Now that I’m a grad student at what you could probably call a standard American college campus, I’ve realized just how qualitatively different my college experience was than that of most of my current classmates. While most of my classmates are former sorority or fraternity members, big into college football and their respective school team pride, and have spent an exponentially greater number of hours in frat houses doing keg stands and having themed parties than hanging out on Brooklyn rooftops – to say theirs is far from my experience is probably not enough. Granted, I’m from New York originally, so I may have had a little bit of a different version of going to school in NYC, nevertheless – I think anyone that has gone to college in NYC can relate to at least some of the following staples of the NYC college experience …
1. Campus. Instead of having a huge grassy college campus that you’d have to traverse to get to classes, you had a building or two in the campus of Manhattan. If you were lucky your apartment was walking distance, otherwise you were on the subway amidst the general population of people going to work in the morning (unless rain, then cab, but more on this later). Suits, hobos, young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall – you encountered an entire spectrum of human beings everyday on your way to class. As a student you made up a distinct minority of those that surrounded you. In effect, going to class was like your day job, all bets were off the rest of the time.
2. 24/7. Things don’t close. You are never wanting for a place to give your inebriated or starving self food at 5am. In fact, you could probably get any food you want at any time of the day or night. Gyms are 24 hours. Trains are 24 hours. Parties are 24 hours. Bodegas are 24 hours. Duane Reades are 24 hours. It’s almost like all rules that apply to the rest of the world simply do not apply to you as a college kid in NYC.
3. Bars close at 4am. Let’s just say that being in a state now where the bars close at 2 is honestly mind-blowing to me. Growing up in NY I simply never conceived of places closing before 4am. This puts you on a completely different party schedule. Most nights, the getting ready pre-pre-game starts whenever your best friend gets herself in gear, and hopefully by 10:30 you’re subwaying to the pre-game at your friends apartment, before heading to the bars usually no earlier than 12. You are committed to staying out until dawn. It is completely acceptable to stay at the bar until it closes, then grab pizza and after-party at someone’s apartment ‘til the sun comes up. I mean, you are an 18-22 year old in the city that never sleeps, you just don’t expect any less.
4. The Subway. No cars = no risk of drinking and driving. Yeah you have a couple of friends that have cars, but that’s reserved for trips to Ikea or going upstate. Or maybe if you live in Queens/BK. The subway is your friend. The NYC subway system is always; 24 hours a day, anytime you need it, anywhere you need to go. Hopstop is an invaluable cell phone app for people new to the city, and I’m assuming that by the end of your college years you will barely have to use it, even though it does just makes things easier. You’ve also experienced enough levels of crazy on the subway that just about nothing fazes you anymore.
5. Cabs. There are caveats to No. 3. One major one being that you can be sure that by the end of a night out you’re taking a cab back to your apartment regardless of what borough you were hanging in. Also, rain. Also if you’re not broke because it’s the end of the month. Also if it’s 1000 degrees with humidity outside and you know for a fact you will actually melt waiting for the train to come on the platform and damnit of course this station doesn’t tell you how long until the next train, are we in the DARK AGES MTA?
6. Living on a Budget. Yeah, college students are notoriously broke. It is no different for NYC kids (well, sometimes). Sometimes you’re on top of the world, taking cabs, going out to dinner every night like a king or queen; and other times you’re living on Ramen and 40s of Olde E from the corner bodega. While most people assume that it’s expensive to go out drinking all the time in NYC, you learn the importance of a pre-game; you learn the importance of nights where you’re just partying in someone’s loft, or on a rooftop. Plus there are always specials. The infamously cheap shots at Continental is like a right of passage. If you go to BK you get a free pizza with every beer you buy a la The Charleston/The Alligator Lounge. There is never a shortage of ways of go out on a budget. Allot $5 for subway transport, $3 for a forty ounce (yeah and quarters count) and $2 for pizza (Dollar Slice <3). You can party for $10 if you really wanted to, all you really need is good friends.
7. The Morning After. As you can imagine from No. 1, getting home the morning after a night out entails passing functioning adult human beings going to work, the general public at large – not just passing someone’s dorm. This can go either way. You’d think you wouldn’t see anyone you know in a city of millions of people, but alas, the world works in strange ways and you can almost count on running into your ex getting on the 6 at Union Sq. looking like last night’s outfit got into a fight with a garbage can. Morning after at your own risk; better yet just see No. 5.
