Impressions Of
Columbia University

Academic Experience

Male Political Science Major C/O 2020

Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
The intro classes are not well taught. They’re way too big and you don’t get much of a chance to interact with your professor or your peers. But, the seminars are amazing. One thing that’s frustrating is that only about 10% of people get to write a thesis because it’s such a big major and there aren’t enough faculty. You have to really work to get attention from the faculty. You get attention from the faculty members you take seminars with, but they won’t remember you unless you put yourself out there. I worked as a research assistant last summer but I had to really work for it.

How accessible are your professors?
It depends on the major. In the big majors like Political Science, it’s really tough. The Middle Eastern Studies department is better. Professors in really niche departments like Human Rights, which is a department I’ve taken classes in, are very accessible. Graduate student instructors are also pretty accessible and they’re pretty knowledgeable.

Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
There is a liberal bias at this school, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I consider myself a liberal but I like to be open and hear all sides. In most social science classes people tend to be pretty open, but sometimes in certain humanities classes, it can be hard to get anything less than a completely politically correct fully left-wing perspective. But, for the majority of classes, including the mandatory classes, that’s not the case.

Male Neuroscience Major C/O 2020

Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
Columbia has a really cool Neuroscience faculty that makes the program really attractive. There are a bunch of people in the faculty that have won awards for brain research and we have the Zuckerman Brain Institute pretty close to campus, so I think they have a really strong research program for Neuroscience here.

How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
Because it’s an Ivy League school and the nature of New York City as well, I think it’s competitive because there are a lot of smart people around you. But, I think there are resources in place for you to form peer friendships based on collaborative learning. A lot of times they encourage people to do problem sets together so that they’re not thinking it’s a “them versus us” scenario. They try to foster a more cooperative academic environment in my experience.

How accessible are your professors?
For me in the Neuroscience department, the first half of our coursework is very similar to a lot of other natural sciences, like biology and biochemistry and stuff like that, and I think those professors are reasonable and are conscious that you have other classes. They’re cognizant that your coursework will be stressful and generally have reasonable policies with it comes to classes and meeting with them.

Male Computer Science Major C/O 2021

Can you describe your weekly coursework for the Computer Science major?
There are weekly problem set homework assignments in our core classes like math. In computer science, it’s problem sets and projects. I have written problem sets on computer theory, and then a coding project to submit online. Colombia’s Core Curriculum requirements change based on what school you’re in. For computer science, we are more extensive in the STEM category, as opposed to the humanities.

Is there anything that you feel Columbia has done especially well or poorly academically?
Our TAs are really helpful, which is necessary. In the early stages of Columbia’s program, you’ll be in lectures of two to three hundred people, so the chances of you interacting with the professors are not great. [80% of undergraduate classes have fewer than 20 students.]

How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
I would say it’s really collaborative. You’ll end up working with two or three students on most of the problem sets for classes to get it done efficiently. This is kind of what you have to do because the workload is high, so chances are you’ll work with people rather than against them.

Social Opportunities

Male Political Science Major C/O 2020

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I’m 21 and I’ll go out to bars with my friends. I’m not that into clubbing or anything, I’ve done that a handful of times. My girlfriend and I will go out on dates to restaurants and stuff like that. For the most part, we go out as a group of friends and go to a bar for a drink or two and then come back and hang out in someone’s room or suite because it’s more comfortable and we don’t have to pay for drinks.

What’s an alternative to going to a party or bar that you like for a night out?
There are university-sponsored activities that are actually kind of fun. Because I’m an R.A. I help run some of them, so I’m probably biased, but I enjoyed them as a first-year and still enjoy them as an R.A. You always get free food, there’s sometimes games or movies, so that can be great. Being in New York City we have lots of options. Central Park is so beautiful in the fall and spring and there are a bunch of fun flea market and open-air food markets in Brooklyn that are open.

How happy are you with the weekend activities or nightlife at your school? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m happy with them. If I wanted, I can spend the weekend relaxing or doing homework or just hanging out with my girlfriend. Or, I could be incredibly social and go out in the city or have fun hanging out within five blocks of campus. There’s a ton of options. We’re also on the East Coast so you can do a weekend trip to Boston or D.C.

