New York State of Mind: Studying at NYU’s Washington Square Campus


Sitting on the South benches of Washington Square Park, overlooking the arch, one should always take the time to be overcome by an alarming sense of historicity. You are currently sitting in the very place where Buddy Holly, the Beatnik generation and college students revived the late 20th century’s Bohemian spirit. Across from you, under the arch is where NYU graduates would triumphantly march upon finishing their four years. You are standing in front of the arena where President Obama delivered his speech at the culmination of his Change ’08 campaign. NYU students once again rocked the park with their democratic voices in the fall of 2011 with the Occupy movement.


NYU’s President, John Sexton often talks about how close New York University’s Washington Square Campus was to bankruptcy in the 1980s. Poor management and the leadership’s ignorance of the university’s main problems pushed the university to the brink of its existence. Even then, the decade saw a multi-billion dollar campaign executed to update facilities and a visit from the King of Spain. Ultimately, it was the University’s unfaltering persistence in being a part of its own historicity (despite its situation) that led David Kirp to call it “the American success story in Higher Education.”

“A City of prose and fantasy” –Leon Trotsky

NYU consists of 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students, making it one of the largest private institutions in America. The sheer size of NYU makes it an excellent research university with wonderful facilities. NYU has several libraries, most notably the Elmer Holmes Bobst library which boasts 12-stories worth of volumes (not to mention suicide proof glass). Next door is the 850-seat Skirball theatre for the performing arts and a large modern building for student life and spiritual life. Several blocks from Washington Square is the Barney building for the visual arts department, the Silver Center for Arts and Science and the Warren Weaver Hall for the university’s Mathematics department. Each building is fully equipped with discipline-specific libraries, lockers and laboratories. From dark rooms to TV studios for film majors, there is not a single student in NYU who feels that their department is not properly equipped with the appropriate facilities.


Although NYU is divided into schools, cross school registration is an interesting concept that has been well-executed by the administration. Therefore, it is still possible to acquire a holistic liberal arts education despite the restrictions of a major. Although some schools like Tisch or Gallatin may retain most of them, a fair amount of classes in NYU are conducted in very intimate settings. Macroeconomics lectures may number in the hundreds, but a Woodwind practicum or an interdisciplinary seminar may only consist of 5-10 students.


The following are some of the most popular majors chosen by NYU students:

1. Business and Management

The Stern School of Business is one of the most selective and highest rated institutions in the finance industry. Stern students are required to take a rigorous set of courses, many of which entail a strong foundation in advanced mathematics and calculus. Most Stern students go through recruitment in their junior year, which means most will graduate university with a good steady job in hand. NYU’s setting in the city allows most students to juggle an academic career with an internship at multinational corporations.

2. Journalism

Unlike many other schools, all journalism majors in NYU are required to double-major in another discipline. The reasoning behind the condition states that although journalism teaches students about the presentation a discourse, it is important to also have an understanding of the discourse itself. Some popular majors that accompany this program of study include Art History, Political Science, International Relations and Area Studies. Once again, journalism is another area where many students take advantage of the city’s prime location to jumpstart their career in the local scene.

 3. Art History

NYU boasts one of the most highly regarded Art History departments in the nation. Moreover, the university’s proximity to resources such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney and Guggenheim further buttresses in-class learning (Moreover, starting this year, all NYU students are granted free access to most of the city’s major art museums). Although it is not required, most Art History students double-major in another program of study and draw their own interdisciplinary connections across their undergraduate academic career.

 4. Performing Arts

NYU is the university that has produced the most Academy Award winners compared to any other institutions (including Woody Allen and Oliver Stone). NYU’s preeminence as a performing arts school is bolstered by two factors; firstly, the school’s facility truly supports the student’s academic experience. A film student studying the process of making sitcoms can make use of the school’s own indoor TV studio. Conservatory students spend days at work with New York theatre companies and put up main stage shows in the school’s many black box theatres. Secondly, NYU’s location in the arts capital of the world provides a twofold relationship between the faculty/students and the industry. Many actors, living playwrights and filmmakers working in New York City would make time to visit students in class. Past academic endeavors and school productions have brought me in touch with a diversity of people, from David Henry Hwang to Janet McTeer and Fiona Shaw. Simultaneously, performing arts students are able to jumpstart their career in the New York Arts scene in their youth. As David Mamet once recalled in a class at the Atlantic Acting Studio, “what actress wouldn’t give an arm and a leg to start her career at 18 instead of 22?”


One of the most important aspects of an NYU academic career is the Study Away program. NYU students can choose from a plethora of courses offered in destinations from Washington DC, London, Paris and Florence to Accra, Sydney and Shanghai. Study abroad students are not merely dispensed in another affiliated institution or abandoned in a miserly youth hostel; for instance, NYU’s Florence site features a large villa with renaissance statues and a garden, complete with a museum of classical European art. Above all, an international principle is very important in understanding discourse at a higher level. Knowledge did not only originate in Europe and the universe does not center in New York City; it is not only important but integral to depart from the Self and journey through the realm of the Other in order to study even the most basic concepts in a liberal arts education.


“A Third-Rate Babylon” –H.L. Mencken

Many people have admitted that coming to NYU means you will never go through a normal college experience. There are no frat rows or dorm parties. Nobody is excited for “the big game” tonight. In fact, student life at NYU is inextricably linked with life in the city with studying as your full time occupation.


New York City offers the best of the world’s entertainment; there is never a shortage of cheap tickets to film premiers or Broadway shows for NYU students. Music enthusiasts can always enjoy concerts at Madison Square Garden or lesser known Indie gigs in Webster Hall. The key is to realize that good entertainment isn’t always mainstream; I have seen the best theatre in off-off Broadway houses and the most talented bands performing in Washington Square Park.


Even for the less adventurous, New York City’s overwhelming sense of historicity again plays a role; from the Bronx Zoo to Coney Island, every inch of the city has something to offer by virtue of their purpose and perseverance in playing the role of the illusionist.


“In order to be in New York, you have to be willing to be lucky” –EB White

Although New York University is considered a highly selective private institution, it is still a realistic reach school for most high-achieving high school students. Unlike the Abu Dhabi program, which is aimed at extremely qualified albeit less advantaged applicants, the Washington Square Campus requires a much more democratic process. The average SAT scores of students who are accepted to NYU range from 1800-2160, most of whom are in the top 10% of their graduating class. Due to the volume of applicants, NYU does not grant interviews. However, the key to getting accepted into this university can be easily decoded: Firstly, you need to know what you want; If life in New York City and studying at NYU is your first choice in life, applying early decision will greatly advantage you. With good standardized test scores, sterling academic and extracurricular performance as well as a gripping essay that is unique and sincere, NYU is definitely within your reach.


If you are applying to a visual/performing arts program (19% of NYU students major in these areas), a good portfolio or audition is also required. The complexity of these disciplines makes it impossible to straightly describe a good portfolio/audition, but it is always important to keep in mind that admissions committees are always looking for artistic maturity and potential, as well as a willingness to learn in a successful applicant.


I hope that if NYU is an institution that is appropriate to your academic and professional aspirations, that you will one day have the opportunity to sit on a bench in Washington Square Park and admire the zeitgeist of New York City. I hope that your presence will also define another historic moment that contributes to humanity’s triumph in the modern world.


Photos from Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood.


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