The afternoon following my visit to Barnard, I went across the street to take a tour of the main campus of Columbia University. I did not spend enough time there to get more than some initial impressions. But I learned a few things that were worth of reporting and made a Pinterest page from photos taken by others.
If you saw the first two movies of the Spiderman trilogy with Tobey Maguire you have seen the Columbia University campus. Both Ghostbusters movies were also filmed there. The campus was also the site of the one of more famous protests of the 1960’s chronicled in James Simon Kunun’s The Strawberry Statement, which later became the basis for a movie that was not filmed at Columbia. Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game was the theme song for the movie. Altogether, there have been 58 movies filmed on the Columbia University campus. There have also been 31 fictional Columbia alumni created for television. I have never done a head count of how many fictional alumni were created for colleges. But Columbia, being in New York, has to be in the top five.
Columbia is not noted as a “sports school.” However, it has produced two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame (Eddie Collins, who graduated, and Lou Gehrig, who did not) as well as one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history, Sid Luckman, who led the Chicago Bears to four NFL championships. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots is a Columbia alum. He will likely join Luckman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today Columbia is known for its fencing program, one of the best in the U.S., as well as for losing football teams. This is not the Ivy you choose for school spirit. If you’re looking for that go to Dartmouth or Princeton.
What impressed me about Columbia besides the campus?
Academics remain “old school.” Everyone, regardless of their major, must complete a Core Curriculum of 62 credits including five courses that everyone must take, regardless of their major. These courses include Contemporary Civilization, Literature Humanities, Art Humanities, Music Humanities and Frontiers of Science. Every student must also complete two semesters of Phys Ed, a foreign language (though students can place out of it), University Writing (there’s some latitude in the reading courses that goes along with it), Global (Non-U.S.) Studies as well as three semesters of science. Students who want to write Core Reflections can become Core Scholars and receive a $200 stipend. None of these courses can be used towards fulfilling a requirement towards a major or minor. In addition, only undergraduate courses may be used to fulfill requirements for a Bachelor’s degree, and everyone has the same academic advisor over four years, regardless of their major.
Butler Library. It is one of the few college libraries open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Only the New York Public Library’s main branch gives you a better image of what a library is supposed to look like.
The steps of Low Library. I was fortunate to be on campus on a 50-degree day was amazed by how many people sit on the steps. The birds like them, too. The steps make the campus feel less crowded on 32 acres than it really is.
You can get a single room more easily than at most schools. About half of Columbia’s undergraduate housing options, corridor, suite or apartment-style living have single rooms. Despite Meadow Soprano sharing an off-campus apartment with her boyfriend on TV, over 90 percent of Columbia undergraduates live on campus. The university guarantees housing for four years. Makes me wonder why Meadow put up with the poor ventilation in her apartment.
Few Friday classes. Upper-class students are expected to use their Fridays for study or to work in an internship. However, no Ivy League school grants academic credit for internships, including Columbia.
Columbia appears to be a great school for an exceptionally well-rounded student who has no major academic weaknesses. While it is possible for excellent students to avoid or take easier courses in their weakest subjects at other schools, that is not possible at Columbia. Further, the Core courses required of every student have small enrollments. They are more like rigorous seminars at a liberal arts college where attendance is expected. If you absolutely hated the classics in subjects such as English Literature or Philosophy in high school, Columbia is not for you. If you want more flexibility in choosing your classes, its better to look elsewhere.
Columbia has one huge advantage over any other Ivy. It is located in New York City. True, Columbia students will compete against their peers from the other Ivies for the best internships and jobs in the Big Apple in the instances that the Ivy pedigree is important (which is not every time), and they will fare well. But it helps when you’re already there.
If you want a classical education to go with a liberal arts or engineering major and you’re anxious to tackle big city life, there is no better university in the U.S.to do both than Columbia.