I first stepped onto Columbia’s campus at nighttime. I was a senior in high
school, visiting my cousin in the engineering school and had just arrived from
Los Angeles. The sun had just set, but the campus buildings were brightly lit and
aglow with white haze. They were intimidating with their red bricks and copper
roofs and appeared as academic-looking as I had expected. My first thought was,
“What’s a poor girl from a Mexican neighborhood in L.A. doing at Columbia? It’s
Ivy League.” Almost seven years later, graduated with both a bachelor’s and a
master’s degree from Columbia, and with a good job in New York, I now know
there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish in college. I am the strong-willed free-thinker Columbia wanted me to become and New York is where I truly found
Columbia University is a city within the City.
Columbia College, one of four undergraduate schools on
the university’s Morningside Heights campus in upper
Manhattan, is a small college within a large academic
setting. Its liberal arts tradition, based on its unique
core curriculum, aims to produce students learned not
only in factual knowledge, but in the ways of the world,
the social and political issues that affect people, and the
critical thinking required for today’s young leaders.
Founded as King’s College in 1754, when America
was still a cluster of colonies ruled by England, the
school was the first institution of higher learning in the
then province of New York. Its first alumni included
John Jay, who would later become the first chief justice
of the United States, and Alexander Hamilton, who
would later become the first secretary of the Treasury.
Suspended during the American Revolution, the
school reopened in 1784 as Columbia College, this time
rechartered without ties to church or state. It remains
the country’s oldest independent institution of higher education.
Today, the face of Columbia’s student body is as variegated as autumn leaves in
Central Park. Going coed in the early 1980s, the students come from all fifty states and
more than forty different countries. Every race, culture, and religious background is represented, which makes for a school founded on tolerance and understanding that knows how
to celebrate its diversity. All this resides within the framework of New York City, the original melting pot of the nation.
Beyond Columbia’s wrought iron gates lies a city brimming with energy, culture, and
unforgettable, real-life experiences waiting to happen. Museum Mile, Restaurant Row, Lincoln
Center, Broadway, Wall Street, Greenwich Village—upon arriving in New York City, the feeling
that it is the center of the world becomes overwhelming! Which is why New York City becomes
the perfect accompaniment to an education at Columbia; in many ways, it becomes its own
classroom. An arts humanities class (one of the core requirements) might opt to study cathedral architecture inside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is just down the street
from campus and which happens to be the world’s largest Gothic-style cathedral. A music
humanities class (another core requirement) might understand opera a little better by attending Puccini’s La Boheme at the famed Metropolitan Opera House. A student can visit the New
York Stock Exchange to understand the mechanics of economics, and a drama student might
learn something about acting technique by catching any number of off-Broadway plays.
But one need not venture outside Columbia’s campus to breathe in a little culture or
excitement. The surrounding Morningside Heights neighborhood is home to many ethnic
restaurants, bookstores, and bars, where one can catch live jazz, stand-up comedy, or a local
band any night of the week. There is a twenty-four-hour bagel shop and the all-night diner, of
Seinfeld fame that has hosted many nocturnal cram sessions. There are poetry readings at
cafes, used books being sold at every corner, and perhaps the largest slice of pizza anywhere
in the city.
Columbia’s students fit right into the neighborhood’s bustle. During a leisurely stroll
down College Walk, the school’s main thruway, one might pass two students disagreeing over
an interpretation of hell in Dante’s Inferno, or a group of students jamming to hip-hop music
on the steps of Low Library, the school’s main administration building.
Such diversity at Columbia is a very valued component of its student body; therefore, the
college’s admissions process allows prospective students many opportunities to let themselves,
their interests, and their aspirations shine through.
The combination of Columbia College’s rigorous academics, esteemed faculty, diverse
student body, and location within New York City makes Columbia a truly unique option for
higher education. At least, this is the sentiment felt among everyone on campus. From the
minute students step onto College Walk for the first time, to the moment they step onto
Broadway as newly-minted graduates, the whirlwind four years they’ve just spent will be filled
with academic triumphs, unforgettable New York experiences, and relationships with professors and friends that will outlast those first few years in the professional world.
