What Are the Best SUNY Schools?

08/02/202422 minute read
What Are the Best SUNY Schools?
  • The SUNY system has 64 unique institutions
  • It’s difficult to choose the “best” SUNY schools, since “best” will depend on individual fit
  • Our list of the 5 best “overall” SUNY schools is based on the U.S. News & World Report rankings and includes: Stony Brook University, Binghamton University, University at Buffalo, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and University at Albany
  • To choose the best SUNY school for you, conduct research to find which schools align with your preferences and goals

What Are the Best SUNY Schools?

This guide breaks down the top 5 SUNY schools based on overall ranking. Our goal is to help you navigate towards the SUNY school that meets your academic aspirations and also resonates with your preferences. Whether you're drawn to the bustling energy of a large research university or the intimate setting of a specialized college, your ideal SUNY experience awaits.

Overview of the SUNY School System

The State University of New York (SUNY) system is the largest network of higher education institutions in the United States. It encompasses 64 schools and 30 community colleges, serving nearly 400,000 students and offering thousands of degree programs. 

Its campuses range from large, research-intensive universities in urban areas to smaller colleges nestled in serene rural settings. It offers cutting-edge research opportunities and innovative programs in fields such as nanotechnology, sustainability, and biomedical engineering — as well as strong foundations in traditional disciplines like business, education, and the humanities. 

SUNY's diverse campuses include:

  • Flagship research universities like University at Buffalo and Stony Brook
  • Specialized institutions such as NYS College of Veterinary Medicine or SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  • Community colleges like SUNY Westchester Community College that offer innovative programs in high-demand fields such as Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Nursing, Business Management and Digital Filmmaking.

SUNY schools are also rich with extracurricular opportunities. There are over 3,700 student organizations throughout the SUNY system including: academic honor societies, cultural organizations, athletics, community volunteer groups, and performing arts groups. Plus, students start new organizations all the time!

Given its scope and diversity, SUNY has something for everyone.

So what is the best SUNY school? The answer: it depends. Each of the 64+ schools offers a unique academic and social experience. We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 best overall SUNY schools based on rankings by the U.S. News & World Report.

After presenting the highlights of each one, we’ll walk you through considerations for choosing the best SUNY school for you.

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1. Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is situated on the north shore of Long Island in southeastern New York. It is considered a “flagship” institution within the SUNY system. This means it takes the lead on public higher education in the state.

Stony Brook boasts a diverse community of nearly 26,000 students — 17,000 of whom are undergrads — from almost every U.S. state and 150+ countries worldwide.

In-state tuition and fees are $10,560, while out-of-state tuition and fees are $30,350.

The university offers more than 200 undergraduate, 100 master's, and 40 doctoral programs. Noteworthy initiatives at Stony Brook include the accelerated MBA degree and the prestigious Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URECA) program. URECA engages undergraduates in research across a broad spectrum of disciplines, leading to accolades such as Beckman, Goldwater, Marshall, and Truman scholarships.

Furthermore, Stony Brook students from all fields earn credits in diverse locations like Australia, Italy, and Tanzania.

Stony Brook was ranked favorably in several categories by the U.S. News & World Report in 2023:

  • #58 in National Universities
  • #26 in Top Public Schools
  • #12 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #39 in Psychology Programs
  • #56 in Computer Science
  • #58 in Most Innovative Schools
  • #67 in Nursing
  • #88 in Economics
  • #135 in Business Programs

Additional recognition of Stony Brook includes:

  • Named the leading U.S. institution for reducing inequalities in higher education by Times Higher Education in 2020
  • Ranked as the top public university in New York State by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education in 2020
  • Acknowledged as a top producer of U.S. Fulbright Scholars by the Chronicle of Higher Education for 2020-21


Stony Brook is one of only two New York public universities in the Association of American Universities (AAU), a prestigious group of 66 leading research universities in North America.

Stony Brook’s student-faculty ratio is 19:1. About 35.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.

Stony Brook’s most popular majors are:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Health Professions and Related Programs
  • Psychology
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Business
  • Engineering
  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services
  • Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics

The average freshman retention rate is 89%, signaling high student satisfaction.


