A Columbia University College Experience

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach — they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Amy is currently a student at Columbia University studying human rights, English, and business management. She specializes in many areas of SAT tutoring, in addition to other subjects. See what she had to share about her experience at Columbia University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Amy: Columbia blends the best of both worlds with its urban setting and homey campus. Though exploring skyscraper-filled New York City is always fun, it can be a relief to come home to a school dominated by a blend of classical and modern architecture. As for transportation, Columbia has its own subway stop right outside the Broadway gates for students — the city isn’t very car or bike friendly, unfortunately. I’ve never felt unsafe on or in the areas surrounding campus, either; police escorts and emergency services are always readily available.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Amy: Columbia prides itself on a culture of the love of intellectual pursuit, and its professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants certainly contribute toward that mold. Both students and professors embrace challenge and curiosity in the classrooms; office hours for professors are packed with students discussing everything from general theories to paper topics.

How would you describe the dorm life — rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Amy: Interestingly, students receive lots of opportunities to score single rooms their freshman year. Certain dorms are more coveted than others, but freshmen seem to be generally satisfied (and even proud) of their residence halls. I’m in the “social”, all-first-year dorm, and I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else. There’s never a dull moment, and I have opportunities to meet new people every day in the elevator, at residence hall events, and through mutual friends.

As for dining, Columbia has three main dining halls that offer a wide variety of selections. The dining staff always tries to provide vegetarian and vegan options, too, and locally sources a lot of produce from nearby neighborhood farms.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Amy: A wide variety of majors are represented at Columbia, but the university does a good job of providing support for every department regardless of its size. Popular majors include the social sciences, computer science, and various engineering fields, but interdisciplinary pursuits are encouraged as well. I’m actually studying a strange combination: I’m double majoring in Human Rights (with a specialization in Political Science) and English, and concentrating (essentially the university’s term for a “minor”) in Business Management. I really appreciate Columbia’s flexibility in allowing me to combine such different pursuits into one streamlined form of study, and I’ve definitely received lots of support from academic advisers and professors, too.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Amy: I’ve been very satisfied with the opportunities I’ve received to meet new people and make new friends. The unique thing about Columbia is that it’s less of an enclosed campus, meaning people will go out into the city to explore rather than staying in, so meeting people requires a bit more energy and proactivity.

Greek life definitely is present on campus and is growing, but is in no way an integral part of Columbia’s social scene. It can be a great way to find a community, but probably just due to geographical factors concerning housing, Columbia’s Greek scene isn’t as “traditional” as one one might find at a big state school.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Amy: The Center for Career Education is great and is available for students as a resource to find internships and jobs downtown. Columbia recognizes the worth of internships in a student’s career, and offers significantly less classes on Fridays to give students a day to work at a job/internship if need be. The university also hosts lots of career fairs, in which companies from high-level investment banks to local startups to nonprofits come to campus to recruit Columbia/Barnard students for part-time/full-time job opportunities. New York City is one of a Columbia student’s greatest resources for job searching, simply because it offers something for everyone — from the engineer to the journalist to the aspiring researcher.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Amy: Butler Library is a huge, beautiful structure that resembles an Athenian temple more than it does a study space. It’s the go-to for most students for late-night sessions, open 24-7 for all cramming needs. During midterms and finals, it gets pretty difficult to find a spot inside the library, so students turn to other study spots around and outside campus.

Describe the surrounding town.

Amy: You’ll never get bored at Columbia: on campus or off campus, there’s always something going on. Even exploring the couple of blocks surrounding campus never gets old! There’s everything from restaurants to bookstores within Columbia’s vicinity, and most students will spend a Friday or Saturday night hanging out with friends at Mel’s or 1020, two popular bars within walking distance. Of course, New York City has a bustling nightlife scene downtown. Students can visit a club in East Village or check out a jazz venue near Chelsea Pier. Columbia students also get free admission to museums like The Met or MOMA with their student IDs, so a lot of students spend Saturday afternoons art-gallery hopping.

Central Park is also about six blocks from campus, so when the weather is nice, students can study, relax, or even picnic in the park. The campus is also bordered by Morningside Park and Riverside Park, great for morning runs or just a change of scenery.

How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Amy: Columbia definitely has a larger number of graduate students, but each undergraduate class has about 1400 students, which is pretty sizable, too. Some lecture classes have a large amount of students, but Columbia actually offers lots of seminars that have no more than 15 or 16 people. Personalized educational attention carries a lot of intellectual value, and many professors and students prefer the personalized, seminar-style approach to large lecture halls.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Amy: Columbia’s most prized intellectual tradition is its Core Curriculum, a set of classes every student attending the university takes. This semester, I’m in Literature Humanities, dedicated to round-table discussions of a Western literary canon that includes works from ancient Greek poets to Dostoyevsky. It’s a lot of reading and writing, but my entire class gets together regularly before midterms and tests to have study sessions in somebody’s dorm room. Columbia recognizes the bonds students who go through the Core together form, and I’m no exception — I’ve definitely made friendships and connections as a result of the Core.

Check out Amy’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.