This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by focusing on the public college and university options in New York State.
Because we are NYCollegeChat—emphasis on New York—we want talk in this episode about choosing between The City University of New York (CUNY) and The State University of New York (SUNY) as well as choosing among the branches of each of these college systems. Though most of our episodes have information useful for parents anywhere, this episode is especially for New York City and New York State parents—or indeed for parents anywhere who might like to send their children to our public higher education institutions.
1. Students Interested in CUNY Campuses
As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, CUNY serves about 270,000 students taking credit courses on 24 campuses—11 four-year colleges (which CUNY refers to as “senior colleges”), 7 two-year community colleges, The Macaulay Honors College for undergraduate students, and 5 graduate and professional schools, located throughout New York City’s five boroughs. CUNY is the nation’s largest urban public higher education system.
If you currently have a high school junior who is an outstanding student, with a high GPA (in the 90s) and excellent SAT/ACT scores, you should have a look at The Macaulay Honors College right now. Tuition is free, and there are other financial incentives, too. There is also the prestige factor to consider. The Macaulay deadline is a bit earlier than the regular deadline for most colleges (it was December 1 this year, so it is too late for current seniors), so you have to be ready when school opens next fall to get the application put together. This year’s application was not too difficult (for example, it had just two relatively short essays), but you will need to get teacher and/or counselor recommendations lined up. During the admissions process, a Macaulay prospect is accepted first to whatever CUNY four-year campuses the student listed in the application. So, if the student is not accepted to Macaulay, he or she will still be able to enroll in one of CUNY’s four-year colleges and might even be accepted to an honors program at one of those colleges.
Now let’s look at the 7 two-year community colleges and 11 four-year colleges. The first question, of course, is whether you are interested in a two-year or four-year college. We talked extensively about this in our last series, Understanding the World of College. Generally speaking, stronger students with better high school records should choose four-year colleges, while students in need of boosting their academic skills and improving on their high school academic record should choose two-year colleges. But which two-year or four-year college?
The obvious next thing to consider is location. Because most New York City residents are likely to live at home while attending a CUNY college, the commute to the campus is an important factor in college choice. While subway transportation is relatively reliable, fast, and inexpensive, no student really wants to be commuting from the far end of Brooklyn to the Bronx to attend classes every day. Furthermore, some campuses are not as public transportation friendly as others. For example, Queensborough Community College is in a lovely, rather suburban location in Bayside, Queens, but there is no subway service close by; or, to take another example, unless you live on Staten Island, the College of Staten Island is not a quick ride away.
Another thing to consider—and likely the most important thing—is what majors the college offers. Because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges. This is one way the government saves taxpayers’ money—that is, by not duplicating majors on all campuses and, thus, not running smaller-than-cost-efficient programs on campus after campus. For example, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in German at just two CUNY campuses or a bachelor’s degree in archeology at just one CUNY campus. Then, you also need to think about the colleges that specialize in certain fields—like New York City College of Technology, which specializes, obviously, in technical fields (like engineering and architecture and computer studies) or John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which specializes, obviously, in criminal justice, but also in pre-law, fire science, forensics, and studies focusing on social action.
Another thing to consider is reputation. All colleges are not created equal. You can learn about the two-year and four-year colleges by reading about them on their own websites (for example, the history of City College is fascinating and quite moving), and you can learn about their reputations by talking with professionals in any field who have lived in New York City for a while, by talking with graduates of the colleges, and by talking with some high school teachers and counselors, if they have experience with more than two or three of the CUNY campuses. For what it’s worth, five of the CUNY four-year colleges are ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top 20 regional public colleges in the North: In no particular order, they are Baruch, Hunter, Queens, Brooklyn, and City College.
2. Students Interested in SUNY Campuses
As we said in an earlier episode in our first series, Understanding the World of College, SUNY serves about 460,000 degree and certificate students in 64 higher education institutions, including research universities, state colleges, colleges of technology, community colleges, medical schools, and an online learning network. The institutions are located throughout New York State—from Plattsburgh in the far north to Buffalo in the far west to Stony Brook in the far southeast. Looking at a map of New York State with the campuses located on it is actually quite impressive.
Just as with considering CUNY campuses, the first question when looking at SUNY campuses is whether you want a two-year community college or a four-year college—and, as we said earlier, we have already talked a lot about that decision. So let’s talk about the three other questions we raised about the CUNY campuses because they also apply to SUNY campuses: location, majors, and reputation.
If you thought that the CUNY campuses were spread out over the five boroughs of New York City, the SUNY campuses are really spread out—over virtually the entire state. For a student living in New York City, going to a SUNY campus in upstate in New York is hours farther away than going to a college in New Jersey or Connecticut or even parts of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. As we have said before, we had students at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn who had no idea where many of SUNY campuses were, yet they thought about going to them. To repeat our minimum standard for choosing a college is this: You should not go to a college you cannot find on a map.
