Should I Go To Columbia University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jordy is a New York City tutor specializing in many subjects such as AP English tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, ISEE prep tutoringSSAT prep tutoring and more. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Art History from Columbia University from which she graduated in 2007. See what she had to say about her alma mater:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Jordy: Columbia is an absolutely beautiful campus. In fact, the campus itself is one of the main things that initially attracted me to the school. Despite being in the middle of Manhattan, you walk through those gates and you are in a world unto itself, each building grand and gorgeous. The library façade is literally inscribed with the names of philosophical and literary heavyweights, so the buildings themselves actually inspire one to think and work harder.

As far as transportation options go, I found it to be a plus to not have a car at college. New York’s public transport system is so comprehensive, and there is a subway stop right outside the College Walk gates that is actually called “116th Street Columbia University” and tiled in Columbia blue. I have never felt unsafe on the subway, and of course if you’re in a hurry or it’s super late at night, there’s always a yellow cab within an arm’s reach.

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

Jordy: I always found that if I wanted to speak to someone, they were available. It’s one of the benefits of a small campus and undergraduate community that you never have to walk more than a couple of blocks to chat with someone.

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

Jordy: The housing at Columbia is great. In fact, over 90% of undergrads live on campus all four years, and there’s a huge range of types of housing, from standard hallway dorms on the quad to pre-war apartments owned by the university several blocks from the main campus. Even freshman year, there are several options—a social dorm of double rooms organized in suites, a more private dorm of small single rooms, and even some suite-style housing that includes students from across all four years. Every freshman lives right on the main quad, no more than a three minute walk to the library and main dining hall. I met some of my life-long best friends in my freshman dorm—we all happened to be stacked on top of each other in three consecutive floors.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Jordy: I always knew I wanted to major in English in college, and I came to Columbia for their renowned Core Curriculum (summer before freshman year, everyone’s required to read The Iliad), but through luck and an open elective spot my sophomore fall, I happened to also take an art history class that totally changed my life. There’s nothing like being able to study art history in New York City, where you can go see so many of the works in person, and the following spring, I ended up declaring a double major, and was even able to study abroad in Paris and see many more works with my own eyes.

The most popular majors on campus seem to be Economics and Political Science, but because of the Core Curriculum I mentioned, everyone takes classes together and has a strong shared experience. It’s wonderful to know that if I happen to meet an alum from the class of 1950 or 2050, we will be able to discuss the same great texts.

VT: 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?

Jordy: As I mentioned, because the whole freshman class is concentrated into a few dorms, one dining hall, and takes Core classes together, it’s really easy to meet people and get to know them. And since NYC is just outside the gates, there is always something to check out with your new friends. Greek life is a small presence on campus—though I do love to point out that our sororities and fraternities are housed in gorgeous old Upper West Side brownstones. It’s more common for guys to participate in Greek life, as most of the fraternities are organized around sports teams. But the option is definitely there if you’re interested.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Jordy: Because of Columbia’s central location and stellar reputation, everyone recruits on campus. There are career fairs, internship opportunities, field-based recruiting—you name it, you can find it.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Jordy: The libraries at Columbia are gorgeous, and the system is one of the largest in the nation, and if CU doesn’t have a book, they’ll bring it in overnight from a nearby Ivy like Yale or Brown. Actually, because everyone’s working so hard all the time, the library becomes a social hub of its own, and you figure out the rooms to go to if you need to buckle down versus those you head toward if you have time to chat with friends and eat some snacks.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Jordy: Obviously, Columbia is smack in the middle of New York City, but it is distinctly different from other city schools in that it has a gorgeous campus that is set apart from the hustle and bustle, as opposed to hidden among non-campus city buildings. There are tons of cute, student-focused restaurants, bars, and coffee shops right around the perimeter of campus that give the area of Morningside Heights a very neighborhood-y feel. And the rest of New York is just a subway ride away!

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

Jordy: There are a lot of students on the Columbia campus at any given time, but the undergraduate community is actually one of the smallest in the Ivy League, at around 5,000 students. In my four years, I had only four large lectures, and none were within my majors. The rest of my classes fell into one of two groups: lectures with around 40 students that required a small discussion section, and classes of 20 or fewer.

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

Jordy: I felt most lucky to be beginning my Art History major the year that the Museum of Modern Art reopened following an extensive renovation. As we learned about the landmarks of Western Art, we were able to visit the MoMA and see the Pollacks, Lichtensteins, and Warhols in person. This class and the opportunities afforded to us by being in the city changed the course of my academic trajectory and even led me to study abroad in Paris, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Check out Jordy’s tutoring profile.

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