Top Universities in New York City: Columbia or NYU? (2023)

One of the most famous cities in the world and a global capital of culture and business,New York Cityis also animportanthubof higher education.There are over half a million students in NYC, and more than 100 universities and colleges, of which an impressive 13are included in thelatestQS World University Rankings: USA 2021.

From this vast array of options, two universities in New York stand out from the crowd:Columbia UniversityandNew York University (NYU). These two universities in New York City are ranked jointseventhandninthrespectively in the 2021USArankings, and they also feature in the top 10 in several of the51disciplines covered in theQS World University Rankings by Subject.

Between them, these two universities have produced a galaxy of famous alumni, from politicians (Barack Obama), business magnates (Warren Buffet) and writers (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac), to musicians (Lauren Hill), film directors (Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen) and fashion designers (Tom Ford).

Feel like following in their footsteps? Let’s take a closer look at each university’s strengths.

Choosing between the two top universities in New York City

Columbia University, traditionally seen as the academic big shot of the two, is part of the Ivy Leaguegroup– America’smost historically prestigious and selective institutions. However, far from living in its rival’s shadow, NYU has an identity and appealall ofits own.

Based in New York’s trendy downtown, and withbuildingsthroughout the city, NYU is a world-class university and boasts one of the world’s most dynamic environments for arts, music and culture.Whereas Columbia offers the relative seclusion of an Ivy League campus experience, NYU places students in the heart of the city. Based in arty Greenwich Village, with no walls or gates, the university is, as it proudly states, “in and of the city”.

As you might expect from world-renowned institutions in such a desirable location, admission to either institution is extremely competitive. Few students will be lucky enough to receive an offer from either, let alone both, but if you have good grades and are looking for the most exciting study experience the US has to offer, chances are at least one of these two top universities in New York City will be on your shortlist.

To help you decide which might be more suitable for you, here’s a look at how they compare.



QS World University Rankings: USA 2021

  • Ranked seventh in theUSA.

  • Ranked sixth in the USA for researchimpact

  • Joint seventh for learning experience

  • Joint 44thfor diversity andinternationalisation

  • Sixth for employability

  • Ranked ninth in the USA, 13thfor researchimpact

  • Joint 22ndforlearning experience

  • Joint first fordiversityandinternationalisation

  • 10thfor employability.

Subject strengths, based on the broad subject areas in theQS World University Rankings by Subject 2021

  • Ranked10thin the world for arts &humanities

  • 10thin the world forEnglish language and literature

  • 10thfor earth and marine sciences

  • 10thfor social policy and administration

  • Joint 10thfor geology

  • Rankedfirstin the world forphilosophy

  • 10thinthe world foraccounting and finance

  • 12thfor mathematics

  • 12thfor economics and econometrics

  • 12thfor social sciences and management

  • 13thfor psychology


Central campuslocatedonthe upper west side of Manhattan.

Six different locations in Manhattan, with a satellite campus inAbu Dhabi.

Central campusis inGreenwich Village, lower Manhattan.

Student community

Approx. 31,455students enrolled (as ofautumn 2020)

8,842undergraduates; 18,272graduate students; 4068 on continuing education/special programs

International students: 36 percent of total

Approx.58,461students enrolled (as of 2019)

26,981undergraduates; 25,904 graduate and professional students; 5,576on non-credit programs

International students: 24 percent of total

Tuition fees

For2020-2021, undergraduate tuition was US$58,920 per year, plus other mandatory fees.

For2020-2021, undergraduate tuition wasbetween US$61,671per yearplus other mandatory fees.

QS World University Rankings:USA2021

Ranked seventh in the US this year,Columbia has been a consistent presence near the top of the world rankings over the past decade. It ranks well across all the indicators, narrowly beating NYU in threecategories:research impact, learning experience and employability.

These results indicate that academics across a broad range of disciplines have identifiedColumbiaamong the world’s top universities in their field of expertise, while employers worldwide regard it as producing some of the world’s most employable graduates.

Despite trailing a little behind, NYU has nonetheless forged a strong reputation as a world-class institution. It’s rankedninthin theUSAoverall, andplacesfirstin thediversity and internationalisation indicators.

The biggest gap between the two is in the indicator assessinglearning experience.Here, Columbia claims a substantial lead. It ranksseventhin theUSAto NYU’sjoint 22nd.

Subject strengths

Another factor to consider when assessing these two universities is their performance in thelatestQS World University Rankings by Subject. A quick glance at the 2019 tables showsthatbothtop universities in New York are best-established in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and both make the global top 10 in several subjects.

