Advice on colleges in upper Manhattan
July 6, 2005 4:39 PM   Subscribe

On August 1st, my wife and I will be moving to Morningside Heights in NYC so that she can attend a Columbia graduate program. I have never been to college and would like (read: need) to start with a community-type college. Any recommendations for schools in the Columbia/Morningside Heights/Upper West Side area for me to look into?

I'm 28 and haven't been to school since high school. It's a tad overwhelming - moving to New York and trying to find a job and start school, and I must admit I'm a little bit scared, but it's something I feel like I'm finally ready to do.

The school I'm looking for doesn't absolutely have to be in my new neighborhood, but I can't help but feel like I'd be more comfortable if it wasn't too far. I'll be looking to take just a class or two; basic English or a history class to get my feet wet.

Any advice/encouraging words on going 'back to school' would also be nice, as I mentioned I'm a little nervous. Thanx.
posted by anonymous to Education (8 answers total)
Well, why not apply to Columbia itself? It has an excellent program for returning undergrad students, which, aside from two classes reserved for the the 18-year-olds, gives you the exact education you'd get if you were 18 yourself. You'd be surprised now quickly you'd get up to speed.

That said, Columbia is expensive and the undergrad student body, by and large, has an insufferable sense of entitlement and a fortress perspective of the city—what it can see of it, anyway, from inside a bubble mirrored on the inside. You'd also be surprised how many of your fellow Ivy Leaguers are as dumb as doorstops and smirk all the time because they believe people are looking at them in admiration.

I know these things because I went back to school myself at Columbia, at age 29, took a French degree with honors a few years ago, and fled as soon as I could. Of course, plenty of people don't see Columbia the way I do (and it may just be the undergrads who seem to want to force me to blacken their eyes).

You could also try City College (whose home page is currently not available; looks like a new version is coming online; internal pages are still working) is turning itself around from years of neglect (though not horrific neglect), offers a cheap education, and has a greatly diverse student body. It's not far from Columbia, accessible by the 1 train which is frequent and clean. There's also plenty of fairly cheap housing between Columbia and City College, if you havn't worked that out yet.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:03 PM on July 6, 2005

Just to clarify Mo Nickels' comment: there's the Columbia School of General Studies, which is specifically for nontraditional students, and which you can attend part time.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:06 PM on July 6, 2005

I've got no school specific advice. I will say that based upon the small writing sample I've observed here and during a quick peek at your web site that you don't appear to need to be overly concerned about your academic abilities.
posted by Carbolic at 5:38 PM on July 6, 2005

The nearest community college campus is Hostos, over in The Bronx, which is also part of the CUNY system. Locally there's an Uptown branch (207th & Isham) of the Borough of Manhattan Community College; their main campus is way downtown, in Tribeca. You seem unfamiliar with NYC; Washington Heights is one of the few places on the island of Manhattan where owning a car is not an insanely difficult and expensive prospect, but you are probably underestimating the ease of getting around via subway. Manhattanites really don't count a subway ride inside Manhattan, no matter the number of transfers, as any big deal, even if it takes over an hour. Often an express (such as the, um, #3? been awhile) can get you 3/4 of the way in the same time as it takes to transfer locally the other 1/4. The college that I was most familiar with in terms of older students, but don't take my word on it, was Hunter -- yes, again, part of the greater CUNY conglomerate. It's on the East Side, though, so not quite so easy to get to as CCNY.

Not sure where you're from; community college in NYC may be a big culture shock. Lots of ESL students, lots of Hispanics and blacks. You may feel alienated, or you may thrive on the diversity. Have some idea in advance. Hm; you're from Philly? Scratch that; you'll do fine.

I would urge you not to rule out other options. I took (er, audited) some courses at the New School when I lived there. That school is actually the template for the modern, urban adult college; I guarantee you'll meet challenging, intellectual peers there. And Mo is right about Columbia, too: It has an international reputation, but it too was founded as an urban university and takes that mission seriously. You've got NYU as a choice, too.

I have to say, though, I never heard good things about Pace.
posted by dhartung at 11:51 PM on July 6, 2005

I would like to second both of Mo Nickels' suggestions. Columbia's School of General Studies is designed for exactly this kind of study and allows you to take essentially all of the same undergrad classes without requiring a majority of the BS associated with the undergrad College. (and I would just like to add that I don't think the spoiled and ungrateful undergraduate population at Columbia is reason enough not to pursue an education there).
And City College, as part of the City University of New York system, has undergone a lot of positive changes in the past few years. A good friend of mine works for the CUNY administration and has been pleased to watch the program at City College specifically improve a great deal.
One thing they have given a lot of attention to is the CUNY Honors College in an attempt to attract students who might otherwise leave the city and go to liberal arts colleges elsewhere. It looks like that specific program might only be for students continuing directly on from high school, but it is definitely worth checking out what they have to offer and see if they have anything similar for continuing education students.
On preview: The New School is another good suggestion, though I will say that my brother goes there now and is just about fed up with the administration's inability to maintain any semblence of organization. Don't know about the classes.
I wish you the best of luck in your search.
posted by Hadroed at 12:04 AM on July 7, 2005

When I used to ride the 1/9 up from 72nd to 168th in the morning, the folks getting off at 137th for CCNY looked like serious students. I think I'd check that out first.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:05 AM on July 7, 2005

If you went to a decent high school, your senior-year English and History classes were operating at a much higher level than a freshman English or History class would be at CCNY or any of the CUNY community colleges. Those schools have an overwhelming orientation towards remediation and ESL, which is probably the correct orientation for the populations they serve, but not too helpful for you.

There are other CUNY "senior" colleges which operate at a level much more likely to be suitable for you -- Hunter College and Queens College especially, or Baruch if you're interested in finance. Hunter and Baruch are both in Manhattan, with an annoying but tolerable commute from Morningside Heights. The commute to Queens College is probably intolerable via mass transit, but tolerable (45 minutes to an hour) if you drive.
posted by MattD at 5:53 AM on July 7, 2005

I second (or third) the New School; I've taken basic classes there like Intro to Psychology and Japanese 1, and they are just like a regular college, but with a more diverse population. One interesting option that they have is that you can take any class for credit or not. Taking it not-for-credit means it's 1/3 cheaper (usually around $400). The teacher will give you a grade, but it won't go on any kind of record. The disadvantage, of course, is that it doesn't count for anything should you want to get a degree, but if you're nervous and just want to get back into the swing of taking notes and writing papers, it might be just the thing.
posted by xo at 9:17 AM on July 7, 2005

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