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The 6 Best CUNY Schools and What Makes Them Great


Every year thousands of applicants apply for freshman admission to CUNY, a renowned university system based in New York City. Which are the best CUNY schools, though? Is there one best CUNY college that towers above all the others?

In this guide, we present our picks for the best CUNY schools and offer tips for finding the best CUNY college for you based on what you're looking for in a school. But first, what is CUNY exactly?


Briefly: What Is CUNY?

CUNY (pronounced "Q-nee") stands for The City University of New York, a large system of public schools—including four-year colleges, community colleges, and graduate and professional schools—located in all five boroughs of New York City.

CUNY schools are known for their affordability, high-quality instruction, and research. They also make up the biggest urban public university system in the United States. As a result of their urban location, most students commute.

To learn more about CUNY enrollment numbers, financial aid, and admissions, read our complete guide to the CUNY schools.

In total, there are 25 schools in the CUNY system.

This includes 11 senior (aka four-year) colleges:

  • Baruch College
  • Brooklyn College
  • College of Staten Island
  • Hunter College
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Lehman College
  • Medgar Evers College
  • New York City College of Technology
  • Queens College
  • The City College of New York
  • York College
And seven community colleges:
  • Borough of Manhattan Community College
  • Bronx Community College
  • Guttman Community College
  • Hostos Community College
  • Kingsborough Community College
  • LaGuardia Community College
  • Queensborough Community College
As well as seven graduate and professional schools:
  • Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY
  • CUNY Graduate Center
  • CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy
  • CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
  • CUNY School of Law
  • CUNY School of Professional Studies
  • Macaulay Honors College

If you’re reading this, you’re probably getting ready to apply to college as a first-year student and are considering applying to a CUNY school (or several). Of the four-year CUNY schools, which are the best?




Best CUNY Schools: Methodology Behind Rankings

To come up with our picks for the top CUNY schools, we looked at several key factors:
  • Rankings and grades: We considered each CUNY school's ranking on lists by US News, Forbes, and Niche, as well as grades (A+ to F) given by students on Niche
  • Freshman retention rate: This is the percentage of freshmen who stayed at the school after their first year; the higher this rate, the higher we ranked that school on our list
  • Graduation rate: The percentage of undergraduates who graduated from school within four years; the higher this rate, the better
  • Student-faculty ratio: The average number of students per professor at a school; the fewer students per faculty member, the better that school ranked, since this usually means smaller classes and more personalized attention from teachers

Now, let's take a look at the full CUNY ranking list to see how all the CUNY schools compare with one another.


What's the Best CUNY College? Full CUNY Ranking List

Below is the full CUNY ranking list for all 11 four-year CUNY schools. Note that we are not including Macaulay Honors College, as it's a special honors school and differs from the regular colleges at CUNY (and is now grouped under the "graduate school" category by CUNY as well).


A Closer Look at the 6 Best CUNY Schools

In this section, we hone in on the six best CUNY schools. Keep reading to learn more about what these top CUNY schools can offer you.


body_baruch_collegeBaruch College
(Tony via Wikipedia Takes Manhattan/Wikimedia Commons)


#1: Baruch College — Kips Bay, Manhattan

Baruch College is ranked within the top 200 national colleges and universities by Forbes and Niche, and has a cumulative B+ grade, the second highest grade given by students on Niche of any CUNY school. It also has the highest freshman retention rate of any CUNY school at 88%.

Although the campus has limited housing and space, it makes up for this with its impressive 17-story Newman Vertical Campus building. Over 170 student clubs and organizations are available here, as well as 35+ majors in fields such as business, international affairs, art, and science.

Students have praised Baruch for its value, academics, diversity, and student life. Many have noted, however, that Baruch has a strong business lean, so if you're not planning to major in business, you might prefer a different atmosphere.

  • Acceptance Rate: 41%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,461 (in-state), $15,412 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 12,421
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: 2%
  • Popular Majors: Accounting, finance, business
  • Baruch College Admission Requirements


#2: Hunter College — Upper East Side, Manhattan

Founded back in 1870, Hunter College is one of the largest CUNY schools in terms of enrollment. It is highly ranked by US News and has the best student-faculty ratio of any CUNY college at 13:1. The school also has a fairly high freshman retention rate of 85%. 

Well known for its liberal arts and nursing programs, Hunter offers more than 80 majors, spanning fields such as Arabic, dance, chemistry, and statistics. The campus is located just two blocks east of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so there's a lot to do and see around Hunter.

Students on Niche gave high marks to the school's value and diversity but a very low D- grade to the campus. Although many feel the school is extremely safe, they also agree that it's on the less eventful side for a college, with no major emphasis on Greek life or sports.