NYU in fact claimsfirstplace in philosophy, with its next strongest positions in performing arts (sixth),communications and media studies (seventh)law (eighth), andmathematics(12th).Columbia’s highest places are for anatomy & physiology (fourth),history (sixth), law (seventh), English literature and language, and earth and marine sciences (both in 10th).

As the table below shows, there are some social science subjects, such as economics and law, in which the two are pretty much on a par. In other cases, one or the other has a clear lead – for instance, Columbia ranks much higher for physics, while NYU shines brighter in performing arts.

Columbia and NYU in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019



Accounting & finance



Anatomy & physiology







Joint 14th


Art & design

Joint 41st


Biological sciences



Business & management




Joint 42nd


Classics & ancient history



Communication & media studies

Joint 18th


Computer science




Joint 41st


Development studies



Earth & marine sciences








Joint 41st

Engineering (chemical)



Engineering (civil)



Engineering (electrical)

Joint 49th


Engineering (mechanical)

Joint 87th


English language & literature



Environmental sciences




Joint 10th







Joint 30th

Hospitality& leisure management







Joint 97th


Materials science

Joint 75th







Joint 33rd

Modern languages




Joint 18th


Performing arts

Joint 22nd



Joint 47th

Joint 82nd




Physics & astronomy

Joint 18th

Join 108th

Politics & international studies


Joint 14th




Social policy & administration







Joint 11th


Theology, divinity & religious studies




Columbia offers what might be described as a classic Ivy League campus experience: think stately quadrangles, neoclassical columns and immaculately maintained lawns.

However, unlike other Ivy League institutions such asPrincetonorYale, Columbia is an island of calm in the middle of a bustling metropolis. It may be at the upper western tip of Manhattan, but it’s well within striking distance of all the action.

Nearby Harlem is one of the city’s most culturally diverse and dynamicneighbourhoodsAlsoinclose proximityareCentral Park and the Hudson River,offeringsome picturesque respite from New York’s famous urban jungle.

While for many students Columbia will offer the perfect combination of scholarly seclusion and proximity to the action, NYU offers a more immersive urban experience. With locations dotted around the city, the university’s main base is Greenwich Village, an area famous for its arty scene, andin the middle of New York’s cultural and social heart.

NYU’s central Washington Square location has no walls or gates separating it from the surrounding streets, which are filled with restaurants, bars and cafés. Studying here means you can expect to be at thecentreof one of the most culturally dynamic areas in the world.

New Yorkitself is consistently ranked within the top 20 of theQS Best Student Citiesranking, with a score of seventh in the student view indicator, which is based on asurveyasking students to rate their city on aspects such as affordability, ease of getting around, employment opportunities, arts and culture and more.

Student community

NYU has a significantly larger overall student population than Columbia, particularly when professional courses are included.

However, both are at the larger end of the scale, offering large and diverse student communities – with Columbia offering a more diverse student body compared to NYU (Columbia places 63rdin the world for its percentage of international students whereas NYU ranks 94th).

As befits its research-intensive status, Columbia is more heavily geared toward graduate studies, with graduates outnumbering undergraduates by two to one. NYU, by contrast, has more than three times the undergraduate population of Columbia, with a higher proportion of undergraduates than graduate students.

Fees and funding

Leading US private universities are notoriously expensive, and neither of these two topNew Yorkuniversities is an exception to that rule.At bothuniversities, international students are charged the same overall fees as those from within the US.

Annual undergraduate tuition fees (plus other student fees) amount to US$61,671at NYUfor 2020-2021, while the 2020-2021rate was a total of US$58,920(including other mandatory fees)at Columbia. At graduate level, fees vary depending on the graduate school and course, but master’s programs are likely to start at around $50,000-52,000 per year at both institutions.

At both schools, most students pay for their education through a combination of private savings, loans, scholarships and financial aid. Half of all Columbia students receive aid from the university, with theaverage amountawarded being $52,073. Similarly,manystudents at NYU benefit from some form of financial assistance.

Like all US universities, both institutions provide net price calculators on their websites, which allow prospective students to get an estimate of how much they would be required to pay, and what financial aid they may be eligible for. NYU’s net price calculator can befoundhere, with a full range of funding optionsdetailedhere. Columbia’s net price calculatorishere, with information about fundinghere.

This article was originally published in July 2013. It was last updated inMay2021to include the latest data from the QS World University Rankings and other sources.

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