College Student City Guide: New York City

Welcome to New York, New York, the city so nice, they named it twice. Considered by some to be the center of the universe, New York is a one-of-a-kind place--not to mention one heck of an extraordinary college town.

College often means moving to a new—sometimes, really new—place. The change of scenery, along with the newfound freedom it comes with, is one of the best parts about college. But it can also be a challenge to adjust, especially while juggling the other really new facets of the college experience. That’s why we created this series, diving into the top need-to-know facts and stats about popular college cities and towns. So students can read up on their new home and then get out there!

"It is often said that New York is a city for only the very rich and the very poor. It is less often said that New York is also, at least for those of us who came there from somewhere else, a city for only the very young." — Joan Didion

Welcome to New York, New York, the city so nice, they named it twice. Considered by some to be the center of the universe, New York is a one-of-a-kind place—not to mention one heck of an extraordinary college town.

New York City at a glance

With 8.4 million residents occupying its 305 square miles, New York is the most densely populated city in the United States. It’s broken up into five boroughs:

  • Manhattan
  • Brooklyn
  • Queens
  • The Bronx
  • Staten Island

Each of the boroughs can be broken down further into smaller areas and neighborhoods, each of which has its own unique flavor, such as hipsteriffic Williamsburg in Brooklyn and fashion-forward Soho in Manhattan.

Settled by the Dutch in 1624, the city was initially called New Netherland, then New Amsterdam, until it was renamed New York in 1664 when the Dutch surrendered it to the English. Today, the city is a bastion of commerce and creativity, a playground for financiers and fashionistas alike, the nerve center of America’s economic and cultural contributions to the world. It’s also home to more than 120 institutions of higher education, and if you’re headed to the Big Apple to attend one of them, you’ll be joining the more than half a million college students who currently call the city home.

Transportation

Air

The New York metropolitan area is served by three major airports: JFK (located in Queens), LaGuardia (also located in Queens), and Newark (located along the municipal boundary between Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey). All three are easily accessible via ground and public transportation, and there are many buses and shuttles that ferry passengers between the airports and key destinations in the city, such as Grand Central Station.

Rail

The New York City Subway system operates 24 hours a day and is relatively easy to navigate, and apps like HopStop can help you get your bearings. A single ride on the subway currently costs $2.38, and you can save by paying for multiple rides in advance. For example, if you take 60 trips per month, a 30-Day Unlimited MetroCard will end up costing you $1.87 per ride.

Amtrak serves Penn Station and offers connections to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., as well as other cities throughout the United States and Canada.

Taxis and Uber

Though more expensive than taking the subway, taxis are ubiquitous in New York and sometimes the most convenient way to get around, particularly as you’re learning the lay of the land.

Are you an Uber fan? You’ll be happy to learn that the popular ridesharing service is available in New York, and you can also use the app to request a taxi (you’ll just have to pay the cab driver instead of paying through your phone).

Driving

Driving in New York is not recommended for college students. Most schools in the area won’t allow you to have a car on campus, plus it’s not really necessary to have a car in the city anyway. Between the subway, taxis, and your own two legs, you can get around just fine without trying to maneuver your own car through the city’s notorious traffic and limited parking options. If you do need a car for something like a weekend getaway, check out Zipcar for Universities.

Bicycling

If you’re comfortable riding in a busy urban area, bicycling can be an excellent mode of transportation. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one through the Citi Bike system, which has thousands of its now infamous blue bikes peppered throughout the city. A day pass is $9.95, a seven-day pass is $25, and an annual pass is just $95.

Walking

Walk Score recently named New York the most walkable city in the country. According to their assessment, “The entire city has the urban density that supports walking to nearly everything: the city’s great museums, playgrounds like Central Park, East Village restaurants . . . many New Yorkers live their whole lives without ever owning a car.”

Food

New York City has all the foods. All. The. Foods. Whether you have $5 or $500 to spend on dinner, you’ll find something amazing to eat in New York—and the best part is, you can get your hands on just about any of it at any hour of the day. From dirty-water hot dog stands to swanky Michelin-starred restaurants (and everything in between), the city is a food-lover’s paradise. Not sure where to begin your culinary exploration? Sites like Yelp and TimeOut can help point you in the right direction.

Culture

When it comes to culture, New York is one of the most active and vibrant cities in the world. With dozens of museums, hundreds of art galleries, and more theaters than even the most avid Broadway enthusiast could ever visit, there’s always something to do in New York. Best of all, many museums and theaters offer student discounts, and your school may also have a discount program, like NYU’s Museum Gateway.

Here’s just a small sampling of the city’s cultural offerings:

Museums

Art Galleries

There are so many incredible art galleries in New York, and the “best” ones are really a matter of personal taste. A good way to find the ones you’ll like is to set out on foot and start exploring. But if you really want a little guidance to help you get started, TimeOut has curated some excellent recommendations.