The core curriculum, designed to engage each student in the innermost workings of the
world’s greatest literature, art, music, and political and philosophical thinking, is matched by
the world of knowledge waiting outside the school’s wrought-iron gates. Required assignments
of visiting some of the greatest art museums in the world or taking in a musical performance
at any number of famed venues will hardly feel like tedious homework. Plus, the core is ultimately matched by the college’s wide-ranging academic majors taught by the intellectual leaders in their fields.
Nary a moment is wasted in four years. The Columbia student knows how to balance
schoolwork with the myriad social and student on-campus activities, as well as the vast number of goings-on in the city at any given moment.
Students are graduated with factual knowledge as well as street smarts. One student
may have spent hours working on differential equations, but also balanced that with tutoring
an inner-city high school student in algebra. Another might have composed a thesis on presidential-congressional relations while campaigning for a spot on the college’s Student Senate.
Columbia’s legacy of student involvement and activism, recorded in the school’s rich history, is
unmatched by any other high-caliber institution of higher learning.
Columbia seeks out the nation’s young leaders—those high school seniors who have
made great strides in their school and community. The comprehensive admissions application
is a canvas on which prospective students paint a picture of themselves, their goals, hopes, and
interests. Once admitted, Columbia’s Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing will
make sure all possible avenues are taken to finance a first-year student’s education, and will
continue to do so for the remaining three years.
Four years at Columbia College breeze by. Perhaps this is best reflected by the number
of grads who stick around to pursue graduate work in any one of the university’s remaining fifteen schools, or by the number of grads who pursue jobs in New York City. But far and wide,
Columbia College alums share that everlasting something special—four years in which they
were urged to find themselves and become freethinkers, ready to serve as leaders in their communities and beyond.
The tie that binds Columbia’s varied student population is the college’s core curriculum,
a rigorous series of required classes based on the contributions of Western civilization to the
modern world. Through the core—which was developed after World War I and patterned by
many other schools shortly thereafter—students are exposed to the works of Homer, Plato,
Beethoven, and Picasso, among other greats.
What makes the core classes a more powerful exposure to the world’s great achievements in literature, history, philosophy, art, music, and science, is class size—no seminar class
holds more than twenty-two students. In such an intimate setting, students are expected to
engage in intellectual observation, argument, comparison, and analysis, all in preparation for
the life of the worldly freethinker Columbia would like all its students to become.
The two cornerstones of the core—Literature Humanities and Contemporary
Civilization, or Lit Hum and CC as they are popularly called—are year-long classes that are
usually taken during the first two years at Columbia. While students may complain about the
vast amount of reading they’ll do for homework, or each course’s length (two-hour classes
twice a week for an entire year!), they will in the same breath wish there was more time to
spend with each work.
I made the mistake of taking CC during my first year at Columbia, before taking Lit Hum as it is recommended. You could say I delved into the course’s subject
matter more out of fear and intimidation than sheer intellectual curiosity. The
sophomores in my class, well-prepared from their first year of Lit Hum, were
assured, effective debaters of their own points and those of the authors we studied.
I flopped with my first term paper and was asked to do it over again (perhaps
because I did it in a few hours the night before it was due). But with my revision,
I learned hard and quick how to dissect Plato’s Republic and find a point that I
actually understood. I had to change completely the study habits that got me by in
high school, and with that, realized I was no longer one of the elite, smart crowd
in school—everyone at Columbia was smart and we were all peers that way.
Lit Hum is designed to take a close examination of the most influential literary texts of
Western culture. The class is light on lecture and heavy on the sometimes heated discussion of
a text’s themes that is expected in every class. Students soon enough find that to properly discuss a text, they must also be good listeners—listening to their instructor as well as their
CC was created in 1919 as a war-and-peace-issues course and has evolved into a class
preparing students for lives as active, socially-minded citizens, indispensible members of a democratic form of government. Intense class discussions centered around the works of some of the
world’s most influential political thinkers will engage students for most of their class time.
Often, teachers for both Lit Hum and CC will invoke the Socratic method to teach a
point, provoking the “disputatious learning” so favored at Columbia. Along with the exploration
of literary themes and philosophy that students will do as a class by sharing ideas and opinions, students on an individual basis will learn very quickly how to defend their own points of
view. And defend them well, which is why it is always painfully obvious in class if a student
didn’t do the reading.
