It's no wonder that New York City draws in so many young college students. The promise of dreams coming true in the Big Apple is enticing, to say the least. If you feel the pull of NYC, follow your dreams, but do not forget to make a budget.

Before you make your big move, be sure you know what costs go into paying for college, which schools you can afford and what financial aid options you can utilize. With these ideas in mind, you can choose from the best colleges in New York City and find which school works for you.

Consider All Costs

As you think about attending college in New York City or anywhere else, be sure to budget for the various costs you will encounter. While tuition makes up a large portion of college expenses, things like books, rent and fees add up quickly. These factors vary widely between schools and locations, so be sure to investigate all costs before choosing a university.

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On average, students spend $1,250 per academic year on books alone. If you choose a highly specialized degree program, you can expect to pay even more for your books. You can reduce your costs by renting your books or using online versions.

Mandatory fees, such as those that fund the libraries and fitness centers, can add up to $1,000 per year or more. Some schools publish their tuition rates with fees included while others separate these charges. You should check how much you will pay in mandatory fees before deciding on a school based on price.

In-State Tuition in New York

In New York state, in-state students pay an average of $18,833 per year in tuition. Like many things in New York, this rate is significantly higher than the national average. Colleges around the country charge an average of $14,112 annually for in-state tuition.

Some of New York City's most popular schools drive up the state's average, however. More than 41,000 full-time degree candidates attend New York University and pay $47,942 annually for in-state tuition. Likewise, Columbia University charges $54,504 per year.

Cheap Colleges in New York City

The least expensive university in New York City is the Fashion Institute of Technology. This school charges less than $5,000 per year for full-time students with in-state tuition.

Students who want to study fashion or related areas should consider this option. However, if you want to learn anything else, the City University New York (CUNY) system of schools provides excellent options. The following CUNY institutions charge $6,530 per year for full-time, in-state students:

  • Bernard M Baruch College
  • Brooklyn College
  • College of Staten Island 
  • City College
  • Hunter College
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Lehman College
  • Medgar Evers College
  • New York City College of Technology
  • Queens College
  • York College

Earn Free Tuition at CUNY Schools

In 2017, New York started offering tuition-free college for certain students. The Excelsior Scholarship pays for the tuition at any CUNY school if you meet the basic qualifications. To get this groundbreaking award, you must:

  • Prove New York residency
  • Enroll in any CUNY or State University New York (SUNY) school
  • Complete 30 credit hours of school each calendar year
  • Promise to live in New York for some time after completing your education
  • Come from a household with an annual income up to $125,000

Students who earn this scholarship must still pay for mandatory fees, books and housing.

Out-of-State Tuition Costs

Like in any other state, students who cannot prove New York state residency will pay much higher tuition rates than their local classmates. Schools do this if any of their funding comes from local governments because residents pay those taxes.

If you come from another state, you can expect to spend about double what New York residents pay for tuition. Fees, books and housing remain the same for students from all regions.

Residency requirements can vary among schools. For CUNY institutions, you must live in New York with the intention of staying for at least one year before the first day of classes to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

Take a Gap Year to Become a Resident

If you want to enroll in college in the Big Apple, but you live in another state, you do not have to pay double for tuition. Instead, consider living in New York for one year before starting school. If you just graduated high school, you can call it your gap year.

During the year before enrolling, find a place to call home, work to save for college and establish a support system. By the time you enroll, you not only qualify for reduced tuition, but you also benefit from a strong foundation in the city.

During your residency year, you can also take time to visit each of the schools you consider attending. Doing this can give you a better idea of which institutions fit your needs best.

Lowest Out-of-State Tuition Rates in NYC

Some colleges in New York City only charge a little more to nonresident students or post the same rates for all students. For example, private universities often do not receive public funding and thus have no reason to charge residents less than their nonresident classmates.

The schools in NYC with low out-of-state tuition rates include:

  • Rabbinical Seminary M'kor Chaim
  • Mirrer Yeshiva Cent Institute
  • Globe Institute of Technology
  • Pacific College of Oriental Medicine New York
  • CUNY Graduate School and University Center

Attend Community Colleges First

Two-year colleges charge lower tuition and fees than their four-year counterparts. For many students, community colleges offer opportunities to lower the total cost of college. You can complete your first two years of college at one of these less expensive institutions, then transfer to a university to complete a bachelor's program.