Female Economics and Neuroscience Double Major C/O 2020

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
There is stuff going on most nights whether that’s club events or some people are really into Greek life. I usually just hang out with my friends, whether that’s in dorms or off-campus. The limits are pretty much nonexistent because if you don’t find something you like on campus you can just go off of it because the city is your back yard.

What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights are the nights where people go out if they’re going to do anything big. The rest of the nights are dedicated to random club events, homework, or group projects and things like that.

What is an alternative to going to a party or going downtown that you like for a night out?
We like exploring different food options. We also have so much access to arts and culture. We have [a student pass] to the museums as well.

How happy are you with the weekend activities or nightlife at your school? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m pretty content with them just because I’m a fairly simple person and don’t need anything overcomplicated. I think one thing that would be nice is a stronger sense of school community. With the exception of homecoming and the concert we have every spring, we don’t have any large school gatherings. I do think being in the city plays into that because people tend to do their own thing and go off wherever they like because they have the ability to.

Male Neuroscience Major C/O 2020

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
A cool thing about Columbia is a lot of the classes end by Thursday, so people typically have Friday free. That offers a lot of time to hang out on campus, there’s a lot of club programming on the weekends, and people spend a lot of time on the weekends studying.

Columbia’s social scene is weaker in comparison to other college campuses, like we don’t have big frat houses and stuff like that. A lot of parties are in student’s dorms and suites and you could expect a big one every week. For me personally, if there’s a party going on I’ll probably attend or I’ll spend some time with friends going downtown exploring. Columbia gets a student pass where we can go to museums and other attractions for free so people will do that. Also, people spend a lot of time in the library grinding.

How happy are you with the weekend activities or nightlife at your school? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m used to it and don’t have a problem with it, nor am I particularly super excited about it. The options are there and I’m not a big partier so I don’t mind if there’s not something going on every weekend, but I know that sometimes bothers people. If you want more partying, the local bar scene is pretty popular as well. I’m personally fine and like the options that come with being in a city.

Campus Culture

Female Economics and Neuroscience Double Major C/O 2020

How did you meet your closest friends?
We all lived on the same hall freshman here. The residence hall directors are keen on creating a strong sense of community, especially freshman year, so we were obligated to do a bunch of bonding events and things which ended up paying off for me personally. My other friends came from clubs that I joined. A lot of groups find some community bonding over a similar activity.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Columbia?
It’s present but splintered. It’s splintered because people like to go into the city and do their own thing so people don’t find that strong sense of overall community. With that being said, you can definitely find a sense of home and community.

How do you like the size of Columbia in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 8,900 undergraduates.]
I think the size is perfect. I’m in the College and we’re actually a bit bigger than the engineering school. It’s not too large and not too small. That said, we do have a very large graduate student population so that messes the ratio sometimes because you walk on campus and can’t immediately tell who’s a graduate student and who’s an undergraduate. [There are about 16,150 graduate and professional students.]

Male Neuroscience Major C/O 2020

How would you describe the overall social scene at Columbia?
I think there’s something for everyone. There are a lot of options here because we’re in New York City. You can go to a dorm party, you can go to a local bar or go downtown, you can go to some art event, or you can just hang out in your dorm. There’s such a range of options so people typically find something that suits them. I also think that can be isolating too if you don’t take that active initiative and end up staying in your dorm all day, which is what some people do.

How do you like the size of Columbia in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience?
Columbia University as an entity is massive. There are [20] schools from undergraduate to pre-professional to graduate schools. At the same time, even though you have a lot of resources, there is a sense that you have a small class so by the end of your four years you get to know people pretty well and there’s the close dynamic there. There’s a good balance of the resources they offer and still having an experience where we’re developing connections in the community. [There are about 8,900 undergraduates.]

Male Computer Science Major C/O 2021

How would you describe the overall social scene at Columbia?
It’s good in the sense that if you want to party hard you can, but there is always a consequence because of the amount of work you have to do. It’s definitely a work hard party hard type of school. You can only do so much of it before the work catches up to you. There are plenty of other things to do at night other than party. There’s always events, or student concerts you could go to.