The rest of the Core is composed of:
- the art and music humanities classes, formally called Masterpieces of Western Art and Masterpieces of Western Music (one semester each)
- three semesters of approved science courses
- Frontiers of Science, which introduces students to exciting ideas at the forefront of scientific research and develops the habits of mind characteristic of a scientific approach to the world.
- intermediate proficiency a foreign language
- one semester of a comprehensive writing class
- one year of physical education and a mandatory seventy-five-yard swimming requirement
- one year of “Major Cultures” classes, an introduction to those major civilizations not included in the core.
Both art and music humanities courses aim to produce visually and musically literate
students. In Art Hum, students observe and also analyze the style and motifs of many great
paintings, sculptures and monuments of the Western world, like the Greek Parthenon,
Picasso’s “Guernica,” and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. Class lectures are supplemented by visits to many of New York’s famed museums, galleries, and buildings.
In a similar way, Music Hum—a class that chronologically follows music from its origins
to the creation of symphonies, opera, and jazz—is enhanced by the city’s constant rhythm and
beat. Students are expected to attend at least one musical performance, (and of course there
are many to choose from in the Big Apple), and write about it for class.
After the Core
In addition to the Core Curiculum, students will also explore a field of interest via any one
of the school’s approximately ninety majors in fifty-five departments and interdisciplinary programs, each having their own rigorous set of requirements. Majors range from
Comparative Literature and Society and African-American Studies to Neuroscience and
Behavior and Film Studies. The college’s departments most popular with students are
English, history, and political science. Columbia College also has a strong history and
vibrant offerings in the sciences, mathematics, languages, and the arts.
Academic life for the Columbia student will include an average of about five classes a
semester. But the college expects each student to balance school life with an active campus
life and benefiting from the social and cultural resources of the city.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Columbia College values a student body filled with people from varying geographic,
social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds because of the spectrum of perspectives and ideas
each student will bring to a class. Therefore, Columbia’s admissions selection of an applicant
is based on a number of quantitative and qualitative factors. Aside from good grades in high
school, the admissions officers are looking for extracurricular activities, an applicant’s maturity and leadership capabilities, and his or her personal interests, talents, or hobbies.
This past year, 15,000 applications were received; of that amount, only 1,633 were
accepted (a 10.9 percent admit rate). The odds are tough, but the general rule-of-thumb is that
the more intellectualy passionate, the better the odds. Students with a strong interest in
physics, chemistry, math, and astronomy are also strongly encouraged to apply.
I think what matters more than aptitude to Columbia admissions officers is
attitude. I was never a high scorer on standardized tests, and didn’t do amazingly well on the SATs, but I was an active student in high school: I played two
sports, was a member of a poetry club, and a class vice president. I did well in
my English classes and knew right away that I would take a more literary path
in college. I had some direction and think that I came off well in my admissions
interview and that really helped me.
The comprehensive application is designed to allow students many opportunities to document their achievements, interests, and goals. The regular admission deadline is January 1,
and notification of the admissions office’s decision gets mailed in April.
Recommendations for Admission
While the admissions office doesn’t require a minimum SAT or ACT score or have strict
requirements on high school classes an applicant should take before applying, it does
have some recommendations:
- four years of English, with an emphasis on writing
- three or more years of math
- three years or more of a foreign language
- three, but preferably four, years of social science
- three years or more of a lab science like chemistry (however, a student interested in science or medicine should take as much math and science—particularly chemistry and physics—offered in high school)
The required standardized tests are the SATReasoning Test or the ACT Assessment
test, and three SAT Subject tests (one of which must be the Writing test). For students taking
the new SAT with writing, or the ACT with writing, students are required to take two additional
SAT Subject tests. The school recommends that these tests be taken in October or November
of an applicant’s senior year, but will accept scores taken during the junior year.
The Admissions Office will also heavily weigh an applicant’s recommendations from a
school principal, headmaster, counselor, and teachers, who are asked to comment on the applicant’s personal qualities as well as academic stature and involvement in school activities.
Interviews are also available with Columbia College alumni located worldwide. Candidates are
contacted by Alumni Representative Committee members after the first part of the application is received.
Candidates can also submit their application for Early Decision consideration for admission. Columbia must be the first choice, and completed applications must be in by
November 1 of the senior year. Applicants vying for Early Decision will hear from the
Admissions Office by mid-December, at which point they are obliged to accept the admission offer and withdraw applications at other colleges.
