As my senior year at Columbia University comes to a close, I am as sick of this place as I am reminiscent of the times I’ve spent here. With that said, I think I’m in just the right place to critique the university.
From an academic standpoint, Columbia is one of the best universities. In fact, Columbia University is ranked 5th in the country by US News and World Report and 15th in the world by Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Whatever your major, you are sure to find an expert staff to prepare you for your future. For graduates there is everything from a law school to a Jewish seminary. For undergraduates, you can find whatever you’re looking for either in the liberal arts education of Columbia College or in the science-focused School of Engineering and Sciences. Economics and finance are two of the most popular fields, though, and a large portion of Columbia students end up on Wall Street or in large banks or firms.
Since I’m part of Columbia College, I can tell you more about the liberal arts. The main thing to know about liberal arts at Columbia is the core curriculum. The core is Columbia’s most prized possession and one of the students’ most hated part of the institution. The core is a list of required classes: University Writing, Frontiers of Science, Masterpieces of Western Literature, Masterpieces of Western Art, Masterpieces of Western Music, and Contemporary Civilizations (philosophy), as well as a science requirement, global core (foreign history) requirement, foreign language requirement, physical education requirement, and a swimming test.
The idea is to make well-rounded students who have knowledge in just about everything. However, as you can tell, the core takes up an enormous amount of time. That’s time that could be spent on attaining your major, attaining a minor, or taking courses you don’t need, but might find interesting. With the exception of Frontiers of Science (that’s a useless course) the core classes are difficult and engaging. You can learn a lot from them. But do you really need science if you’re majoring in literature for example?
Let me be frank, unless you’re rich, you can’t afford Columbia. When I met with a worker at the Columbia financial aid office, he told me I would have to go into debt to study here. Although Columbia University owns a ton of property in NYC and is rich beyond comprehension, they will not give you enough money to cover full tuition. You can get a large grant and also do work study, but it probably won’t be enough. Without any financial aid taken into consideration, it costs around $90,000 a year to study at Columbia University and live in NYC. It’s a wonderful institution and an amazing city, but your wallet will hate you.
Student Life/Life in the City
Chances are you won’t have a lot of time to relax here. The stress culture here is unavoidable. A recent study has stated Columbia University is the most sleep-deprived university in the country. In addition, mental health is absolutely terrible here. Judging by people I’ve talked to and by the extremely busy schedules of Columbia’s psychological services, I would estimate that 40% of the university struggles with some form of anxiety or depression. In January alone, two students have already commit suicide.
Granted, every university will be stressful. But the university has been doing very little to stop the stress culture. And in my own experience with Columbia’s psychologists, they were too busy to find appropriate meeting times and when we did meet, I found the psychologists to be quite dismissive. Many students who struggle with depression and anxiety are simply told to go home. It’s truly appalling. But that’s one of the things you need to learn is that Columbia is a bureaucracy and it often seems that the bureaucrats simply don’t care about you.
BUT! Before this gets too depressing, there is a great list of clubs and societies to join when you do get free time. I myself am the editor of a Slavic journal called the Birch. I know people in photography societies, a cappella groups, science clubs, and so on. You name it. It exists. Can’t find it in Columbia? It exists in the city.
Of course, there are frats and sororities for parties or whatever you use them for. I don’t understand the appeal, but to each his own. But the older you get, the dumber the frats get here. There are clubs and bars everywhere in the city. You can find some place better. Not to mention, there are phenomenal restaurants, cafes, bakeries, museums, and lots lots more. You have no excuse to say you’re bored in NYC. You’re only excuse for boredom is that you’re too busy or too poor.
Hahah that’s funny. No one cares about sports here. I hear we have a great fencing team though.
Columbia University, like NYC, is extremely diverse. Roughly 30% of the university is international students, but aside from that, there are people from all over the country, rich, poor, black, white, young, old, gay, straight, bi. This is a liberal campus. We accept people of all types.
With that said, you can divide some of the students into groups. There are the athletes, who got in because they’re adequate at sports. Generally, they’re not as intellectual and not as liberal as the rest of us.
There are the rich, white frat boys with their salmon pants and ugly Vineyard Vines sweatshirts. Money might have got some of them into the private schools, so a good handful are intelligent. Another handful are like the athletes.
There are the cool foreign students who smoke in front of the library. There are also the studious foreign students who don’t speak English well, but must be intelligent because they spend most of their time inside the library.
There are the Barnard girls. I forgot to mention Barnard College. It’s a girl’s college affiliated with Columbia. However, the acceptance rate there is 17% while Columbia University’s acceptance rate is only 6%. 17% is still a small acceptance rate, but that 9% can be the difference between an intelligent girl and a moderately intelligent girl who was popular in school and took a lot of leadership positions. But in their favor, Barnard girls are stereotypically quite pretty.
Anyways, people are people. They’re complex. They obviously don’t all fit into a neat little stereotypes. If you take anything at all from this, you should pay attention to the first paragraph. This is a diverse campus. You should have no problem finding the perfect friend group for yourself.
Columbia University is a tough school. Tough to get into. Tough to stay in. Tough to pay for afterwards. Not everything is perfect at Columbia. However, the name alone will take you far and the education will take you even further. You will struggle. That is for certain. But if you remember to explore the city when you have the time, you will find the stress relief you need. If you’re privileged enough to get accepted into Columbia University, you should accept what they offer. Odds are you’ll be making loads of money on Wall Street after you graduate, so don’t worry about a thing.