Theater

There are 40 professional Broadway theaters in New York’s Theater District, where you can catch performances of today’s best musicals and plays. Then there are plenty of off-Broadway theaters. And who knows what you’ll find for off-off-Broadway . . .

Annual Events

Here are just a handful of the many events New York City hosts each year:

Outdoor activities

New York may be the ultimate concrete jungle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find things to do outdoors.

In Manhattan, Central Park offers city-dwellers a nearly 850-acre oasis from the surrounding traffic and skyscrapers. The park features many walking tracks as well as two ice-skating rinks, a swimming pool, and the Central Park Zoo. You can even go horseback riding on the park’s bridle path!

In Brooklyn Prospect Park is a bucolic gathering spot for the borough’s booming population. The 585-acre park features Brooklyn’s only lake, an expansive meadow, a bandshell, and the Prospect Park Zoo. While at the park, you can also visit the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

In addition to New York’s many parks and gardens, the city has plenty of other options for outdoor activities, such as rooftop swimming pools in the summer, skating rinks in the winter, beaches like Rockaway and Jacob Riis Park, and outdoor events like concerts, plays, and movie screenings.

Professional sports

New Yorkers are extremely loyal to their many professional sports teams (just try asking one of them “Mets or Yankees?” and watch what happens), which include:

Safety

Though New York has a reputation for being a dangerous city, it’s actually surprisingly safe. Crime rates have dropped in the past few decades, and FBI statistics suggest that New York is one of the safest big cities in the United States.

Colleges and universities in New York are unique in that the lines between the campus and the city can be blurry, with campus buildings spread out over a large, noncontiguous area. For example, check out this campus map of NYU. For that reason, the concept of “campus safety” in New York extends beyond a physical college campus. Though the city is a safe place, you should always be aware of your surroundings, avoid going out by yourself late at night, and don’t hesitate to call the police if you feel your safety is being threatened.

Housing

There are so many great things about living in New York: the people, the nightlife, the food, the “anything can happen” atmosphere. But if there’s one thing that’s not so great about the city, it’s the cost of housing. New York is routinely named the most expensive city in America, with the average rent ringing it at upwards of $3,000. It’s the result of simple supply and demand: a lot of people want to live in New York, and since there are a limited number of places to live, rent is forever going through the roof.

As a student the situation isn’t quite so bleak, but room and board at New York’s colleges can definitely be pricey. For the 2014–2015 academic year, room and board at Marymount Manhattan College is $15,000. At Fordham University it’s nearly $16,000, and at New York University, nearly $17,000. Compare that to $7,000 at Oklahoma State University and $8,000 at the University of Idaho. But don’t let the cost of living get you down. Shop around for your school’s most affordable dorm options, split your expenses with your roommates, and remember that living in one of the most amazing cities in the world is a priceless experience.

Weather

New York is cold in the winter, warm in the summer, and downright gorgeous in the spring and fall. The coldest month is January, when the average high is 36°F, and the warmest month is July, when the average high is 83°F. In April and May, the city emerges from its winter hibernation and the parks erupt into color (indeed, the whole of Prospect Park seems to turn pink with cherry blossoms). In the fall the colors give way to the orange and yellow of changing leaves—creating a breathtaking backdrop for students returning to campus.

Colleges and universities in and around New York City

Here are just a few of the colleges and universities located in the Big Apple (you can click here for a more comprehensive list):

Just for fun

Famous New Yorkers

Check out just a few of the famous folks who were born in New York City:

  • Christina Aguilera
  • Woody Allen
  • Claire Danes
  • Robert De Niro
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Cuba Gooding, Jr.
  • Marc Jacobs
  • Jay-Z
  • Lady Gaga
  • Nicki Minaj
  • Emmy Rossum
  • J.D. Salinger
  • Jon Stewart

Trivia

Here’s a sampling of some of the most interesting facts about New York, according to www.bigappled.com:

  • In New York City, there are more than 26,000 people living in each square mile.
  • More than 47% of New York City’s residents over the age of five speak another language other than English at home.
  • Phantom of the Opera is currently the longest running show in Broadway history, with more than 9,100 performances.
  • Central Park was the first public landscaped park in all of the United States.
  • There is a secret train platform in the Waldorf Astoria hotel (it’s true, and it’s magical).
  • The Manhattan grid pattern produces an effect known as “Manhattanhenge” (like Stonehenge) as, on two days each year—around May 28 and July 12—sunset is directly aligned with the street grid pattern (this is also true, and also magical).

Think you know everything there is to know about New York City now? Take this quiz from Columbia University Press and find out!

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