The faculty at Stony Brook includes Nobel laureates and MacArthur grant recipients. They are at the forefront of groundbreaking research and global projects, such as investigating the decline of lobster populations in Long Island Sound and contributing to NASA's Mars missions.

Stony Brook also plays a crucial role in managing the Brookhaven National Laboratory, in collaboration with other leading institutions, and partners with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for pioneering research.


The Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook presents an array of performances and workshops, highlighted by the annual Stony Brook Film Festival, which attracts independent filmmakers and enthusiasts from around the globe.


The athletics department at Stony Brook supports 18 Division I varsity teams. It provides top-tier facilities like the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium and Island Federal Arena. It offers athletics scholarships across all men's and women's sports.

Satellite Locations

Stony Brook also extends its reach through satellite campuses like Stony Brook Southampton, which hosts the Southampton Arts MFA programs and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and SUNY Korea, established in 2012 as the first American university on Korean soil.

Schools and Colleges

The university comprises 12 schools and colleges, including the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, and College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, alongside five health sciences schools. It offers a comprehensive and multidisciplinary educational environment.

Campus Culture

Stony Brook’s large student body means it has endless extracurricular opportunities. Students can easily find their niche here. The level of academic rigor is high. Many students commute instead of living on campus, so it can be quiet on the weekends.

Notable Alumni

  • Chris Algieri, professional boxer and former WBO junior welterweight title holder
  • Michael R. Anastasio, Ph.D., Physicist; 9th Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Joy Behar, co-host of The View
  • Pat Benatar, musician, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee (dropped out)

Stony Brook is Known For:

  • Academic rigor
  • High-level research
  • Division I sports teams
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2. Binghamton University

Binghamton University (BU) rests on a sprawling 930-acre campus and has about 14,000 undergraduate students. The campus is technically in Vestal, a neighboring area of the city of Binghamton in southeastern New York. It is the other of the two “flagship” universities in New York (the first being Stony Brook).

The tuition and fees for students living in New York are $10,363, while those from out of state are $28,203.

Binghamton’s notable rankings according to U.S. News & World Report are:

  • #73 in National Universities
  • #34 in Top Public Schools
  • #67 in Nursing 
  • #72 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #80 in Psychology Programs
  • #85 in Best Value Schools
  • #105 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs at schools whose highest degree is a doctorate
  • #112 in Economics 
  • #117 in Computer Science
  • #118 in Business Programs 


UB and Stony Brook are New York State’s only public universities in the  Association of American Universities (AAU), a prestigious group of 66 leading research universities in North America. 

Binghamton’s student-faculty ratio is 19:1. Nearly half of its classes have fewer than 20 students. 

The most popular majors at SUNY Binghamton are: 

  • Biology/Biological Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Accounting
  • Business Administration and Management
  • Computer Science
  • Econometrics and Quantitative Economics
  • Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse

The average freshman retention rate is a whopping 91%, indicating very high student satisfaction.


Notable faculty include:

  • Ken Jacobs, experimental filmmaker
  • M. Stanley Whittingham, recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  • David Sloan Wilson, professor emeritus, biological sciences/anthropology
  • Al Walker, former basketball player and college coach
  • Larry Woiwode, author


The BU arts scene includes music, theater, visual arts, and cinema. The university is home to performance spaces and galleries such as the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts concerts, dance recitals, and theater productions featuring both student and professional groups.

BU encourages interdisciplinary collaborations between the arts and other fields, allowing for innovative projects that span across disciplines.


BU is one of the few SUNY schools that is NCAA Division I. The Binghamton Bearcats, representing the university in the NCAA Division I America East Conference, draw a lively crowd — especially the BU Zoo, a student fan group, during basketball matches. But BU does not have a football team.

Schools and Colleges

The university is acknowledged as a premier institution in New York State, with several graduate programs receiving high rankings, including its Departments of History, Public Administration, and Psychology. Binghamton University is also celebrated for its commitment to sustainability. 

BU is home to 6 schools and colleges:

  • Harpur College
  • Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences
  • School of Management
  • College of Community and Public Affairs
  • School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Campus Culture

The campus is known for its nature preserve, which features a lush forest and a serene pond. It provides ample opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and jogging. 

