It's been 4 years since I last logged on to this site. With my college career quickly drawing to a close, I wanted to give some brief thoughts to the incoming freshman, or any other prospective applicants. Here's a no BS preview of what Columbia is like. What are the strengths of Columbia? And what are the weaknesses?
First - Columbia is NOT for everyone. Although you have variety, I would say there a sense of urgency and aggressiveness that permeates the campus. Everyone is busy navigating from point A to B. Sometimes you feel like Columbia step onto campus, already looking forward to what's "next".
Education. The Core is great. I came into Columbia as a hard science/math student in high school. I'm going to graduate in the liberal arts from Columbia with a deep understanding of Western civilization. With that said, the quality of the professors are really all over the place. IN fact, I think the greatest advantage Columbia is that to do well, you really have to teach yourself. Take that for what it's worth.
Career. Columbia will offer you recruiting opportunities across a wide range of industries that are not available to your peers. You will do internships across your four years here that will build your resume beyond what any of your friends will be able to. Especially strong is Finance. If you want to work in investment banking, Wharton aside, this is probably the place to be.
... anyway, but here's my biggest regret about coming to Columbia.
Columbia has one SEVERE DISADVANTAGE. The lack of an engaging community. When I was a high school senior, I scoffed at this. Community? What does that even mean - as long as I get my job on wall street I'm cool with it. Looking back, wall street offer in hand, if I could choose again, I would've attended Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, or maybe even Penn (maybe.)
Let me explain why. As you get to college and move towards your professional career, you realize the most important element of your success is *network*. To put it simply, Columbia does not foster a sense of community. At all. Social events on campus are scant - the action takes place in New York City. To those of you who think going to school in NYC is cool, I'd have to disagree with you. You have the rest of your life to pursue a career in any city in the world (and Columbia will give you global opportunities). Don't spend it here in college. Most students at Columbia have never been to a single Columbia sports game. The social life is highly-fragmented and is almost entirely contingent upon which friends you make freshman year. Worst of all, there is no cohesive identity on campus. What is a Columbian? I've been here four years, and heck, I still don't know.
Let me contrast my experience with another school I now wish I attended. Yale. Columbia and Yale are *HIGHLY* similar academically (the first two presidents of Columbia were both Yalies). However, Yale has managed somehow to virtually indoctrinate its students with a love of Yale. Every Eli I have ever met, reminisce about their college experiences. The residential colleges, the Whiffenpoofs, secret societies, etc. It's almost as if all Yalies share a special bond, one that is irreplacable and unique to them, and will tie them together for the rest of their lives. Needless to say, this is far from the case at Columbia.
At the end of the day, I think it depends on your personality. Yalies are intellectual, laid-back, and form deep friendships over their four years at college. Columbians are aggressive, capable, and some as well form deep relationships. In the real world, having met Columbia and Yale alums, I think to an extent Columbia alums have fared better. Columbians are instilled early on with a capacity to handle the "real-world". They are aggressive is seeking opportunities, and creating opportunities where they don't exist. By contrast, Yale is a very nurturing community - which consequently to an extent underprepares Yalies for what the real world is like.
Anyway, this is just some random rambling. I don't think I would've been able to get the job on Wall Street if I had been at Yale. By the same token, there are very few things I wouldn't give up if I could go back in time, to call Yale my home.