8. Celebrities. Celebrities are almost commonplace in your life. Yeah, you hung out with Shaggy at Angels and Kings one random Monday night. Oh James Franco is filming a movie next to your apartment, he seemed like a pretty weird dude. They’re filming Gossip Girl by the Met, and oh look Derek Jeter goes to your Starbucks in Yorkville. Whatever. You literally don’t know who you could run into at any given time, but you probably care more about bumping into your ex than Uma Thurman, it’s complicated; you are still a college kid, after all.
9. You completely judge people based on which city school they go to. You know what it means to be “an SVA kid” or “an NYU kid” or someone that goes to Hunter. God forbid you actually meet someone that goes to Cooper Union, that’s like finding Waldo. All of these things mean something to you, and it’s standard to hear something like “oh we’re going up to Washington Heights, someone knows someone that goes to Columbia that’s having a thing.” If you are not an NYU kid you know that “going to Washington Sq. Park” means that you are begrudgingly going to enter NYU territory, because “why do they think they own the whole village?” All jokes aside, there are no real school rivalries because by the end of your college years, you will know people from every school and you all hold respect for each other at least on some level because you all chose this city, you all shared it, you all lived it.
10. Seamless Web. Seamless is the hungover college kid’s dream. Or just a lazy college kid’s dream. It’s a way of life. “Do I want Chinese? Hmm had that last night. Italian? Hmm. Breakfast sandwich? Yeah! Do they have a minimum? Oooh the ratings for this one are atrocious. Ok this place is only a block away it’ll get here in 5 minutes.” If you haven’t starved to death in the hour or two it can take you to figure out the perfect meal to appease your queasy hungover stomach, you are lucky. Click, scroll, click; and a few minutes later you buzz the delivery guy in, anxiously await him ascending your 4 story walk-up, open your front door, and voila! There is your meal. You don’t even have to get our of your pajamas or be seen by the light of day. You fear seeing your credit card statement and the endless charges, and you know you should start cooking soon, but it’s just so eeeeasy to Seamless.
11. Bodegas. The fact that bodegas aren’t a thing in every place on earth is devastating. You understand the sheer power of a bodega. You have your regular bodega and you know the people that work there better than you know most people. Sandwiches? Milk? Beer? Eggs? Cigs? Snacks? Anything you need is at your corner bodega, twenty-four hours of the day.
12. Nice weather means Central Park. By the time spring semester starts getting nice out it might very well be midterms. And by finals it’s basically summer. After a grueling winter of snow and overall frozenness, this means you need to immerse yourself in greenery, naturally. Thus, you flock to CP and buy Coronas or margaritas for $5 from the little dude that walks around covertly serving the masses on the Great Lawn. Or you’re brown bagging your 40, just living the dream, assuming that most of the kids around you are probably still in high school but hey they deserve margaritas too. Because #NewYork.
13. No Fake ID? This would seem like a problem being underage for the vast majority of your college years. However, there are how many thousands of bars in NYC? 4 whole boroughs excluding Staten Island (because Staten Island). Most nights you get by through, “Oh my friend is the bouncer at this place on the L.E.S. you’ll be good there.” Or, “yeah this guy I’m seeing’s cousin is doing some show in the west village, you’re on the list.” Worst comes to worst, no respectable bodega IDs so you can at least get beer and go to someone’s apartment, and as I’ve already mentioned, this is far from a worst-case scenario.
14. Times Square. Also known as: the ninth circle of hell. You do not go there. You refuse to believe it exists. When you picture the city in your mind there’s a large black space in the center, almost like the Bermuda Triangle. You only acknowledge Grand Central, the shuttle, and Times Sq. station in your mind-map. You do not go above ground. You probably wouldn’t go there unless Beyoncé herself got you a private limo to drive around and someone to feed you chocolate covered strawberries whilst B talks to you like she is your BFF and even then you’d probably be like, “Driver roll down the partition please, I’d rather go to Staten Island than Times Square…”
15. School sports? That’s just not really a thing. Sorry we aren’t sorry. There are clearly exceptions, but there are certainly not swaths of people rocking “Columbia” or “NYU” football shirts going freakin’ crazy come game day; tailgating for hours, painting their faces and shot-gunning Bud Lights. Though I’m sure the hipsters would get a kick out of that. I’ll settle for a Jets, Giants, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Long Islanders, Yankees, or Mets jersey. Your school is NYC as far as sports go. And if you are a New Yorker you have an opinion on all NY sports team rivalries (even if you abstain on Hockey) and you know which ones you would choose if you really had to.