The university encourages outdoor adventures through its Adventure Resource Center and Outdoor Pursuits program. It offers organized activities like kayaking, climbing, and camping, as well as resources for students to plan their own outdoor adventures. For winter sports enthusiasts, Greek Peak offers skiing and snowboarding just 30 miles from campus.

Binghamton University hosts several large student events annually, such as University Fest and Spring Fling, featuring live music, carnival attractions, and a variety of food options. The university is home to over 300 student organizations, including nearly 60 fraternities and sororities.

Notable Alumni

  • Ingrid Michaelson, singer-songwriter known for “The Way I Am”
  • Madeleine Smithberg, co-creator and former executive producer of "The Daily Show" 
  • Andrew Bergman, screenwriter known for "Blazing Saddles"
  • Tony Kornheiser, ESPN commentator

Binghamton University is Known For:

  • Natural environment and outdoor activities
  • Very high student satisfaction (91% freshman retention rate)
  • Commitment to sustainability
  • Scientific and medical research
  • High-quality education at a public institution price
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3. University at Buffalo 

The University at Buffalo (UB) is consistently recognized as an exceptional and affordable university. Located in Amherst, New York in the Buffalo Area, it enrolls around 20,000 undergraduate students.

Some of UB’s notable rankings are:

  • #76 in National Universities (U.S. News & World Report)
  • #36 in Top Public Schools (U.S. News & World Report)
  • #2 in U.S. for climate action by the Times Higher Ed Impact Rankings
  • #2 state flagship in U.S. with greatest economic diversity by The New York Times College-Access Index
  • #3 in the U.S. for industry, innovation and infrastructure by the Times Higher Ed Impact Rankings
  • #7 in the Northeast for undergraduate entrepreneurship by Entrepreneur magazine and The Princeton Review
  • #23 in the U.S. for hosting international students by the Institute of International Education


UB’s student-faculty ratio is 12:1. About 40% of its classes have fewer than 20 students. 

The most popular majors at SUNY Buffalo are: 

  • Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services
  • Engineering
  • Social Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Health Professions and Related Programs
  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services
  • Visual and Performing Arts

The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 85%.


The UB faculty has included Nobel laureates such as Ronald H. Coase (Economics) and J.M. Coetzee (Literature) and winners of prestigious awards, like Samuel R. Delany, the Hugo Award-winning author and literary critic.


UB's College of Arts and Sciences houses several departments dedicated to the arts, including the Department of Art, Department of Theatre and Dance, Department of Music, and the Department of Media Study, which is known for its innovative programs in film, digital arts, and emerging technologies.

UB's arts programs frequently collaborate with local arts organizations and participate in community events, helping to enrich the cultural landscape of the Buffalo-Niagara region.


The university's sports teams, the Buffalo Bulls, compete in Division I and are a member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for all sports. 

Buffalo is the only SUNY school to house a Division I football team, the highest level of college football. They are also the only SUNY school with a nationally ranked men's and women’s basketball team. Over 30 Buffalo Bulls baseball players have been drafted into the MLB.

Because of its academic and athletic successes, the University at Buffalo is often referred to as the “athletic flagship” of the SUNY system.

Schools and Colleges

UB is made up of 13 schools and colleges:

  • The School of Architecture and Planning — the only combined architecture and urban planning school in the State University of New York system
  • The College of Arts and Sciences
  • The School of Dental Medicine
  • The Graduate School of Education
  • The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • The School of Law
  • The School of Management 
  • The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
  • The School of Nursing
  • The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • The School of Public Health and Health Professions 
  • The School of Social Work offers graduate MSW and doctoral degrees in social work.
  • The Roswell Park Graduate Division

Campus Culture

Reflecting its diverse student body and commitment to global engagement, UB's culture is distinctly international. Programs such as "Global UB" and various study abroad opportunities allow students to gain international experience and perspectives.

UB students take pride in their school spirit, particularly during athletic events where the "True Blue" student section comes alive to support the UB Bulls. Traditions such as "Oozfest" (a mud volleyball tournament) and "International Fiesta" (a showcase of cultural performances) contribute to a sense of community and pride among students.

