Loading up the car and heading out of town to attend college is often a rite of passage. But the high-caliber programs offered in our backyard now have many university-bound Weschesterites foregoing that trip. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best undergraduate programs in Westchester County. They rival many colleges in the nation for their innovation, graduate success rates, and, perhaps most important, value. For Westchester parents, these local programs offer a chance to invest wisely in their kids’ education (while still keeping a close eye on them); for students, these institutions supply the quintessential college experience without the added costs of heading farther afield. (Plus, they can still do laundry at home if they want.)
1. Undergraduate Nursing Program
The College of New Rochelle
Westchester County is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s most innovative healthcare hubs. Some of the area’s top medical institutions are here now, including Montefiore Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Students interested in medicine start out ahead of the game just by being located in Westchester.
Within the county, one program that stands out is The College of New Rochelle’s undergraduate nursing program. Drawing on the resources close by, seniors in the program participate in a one-on-one mentorship with a registered nurse with whom they make hospital rounds. Seniors also shadow RN preceptors (experienced practitioners who provide one-on-one guidance and training to nursing students), who, along with other faculty members, teach them how to advocate for themselves and their patients.
But beyond giving students advanced clinical skills, the program also teaches students how to have empathy and compassion for their patients. During their health-assessment course, for example, students are taught to breathe and center themselves before entering a patient’s room as a way to help them focus solely on the patient and view the patient as a unique person needing their full attention.
The new dean of the school, Dr. H. Michael Dreher, takes a keen interest in each student—in 2014 he even reviewed the resumés of the senior class as they prepared to enter the job market. Perhaps that (along with the empathy) is why these students often land in leadership jobs in hospital settings, even early in their careers.
2. Healthcare Management Program
The healthcare industry in our country is more complicated than ever. Because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the number of people participating in our healthcare system has increased, and there are various new demands to meet. Enter: Pace University. Its healthcare management students are being trained to bring fresh eyes to healthcare’s most urgent problems.
While many schools consolidate their healthcare management program into one school, the leadership at Pace believes students need more varied perspectives in order to be effective. Thus students in the Healthcare Management Program participate in the University-wide core curriculum (aimed at teaching students to think critically) and also take required courses as students in the Lubin School of Business in addition to their healthcare-management concentration.
Armed with this training, Pace students secure more internships in the New York metropolitan area than students from any other undergraduate healthcare program, notes the program’s director, Patrick McGuigan—and that leads to jobs.
3. Department of Environmental Studies and Science
Graduates of Pace University’s Department of Environmental Studies and Science have landed jobs at the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Smithsonian, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are politicians, biologists, chemists, food psychologists, rainforest advocates, and farmers. They are people with a passion for protecting the environment. And they are people with jobs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of environmental scientists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all other occupations.
When Pace’s environmental studies program was founded in 1996, it was one of the first environmental programs in the country. Since then, other schools have copied it, but Pace remains one of the leaders. Why? First, the program is interdisciplinary. Students take science courses alongside politics, ethics, law, anthropology, and sociology classes. And as a flagship program, it has an immense amount of resources. Students now enjoy a new multimillion-dollar complex, which includes a state-of-the-art environmentally friendly classroom building, outdoor classroom and event space, farm animals, a museum, nature trails, and themed gardens to be used as field study labs.
As a fun bonus, Pace University is the first institution to celebrate Earth Day for the entire month of April.
Environmental science is a fast-growing field, and Pace University’s program is a leader in the country.
4. The Writing Concentration
Sarah Lawrence College
Want to follow in the footsteps of Alice Walker, Lucy Grealy, Ann Patchett, and Brian Morton? At Sarah Lawrence you can—literally. This is where they started their writing careers.