16. Diversity. You don’t have to be in NYC long before you know as many lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people as you know straight. Non-issue. Everyone can make out with everyone and by the end of college you have probably seen it all. Nothing will faze you. You hung out with people from probably every socioeconomic and ethnic background. You will go to people’s apartments that are the size of a closet, or penthouse suites with private rooftops, and you will come to greet many a doorman in your college years. Bottom-line, over the years you will have met people from every walk of life and you wouldn’t trade it for the world. You would not have it any other way.
17. Food. Yeah, it’s only the best in the world. It’s not a lie that you have very high standards when it comes to food if you’ve ever NYC’ed. You have your favorite Chinese place, your favorite noodle place, Indian place, pad thai, Italian, let’s not even start with bagels. Good luck finding a single bagel that tastes right outside of NYC, are they even trying?
18. Pizza. It’s in a class of its own. It literally gets its own category outside of food. Dollar slice (#2Bros) is actually like the second-coming of Christ if that were even a thing. Recently a friend from Philly spent the weekend in NYC and came back and said “omg the pizza” to which I replied “now you can see why no other pizza compares and why I turn my nose up at pizza in Philly” … YOU JUST CAN’T BEAT NYC PIZZA. You just can’t do it. Just stop. Blasphemy!
19. Brooklyn. The Manhattan vs. Brooklyn feud. If you live/go to school in Manhattan it is “a thing” to go out to BK. Insert eye-roll on behalf of most kids that would rather just go to a party on the LES. This is relatively nonsensical considering the L train (when it’s running) is super legit. And you can’t beat BK loft/rooftop parties. If you live in BK on the other hand, which a lot do because of the college kid brokenness, you don’t mind the commuting back and forth to hang. But yes, you might be a hipster if you suggest going to BK. Do with that what you will.
20. Meatpacking District. Let’s just say it’s not conducive to high-heels and you’re only going there if it’s someone’s birthday and/or a club promoter begged you to go. You expect that it will be a bunch of yuppies and people in for the night from New Jersey.
21. Shows & the Arts. You never have to worry about whether your favorite artist/musician will be playing town soon. They are. From EDM fanatics at Webster, Terminal 5 and yes, even Pacha, to all the big dogs playing Madison Square Garden and all the low-key and underground bands playing down on Bowery just the same. Of course limited releases of basically every movie are always an option, as is Broadway, the Rockettes, the ballet or opera at Lincoln Center. The Met, the MoMa, let’s just say you are never lacking in your opportunity for experiences in the arts in NYC.
22. Fashion. The other day I sarcastically said “sorry we don’t wear Lily Pullitzer” to my best friend who is also born and bred NY and she said “What the hell is that? Sounds like Hollister, not okay.” We’re talking one of the fashion capitals of the world here. We’re also talking a population of 8.337 million people so pro tip: it’s not about blending in, it’s about standing out. Anyone that chooses to blindly follow trends rather than find their own style, well it is self-evident. From Madison Ave. to Canal St., we do shopping right. I’m not even going to go there about Fashion’s Night Out and Fashion Week, because I feel like that’s fairly obvious.
23. Holidays. Thanksgiving? St. Patricks Day? New Year’s Eve? Let’s not even start with Christmas in Manhattan. There’s no question of “what are we going to do” because you are in it. You are automatically invited to the greatest and largest party in the world come time for every major holiday, and even the lesser ones. You name it, we’ve got a parade for it. Columbus Day? Sure, why not! Puerto Rican Day Parade? Yeah, we celebrate that here too. We will seize any excuse to have a city-wide celebration.
24. Commencement. While other colleges probably have their graduation ceremonies on campus, like I said, Manhattan is the college campus of all NYC students regardless of which school they go to. This means that you get to have your graduation ceremony at historic landmarks and all-around epic places, e.g., Lincoln Center, or if you’re an NYU kid – Yankee freakin’ Stadium (#wegetitNYU). But beware, once you go to college in Manhattan, it is exceedingly difficult to think that any other place in the world compares. As you accept your diploma and go forth in the world, be prepared for a lifetime of holding back eye-rolls when someone says their city is the greatest city in the world and they aren’t talking about NYC. They just don’t get it. But hey, they don’t have to. You’ll always have NYC.