An Interview On
Columbia University

Background

Interview Date:April 2019

Gender Identity: Male
Race/Ethnicity: Asian-American
Graduation Year: 2020
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Public school in a suburban community in Southern California with a graduating class of about 250 students. There was a strong culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Neuroscience. I’m on the pre-med track but my career interests have diverged a bit.
Minor: None
Extracurricular Activities: I participate in 180 Degrees Consulting, which is a non-profit consulting organization that is dedicated to helping non-profits. I’m also involved with the Journal of Global Health, which is a student-run biannual academic journal.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
There is a sense of community with the pre-professional community and it exposes you to people that you can meet. For me specifically, it opened me up to possibly going into consulting and introduced me to people with similar interests who can help practice cases before interviews and stuff like that.

Academic Experience

Can you describe your weekly coursework for the Neuroscience major?
Neuroscience is a combination of biology and psychology, so in the beginning the coursework is similar to a lot of the other life science coursework. We have to take chemistry, biology, etc. As you grow older those larger classes focused on the natural sciences turn into seminars where you have more options to choose things that you’re interested in. The classes probably involve a lot of weekly reading, discussion in class or in discussion groups, problem sets, and exams. A big part of any sort of STEM class has problem sets. The types of classes have stayed relatively consistent but the topics are not getting more focused as you get farther in the major.

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.

Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose Neuroscience because I was interested in having a flexible course load. One of the strengths of Neuroscience is it’s not too credit intensive so it gives you the opportunity to look up other classes you might be interested in. I’m happy with my choice because I get to pursue an interest in the natural sciences and also am able to diversify my course load.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: John Jay Hall, which is one of the premier freshman dorms, in a single. I think John Jay is pretty cool because you don’t have an opportunity to get a single at the same price as a double at many other universities. It also provides the opportunity to have that sense of privacy but also foster a collective community.

Sophomore: McBain Hall in a single. After sophomore year it’s hard to get good housing because you have to enter the housing lottery. I enjoyed it.

Junior: Schapiro Hall in a single. It’s basically John Jay but for juniors.

How was transitioning from Southern California to the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York?
The biggest difference is the weather. The seasonal part is something that everybody works through together and is novel for people from my area. I also came from a more spread out suburban area and New York City is very dense. Being able to be ready and aware of what New York City entails and conscious of that new environment and knowing that things are much more fast-paced helped in that transition.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
The level of safety is pretty reasonable. There are security and staff at every corner and stuff like that. I don’t think we’ve had many incidents or concerns about student safety. Part of that is because Columbia is gentrifying the area. People think being near Harlem is dangerous but it’s really not.

Pros and cons of being located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York?
Pros:
1) It’s part of the metropolitan area but it’s farther away from financial centers so we have our own campus.
2) 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.
Cons:
1) 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.

Social Opportunities

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

How did you meet your closest friends?
A lot of my friends right now are people I met during orientation, which is not the case for a lot of people. My orientation group stayed close and kept in contact. I also met some friends through the broader club communities, like cultural clubs where there are bonding events and events to socialize and meet other people.

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.

To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Columbia really encourages diversity but, as with any place, we can sometimes be self-segregating. That’s definitely present at Columbia where you see groups of international students who speak the same language together or maybe people in a certain cultural association will group together to some degree. We have a lot of diverse groups on campus but they don’t always mix super well so we have a lot of active efforts on campus to coordinate that broader campus community and encourage those groups to interact in a positive way. [The class of 2022 for Columbia College and Columbia Engineering has a population that is 28% Asian, 16% Black, 57% White, and 17% Hispanic.]

How would you describe the Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
It’s pretty strong, but at the same time, it is kind of fragmented. There are a lot of international students who do their own thing and then there are Asian-American groups, like the Chinese Student Association, that are pretty tightly knit. There is a lot of interaction between Asian-Americans but I’m not sure how much that extends over to the international population.

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.]

To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
Greek life is only about 20% of the population is involved in Greek life. They do play a big role in the social scene because that’s where a lot of people find their friends, so a lot of people who are in Greek life are friends with other people in Greek life. In terms of the campus impact, I wouldn’t say it’s very influential. It doesn’t control the social scene or anything like that. It can feel like it’s more than 20% of students, but it doesn’t impact me very much.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I personally have not used them but I know a lot of people have developed a lot of connections through Columbia alumni.

To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
The platform we have, Handshake, is something that a lot of other schools have and I think it’s pretty helpful. I think the actual career services themselves, in terms of resume reading and stuff like that, are less helpful the more advanced you are. On an introductory level, they can be pretty helpful, but if you’re someone who knows what’s going on and has been through recruiting before they’ll be less helpful to you.

Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
Most of the labs I take use a lot of Excel, so I do think it provides an opportunity to prepare you for things outside of that lab. The Excel formulas and stuff I’ve learned will be helpful for consulting or something like that.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy are they to work with?
I think the financial aid office is incredibly helpful. In the beginning, I didn’t get any aid but then I got more aid the second time around. I think they’re very generous if there is a clearly demonstrated need.

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

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.

Reasons to attend Columbia:
1) We’re close to New York City, which is a cool experience. You get the experience of kind of having a college town but also have access to New York City.
2) 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.
3) 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.

Reasons to not attend Columbia:
1) 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.
2) There’s a stress culture from being in New York City that people comment on. For me personally, I don’t experience it as much as other people. It can feel that if you’re not walking you’re behind.

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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