Notable Alumni

  • Journalist and news anchor Wolf Blitzer
  • Actor Winston Duke
  • NASA astronauts Gregory Jarvis and Ellen S. Baker
  • National Public Radio (NPR) personalities Terry Gross and Ira Flatow

University at Buffalo is Known For:

  • International students and diverse community
  • Smaller class sizes (12:1 student-faculty ratio)
  • Suburban environment
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4. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is dedicated to the science, design, engineering and management of natural resources and the environment.

It sits on a 12-acre campus in urban Syracuse, New York. The undergraduate student body is small, with only around 1,600 students.

Tuition and fees for New York residents set at $9,206 and $21,036 for those from out of state.

ESF’s notable U.S. News & World Report rankings include:

  • #115 in National Universities
  • #58 in Top Public Schools
  • #78 in Best Value Schools
  • #167 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs
  • #170 in Top Performers on Social Mobility


ESF’s student-faculty ratio is 12:1. Nearly two-thirds of its classes have fewer than 20 students.

The most popular majors at ESF are:

  • Conservation Biology
  • Environmental Biology
  • Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy
  • Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering
  • Wildlife Biology
  • Environmental Studies
  • Environmental Science
  • Forest Management/Forest Resources Management
  • Construction Management
  • Landscape Architecture

The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 81%.


The faculty at ESF is made up of dedicated experts in their respective fields within environmental science, forestry, and related disciplines. Many faculty members at ESF are engaged in research addressing critical environmental challenges.

Faculty at ESF are known for their commitment to student success and engagement. They often involve undergraduate and graduate students in research projects, providing valuable hands-on learning experiences that complement classroom instruction.


ESF offers a unique Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program, which provides artists with an opportunity to explore and create pieces in a relaxed, natural setting in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains.


The college has approximately 35 student organizations. Its sports teams, known as the Mighty Oaks, participate in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association alongside other small colleges. ESF students also have opportunities for club and intramural sports at Syracuse University.

ESF has a long tradition of competing in intercollegiate woodsmen competitions in the northeastern US and Canada.

Schools and Colleges

This specialized institution provides students with focused educational programs. It offers around 20 Bachelor of Science programs in fields from aquatics and fisheries science to paper engineering, along with a program in landscape architecture.

Through a collaborative agreement with neighboring Syracuse University, ESF students have access to a wider range of courses, housing options, facilities, and extracurricular activities available at Syracuse. The partnership extends to shared commencement ceremonies each May.

Additionally, ESF operates a satellite campus in the Adirondack Mountains, known as the Ranger School, which offers associate degrees and bachelor's degree courses in areas such as forest technology and environmental conservation.

Campus Culture

Many students identify themselves as a "Stumpy" (or "Stumpie") —  a term that most likely comes from forestry "stump jumpers".

Earth Day is a significant event at ESF, celebrated with activities like yoga, communal barbecues, and local environmental service projects.

Notable Alumni

Distinguished ESF alumni include Canadian photographer and scientist Reginald Balch, and historian and author Sol Feinstone.

SUNY ESF is Known For:

  • Commitment to sustainability
  • Active research involvement of its faculty
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5. University at Albany

The State University of New York at Albany (UAlbany) is set in the suburban area of Albany, NY.  and enrolls 12,264 students. The cost of attendance is $10,408 for in-state students and $28,998 for those coming from out of state.

UAblany’s is ranked highly in several categories by U.S. News & World Report, including:

  • #133 in National Universities 
  • #70 in Top Public Schools 
  • #31 in Top Performers on Social Mobility
  • #88 in Best Value Schools
  • #130 in Psychology Programs
  • #150 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs
  • #158 in Computer Science
  • #165 in Economics 
  • #191 in Business Programs 


UAlbany’s student-faculty ratio is 17:1. About a third of its classes have fewer than 20 students. 

Its most popular majors include: 

  • Social Sciences
  • Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services
  • Psychology
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services
  • Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting and Related Protective Services 
  • Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Education

The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 82%.


Competitive athletes have nearly 20 varsity sports teams to choose from, known as the Great Danes, competing at the NCAA Division I level across multiple conferences. 

Schools and Colleges

UAlbany provides a broad spectrum of academic offerings, with over 50 undergraduate majors and approximately 120 master's degree programs, notably in education and business.

