoln Center campus, which operates out of a cluster of attractive high-rise buildings within spitting distance of impressive Lincoln Center, the home of dance, music, and theater arts in Manhattan. We have mentioned Fordham in earlier episodes of NYCollegeChat when we talked about faith-based institutions and institutions with a special focus on the arts.
Founded in 1841, Fordham is a Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition. I have often told the story of sending my daughter to Fordham for its prestigious joint B.F.A. program with The Ailey School of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She graduated last May with her degree in dance, having worked with some of the finest dance teachers in the U.S., like Milton Myers and the late Dudley Williams. But she also graduated with a view of life and her responsibility for others that she got from Fordham’s Jesuit values and rigorous core curriculum—something I had not counted on, but am very grateful for. From the day of my daughter’s student orientation, when I heard Fordham’s president Father McShane speak, I knew the Jesuits were onto something. He once explained it this way:
We believe that students have to be invited to wrestle with the great ethical issues of their time. We want them to be bothered by the realization that they don’t know everything and [to be] bothered by injustice. (quoted from the website)
Fordham has almost 9,000 undergraduates and about 6,500 graduate and professional students (split about equally between its two New York City campuses), with undergraduates enrolling in Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center, with their liberal arts and sciences curricula, and in the Gabelli School of Business. Undergraduate students are almost 30 percent underrepresented populations. Graduate students enroll in Gabelli as well as in graduate schools of arts and sciences, religion and religious education, education, social service, and law.
Fordham has 23 varsity sports teams and about 150 student organizations, including ones designed to put into practice the Jesuit commitment to serving others—“living a life beyond self, helping to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick”(quoted from the website)—and logging more than one million community service hours in a year. Global Outreach (GO!) is one great service program in which “students learn about various issues of social, economic, political and environmental injustice while living a simple lifestyle that fosters communal and spiritual growth. [Fordham sends] teams consisting of approximately 10 students, one student leader, and one chaperone to live, work, and learn with partnering organizations in approximately 30 locations throughout the United States and countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe” (quoted from the website). Programs are run during school breaks and last from one to several weeks.
Fordham is one of 23 Catholic colleges and universities in New York State and one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. As we have said in looking at some of the other Jesuit institutions on our virtual tour, students who are not Catholic (like my daughter) feel comfortable and included in campus life—both socially and academically—which is not the case at all faith-based institutions.
Freshmen entering last year posted an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1260 and an average high school GPA of 3.6. Fordham received almost 41,000 applications and accepted about half of those applicants, which means to me that a student with good SAT scores and a good high school average has a good chance of being accepted. Though Fordham draws students from 43 states and many foreign countries, it gets many of its students from New York State, which means to me that a good student from outside of New York State might be particularly attractive to the admissions officers. The joint B.F.A. in Dance program with The Ailey School requires an audition, of course, and is a highly selective program. As with most private universities we have been examining, Fordham’s undergraduate tuition and fees run about $47,000 per year, with housing in New York City again at a premium. But, as a parent who paid almost all of that myself (with some help from Direct Parent PLUS loans), I can tell you that it was worth every penny.
3. Other Nationally Known Institutions in Upstate New York
Moving upstate now, let’s go to Rochester, where the University of Rochester is located just two miles from downtown. Founded in 1850, the University prides itself on being a research university with a smaller college feel. Home to about 6,000 full-time undergraduates, the University draws its undergrads from all across the U.S., though about 30 percent of its freshmen last year came from New York State and about 25 percent from foreign countries.
Undergraduates study in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering or the Eastman School of Music (and some do a bachelor’s degree completion program in the School of Nursing). Arts, Sciences and Engineering, which offers about 75 majors and enrolls most University undergrads, allows students to choose their own courses, with close attention from their advisors. Although there are no required courses, students must take a “cluster” of three related courses in whichever two areas they don’t major in: arts and humanities; social sciences; and natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering (engineering students take courses in only one cluster rather than two). I would call that freedom, within some serious boundaries.
