Eight things all students should know about studying in New York

New York is a popular destination for international students, but it can feel quite overwhelming when you first arrive. Here are some tips on how to settle in to the Big Apple

Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

Seeta Bhardwa

Student content editor
December 1 2021
New York


Where to even begin with a city like New York? Its fast-paced, sprawling, multicultural neighbourhoods have attracted international students for years – and for good reason.

It is home to some of the top universities in the world and a plethora of employment opportunities, and it’s a great city to base yourself in and explore the best of what the US has to offer.

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However, living in New York can take some getting used to, from how the streets are numbered to the best way to move around the city. Here are some tips for international students to be aware of to ensure that they make the most of the whole city.

1. Learn the subway

Like many big cities, New York has a subway system that can make it easy to move around the city. Students really don’t need a car when studying in New York because there is an extensive public transport system.

However, the subway mostly runs from the top to the bottom of Manhattan, with a few lines taking you out into the suburbs and the rest of the state. This can mean that you’ll often have a walk a bit to find the subway line that can take you to where you need to go, and you may need to factor in a slightly longer travelling time to get you to where you need to be.

2. The city really is as expensive as everyone says…

We don’t say this to put you off, but all students should be prepared for how pricey New York can be. Rent costs can be high, so if you are looking to rent a private apartment, consider finding flatmates to share the cost. Even groceries in the city cost more than in many other major cities.

The expense of activities such as eating out, visiting tourist attractions and travel can really mount up if you’re doing this regularly, so make sure you take some time to create a budget and pay close attention to where your money goes.

3. …but there are budget-friendly things to do

New York City is, after all, the home of the $1 pizza slice and cheap deli sandwiches, bagels and hot dogs. There are lots of great little spots for cheap eats on every corner, so make it your mission to sample them all and find your favourite.

There are also many free things to do while in New York. Simply walking around each of the different boroughs and experiencing their individual identities and cultures can be a great way to spend a Saturday. You can walk across the High Line and take in the sights, take a cruise on the Staten Island ferry, soak up the atmosphere in Times Square or watch a film on one of the many big screens that pop up in the parks in the summer.

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4. Find the green spaces

It is true that New York is a very built-up city, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there are no green spaces for you to enjoy. As well as the vast Central Park, which you could easily spend an entire week walking around exploring, there are a range of other beautiful parks in Manhattan, including Morningside, Riverside, Washington Square, Bryant and Battery, to name just a few.

There are even more parks to be found in the other New York boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.

Many of the parks often have a range of fun, free activities that you can join in with, such as yoga in Prospect Park or (as mentioned before) watching films on a big screen under the stars.

5. Find your nearest hardware store

Aditya Chopra, an Indian student who has just graduated from Columbia University, advised that all international students should familiarise themselves with their local hardware store.

“Hardware stores are a boon to the US college student: if you need something for everyday life – homeware, kitchen stuff, stationery, umbrellas, you name it – chances are your local hardware store will have it at a reasonable price. Definitely find out where your closest one is. It’ll be essential to setting up your house,” advises Aditya.

6. Venture out of New York City

While this article is mainly for tips for living in New York City, we couldn’t ignore the fact that the rest of the state of New York is worth a visit.

For the nature lovers, there are the Catskills Mountains, the Adirondack Mountains and Park, and the Niagara, which are all accessible from the city and can provide a welcome breathe of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Other cities and towns such as Albany and Montauk are also worth a visit if you fancy a weekend out of the city but don’t want to go too far.

7. Understand the grid system

In Manhattan, the streets are all arranged and ordered in a grid system, which can make it easier for you to find your way around.

The roads that run east to west are called “streets”, and routes that run north to south are called “avenues”. Fifth Avenue separates the east and the west sides of the borough, and all the streets and avenues are numbered in order.

It may sound complicated, but once you start walking around the city you’ll pick it up in no time.

8. It’s a student hub

As New York is home to a number of colleges and universities, you’ll be surrounded by students wherever you go.

Given just how many higher education institutions there are in the city, keep an eye out for events that you may be able to attend at other universities or facilities on other campuses that may be open to you. One of the biggest pluses of studying in a city such as New York is that you get to meet hundreds of people from different walks of life, and utilising the university network is a great way of doing that.

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