I’ve visited many schools over the past two months and owe quite a few profiles. This week I went to visit New York University, more commonly known as NYU. I’ve walked around the neighborhood surrounding NYU many times. My first job after graduate school was about four blocks from there. I also hold a certificate in digital media marketing from this school and have relatives who went there. If someone said that NYU was a great university, s/he would get no argument from me.

With more than 21,000 undergraduates NYU is the largest private, secular university in the U.S.. The academic depth of this school, with more than 230 majors in 10 colleges as well as 11 university-owned Global Academic Centers abroad and in Washington DC, is incredible. The faculty are as accomplished at scholarship and experience as one might find at an Ivy.  Career services are also impressive. Last year NYU’s Wasserman Career Development Center received more internship postings than there were students to fill them. There is probably no better place to make connections in the media, finance, the arts, and health care, among other fields, than NYU.

NYU, like Columbia, Barnard and Fordham, will also give you an education about how to live in New York City on a college student’s budget. The university also guarantees housing for all four years; it has 10,000 beds available around Washington Square and in Brooklyn (the better option for students who study engineering). Students are assigned to suite-style housing as freshmen, unusual for any university. But custodial services are not part of the benefits. Suite mates must clean up after themselves. Apartment housing is also available. In addition, unlike most universities, NYU allows undergraduates to live in university housing over breaks.

NYU is also one of the most entrepreneurial universities in the world. It is the only university to operate independent colleges in China as well as in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. NYU is need-aware when it comes to aiding international students. It’s quite likely that most of the non-U.S. students pay their own way. NYU’s entrepreneurial approach also extends to undergraduates. Students can design their own curriculum across the colleges through its Gallatin division. They can also work in a student-run incubator on the Washington Square campus and help their classmates to start their own businesses.

NYU is in one of the most eclectic neighborhoods for any university, surrounded by Greenwich Village and wrapped around Washington Square Park. The campus, totaling around 200 acres feels quite crowded. Not surprising. The undergraduates share it with the students who attend one of the largest (and best) graduate business schools in the U.S as well as one of the larger (and best) law schools, among other graduate and professional students as well as the prospective rabbis attending Hebrew Union College.

Given the crowds, the compact nature of the campus and the opportunities to explore Washington Park and the Village on your own, a tour of NYU is very brief. The neighborhood is what sells this school, more than the buildings. Put the buildings in any other city, without the park, and the campus would not be considered a campus.

NYU takes some interesting approaches to admissions. It is a test-flexible school. Applicants may choose the tests where they are likely to score best. They can submit from their choice of AP, SAT subject test scores, ACT scores, SAT scores or IB scores.  The wise will score high on AP exams or the Subject Tests during their junior year and skip the ACT or SAT as a senior.

NYU also gives prospective freshman the opportunity to begin their education at one of the university centers outside of New York. The university also allows applicants to make an alternate choice of school, useful at a university where two schools might offer similar majors. NYU is one school where it helps to know what you want to study.

Applicants must either pick a college and enter undecided on a major, choose Arts and Sciences and hopefully be able to transfer within the university, or go with a rigorous Liberal Studies curriculum for two years that’s based on the Great Books and hope to transfer if interests lead away from the liberal arts. If you apply to NYU with intentions towards, for example business, engineering, nursing or theater, but uncertainties, it is better to apply to that program and take your chances on admission as a freshman, or choose another school.

It’s very easy to be impressed by the resources that are at the disposal of NYU students–as long as their families can pay for them. NYU offers very little merit-based aid, though it practices need-blind admissions for U.S. students. Only three percent of the freshman class that entered in 2014 received merit-based aid, according to the university’s 2014-15 Common Data Set. The average merit scholarship was a paltry $3,700.

NYU students who earned their undergraduate degrees in 2014 who borrowed owed, on average, just under $28,000 in student loans, according to the Project on Student Debt. Nearly half of these graduates (47 percent) had no debt. However, among those who had to borrow more than a fifth (22 percent) had to take out a loan from a source other than the Federal Government. That’s high for any college or university anywhere.

NYU charges more than $46,000 in tuition and fees. There are Ivy League schools that charge less. Yet the Ivies do not leave their students who must borrow with the same level of indebtedness as NYU. The Ivies are known to meet full need. In 2014 NYU met, on average, 72 percent of need for the incoming freshmen and around 58 percent for the undergraduate student body.

NYU charges more than schools such as Maryland, Rutgers or Penn State charge out-of-state students for tuition and fees and room and board. The New York City resident who might want to stay home could pay less to leave, even if s/he does not receive a scholarship. Then again, 30 percent of the freshman class as well as 36 percent of the undergraduate student body comes from New York, according to the university’s 2014-15 Common Data Set. The lure of the city and the neighborhood must be quite powerful, as it should be.

Given that NYU has profit centers that other mid-sized or large private research universities do not, does not play scholarship sports, does not operate a major recreational center on its campus, and does not pretend to have a community building experience like you would find at a city-based spirit and sports school such as Southern Cal or Vanderbilt, the financial aid picture for undergraduates is shameful. This is especially true for an institution with an endowment of $3.4 billion for FY 2014, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

NYU is most similar to Boston University among private research universities in terms of its undergraduate, graduate and professional degree offerings. Boston University has an endowment of $1.6 billion, less than half of NYU’s, as well as around 18,000 undergraduates. Yet Boston University met 91 percent of the need for its incoming freshmen in 2014, 86 percent for the full undergraduate student body according to its 2014-15 Common Data Set. That school awarded merit-based scholarships to 7 percent of the incoming freshmen in 2014, as well as 74 athletic scholarships. The average merit award was more than $17,000. The major downside: the average borrower who graduated in 2014 owed more than $39,000.

When I compare NYU to its most similar school, I am quite surprised by the gap in financial support. My hunch, given the student debt information, is that NYU does a better job to discourage prospective students from borrowing too much, to the point of encouraging them to consider other colleges. I also believe that NYU does a much better job of attracting students who can afford to be there. There is something laudable about that.

Surprisingly, NYU does not have the alumni loyalty one might expect of such an expansive and resourceful institution. According to U.S. News, less than nine percent of NYU alumni made a contribution to the school, on average, over the past two years, versus 33 percent for the University of Pennsylvania, again the most similar Ivy. This could be one reason why NYU is not as generous with financial aid as it could be.

If your family can afford to pay for the cost of an NYU education, by all means go. A NYU student will get no less than a University of Pennsylvania student in the same academic program would receive from the same experience. Not to mention that NYU is in a far more vibrant neighborhood in a more diverse city with better mass transit. The university will also do everything it can to help its students knock on doors not only in New York but also in many other destinations around the world.

But if your family would have to struggle to cover the costs, choose a less expensive option. The money you save might help you pay for a graduate or professional degree from NYU. Those have a higher value.

The Report Card for NYU

  • 4-Year/6-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
  • Freshman Retention: A
  • Costs: C
  • Comforts: B
  • Community: A
  • Curriculum: A
  • Connections: A

 Check out my Pinterest page for NYU and Washington Square Park!


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