NYU vs. Columbia: How Do They Compare?

What’s the difference between NYU and Columbia? Discover the differences in student body and popular majors and learn about NYU vs. Columbia.
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Read Full Bio


An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
Published on December 19, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Margaret Weinhold
Margaret Weinhold
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Margaret Weinhold is an associate editor for BestColleges, where she focuses on core content. She is passionate about increasing visibility and accessibility around higher education. Margaret holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia....
Reviewed by
portrait of Lonnie Woods III
Lonnie Woods III
Read Full Bio

Reviewer & Writer

Lonnie Woods III has over 10 years of professional higher education experience. As a student affairs administrator, professor, and professional development consultant, his work and research examine the career competencies of students pursuing the art...
Learn more about our editorial process

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

  • NYU and Columbia are both respected private universities in Manhattan.
  • They differ in campus culture, student body, and net price.
  • Undergrads can choose different majors at NYU vs. Columbia.

New York University (NYU) and Columbia University have a number of things in common: They share an island, are located only six miles apart, and show up on lists of the best colleges in New York. It’s easy to see the similarities — both are highly selective, private research universities in Manhattan. But, there are major differences between NYU and Columbia.

From the campus culture to the student body, NYU and Columbia look very different. Wondering about the difference between NYU vs. Columbia? We break down how the universities compare.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

School Profile: New York University

NYU dates back to 1831. Today, the private university’s 20 schools and colleges enroll students around the world, including on its Greenwich Village campus and campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.

Known for its prestigious Tisch School of the Arts and top-ranking business and law schools, NYU is also a research powerhouse. The private institution reports a 95% retention rate for full-time students and an 87% graduation rate. And 24% of NYU students take online classes.

School Profile: Columbia University

Columbia is New York’s oldest university, dating back to 1754. The private research institution specializes in graduate education – grad students outnumber undergrads by over two to one. The Ivy League school is also known for its undergraduate programs.

Undergrads at Columbia complete an intensive, challenging core curriculum. Columbia reports a sky-high 98% retention rate for full-time students and an impressive 95% graduation rate. But don’t expect online courses – only 2% of Columbia students take any distance education classes.

NYU vs. Columbia: 5 Key Differences

When it comes to the best colleges in New York City, NYU and Columbia are both at the top of the list. But there are differences between the schools in terms of campus culture, cost, and acceptance rates.

1. Campus Culture

You might think NYU and Columbia have similar campus vibes – they’re both elite private universities in Manhattan, after all. But the campus culture at each school is distinct.

NYU calls Greenwich Village home. In the heart of Lower Manhattan, loosely arranged around Washington Square Park, you’ll find the many buildings of NYU’s main campus. But don’t expect iron gates or quads – the campus is integrated into the city in a way that makes students feel like New York City is their campus. NYU has more real estate across Manhattan than Columbia, and even has a Brooklyn campus.

Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus is still in Manhattan, but it feels removed from the city’s vibrant center. Plus, you’ll have fewer subway options within walking distance than NYU. But Columbia does stand out for its scenic campus and classical architecture. The historic campus features stunning buildings like Low Library, where students like to hang out on the steps.

2. Acceptance Rate

It’s no secret that Columbia and NYU are both highly selective institutions. But there’s an important difference in their acceptance rates.

Columbia has one of the lowest acceptance rates for any college. Fewer than 4% of applicants receive an admission letter. And while over 60,000 students apply, only around 2,200 get in.

NYU also has a very low acceptance rate, but your odds are slightly higher. Of the more than 100,000 students who applied in 2021, around 12% got in. However, the university is getting more selective. For the 2022 admission cycle, only 8% of applicants received an admission offer – and three of NYU’s undergrad colleges admitted fewer than 5% of applicants.

NYU and Columbia also report a difference in the percentage of admitted students who chose to attend. At NYU, 49% of admitted students join the incoming class, while that number jumps to 64% at Columbia.

Acceptance Rate, Columbia vs. NYU
School Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
Columbia University 4% 60,879
New York University 12% 100,662
Source: NCES

3. Cost

Looking at tuition alone, you might think Columbia is more expensive. In 2022, the Ivy League school charged $66,140 in tuition and fees. By comparison, NYU listed a tuition rate of $58,168.

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that there’s a cost difference between the two schools. The average net price at Columbia was $22,000 in 2021, while NYU’s average net price was $29,500. So, while Columbia might look more expensive on paper, it’s more affordable than NYU when you factor in financial aid.

4. Student Body

You’ll find a very different student body at NYU vs. Columbia. Take the size of the undergraduate class. At NYU, over 29,000 undergrads enroll. In comparison, Columbia has fewer than 9,000 undergrads. The two private universities have similar graduate enrollments, with around 26,000 for Columbia and nearly 30,000 for NYU.

There are other differences amongst the student bodies at these two schools. Columbia’s undergrad class includes 19% international students, while international students make up 26% of NYU’s student body.

But on some metrics, the two schools look similar. At NYU, 19% of the Class of 2027 identifies as first-generation college students, while 20% are Pell Grant recipients. And at Columbia, first-gen students also make up 19% of the Class of 2027, while 21% are Pell Grant recipients.

5. Popular Majors

There’s some overlap when it comes to the most popular majors at NYU vs. Columbia. Both schools rank computer science, economics, and psychology among the five most popular majors. But the lists look different when you dig into the data.

At Columbia, the school’s STEM emphasis puts engineering among the top majors. Political science also ranks high. In contrast, NYU’s most popular major is liberal arts. Nursing also makes the list. And NYU shines when it comes to performing arts. Popular visual and performing arts majors include drama and cinematography. NYU has over 200 major options, while Columbia has about 80.

Most Popular Majors at Columbia

  • Computer science
  • Engineering
  • Economics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology

Most Popular Majors at NYU

  • Liberal arts
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Computer science

Source: NCES

Frequently Asked Questions About NYU vs. Columbia

Which is harder to get into, NYU or Columbia?

Both NYU and Columbia have highly selective admissions. During the 2022 admission cycle, Columbia admitted just 3.9% of applicants. That year, NYU admitted 8% of applicants. The two private institutions have different class sizes – Columbia’s Class of 2027 has around 2,200 students, while NYU has 5,700.

Is NYU or Columbia more prestigious?

Both NYU and Columbia are prestigious universities. Overall, it’s harder to get into Columbia. The private institution is also part of the Ivy League. However, NYU competes with Columbia in many areas, including performing arts, business, and law. NYU also offers more online classes than Columbia.

What are the best colleges in New York City?

The best colleges in NYC include Columbia, an Ivy League school, and New York University. Both report highly selective admissions, accepting less than 10% of applicants in 2022. Other top-ranked institutions include Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts college, Fordham University, and the CUNY system of public universities.

Page last reviewed on November 10, 2023

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.