By: ITTECA KHAN
March 12, 2018
“CUNY is made up of many well renowned and respected universities that give our nation’s top private schools a run for their money. This school system aims to provide high quality and affordable education in the concrete jungle.”
For those of you who don’t know, the CUNY acronym stands for The City University of New York, and it is a public higher education system in the New York metro area. This network of schools includes eleven senior colleges, seven community colleges, a Macaulay Honors College, and five graduate/professional schools. The 24 campuses are sprinkled throughout the five boroughs(counties) of New York City. CUNY is made up of many well renowned and respected universities that give our nation’s top private schools a run for their money. This school system aims to provide high quality and affordable education in the concrete jungle.
When most high school students think of college, they imagine dorming and raging frat parties – not 900 student classes and 80-year-old classmates. As a high school senior in New York City I was well aware of CUNY and attending one of those universities would be the last thing I would do. Going to a CUNY was the equivalent of growing up in a minuscule town, marrying your next door neighbor and dying in the same floral print bedroom you were born in. Albeit that might be appealing to some – it was my worst nightmare. Throughout most of my junior and senior years of high school, I was preparing to attend Medical School outside of the U.S. It was my five-year plan; go to Medical School straight out of High School, graduate at 23, come back and start my residency. I had grown so passionate about it that nothing else seemed feasible to me. Consumed by this desire to leave and attend medical school immediately, I barely paid attention to my American college applications.
Due to an unfortunate turn of events, my five-year plan fell apart just before my graduation. Since the decision was so last minute, my acceptance offers only stood from CUNY schools, and the lesser of all evils in my mind was Hunter College. Grief-stricken, I was determined only to remain in that madhouse for one semester. My mind was set – I was transferring out at the first moment possible.
Fast forward three months, and I was attending my first day of classes at Hunter College. As I stood there in front of my history class with my best friend, I realized that it felt very much like a fifth year of high school; I knew so many people, and there was an odd stench in the staircase. I dreaded every second that day. But sitting here as a junior at Hunter College, I want to tell you, readers, why I am still here, why the good, the bad and the ugly have combined to keep me tethered to this school.
1. Cheap Tuition
Now let me tell you, in an era where one has to sell their kidney to attend a prestigious university, CUNY tuition rates seem to be a Black Friday deal at your favorite shop. Most private universities in this country range from upwards of $45,000 a year and state universities are somewhat cheaper, starting from around $20,000/year. But CUNY tuitions my friends, range from $4,800 for full-time Community College students to $6,300 a year for full-time four-year university students. CUNY even offers generous financial packages for its students in need.
2. Great Professors
CUNY’s offer classes from some of the most well-accredited professors in the country. Many professors who teach within CUNY schools also spend certain days of the week teaching at Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Harvard. For example, your instructor may be a Ph.D. holding Anthropology professor this Fall, but studies Tanzanian hunter-gatherer tribes during the summer. Professors here are bright, kind and caring towards their students. All it takes is a knock during office hours and a smile, believe me, these people will open up many doors for you.
Large Student numbers: There are times you can’t help feeling like a drop of water in a vast sea of students. The downside of catering to such a large metropolis and being a public university means accepting large amounts of students. The student body is so large that you may only see certain faces once in your whole college career. Hunter College, for example, is a four-year university with graduate schools, leading to a student population of about 23,000. Having such a high number of students translates to the fact that some of the courses will have 900 to even 1300 students in one class. Now don’t get me wrong – I have been in classes with only ten students, and I have been in classes with twelve-hundred. You’re not going to walk into your freshman English class to a small town to account for as your classmates. That’s only the case for the large science classes.
3. Commuter Schools
CUNY’s are usually known as “Commuter Schools,” meaning that many students attend class and don’t spend much time on campus besides that. Since the schools are in the city, you have many people who live within the five boroughs, or even a bit farther than that and find it easier to commute to campus. This also means that many students are post-bachs, have families to support or are unconventional in some way. I have had classmates who were so old they were one bad cafeteria lunch away from their graves. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing experience sharing your classes with people of all ages; it humbles you in unimaginable ways.