Sarah Lawrence offers one of the largest writing programs in the country, giving students the chance to study with real-life Pulitzer Prize winners, novelists, biographers, even a poet laureate. And unlike other institutions where the sought-after professors are out of reach to undergraduates, at Sarah Lawrence, every class is taught by a full-fledged faculty member (instead of a teaching assistant or lower ranking instructor). And the faculty members don’t just lecture. Classes consist of workshops with an average of 12 students, and every professor meets with each of his or her students weekly or biweekly for private sessions. The college boasts that its students get more individualized attention from professors than students at any college or university in the country.
With students yearning for gainful employment after graduation (not just an exceptional ability to write poetry), Sarah Lawrence hooks them up with some of the best writing positions in the country. Past graduates have earned spots at the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, and Random House Publishing.
5. School of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Simply offering a behavioral science degree makes Mercy College stand out from its competitors, as there are only a few programs in the country.
But even if more programs existed, this one would still be unique for its flexibility. The program requires very few courses, letting students chart their own path based on the career they desire. (This approach has obviously resonated well; there are currently some 700 Mercy students majoring in behavioral science.) And, students can get as specific as they want. For example, one option is a conflict-resolution certificate where students can choose courses in mediation and get hands-on training through internships and conflict-resolution simulations.
And take note of the price tag. At $17,000 per year, the cost is roughly half the tuition expense of many other private colleges. That means a lot less debt than at comparable institutions.
6. The Distinctive Liberal Arts Core Curriculum
Let’s be honest: Most students have no idea what they want to study when they enter college. So it’s nice for undergrads to be able to try out many subjects that will come in handy no matter what road they take. For these students, Concordia College is a great fit. It offers a core curriculum program, called the Concordia Distinctive, that provides a thorough liberal arts background from the get-go.
Generally, students are required to take at least 40 credits in this program including a first-year seminar, where they learn about the college’s commitment to service, Christian identity, and scholarship as well as foundational college skills like critical thinking. It’s also a small class, which means plenty of attention from the professor and a chance to meet peers. The college also embraces experiential learning, so students get the chance to go off campus and participate in community service projects, internships, field trips, and study abroad opportunities.
Another component of the core curriculum is a writing across the curriculum program. The theory: No matter what anyone does when they graduate, they need to know how to write well.
7. The School of Criminal Justice
When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook our country, Monroe College responded by setting up a criminal justice program. The goal was to train a new generation of emergency responders, social justice workers, and law enforcement officers, who, sadly, would have their work cut out for them. Over the past 11 years, the program has grown and now has the second largest amount of graduates per year in New York State.
The faculty is made up entirely of people practicing in the field, which means students learn the most current practices in criminology, law, ethics, and other related topics. (And since no class is larger than 25 students, it’s easy to get faculty members’ attention.) By the end of four years, students are prepared to enter institutions like the NYPD and the Department of Corrections immediately.
Undergraduates can also gain access to the seminars and events the College holds for criminal justice professionals around the world. For example, the college recently hosted an Active Shooter Symposium where leading minds discussed strategies to combat live shootings. Students were not only invited to watch, but also participate.
8. School of Film & Media Studies, BFA in Film
SUNY Purchase College
At SUNY Purchase College, 85 percent of undergraduates who study film go on to successful careers in film, video, and related fields. Graduates have won prestigious awards—such as Chris Wedge, who won an Oscar for the 1998 computer-animated short film Bunny. Michael Spiller, another graduate, won an Emmy for directing the comedy Modern Family. Numerous alumni have shown their films at prominent festivals such as Sundance. They also work at places like Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn.
The program is competitive. Each year it receives 400-500 applicants, and only 30 are selected. But the winners get a rigorous four years of studying film—both the history and production of film, and the nitty-gritty work of shooting, writing, and editing—as well as the resources and time to create individual projects. And they get attention from impressive faculty: cinematographers, directors, and screenwriters who made it to the top of their respective fields and come back to share their experiences with the next generation.
9.Biochemistry BA Program
SUNY Purchase College
Anyone able to master the challenging field of biochemistry is almost guaranteed an important job with a solid salary. Biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medicine, after all, are some of the fastest-growing fields in the country. And SUNY Purchase College may have just the program for those with a biotech inclination.