Many community colleges in New York charge less than $5,000 per year for full-time students. CUNY community colleges include:

  • Borough of Manhattan Community College 
  • Bronx Community College 
  • Hostos Community College 
  • Kingsborough Community College 
  • LaGuardia Community College 
  • Queensborough Community College 

Students from other states can also consider finishing their general education courses at community colleges near home before transferring to New York City colleges. You can even finish these classes online while you establish residency in the Big Apple. This strategy saves you money while allowing you to experience life in the city.

Budget for High Rent Prices

No matter where you go, if you leave your parents' home to attend college, you should budget for rent or dorm prices. However, this piece of your plan is particularly important if you move to NYC. The average price of a one-bedroom apartment went down to $2,850 per month in 2018.

The exact price of an apartment depends on the borough within the city, and the amenities it provides. For example, one-bedroom apartments in the West Village routinely cost more than $3,800 per month while those in Washington Heights average $1,800 monthly.

Consider Living on Campus

Some colleges in New York provide on-campus housing and food for students. In many cases, this can be a great option. For example, at CUNY City College, you pay just over $12,000 per year for on-campus housing, which is much less than apartments in the area.

While dorm living can provide several advantages, you should always consider other living costs as well. Think about whether you can cook in the dorm, for example. If not, is the dining plan a good enough value?

Whether or not on-campus living is right for you ultimately depends on your budget, lifestyle and chosen school. Just be sure to think about it as one of your many options for attending college in New York City.

Low-Cost Graduate Schools in New York

Undergraduates are not the only students with their eyes on the Big Apple. If you already have a bachelor's degree and want further education on a budget, you can find great schools in the city.

CUNY Graduate School and University Center is one of the cheap graduate schools in New York City to consider. In fact, the center charges less in resident tuition that the CUNY undergraduate institutions.

Other graduate school prices vary depending on the programs you choose. So an MBA and a nursing master's degree can cost different rates at the same school. It's important to look up specific programs in your field.

Fill Out the FAFSA

Even if you choose the cheapest college in New York City, you may need help paying for school. The first step to receiving financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

You will need financial information about your household, some basic identification and a list of schools you may attend. You can complete the form online or through a mail-in packet. The Department of Education uses your answers to determine how much your family should contribute to your education and what aid you need.

The completed FAFSA allows you to apply for scholarships, grants and loans. Even if you do not intend to use federal grants or loans, you need to complete the FAFSA to apply for many private scholarships as well.

Apply for Many Scholarships

Scholarships should be your first choice in paying for college and related expenses. You never have to repay these awards, even if life takes you in a different direction than you planned. Schools, private organizations and governments all award scholarships. You can earn these awards based on merit, need or a combination of both.

Organizations that award merit-based scholarships consider your grades, intended major and extracurricular activities. Scholarships based strictly on need consider the difference between your family contribution and cost of attendance. Many organizations consider all of these factors for awards and others, including ethnic background and gender.

Consider Grants to Pay for College

After scholarships, grants are the next best way to pay for college. Some grants never require repayment, which makes them as valuable as scholarships. However, you may have to repay certain grants if you fail to meet certain requirements after graduation.

Like scholarships, grants can be need- or merit-based. Need-based grants include awards such as the Federal Pell Grant, which only considers financial information from the FAFSA results.

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant pays for up to $4,000 in tuition per year for qualifying students who want to become public school teachers. However, if graduates do not teach in high-needs schools after graduation, they must repay the awards as if they were loans.

Use Loans as Needed

Sometimes it's hard to make ends meet even when you choose an affordable college and earn scholarships or grants. Student loans can help you make up the difference and make your dream a reality.

You must start a repayment plan for student loans six months after you graduate or stop taking courses. This requirement is the reason loans should be last resorts. However, your education is an investment in your future, so it's perfectly acceptable to take out some loans for a valuable degree.

Consider All of Your Options

If you have your eyes on New York City for college, don't be discouraged by high price tags at some universities. You can choose cheap colleges in New York, find other ways to save and utilize financial aid. With these ideas in mind, you can enjoy your college years in New York.

About the Author

Mackenzie attended Texas Tech University, where she worked in the residence halls for three years. She also volunteered for school event committees and move-in welcome teams. These experiences fueled her passion for higher education and helping college students. Today, she uses her writing to help prospective college students find the right institutions for their needs. She writes for sites like The Best Schools, Nursing.org, Best Colleges, Nurse Journal, and PublicHealth.org.