And part of location, when it comes to SUNY campuses, is whether you want to be in a more urban, suburban, or rural location. They are all available—from the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany and the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan (which people often forget is a SUNY campus) in the more urban category to Nassau Community College and the State University College at Old Westbury and Westchester Community College in the suburban category to the College of Technology at Canton and the State University College at New Paltz and Finger Lakes Community College in the rural category.
Just as with CUNY campuses, the most important thing to consider is what majors the college offers. Again, because the colleges are part of a public system, all majors are not offered at all colleges in order to save the taxpayers’ money, so you have to check carefully if your child has an interest in a particular subject field. What is definite is that almost whatever your child can think up to study, it is being taught on one SUNY campus or another.
Just as CUNY has New York City College of Technology, specializing in technical fields, SUNY has colleges that specialize in technology in Canton, Cobleskill, Delhi, and more. But SUNY also has colleges specializing in other technical fields—like the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Maritime College, the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the New York State College of Ceramics (which actually includes both engineering and art and design majors and is located at Alfred University, a private university).
For some students, the three public colleges that are part of private Cornell University are a great financial bargain. Cornell houses four private and three public colleges: the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the ILR (Industrial and Labor Relations) School—an Ivy League education at State tuition prices.
So what about the reputation of the SUNY colleges? There are probably many opinions about which colleges are the best and probably no way to prove which colleges are the best. In a list of top national public universities, U.S. News and World Report lists the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at number 30 and Stony Brook University and Binghamton University tied at number 38. In terms of campuses being known for specific academic programs, one of the clearest examples is Stony Brook, which is well known for its undergraduate and graduate science programs, including its School of Medicine, and for its co-managing of the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.
Generally speaking, among the four-year choices, the SUNY universities have more prestige and higher admissions standards than the SUNY state colleges and the colleges of technology—though that does not necessarily make one of the SUNY universities a better choice for your child.
3. Choosing Between CUNY and SUNY Campuses
The choice between applying to and indeed enrolling at a CUNY campus vs. a SUNY campus is probably most present in the minds of high school students who live in or near New York City. For those students, there are several factors to consider—including, at least, living arrangements and prestige (assuming, of course, that the campuses offer the right major). For New York City residents, CUNY colleges and SUNY colleges cost just about the same (and some New York State residents who live outside of the City might be eligible for the same CUNY tuition rates as City residents are). But the living arrangements can be substantially different. Is it cheaper to live at home in Queens and attend Queens College than to live in the dormitory at SUNY Albany? Of course it is. But would the student rather have the chance to live away at school as part of the whole college experience? If so, then attending a SUNY college outside of the City is the better choice.
Is a SUNY college automatically better than a CUNY college because it is part of the bigger State system? Definitely not, even when comparing the four-year SUNY universities and the four-year CUNY colleges. Again, which individual colleges are “better” than which other individual colleges is a matter for debate among educators and graduates and faculty members and interested observers. But it is clear that there are some excellent choices in both systems—choices that are right for New York’s best students as well as for New York’s average students.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- Guaranteed admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses
- Impressive SUNY campuses most people never heard of
- Impressive CUNY programs most people do not know about
Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…
In New York State
- Alfred University
- Baruch College (CUNY)
- Binghamton University (SUNY)
- Brooklyn College (CUNY)
- City College of New York (CUNY)
- City University of New York (CUNY)
- College at Old Westbury (SUNY)
- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (SUNY) at Cornell University
- College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY)
- College of Human Ecology (SUNY) at Cornell University
- College of Staten Island (CUNY)
- Coordinated B.A.-M.D. Program at Brooklyn College (CUNY)
- Cornell University
- Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY)
- Finger Lakes Community College (SUNY)
- Hunter College (CUNY)
- Industrial and Labor Relations School (SUNY) at Cornell University
- John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY)
- Macaulay Honors College (CUNY)
- Maritime College (SUNY)
- Nassau Community College (SUNY)
- New York City College of Technology (CUNY)
- New York State College of Ceramics (SUNY) at Alfred University
- Queensborough Community College (CUNY)
- Queens College (CUNY)
- Sophie B. Davis School of Biomedical Education at the City College of New York (CUNY)
- State University of New York (SUNY) – search SUNY campus athletics, view the state map of campuses, or review the admissions profiles of different SUNY schools
- State University of New York Canton (SUNY)
- State University of New York Cobleskill (SUNY)
- State University of New York Delhi (SUNY)
- State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY)
- Stony Brook University (SUNY)
- University at Albany (SUNY)
- University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Westchester Community College (SUNY)
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