First, the university couldn’t have a better location. With Westchester’s biotech sector growing like gangbusters, students have the opportunity to tap into some of the country’s top biochemical companies. Second, the school pours a lot of money into this program, boasting that the equipment and training students have access to as undergraduates are on par with some of the most sophisticated firms in the world.
Though you’d guess a program of this caliber would come with a steep price tag, SUNY Purchase College is far more affordable than its peers. Kiplinger even ranked it one of the 100 best public college values in 2014.
10. School of Arts & Sciences, BA in Psychology
Psychology is one of the most popular degrees at Iona College, which is a good thing for humanity. The program is for students who strive to help make people’s lives better, and its undergraduates are successful in securing jobs after graduation at hospitals, clinics, rehab facilities, guidance offices, and even financial service firms.
At some institutions, psychology courses consist of 200-person lecture halls where a teaching assistant lectures blandly about cognitive behavior—but not at Iona. All classes are small; the average ratio is 15 students to every professor. Teaching assistants or graduate students do not helm the classes.
Iona also has a specialized program for people who want to become drug and alcohol abuse counselors. There is a growing need for those positions, and students are officially qualified to work in these functions in New York State after passing eight classes. (In many other programs, students gain that eligibility only after taking many additional classes.)
11. The Mass Communication Department
The tri-state area is home to an abundance of media, advertising, public relations, and broadcast companies. So journalism and communication students at Iona will truly be in the middle of it all.
Iona students get to take advantage of this local media goldmine by interning at places like Comedy Central, Sports NBC Universal, WFAN Sports Radio, and Westchester Magazine. These internships can be “for credit,” which means students can focus on their real-world work experiences without also worrying about a full course load. And because Iona has a large network of alumni at these top media institutions, many students find mentors with whom they can form a close connection.
In the class of 2013, 91 percent of graduates found jobs or went directly to graduate school within six months: an impressive percentage considering the challenging current state of the media market.
12. Undergraduate Sports Studies Program
When Manhattanville College started offering a sports studies degree program—a combination of communication and media, history, sports psychology, business, and physical science courses—in fall 2013, students flocked to the opportunity. After all, what sports or exercise fan wouldn’t want to turn a hobby or passion into a career? During the first year, close to 50 students majored in the program with an additional 20 choosing it as a minor.
Since the program is relatively new, only two students have graduated so far, and both are pursuing master’s degrees. Students still in the pipeline have access to Manhattanville’s contacts at big names like ESPN, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Yankees. And they are on track to pursue full-time careers in pro, amateur, and youth sports and education. Students wishing to be sports managers and physical therapists can even take graduate-level courses while still an undergrad.
13. The Fashion Merchandising and Management Program
If you want a career in fashion there is no better place to be than New York City. But there is a price to going to school in the City: high costs, crowds, and immense competition.
Berkeley College offers the benefits of New York City without the burden. The school is located a short train ride away from Manhattan, so students have easy access to New York City internships and take regular field trips to manufacturer showrooms, fashion retailers, and museum exhibits. They also participate in the renowned New York Fashion Week twice a year. Many students move to the City after college to take up spots with fashion retailers such as Vera Wang, Uniqlo, Barraza, Teri Jon, and Bloomingdale’s.
But Berkeley students also get the advantage of being at a small, personalized school. Students in this program study the business aspects of the fashion industry, learning to master product development, retail buying, allocation and planning, visual merchandising, and other business-related topics. The fashion team provides one-on-one career services to help students identify their strengths and get the jobs they want. And, after students graduate, Berkeley offers them “free lifetime career assistance.”
Another bonus is that many students receive grants to attend Berkeley College; more than $45 million was given out in 2013-2014. And there is tremendous flexibility. Students can attend class during the day if they want, but they can also work full-time and complete their degree by taking classes during evenings, weekends, and online