Columbia College occasionally accepts transfer students entering their sophomore or
junior year, who are admitted with advanced standing. The college also has a visiting student
program that welcomes students from other colleges to spend all or part of an academic year
in New York. However, the program is open only to students other than freshmen.
Once admitted, a Columbia entering class is designed to bring fresh, diverse ideas and
opinions to its rigorous academic requirements.
Columbia’s admissions policy is need-blind, meaning the school accepts students solely
on their academic, personal, and extracurricular merits before even looking at their ability to
pay for tuition and costs (however, this policy only applies to students who are U.S. citizens,
permanent residents or Canadian citizens). The foundation of the college’s funding program is
its full-need financial aid package, meaning it tries in any way to match a student’s demonstrated financial needs. Approximately half of all enrolled students at the college receive some
form of financial aid, whether in the form of grants, loans, or work-study jobs (funding is more
limited for transfer students).
Columbia made great pains to match what my parents and I needed to cover
tuition costs. I was happy to bear most of that responsibility with Stafford and
Perkins loans, and money I earned from my work-study job at the Graduate
School of Arts (which was a whole other tremendous learning experience). Sure,
now I owe a pretty sizable amount on my loans, but I know I’ll pay them off gradually, like a habit, and will hardly notice when I’m done. It’s a small cost to pay
every month for what Columbia gave me—not only knowledge, but self-assurance, maturity, and loads of memories!
Determining a student’s eligibility for financial aid is a multilayered process that
requires your family to provide a great deal of financial information in a timely manner. A student’s demonstrated financial need is the difference between tuition and other related costs,
and the amount the family can contribute. The family contribution, which includes what both
the student and the parents will give, is determined by taking a close look at parents’ income
and assets, the family size, and the number of family members already attending college.
All entering students receiving financial aid are expected to work during the summer
and save a certain amount of money to be used toward their contribution ($1,600 for first-year
students, $1,800 for sophomores, $2,000 for juniors and $2,100 for seniors). Once at Columbia,
students will usually also earn an expected amount of money from an on-campus work-study
To receive grant aid (money from Columbia’s trust that need not be repaid), students
must stay enrolled for eight terms of undergrad study and register for a minimum of twelve
points (usually four classes) each term.
Government-funded, low-interest loans (either the Stafford or Perkins loans) can be
another source of funding in a student’s package. After graduation, a student has a grace
period (usually six months) before having to start paying back the loans in increments. The
payback time is generally spread over ten years. Because the federal government allows upperclassmen—juniors and seniors—to borrow larger amounts of money, Columbia will usually
increase the amount of government loans in their financial aid package.
Every year a student must reapply for financial aid, and any change in income or assets
from the previous year will be accounted for in the financial aid package. Students will remain
on financial aid only if they continue to do well academically.
Student Financial Aid Details
At Columbia College, there’s a student organization or club for just about everyone —
frisbee throwers, community volunteers, jugglers, a cappellasingers, debaters, and aspiring
comics alike. There are also groups representing just about every ethnic and religious background, political party, and career interest. Student groups plan social and fundraising events,
but are also there to foster friendship and support among students who are dealing with being
away from home and the things with which they identify. In all, there are over 300 organizations, which include fraternities and sororities, and student-run media outlets, including a
daily newspaper, radio station, and cable television channel.
During my first year at Columbia I joined three clubs, did volunteer work
with children in Harlem, and played intramural volleyball. Through many student organizations I met other students just like myself and, more importantly,
learned from others completely unlike me. What I learned from Columbia’s
diversity matched what I learned in class. What was interesting was that,
despite my involvement outside the classroom, my grades never suffered. I got
the best of both worlds, socially and academically, that Columbia had to offer.
Here is some information about Butler Library, Columbia’s main library:
- It currently holds one third of the university’s seven-million books (the remaining four million books can be found in any of the school’s twenty-two other libraries).
- Butler is also home to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library that contains twenty-four million manuscripts and a half million rare books.
- Each semester at the stroke of midnight before the first day of finals (and whether you like it or not), the notorious Columbia Marching Band storms Butler Library and cajoles everyone present into singing the school’s fight song, “Roar, Lions Roar.”