  • Acceptance Rate: 40%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,380 (in-state), $15,332 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 13,753
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: N/A
  • Popular Majors: English, psychology, biology
  • Hunter College Admission Requirements


#3: Queens College — Kew Gardens Hills, Queens

Established in 1937, Queens College has a high 84% freshman retention rate and a solid B grade on Niche, indicating that most students are satisfied with their education and experience here. It also has a very good student-faculty ratio of 16:1.

At Queens, students can choose from among more than 100 programs of study in the arts and humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, math, and education. The school is also home to over 100 student clubs and 20 intercollegiate sports teams. Around 25% of students are aged 25 or older, making it a solid choice for nontraditional students.

Queens does fairly well, but not great, at pretty much everything, according to students on Niche, who gave the school almost all B-level grades for qualities such as academics, professors, campus, and student life. One area where it excels greatly, however, is diversity, scoring at an A-.

  • Acceptance Rate: 53%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,538 (in-state), $15,488 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 12,479
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: Data unavailable
  • Popular Majors: Psychology, accounting, economics
  • Queens College Admission Requirements


body_city_college_nyThe City College of New York
(Su & Soe/Wikimedia Commons)


#4: The City College of New York — Hamilton Heights, Manhattan

The City College of New York, also known as CCNY or just City College, is the oldest CUNY school, having been founded in 1847. It's got a high 84% freshman retention rate, an impressive student-faculty ratio of 16:1, and a cumulative B grade on Niche.

City College is known for its premier engineering and sciences programs, but it also has schools and departments specializing in various other fields such as the arts and humanities, education, and interdisciplinary studies. More than 70 academic programs and 200 student clubs are available here.

However, most students feel that improvements could be made to the campus, party scene, and student life as a whole. On Niche, about one-third of students polled feel they're just attending the school for an education—nothing more. Therefore, if you are looking for a more socially active community, another CUNY school might be a better fit for you.

  • Acceptance Rate: 51%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,340 (in-state), $15,290 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,847
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: Data unavailable
  • Popular Majors: Engineering, biology, psychology
  • City College Admission Requirements


#5: John Jay College of Criminal Justice — Midtown, Manhattan

Despite its name, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers a lot more than just a highly ranked criminal justice program: as a well-known liberal arts college, the school houses around 30 majors in fields such as anthropology, math, English, and sociology.

John Jay has a solid 83% freshman retention rate and a very good overall A- rating on Niche, the highest grade given by students on Niche of any CUNY school. It also offers around 60 student clubs and organizations.

The majority of students thoroughly enjoy John Jay, awarding the college high grades for its campus, location, and student life on Niche. Professors are also highly valued here, with 93% of students surveyed saying that faculty members put significant effort into teaching classes.

More than half of undergraduates at the school study crime-related fields, such as criminal justice, criminology, and forensic psychology (the three most popular majors), so if you're not planning to study one of these, you might prefer a school with a broader focus.

  • Acceptance Rate: 37%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,470 (in-state), $15,420 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 13,753
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: N/A
  • Popular Majors: Criminal justice, criminology, forensic psychology
  • John Jay Admission Requirements


#6: Brooklyn College — Flatbush/Midwood, Brooklyn

The first coeducational CUNY school, Brooklyn College is one of the larger CUNY schools, with an 82% freshman retention rate and a solid B rating on Niche. Students can choose from among 82 undergraduate programs across five distinct schools in business, education, humanities and social sciences, natural and behavioral sciences, and visual and performing arts.

A wide variety of student organizations and clubs are available at Brooklyn College as well, ranging from academically and professionally oriented groups to sports teams and volunteer service clubs. The college is extremely proud of its affordability, especially for minority students.

On Niche, Brooklyn College has mostly Bs, with many students praising the beautiful, relaxed campus atmosphere, which differs greatly from that of the super urban campuses in Manhattan.

  • Acceptance Rate: 50%
  • Tuition per Year: $7,440 (in-state), $15,390 (out-of-state)
  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,401
  • % of Students in Campus Housing: 0% (no campus housing)
  • Popular Majors: Accounting, business, psychology
  • Brooklyn College Admission Requirements


Finding the Best CUNY College for You: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

So you've decided you want to attend a CUNY school. Great! Now, it's time to figure out the best CUNY schools for you based on what you're looking for in a college. Here are five questions to ask yourself before you start your applications.


#1: What Do You Want to Major In?

First and foremost, think about your academic interests. What do you want to major or minor in? If you definitely know what you want to study in college, you can start to narrow down your CUNY school options by figuring out which ones offer your major and which ones don't.

