An Interview On
Columbia University

Background

Interview Date:January 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Boarding school in Connecticut with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a strong culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Philosophy
Extracurricular Activities: Leadership position in CUSH, Black Student Organization (BSO), Columbia Robotics Club, and the National Society of Black Engineers.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
The BSO is the foundation of the social groups that I hang out with every day, and who I study with the most. The same applies in a lesser extent to the National Society of Black Engineers.

Academic Experience

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.

What was your favorite class for Computer Science?
Discrete Math. It’s a new concept for me, so for someone who kind of explored programming in high school, we didn’t go into the theory and logic behind it.

What was your least favorite Computer Science class?
Data Structures. The way the assignments are organized leaves no flexibility to when you can turn in assignments. In other Computer Science classes, you can use a certain amount of late days if you run into something. Especially at a school like Columbia, there may be certain things that come up.

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’ve been interested in science for most of my life, but I also wanted to build something that might affect the community around me. I enjoy studying scientific theory, but that can only go so far. I want to do something I can point to and say I did this. That’s how I became involved in engineering. I was in the robotics club and started taking programming classes, which is how I ended up as a Computer Science major.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived over the past two years?
Freshman: John Jay Hall in a single.
Sophomore: McBain Hall in a single.

How was transitioning from your boarding school in Connecticut to the Morningside Heights neighborhood of NY?
The biggest difference is living in the city. Public transportation is something you need to get used to unless you have the financial means to take an Uber everywhere. There is a lot more to do in other parts. Where my high school was, there were only a few things to do. In NY, there is a lot of options for everyone, which is another thing to get used to.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Columbia is really safe on campus. If something does happen they have a security system that keeps track of it, there are RAs you can report to, and if you have a medical emergency related to substances, they have a crisis system. Outside of campus, I think it’s safe. The only problem is if you walk into Morningside Park alone at night.

What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
My friends and I go explore randomly when we get off campus. Time Square is fun because there is a lot to do and you’ll always see something different. When I’m not with my friends, running around Morningside Park is probably my favorite place to be. It’s quiet from early morning until the late night if you need a break from the noise of the city.

Pros and cons of being located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan?
Pros:
1) You are one train away from real Harlem, so it’s easy to experience the culture there.
2) You are close to Manhattan, which is good for jobs. I can walk to my internship, as opposed to having a 20-minute commute.
3) There is lots of stuff to do around Morningside Heights that you don’t have to leave campus for.
Cons:
1) Since we are in the Morningside Heights and the area is being gentrified, the cost of living is really high, even compared to deeper parts of Harlem.
2) Since NY is crowded in general, things like the gym, dying halls, and dorms can sometimes get overcrowded.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
I’d say at least once a weekend we’ll host an event for BSO or CUSH. Last night I hosted a formal dinner party, so we’ll do events like that. At the beginning of the semester when midterms aren’t a thing yet, we’ll go to parties in the Lerner party space, which is a school-sanctioned area. We may go to a frat party, or other nighttime activities including going to play basketball.

What nights of the week do you regularly do things?
Our weekends basically begin on Thursday nights because most people either have one, or no classes on Friday. Thursday night is when we do some events for our clubs, Friday is usually an event for our club during the day, and then we’ll explore the city at night if we have time. Saturday is more so fraternity parties or parties in the Lerner party space.

Do freshman boys have trouble getting into parties?
I would say no. The Lerner party space is open to everyone, but the fraternity parties are less open. If they are closed, it’s not because you’re a freshman that you can’t get in. You probably need to know someone in the fraternity.

How happy are you with the weekend activities or nightlife at your school? Is there anything you would change if you could?
My experience is dependent on how much work I have. The only problem with having fun on the weekends is when I have a lot of work to do, I won’t go out. Around midterms and finals when projects are due, you’ll see a lot fewer people going out, and parties will slow down. The only thing I would suggest Columbia change is to help spread out some of the exams. For finals week after coming back from Thanksgiving, it seems like all of my teachers have made their projects due at this time, which decreases the probability of people going out.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I came in with a friend from high school. From there, our next closest friend lived on our floor. The rest we met in the Black Student Organization, the social events we hold, and I meet a lot of my friends through classes.

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.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Sexual orientations are mixed everywhere, and you wouldn’t really notice. We are pretty gender and sexual orientation inclusive here. Racially, there isn’t much of a problem. You’ll notice some people will have more friends in one race than another, but it’s never a problem where I don’t have friends from other races. [The Class of 2022 has a population that is 28% Asian, 16% Black, 57% White, and 17% Hispanic.]

How strong is the Black community on campus?
It’s pretty strong for an Ivy, but it’s a primarily White institution. If you want to fit in with the main Black community like BSO and African societies, then you have a lot of opportunities to do that. If you join these communities, it won’t feel like you’re outnumbered. Then again, there is a problem being one of the few black people in my classes, but it’s not that big of a deal for me right now.

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.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
The main thing Columbia does is have us use Handshake, which is an app that helps you find internships on and off-campus, and uses the alumni network. You can ask questions and set up interviews.

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
It’s been really helpful. One thing I’d criticize Columbia for are the general academic advisors, who aren’t there most of the time when you need them. The career counseling office is the opposite of that. Anytime I had a question about my resume, what I should do for an interview, or what should I apply for, they are there for every step in the process. If I had to point toward a specific thing that’s the best at Columbia, this would be it.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

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 Columbia:
1) 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.
2) Research and internship opportunities stem from the name.
3) There are a lot of startup programs you can do. Columbia is a very good place if you want to go down the road of startups.
4) It’s in New York, so if you want to have that experience of being in the city, you can do that.

Reasons to not attend Columbia:
1) The stress culture. If you want to go into college and chill all the time, Columbia is not the place for you.
2) They are pretty good at financial aid, but it still is one of the most expensive schools in the country. [Total expense for Columbia is $76,856. Columbia meets the full demonstrated need of students and students with a family income less than $60,000 make a family contribution of $0.]
3) If you need financial assistance, most people will go into the Federal Work-Study program.
4) 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. [The undergraduate population is about 4,500 in Columbia College, and 1,500 in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.]
5) We aren’t that good in the athletics.

Notice: Columbia University is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Columbia University.

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