Columbia University: A Student Perspective

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Gabriella specializes in algebra tutoring, geometry tutoring, trigonometry tutoring, and a number of other areas. She is currently a junior at Columbia University majoring in biomedical engineering. See what she had to share about Columbia University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options. 

Gabriella: Columbia University is in uptown Manhattan in the Morningside Heights district. The undergraduate campus is fairly small, but very welcoming. Although it is in a very urban environment, Columbia University is gated, and there are a lot of public safety officers to create a very safe environment. Transportation is very easy. There is a subway stop, and there are bus stops right outside the gates. Columbia University also has a bike rental center right outside of the student life building.

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

Gabriella: Professors and teaching assistants all have scheduled office hours that are posted on the course page. If office hours do not work for a student, professors and teaching assistants respond quickly to emails, and they are usually open to scheduling appointments. Academic advisers also have scheduled walk-in hours but, again, if those hours do not work, students can always schedule appointments or email their advisers with their questions.

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

Gabriella: All undergraduate students are guaranteed housing for all four years. All rooms are either singles or doubles. Most of the dorms are currently being renovated or have been renovated in the past few years.

There are a variety of dining plans that a student can choose from. They consist of dining hall swipes, dining dollars to use at cafes around campus, and flex dollars, which can be used at select restaurants and grocery stores near campus. There are three main dining halls which are all buffet-style. The other food options on campus are pay-per-item.

Columbia University is located in-between the Upper West Side and Harlem. It is walking distance to Central Park, and if you want to go further, the subway is right off campus. There are so many opportunities to get involved on campus. There are hundreds of clubs ranging from cultural to academic to service. There is also Greek life, intramural sports, and D1 varsity sports. All the sources to socialize are out there—one just has to take initiative and get involved.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? 

Gabriella: Columbia University is split into three different colleges. There is Columbia College, which is known for its humanities programs. There is the School of Engineering and Applied Science, which focuses on engineering and science. The last college is the College of General Studies, which is for undergraduate students who are completing college at an untraditional time. So depending on what major or program you are looking for, Columbia University is sure to have it.

I am currently majoring in Biomedical Engineering with a pre-medical track. I chose to pursue this because I want to be involved in the medical field. I have gone through quite a lot of medical procedures as an athlete. I aspire to help others in the same way my doctors helped me.

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?

Gabriella: I came to Columbia University already a member of the varsity diving team, so I automatically had a friend group to hang out with. Aside from teammates, I became great friends with the people I lived with, and with people from the clubs I am in. Greek life is present on campus, but it is not a big part of social life.

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

Gabriella: The career center is very helpful. I have gone to them to review my resume and to help with finding summer internships. They are very good at pointing you in the right direction and giving you helpful tips when dealing with employers. For career fairs, hundreds of reputable companies come to campus to recruit, some being Unilever and Johnson and Johnson. Although I personally have not used other student support services, the people who work at these places are very personable people, and they are always willing to help students with whatever they need.

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

Gabriella: There are so many libraries on campus that it is never hard to find a place in a library. Classrooms are also available to study in if there is not a class. The student union does not have a lot of places to study so you are not guaranteed a place. Studying in dorm lounges varies from dorm to dorm; some lounges have a lot of people studying, but others have no one.

Describe the surrounding town.

Gabriella: There is so much to do in Manhattan that you will probably not be able to finish everything you want to do in your four years at Columbia University. The staple places to visit for anyone visiting New York City are Times Square, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty. There are numerous places to eat at, visit, and shop at that I cannot even begin listing them. Downtown is where most of the hustle and bustle is. There is still a lot to do near campus, but it is definitely quieter near campus, which is good for an academic environment.

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

Gabriella: The undergraduate student body is quite small with a little over 6,000 students. I am very pleased with class sizes. I have classes that are big lectures with over 100 students, and I also have small discussion classes that are a maximum of 24 students.

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

Gabriella: The most memorable experience thus far has been in my electrical engineering class. Growing up, I never had the desire to take apart or build electronics, but while in the lab portion of the class, I found not only that I liked building circuits, but also that I was pretty good at it. It helped me realize that I was actually doing something that I was genuinely loved, and it motivated me to continue pursuing engineering.

Check out Gabriella’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.