I take a seat on the NYC subway as I watch the stations fly by: Broadway, Union Square, in anticipation of the next station which is supposed to be mine until I painfully learn that I got on the wrong train. After around eight train switches, frantic runs to different platforms, the help of a kind babysitter and an Uber driver who agreed to drive me for five minutes along an unsafe sidewalk, I made it back to the comfort of my friends.
It is easy to understand why the Big Apple attracts so many undergraduate students who want to study on the East Coast. New York City is home to schools like Pratt, Parsons and NYU, whose campuses lie in the heart of the city. While this may seem like a dream straight out of Gossip Girl, my understanding of the student experience at these colleges makes me think otherwise.
Schools like New York University and Parsons School of Design have residence halls scattered all over Greenwich Village and Union Square, places known for their shops, cafes and bustling city life. The dorm buildings being scattered in the heart of the city means that there isn’t a clear divide between the city and the campus. Such a layout ensures that there is little opportunity for students from one college to be alone in a space together. The multitude of things to do between dorm buildings in the city means that students make the city the focus. Students tend to run errands or go out alone or in smaller groups because of how accessible the amenities are. Everyone is off doing their own thing, making it harder to make friends, an experience that a lot of NYC college students resonate with. I am not saying that there is no opportunity for students to form a community, but it would be relatively easier to form tight connections on a suburban campus because of the extra effort it takes to commute to the city. According to the college ranking site Niche, campus life is a lot more active on suburban campuses than on city campuses. Also, suburban students do have easy access to the city whenever they want.
Furthermore, the safety of the city in terms of commute is questionable at best. The subway is hard to navigate and walking along streets and avenues is not as romantic as it used to be, due to the increase in crime rate and dirtiness of streets. New York City was also ranked by Wallet Hub as the worst major city in the US for college students, because of factors like the cost of living, crime rate and unemployment rate.
An undergrad student going to college looks for a nurturing environment that helps them ease into the transition of being away from home, and New York City, unfortunately, does not provide that. The increased crime rates, high cost of living, fast pace and large size of the city will often make a student feel small and overwhelmed. College is a very impressionable time for students — living in New York for the first time can make new students feel intimidated. A tight-knit community is an integral part of college life, something that is hard to have on city campuses. Thus, I believe that New York City campuses may not always lead to an ‘Empire State of Mind’ for impressionable, young undergraduates.