The university comprises nine colleges and schools, plus an honors college:

  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Massry School of Business
  • School of Criminal Justice
  • School of Education
  • College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity
  • College of Nanotechnology, Science, and Engineering
  • Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy
  • School of Public Health
  • School of Social Welfare
  • The Honors College

The institution is renowned for its top-tier graduate programs in areas like criminal justice, social work, and various disciplines within the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. 

Campus Culture

Student life at UAlbany is vibrant, with over 200 student organizations, including Greek life and recreational sports.

The Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, holds a special place in the university's culture, symbolizing the pursuit of knowledge; her likeness is featured on the university seal and a historic 7-foot statue on campus.

Notable Alumni

Among the university's distinguished alumni is Harvey Milk, a trailblazer in American politics as the first openly gay man to be elected to significant public office, whose life story was depicted in the film "Milk" with Sean Penn in the lead role.

University at Albany is Known For:

  • Strong programs in criminal justice, public administration, information science, and business. 
  • Research contributions in areas such as atmospheric science, public health, and social welfare
  • Diverse and inclusive campus community

How to Decide Which SUNY School is Best for You

As you can see by now, each school in the SUNY system has different strengths and opportunities. The “best SUNY school” will be different for each person.

To choose which SUNY school is best for you, consider factors like campus size, location, academic strengths, and available resources — and how those features align with your preferences and career goals.

1. Reflect on your priorities and candidacy

What do you want out of your college experience? Do you want a small community where everyone knows your name, or the hustle of a school that feels like its own city? The student body can range from 2,000 to 20,000 across SUNY campuses.

Do you want to be surrounded by greenery with few distractions, tucked in a quiet suburban neighborhood, or smack in the middle of a bustling metropolis?

In addition to personal preference, consider proximity to home and access to jobs or internships.

2. Research SUNY schools that align with your academic and social interests

To narrow down your SUNY choices, start by exploring the campuses that spark your interest. For help with this, see our guide for conducting effective college research.

If you have no idea where to start, Google search “SUNY schools with [your intended major] program.” Tools like Big Future can also help you find institutions that offer the programs you're considering.

And if you're undecided on a major, consider schools with a wide range of programs that interest you.

Keep in mind that each SUNY school has its own unique atmosphere. Try to visit campuses, if possible, to get a sense of the student body, faculty interactions, and overall vibe. Virtual tours and student reviews can also offer insights.

3. Review affordability and financial aid

Many SUNY schools are known to offer a quality education for a public-school price. But it’s still important to compare the cost of attendance between SUNY schools. Don't forget to factor in additional expenses like housing, meals, and textbooks.

Investigate the financial aid and scholarship opportunities at each campus. Some schools might offer more generous packages or scholarships specific to your field of study.

4. Investigate post-graduation opportunities

Look into each school's career support services and alumni network. Strong career advising, internship programs, and alumni connections can be invaluable in transitioning from college to the workforce.

Research the post-graduation success rates of alumni, including employment rates, graduate school admissions, and average starting salaries in your field of interest. Sites like U.S. News & World Report show this information for every school. 

5. Consult with a college admissions counselor

When finalizing your school list, include a few safety options where your admission chances are high, typically above 80%. 

For help developing your college list or gauging your likelihood of acceptance at specific schools, schedule a free consultation with us today. Our academic advisers can help you align your goals with school choices that would suit you best.

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What NOT to do

Notice what is not on the above list: prestige. Choosing a school based on name alone is never a good idea. Even the most “excellent” school may not be excellent for you. 

Take the time to do some soul-searching — it will pay off later when you end up at a school that fits you like a glove instead of transferring out after the first semester.

The Bottom Line

Pinpointing the "best" SUNY school is a journey that hinges on individual preferences, academic aspirations, and career goals. 

Whether you're drawn to the bustling energy of a large university or the intimate setting of a smaller college, you’ll find a home in the SUNY system. By considering factors like campus atmosphere, program strengths, financial implications, and post-graduation prospects, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your vision for the future. 

Remember: the optimal fit is not about prestige. It’s about finding a place where you can thrive academically, socially, and personally. 

If you find yourself needing guidance or a second opinion, our team at Crimson Education is here to help you navigate your options and make the most informed decision for your unique path!