New York City: College Visit Guide

Learn how to get the most out of your New York City campus visit with a suggested itinerary to cover the major schools in the city, along with recommended attractions and restaurants.


If all the world’s a stage, all of New York City is a campus. There are several outstanding colleges and universities in New York, and they all share one larger-than-life campus—the city itself—with the best in nightlife, theater, restaurants, museums, dance and music. College students love the frantic pace of city life, the plentiful cultural options and being on the cutting edge of cool.

This melting-pot town can be an expensive city to live in and visit. But while putting your kid through college will cost an arm and a leg, visiting New York doesn’t have to if you know where to look. Here are some tips to make your reconnaissance mission fun and productive.

Day One: NYU, New School

Location, location, location: Greenwich Village is one of the hippest parts of town for college students. New York University radiates out into the Village from the famous arch in Washington Square Park. A renovation project there hasn’t completely closed off the quirky green space, so make time to relax and get your bearings before exploring. On campus, be sure to check out NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, home to several world-class art exhibitions, and the Washington Square Mews, a cobblestone lane of 19th century horse stables converted into row houses.

The much-celebrated John’s Pizzeria, on Bleecker Street, is where you want to share a pie (translation: pizza). Nearby are plenty of places to have a coffee and watch the student body in action, including Bruno’s Bakery on LaGuardia Place and Caffe Reggio on MacDougal Street. (Read more about Caffe Reggio in our New York Taste Buds column.)

North of NYU is The New School, founded in 1919 by such luminaries as philosopher John Dewey and economist Thorstein Veblen as a place where ideas could be presented and discussed without fear of censorship. The university’s home, on West 12th Street, features murals by Thomas Hart Benton and Jose Clemente Orozco. Today the school houses colleges of urban planning, music and drama, as well as Parsons—the design school of Project Runway fame.

You might not catch Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum walking Fifth Avenue here, but there will be plenty else to see and do. Nearby Union Square is one of the more energetic and eclectic parts of town. Nosh on a snack from the Greenmarket, or check out Republic for good noodles and Asian fusion cuisine on Union Square West.

Day Two: Columbia University, Fordham University

Morningside Heights

Take the 1 train up to Morningside Heights in Manhattan for a trip to Columbia University, a member of the Ivy League and, at 254 years old, the oldest institution of higher learning in New York City. Three colleges have their home under the Columbia umbrella: Columbia College, Teachers College and Barnard, a college for women. The main campus at West 116th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue is an academic oasis from the rest of the city dominated by the domed Low Memorial Library building. The wide steps in front of it serve as an “urban beach” where students hang out.

Noteworthy spots nearby are Grants Tomb, the final resting place of the former president and Union general, and Riverside Church, an interdenominational house of worship (one of the tallest in the world) modeled on a 13th century cathedral in Chartres, France. It’s been a hotbed for political debate for many years: Martin Luther King Jr. voiced his opposition to the Vietnam War here. 

If you get hungry, grab a bite and a coffee at the student-packed Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, across from the Gothic Revival Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with its enormous house of worship full of majestic stained-glass windows, or at Tom’s Restaurant on Broadway at 112th Street. Chances are you’ve seen this diner before—its restaurant sign was featured in Seinfeld.

The Bronx

Up in Rose Hill, in the Bronx, there’s Fordham University. Getting there is no problem: both the D train subway line and the Metro-North commuter train stop there. It’s one of the more scenic areas in the city—the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo abut the university.

Fordham is also close to the “Little Italy of the Bronx” on Arthur Avenue. Be sure to check out Dominick’s for fantastic Italian cuisine. But get there early—they don’t take reservations, and even as soon as 5:30 p.m., you could find yourself waiting in a backroom for up to two hours or more until a space at one of its long communal tables. There’s no set menu. You’ll take what they give you, and like (no, love) it.

Day Three: St. John’s, Art Schools

Your final day destinations depends on what type of student you have: traditional or one who plans to follow his creative soul.

St. John’s University in Queens is home to the city’s major college basketball team. Transportation is a bit tricky—if you don’t have a car, you’ll have to take a subway and transfer to a bus to get out to the Jamaica campus. Out here, you can check out a Big East basketball game at Lou Carnesecca Arena (or back in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden) or an exhibit at the Yeh Art Gallery.

Art Colleges

Brooklyn is home to one of the top art schools in the city— Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill. Take the downtown A or C trains from the city to the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station and transfer to the G train (the only subway line that does not run through Manhattan). Take the G to Clinton-Washington Streets and take in the several galleries on campus, and the eateries and boutiques cropping up in the neighborhood and nearby Fort Greene.

Back in Manhattan, as noted above, Parson’s The New School for Design is part of the New School. Don’t miss the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, a new campus center with exhibitions and galleries. From there, it’s a short jaunt up to East 23rd Street to take in the School of Visual Arts, one of the premiere art schools in the city. There are three galleries that showcase a mix of student and professional artists, located at 21st, 23rd and 26th streets. There isn’t much else to the campus, but the nearby elegant Gramercy Park neighborhood is lovely to stroll through. Stop for a beverage break on the rooftop of the newly revamped Gramercy Park Hotel.

As a final stop, head west to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), located in the midst of the Fashion District on Seventh Avenue between 27th and 29th streets. The Museum at FIT mounts critically acclaimed fashion-related exhibits. Admission is free.


Written by Laurie Bain Wilson and Donna M. Airoldi.

Destinations: New York City

Themes: College Visits

Activities: Sightseeing

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