New York University, or ‘NYU’ for short, is the largest private university in the United States. It is also probably the most atypical of American universities.

First and foremost it is atypical in its location. The main campus is situated in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and NOHO, surrounding Washington Square Park and interspersed seamlessly with the city. Were it not for the large letterings on the NYU buildings honoring benefactors, one could easily walk across the entire campus and not realize that it is a campus at all. Even the students lounging in the park are easy to miss among the hordes of chess hustlers, street performers, businessmen on lunch, and wide-eyed tourists.

The undergraduate dormitories, and the graduate and faculty housing, comprise some thirty high-rise buildings around Greenwich Village, the Union Square Area, the East Village, and elsewhere throughout lower Manhattan. Due to the cost and difficulties of apartment living in Manhattan, most undergraduates and many graduate students and faculty reside in university housing. Indeed, NYU is the third largest landowner in New York City, after the Federal Government and the Trinity Church Trust.

Furthermore, NYU is atypical in that it is a major national research university, located in a major city, and yet a large number of the students are involved in arts programs such as theatre and film, or non-degree and certificate programs. It is also not the place for spectator sports; NYU is proudly NCAA division III, does not field a football team, and only recently changed the team name from ‘The Violets’ to the (somewhat) more competitive ‘Bobcats’. There is hardly any ‘greek life’ to speak of, for many reasons including the complete lack of potential space for fraternity houses.

NYU currently has a large number of schools and colleges. The major ones at the Greenwich Village campus are1:
- College of Arts and Science, aka CAS, the academic school.
- Tisch School of the Arts, home of the film and drama programs. Where generally intelligent kids go to be stunted by a, shall we say, less than rigorous university education.
- Leonard N. Stern School of Business, one of the top business schools in the country. Where shallow and damn near brain-dead pricks go to learn how to toe the corporate line.
- Steinhardt School of Education, home of the nursing, teaching, communications, nutrition, music, and dance programs, and, to put it kindly, not the brightest people.
- Shirley M. Ehrenkranz School of Social Work
- Gallatin School of Individualized Study
- Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service
- Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, recently spun off on it’s own from CAS for some reason.
and the
- NYU Law School

There are also the:
- College of Dentistry and
- NYU Medical School and Tisch Hospital
located on the East Side of Manhattan

and the
- NYU School of Continuing and Professional Education, with a location in Midtown Manhattan, featuring courses ranging from accounting to wine tasting, and also the General Studies Program which is where NYU puts undergrads who don't meet their standards but who they have to admit for political reasons.2

There are currently about 18,000 undergraduates, 18,000 graduate and professional students, and 15,000 students in non-degree programs, for a total enrollment of almost 50,000. This makes New York University almost as large as some of the largest public universities, although the figures are a bit misleading due to the large number of part time, non-degree students counted at NYU.

NYU was founded in 1831 by Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of The Treasury. The first classes were held on the perimeter of Washington Square Park, as they are today, and the Law School (1844) and Medical School (1866) were founded shortly thereafter. Other schools and divisions came and went as the result of mergers and splits with just about every educational institution in New York City. As the university grew, an additional, and eventually larger campus was opened at University Heights, in the Bronx. Undergraduate instruction was moved to the Bronx in 1894, and the Greenwich Village campus declined, with only the stately old law school remaining. The old main building on Washington Square Park was damaged in the Triangle Shirtwaist sweatshop fire. In the opening decades of the 20th century, ‘The Heights,’ as it was called, was a major university with a major football team, turning a broad section of New York into engineers and businessmen. For many years NYU was free or very inexpensive to all admitted New York City natives.

Despite its relative prominence, NYU remained a mostly local school through the 1960s. However, this began to change in 1972, when NYU moved it’s major operations back to Greenwich Village. ‘The Heights’ was sold to the City and today is a major CUNY campus. Back in the village, the university began to attract students from beyond the New York Area. Prominent alumni of the past, which included several wealthy media figures, were summoned, and ushering in a major transformation, donated the bling-bling for most of the programs and buildings around today.

NYU went about acquiring property at a stunning rate, turning old hotels and office buildings into dorms, and first Washington Square Park and then Union Square Park into NYU’s ‘quads’. Many of the programs, most famously film, rose to national prominence. NYU was literally flooded with applications, and became much more selective. By the mid 90s a majority of incoming undergraduates were from outside the New York area, and today NYU has the highest percentage of foreign undergraduates of any university in America, totaling some 9%.

As NYU is quite atypical, campus life is quite atypical as well. For the significant but dwindling number of students who still come to NYU from New York City, it is much like a commuter school or community college. They are hardly seen or heard from. On the other hand, for many students from farther afield, New York becomes a home in a way that university towns usually don’t. Many stay over the summers with internships, and since many students live in the dorms for all four years, lasting communities develop. Many choose NYU specifically because it is in New York City, and stay permanently after graduation. This is not the case as often with the graduate and professional students, most of whom come for a specific program for a specified length of time.

Because of the lack of ‘Greek life,’ and the convenient availability of ‘things to do’ in a major city, social activities tend not to center around the campus as in a typical university. However, in seeming contradiction to this, in 2001 NYU was rated the 19th best ‘party school’ and the 2nd best school for marijuana usage. If this is so, it is by far the most academically rigorous on the ‘party school’ list.

1These opinions are those of the author, who went to the NYU College of Arts and Science as an undergrad. But in addition to being opinions, they are true.

2This really happens.