How would you describe the student body?
I would describe the Columbia student body as stressed. The school gives a lot of hard work and the students are very ambitious. There is always something the average Columbia student is thinking about, either professionally or academically. On top of that, you have extracurricular activities and responsibilities. In general, the STEM majors looking for research jobs or internships will have lots of problem sets and projects to balance with the other things in their life. For me, it’s my academics, extracurricular activities, then my work-study that I have to keep up with.

Morningside Heights, NY

Pros of

  • “We’re not in Midtown, Downtown, or NYU territory, so we have a campus which is quiet when you want it to be. It’s still in a city so it’s the best of both worlds.”
  • “Morningside Heights has developed into our version of a college town. A lot of Columbia’s culture and student life revolves around the area. A lot of businesses in the area have curated the experience to students.”
  • “We are in the city so you don’t have to commute. When students talk about going off-campus to do something in Manhattan, you can just hop on the subway.”
  • “Morningside Heights is just a nice place to live in. It’s fairly safe, you have Central Park near you and the river near you.”

Cons of

  • “You tend to get swallowed by the community. The city is so big and you can step off campus if you have to.”
  • “It can get loud because we are next to a hospital.”
  • “A lot of people treat Morningside Heights as a bubble. If you want, you can stay there for your entire semester without going downtown. It can be pretty isolating.”
  • “Since New York is crowded in general, things like the gym, dying halls, and dorms can sometimes get overcrowded.”

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

Female Chemical Engineering Major C/O 2020

What is something you wish you knew about Columbia before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew the academic culture is a mix of competition and collaboration, I didn’t know about that. I also wish I knew more about my department and the problems that exist in it because when you go to an Ivy League school you expect the faculty to be top-notch. All my professors are very smart and are very involved with their research, but they don’t translate that into teaching, and I was a little disappointed by that.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The parks around campus are nice, so Morningside Park and Riverside Park. I also think when there is good weather is when it’s best to be on Columbia’s campus because that’s when you’ll see a lot of people out.

Male Neuroscience Major C/O 2020

What is something you wish you knew about Columbia before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew that there are a lot of opportunities for pre-professional education, but it is less so than schools like Wharton and Ross that have structures in place that really guide someone who’s interested in an industry since freshman year. Columbia really emphasizes the liberal arts experience so that’s why they don’t offer that much pre-professional coursework. For a lot of people here who want to go into those industries, it seems like it’s self-taught stuff that gets them where they are.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit?
A lot of Columbia students would be willing to talk candidly about their experience, so try to reach out to a group of people to get a better sense of everything. Take the initiative and see if somebody knows somebody who’s interested in what you’re doing to get a better sense of what it’s like.

Male Computer Science Major C/O 2021

What is something you wish you knew about Columbia before you entered as a freshman?
The stress culture here. It’s not something they emphasize during admissions, but there are lots of things the school does that induces stress in the students. The main thing with the stress culture is the workload. It’s complex in some ways, but in other ways, it isn’t.

What is something a prospective Black student should know that we haven’t touched on?
If you grew up in a Black neighborhood you have to get used to feeling like a minority. The feeling of being a minority is minimized because you have the option to be part of African or African American cultural societies. They have support networks to help your transition to Columbia.

Reasons to attend and not to attend Columbia University

To Attend

  • “The people here. The students are extremely driven and very smart, which is something I’ve come to really appreciate.”
  • “The name goes far. By name I also mean the connections you’ll make. If you go to a professional event, chances are there will be a Columbia representative or alumni you can reach out to. If you’re applying for a position somewhere like Google, there is definitely someone from Columbia working there you can get advice from.”
  • “We have a lot of renowned faculty on campus. There are faculty who have won the Nobel Prize for their research. That translates into opportunities and student research and how involved we are in that.”
  • “The Core Curriculum offers an opportunity to explore different kinds of classes and brings the Columbia campus together because it’s a common thread among students.”

To Not Attend

  • “Columbia is really fast paced. If you’re mellow and like to be in a less busy location, it’s probably not the best place for you because you have to be on your A-game here.”
  • “The stress culture.”
  • “Feeling isolated at times from being in such a large environment in New York City.”
  • “If you want a small school environment, you won’t get that for the first two years. The humanities class are a lot smaller, but the first two years of being an engineer are in lecture classes where chances are you’ll be talking to your TA, not the professor.”
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