Although CUNY colleges are all part of the same university system, they don't offer the exact same academic programs, so make sure that you do your research before you apply.

The fastest and easiest way to check what majors and minors a particular CUNY school offers is by using the CUNY majors search function. With this you can simply type in your major and see which CUNY schools have it. Alternatively, you can choose a CUNY school to see all its programs.

For example, if you searched for a classics major, you'd find that only Queens College and Brooklyn College allow you to get a BA in this field.


#2: How Big of a School Are You Looking For?

Enrollment numbers can vary quite a bit at CUNY schools, so it's critical for you to think hard about what kind of environment you'd prefer. Do you want a close-knit, more intimate atmosphere? Or would you rather have a larger, more bustling setting?

CUNY schools range in enrollment from about 4,000 undergraduate students (at Medgar Evers) to approximately 18,000 (at Hunter).

Here are all four-year undergraduate CUNY schools and how they compare in terms of enrollment size:

CUNY School Undergraduate Enrollment Total Enrollment
1. Baruch College 15,859 19,989
2. Hunter College 18,152 24,099
3. Queens College 15,883 18,772
4. The City College of New York 12,364 15,031
5. John Jay College of Criminal Justice 13,146 15,210
6. Brooklyn College 13,405 15,938
7. Lehman College 12,375 14,392
8. (Tie) Medgar Evers College 4,134 4,134
8. (Tie) New York City College of Technology 14,277 14,277
10. College of Staten Island 10,743 11,793
11. York College 6,769 7,027



#3: Do You Like the Campus?

One great way of getting to know a college is to visit its campus. Doing this allows you to meet faculty and other students, learn where things are around campus, and get an overall feel for the social scene and student life.

Although all CUNY colleges are based somewhere in New York City, they're not all the same in terms of setting. Some CUNY schools, such as Lehman College, are in more suburban areas, whereas others, such as Baruch, are in more metropolitan areas.

I suggest taking a campus tour and then spending at least a few hours exploring the area around the school. If you can't make it to campus, at least make some time to do a virtual campus tour through the school's website, if available.


#4: How Much Financial Aid Will You Need?

Even though all the CUNY schools are pretty inexpensive, you might have better luck getting more financial aid or winning a scholarship at one school than another. Check the financial aid pages on each school's website to see what kinds of scholarships they offer, as these can differ among the CUNY schools.

You can also go to the main CUNY scholarships page for an overview of aid given at all colleges.


#5: How Do You Compare With Admitted Applicants?

The final question to ask yourself before you apply to any CUNY schools is how your own academic profile compares with those of admitted applicants.

Some CUNY schools—especially the ones listed above—are a lot harder to get into than others, so you should know how you stack up against successful applicants to see what your shot of getting accepted is.

Specifically, you'll want to compare your GPA and SAT/ACT scores with those of admitted applicants at each CUNY school you're considering. To do this, go to the CUNY Academic Profiles page.

If your GPA and test scores are higher than the school's averages, you have a great shot at getting in; this school can be considered a safety school. If they're about the same, you have a good but not amazing shot, making this school a target school. And if they're far below, you have a smaller chance of getting accepted; this makes it a reach school.

Here are the freshman 2021 profiles for the six best CUNY schools listed above:

CUNY School High School Avg Avg SAT Score* Avg ACT Score*
1. Baruch College 93.0 1280 27
2. Hunter College 93.0 1280 27
3. Queens College 90.4 1190 24
4. City College 89.3 1180 24
5. John Jay College 89.8 1130 23
6. Brooklyn College 91.1 1210 25

Source: CUNY Academic Profiles Freshman Profile 2021

*These scores are from Fall 2019 due to CUNY's temporary test-optional policy



(CUNY Brand Assets / CUNY)


Conclusion: What Is the Best CUNY College?

The City University of New York, better known as CUNY, is a renowned system of public colleges and schools in New York City. These schools are known for their quality academics, diversity, and overall affordability due to their low tuition rates and plethora of scholarships.

There are 25 CUNY schools in total, including 12 four-year colleges. Based on our research, we've determined that the best CUNY schools are as follows:

  1. Baruch College
  2. Hunter College
  3. Queens College
  4. The City College of New York
  5. John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  6. Brooklyn College

Ultimately, to find the best CUNY college for you, you'll need to consider more than just rankings—you must look at factors such as size, majors offered, financial aid, and campus environment.


What's Next?

Got more questions about CUNY? Then check out our complete guide to what CUNY schools are, how to apply, and what the biggest pros and cons of attending them are.

What are the differences between CUNY and SUNY? We explain everything you should know about these two New York-based public university systems here.

Need help figuring out which colleges you should apply to? Get some help with our expert tips for making your own college list.



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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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