- The library was named after former University President Nicholas Murray Butler, who coincidentally was the main force behind the development of the SAT.
- The names of renowned writers are etched onto Butler’s facade: Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Voltaire.
- In a recent student poll, Butler Library was ranked as the most favorite place to study.
At Columbia, you will find your home to be a vibrant and lively place in a supportive residence hall community. A dedicated team of Residential Programs staff, class center
staff, deans, faculty, and students ensure that your education extends beyond the classroom. Through programs and activities, study sessions, academic advisement, and mentoring, students and professionals join you in making CU an exciting and memorable academic and residential experience.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Columbia, as part of the Ivy League, also competes in NCAA Division I sports. Men’s varsity teams compete in baseball, basketball, crew (both heavy and lightweight), cross-country, running, fencing, football, golf, soccer, swimming, tennis, diving, wrestling, and track and field, as do women’s varsity teams in archery, basketball, crew, cross-country, diving fencing, golf field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, and track and field.
There are also intramural opportunities in flag football, basketball, racquetball, soccer,
softball, squash, swimming, tennis, Ultimate Frisbee and volleyball.
I came to Columbia with my high school best friend and we agreed to dorm
together our first year in Carman Hall. We ended up on the thirteenth floor, in
room 1313, and while I thought that was a bad omen in the beginning, I could
not have been proven more wrong. All of us on the thirteenth floor became one
huge family, a giant pack that would dine together every night at the John Jay
cafeteria, hop from party to party on Friday nights, and hold all-night cram sessions in the hallway of our floor. I’ve managed to keep in constant touch with
some of those friends since graduation three years ago.
Applying to graduate schools during my senior year happened almost by
rote—I just knew there was no other immediate path for me to take. Of course, I
wavered on whether I’d get in, so I hoped for the worst from the two schools to
which I applied. If I got accepted from either, I’d call it a “pleasant surprise.”
That acceptance phone call was an ecstatic climax to my four years. I’m halfway
through getting my MFA in photography at the School of Visual Arts, and when
I’m done with this, I’ll start on my master’s in art history at Columbia. My
dream is to open up my own photo gallery in New York City that will spotlight
younger, struggling artists. I’d say I’m off to a great start!
Ninety percent of Columbia College graduates eventually go to graduate school, either
right after their four years, or after a few years of working. Which path a student takes can vary
as much as Columbia’s diverse student population.
The college’s Office of Career Education hosts a comprehensive recruiting program,
where many New York-based companies recruit graduating students for outstanding jobs in
fields as diverse as publishing, marketing, moviemaking, and engineering.
Students also, get aggressively scouted by many of Wall Street’s brokerage firms and
investment banks, where they can look forward to careers as stockbrokers, analysts, management trainees, or consultants. Many of them eventually wind up in business school, working on
MBAs that will further advance their careers.
No matter what, Columbia alums always come
back to their alma mater, some in bigger ways than others. In 1987 John Kluge donated $25 million for a
minority-aid program. Morris Schapiro gave $5 million
for the construction of Schapiro Hall, one of the newer
dormitories which overlooks the Hudson River. And
some alums give back to Columbia and its students by
returning to campus to mentor students, give on-campus seminars, and talk to students about their professional work.
The Young Alumni Club, created to bring together
alums from the previous ten years, has brought many
newer, younger alumni back to Columbia as well, by
organizing a variety of social and professional events.
- James Cagney, Actor
- Art Garfunkel, Musician
- Lou Gehrig, New York Yankee
- Allen Ginsberg, Poet
- Alexander Hamilton, First Secretary of the Treasury
- Armand Hammer, Philanthropist
- Oscar Hammerstein, Composer
- Langston Hughes, Author
- John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
- Jack Kerouac, Author
- John Kluge, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
- Alfred Knopf, Publisher
- Tony Kushner, Playwright
- Richard Rodgers, Composer
- Fifty Nobel Laureates are alumni or current or former faculty members.
Whichever major a student chooses, he or she can expect to learn from the experts in
that field. Columbia boasts a faculty that includes forty-one members of the National
Academy of Sciences, 1 of 3 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, twelve
recipients of the National Medal of Science, and seventy-two Nobel Laureates, who now or
at one point taught at or attended the university. All faculty in the Arts and Sciences teach