Gosh, this might be my favorite aspect of it all. Diversity, diversity and more diversity. Conveniently placed in a city such as New York with cheap tuition, means that these colleges are accessible to people who belong to drastically different ends of the spectrum. The most beautiful thing about attending one of these 24 colleges is that you will meet people from all over the world. You have the chance to learn and experience cultures first hand with only your subway ride to count as your travel time. Many of these students are not just first or second generation Americans; they actually came from those countries. You will find people who have escaped terrible things like genocide and war. There will be those who were part of armies across the world or those who come from very influential and powerful families. One of your classmates may belong to the richest social class in this country while one may have been homeless at one point. Essentially, my point is that being surrounded by such diversity facilitates a chance for discussion and although there are times where opinions clash, you learn lessons that are more valuable than one can imagine.
5. A place to be your true self
I think this builds off of two things I mentioned earlier, the commuter school campuses and the diversity present in these institutions. Due to the mix of people, CUNY campuses become a place of respect and tolerance. There has not been a day in the past two and a half years when I have felt unsafe at school when I have felt as though my Muslim, South Asian or female identity was not welcome or accepted. Attending one of these schools has broadened my mind on so many issues that I was ignorant of, and I truly believe that had I attended that foreign medical school, I would not live up to my true potential as a doctor. I say that because being a doctor’s duty in my mind is not just providing medical services, it’s upholding the doctor-patient privilege, being a figure for your community and providing emotional and mental support for your patients. CUNY truly is a place for all, doesn’t matter what your race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation is, there’s a place for you here.
6. Bad Administrative Services
I know that if I don’t address this issue, someone in the comment section of this article will. The administrative services at CUNY are not the best…. to put it lightly. The staff, not all, but most of them feel as though they are doing you a favor by just processing something. If you get past the intense eye rolling and snarky attitudes, you are halfway there my friend. There are those fateful days when seven different departments will refuse to take responsibility and sign one paper for you. I usually lose a chunk of hair off my head on these wonderful occasions. It is something that CUNY definitely needs to work on; I understand that catering to so many students can be daunting, but students pay for this school and deserve decent service. I would like to say there are some wonderful people part of the staff; though rare, these gems of people do exist and will treat you with decency and respect.
7. Rigorous Coursework
Most CUNY schools are tough. They are tough to get through not only because the coursework skins you but because you don’t have someone guiding you every step of the way. Pfftt, Advisors? What are those? You have to make sure you are taking the right classes to make it out in four years and if you get the classes that you want each term, consider yourself blessed. Signing up for next term’s classes is a time known by many as “The Hunger Games: CUNY Version.” It’s a battle to the death for the best timings and best professors, with 20,000 other competitors. Once you get to these classes, they are hard no matter if you’re studying English or Biology. Getting A’s and B’s for science classes at Hunter is a feat in and of itself. But I don’t consider this a bad thing, many Graduate Schools and Medical Schools understand that your A’s and B’s are well deserved from these institutions and not just handouts. When it’s three A.M., and I’ve had my fifth meltdown that night, it gives me peace knowing that I have to push myself and really master the subjects that I am taking. CUNY does not in any way baby you; you learn the ins and outs of the real world very quick. Not everything is going to be served on a golden platter, and not everything is going to go your way. That is a crucial skill to learn, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
My school is my second home, and although I have complained countless times, I wouldn’t trade it for the best private school in the world. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be the person I am today had it not been for attending a CUNY school. I came to this school an ignorant and privileged brown girl who was used to having it her way. I believe I will be leaving next year as someone who accepts all and does not shy away from seeing the nuances of society, good or bad. I can only give credit to my experiences at CUNY and the people I met here. CUNY may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re willing to brave bad coffee and long lines, believe me, you will not regret attending school here. You will leave school, I hope, with an open mind, a great and respected education, and no debt. Can’t get better than that.
Although I labeled some of these items as good or bad, that’s very subjective, and maybe diluted bean juice is a solid cup of coffee for you. Who knows? Tell us in the comments how going to a CUNY was not an average experience for you.