CUNY vs SUNY Schools: Which Is Better for You?

Thursday, January 21, 2021
Cuny Vs Suny Schools Which Is Better For You

If you live in New York, you are undoubtedly aware of both CUNY and SUNY as university systems in New York City and New York State. But which is better for you?

First, some background information, just in case you’re out-of-state and curious about the difference between these two university systems.

What is CUNY?

The City University of New York (CUNY) is New York City’s public university system and the largest urban university system in the U.S. with 25 campuses, including 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, one undergraduate honors college, and seven post-graduate institutions. This university system is committed to providing students of all income levels with access to a quality education.

What is SUNY?

The State University of New York (SUNY) is a system of public colleges and universities in the State of New York and is the largest comprehensive system of community colleges, colleges, and universities in the United States with 64 campuses across the nation. This system was created as part of a commitment to providing opportunity and access to students with diverse needs across a vast geographic landscape.

CUNY vs. SUNY Schools

When you’re looking at the differences between CUNY vs. SUNY schools as a student, you should take into account that each school within each system offers its own benefits. The schools to which you apply should match your specific needs as a student, including your intended major, your budget, and your preference for location and student population.

CUNY and SUNY both include schools with varying tuition rates, academic offerings, and class sizes, among other factors. So you might have a hard time making a sweeping generalization about these systems. 

In addition, both university systems offer relatively low tuition rates, especially for in-state students, averaging at about $7,000 a year. Both systems will offer a solid education to any student willing to work for it.

However, here are some differences between CUNY and SUNY schools that you might consider.


Perhaps the most easily recognizable difference between CUNY and SUNY schools is their location. CUNY schools are all located in New York City, with campuses across all five boroughs, while SUNY schools are located across New York State, usually in smaller towns with smaller populations.

So, if you know you want to go to school in New York City, a CUNY school might be best for you and offer you a location that will suit your interests both inside and outside of the classroom.

Conversely, if you’d rather attend school in a smaller college town, a SUNY school might be a better option for you.

Student Life

Partly because of the locations of the schools, CUNY and SUNY schools offer very different overall student life. Most of the schools within the CUNY system are commuter schools, so you won’t find much of an on-campus environment. The CUNY system does offer programs to help students make friends and connect with the CUNY community, though.

Some SUNY schools are commuter schools; however, most of them offer on-campus residential housing and thus a more community-based environment. Moreover, since so many SUNY schools are located in smaller towns across New York, students also enjoy more of a college-town atmosphere than they would at CUNY schools.

So, before you start applying, think about how much of an on-campus community you’d like to be part of as a college student. If that’s one of your top priorities, you might choose to apply to SUNY schools rather than CUNY schools. But if you’d like to commute to school and enjoy the bustling city life instead, CUNY might be the right system for you.

Academic Reputation

Again, both the CUNY and SUNY systems are known for offering high-level academic programs at a low cost. However, SUNY schools, especially at the SUNY university centers, do have a slightly more prestigious reputation than CUNY schools and also have a higher graduation rate.

At the same time, if you are a particularly strong CUNY applicant and are applying to Lehman College, Queens College, Brooklyn College, City College, College of Staten Island, Hunter College, Baruch College, or John Jay College, you can also apply to the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY. 

Students who are accepted to the Macaulay Honors College can take classes at their home institution while attending events, lectures, and seminars at the Macaulay building located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. These students will also receive a full scholarship for in-state tuition, a Cultural Passport, and a laptop, along with other free perks.

Program Variety

Since SUNY is a much larger system with 64 campuses compared to CUNY’s 25, it does contain a wider array of majors and specializations than the CUNY system. If you are looking to study within a specialized field, you might be more likely to find it within the SUNY system. 

However, you’d be better off researching the various schools within both systems and finding out which schools have the most well-known programs for your intended major or which have the most successful alumni. Each system will have its own unique offerings.

If you’re a community college applicant, you really can’t go wrong with either system, since they both offer the same extremely low-cost tuition for in-state students and are comparable in terms of what they offer in the realm of community colleges.


Though CUNY and SUNY schools are comparable in terms of cost, especially for in-state students, tuition is a bit  lower at SUNY schools for out-of-state students.

CUNY receives funding from the State of New York and New York City, while SUNY receives funding just from the State of New York.

One other factor that contributes to cost is the need for room and board. Since most CUNY schools are commuter-based, students don’t have to pay for room and board and thus shoulder a lower overall cost. 

In addition, both CUNY and SUNY schools offer waived tuition for any students whose families make less than $125,000 a year. This program, known as the Excelsior Scholarship, began as a result of a signed agreement in 2017. The one drawback is that students who accept this scholarship must stay and work in New York State for the amount of time they received the awarded tuition. 

Which is better for you?

To answer this question, you’ll have to do some research and take a look at the different schools within the CUNY and SUNY systems. 

Make sure you know what you’re hoping to experience as a student, from the kind of educational experience you’d like, the campus environment you’re hoping to join, and the location and cost that will work for you.

Once you’ve made these choices, you can start looking at the various CUNY and SUNY schools and find out if there’s one that will serve your interests best.