The well-known Eastman School of Music was established in 1921 by George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. Its undergraduates (about 500 currently) earn Bachelor of Music degrees in five different majors. Eastman does not require college admission test scores, except for homeschooled students. The multi-step application process is rigorous, requiring a pre-audition recording so that admissions officers can choose which applicants they will invite to audition.
The University of Rochester also serves another approximately 3,500 full-time graduate and professional students, who also attend the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, Eastman, and the School of Nursing as well as graduate schools of medicine and dentistry, education, and business.
More than 90 percent of University students live in campus housing, making it easy for them to participate in some 250 student-run clubs and 21 varsity sports.
The University has an interesting test-flexible policy, described on the website this way:
Rochester [application] readers have grown more confident recommending for admission applicants with strong subject testing scores [like AP, IB, and SAT subject exams], even when the SAT or ACT scores were not in our typical 90th-100th percentile ranges. Since 2004, that confidence has proven well founded, as retention and graduation rates have risen rapidly. Students who entered up to 8 years ago with “modest” SAT and ACT scores have started businesses, persisted to medical and law school, and excelled in creative careers.
Now that confidence supports our new practice. For the Rochester Class of 2017 and beyond, applicants can submit any national or international test result along with their secondary school records of courses and grades. While SAT reasoning and ACT exams are among the scores we will accept, applicants are no longer required to submit either, if their A-level, IB, AP, . . . etc. results show their testing abilities well. (quoted from the website)
According to the admissions website, the typical University student has done the following:
- Ranked in the top 10% of his or her high school class
- Taken 2 to 7 Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses
- Earned an average academic unweighted GPA of 3.8
- Gotten an SAT score between 1900 and 2200 [on the average, a set of three subtest scores in the high 600s] or an ACT score between 29 and 33
So, the students are quite capable. Like the other universities we have been discussing, the University of Rochester’s tuition and fees run about $48,000 per year.
Heading east from Rochester, we come to Syracuse University in central New York State. Let me remind you that it gets really cold and snowy in Syracuse, but that could be great for students who love winter sports and activities. There is a good virtual tour on the University’s website—recorded in good weather, for obvious reasons—which shows off its very attractive campus on a hill overlooking the city of Syracuse. Founded in 1870, today Syracuse enrolls about 15,000 undergraduates and about 7,000 graduate and professional students. About 25 percent are minority students.
Syracuse undergraduate and graduate students study in the College of Arts and Sciences (the founding college of the University), the School of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, the School of Information Studies, The Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts—that is quite an array of subject fields being covered. Additionally, there are graduate schools of law and of citizenship and public affairs.
Syracuse fields 18 varsity sports teams, known as The Orange and easily recognizable by the bright orange in their uniforms. Syracuse has won 11 national men’s lacrosse championships since 1983, and, in 1961, football star Ernie Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy and then the first African American to be picked first overall in the NFL draft. At Syracuse, football, basketball, and lacrosse teams play in the Carrier Dome, the largest campus domed stadium in the U.S. My guess is that having a domed stadium solves a lot of weather problems that football and lacrosse teams would otherwise face. There are also more than 300 student organizations as well as fraternities and sororities to keep students engaged.
Last year’s incoming freshman class earned an average high school GPA of a 3.7 and had an average SAT critical reading and mathematics score of 1180. Though selective, Syracuse admits about half of its applicants. Undergraduate tuition and fees are about $43,000 per year.
Next week, we will look at some smaller liberal arts colleges, which New York has an abundance of.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- High admission standards
- High student enrollment figures
- High tuition costs
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…
In New York State
- The Ailey School
- Barnard College
- City University of New York
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Fordham University
- New York University
- State University of New York
- Syracuse University
- University of Rochester
Learn more about these topics in previous episodes…
- An introduction to our virtual tour of colleges around the United States: In Episode 26: Why Look at Colleges Outside Your Comfort Zone
- Private colleges and universities: In Episode 1: Public, Private, and Proprietary Colleges
- Single-sex colleges: Episode 4: Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 1)
- Faith-based institutions: Episode 6: Still More Colleges with Special Emphases (Part 3)
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