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4 Years Later: Reflections of a Columbia College Senior

truazn8948532truazn8948532 Posts: 1,512Registered User Senior Member
edited December 2011 in Columbia University
Hi everyone,

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.
Post edited by truazn8948532 on
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Replies to: 4 Years Later: Reflections of a Columbia College Senior

  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek Posts: 1,679Registered User Senior Member
    i joined this discussion board mostly to give me sanity during the days of graduate school, but also because i know invariably only the most bitter tend to gravitate to boards like this. so giving some semblance of the other side, a bright side in the end of the tunnel is important.

    folks that don't appreciate challenging environments rarely appreciate columbia and what it gives them that no ivy and few other schools can offer. an education on the realities of life, an experience that is both solitary and built on common ground.

    i always laugh when folks say there is no campus culture, mostly because my years at columbia were spent with too many things to do, too much going on, too many great memories, a pace of life and interest that makes me love columbia in a way that almost seems absurd.

    i know i love columbia more than most yalie loves yale, whose appreciation for yale is mostly superficial instead of deep. built on structures that always outlast them, on processes that rarely bend with them. it is more admiration than love. i feel like columbia and i changed together, that we grew in almost a symbiotic way, and as i look back i can still see the imprints i made during my time there.

    i have read truazn's posts on here before, they are fine, but i would've been surprised if he/she would've loved columbia in any substantive way besides what it could provide for him/her. i was happy to ready a good note about the core, but it is overshadowed by the normal schpiel that many of us columbians know too well: columbia was my second choice.

    my hope and goal is to perhaps start a cadre of converts that treat columbia as their first choice. and as i have interviewed and met more and more students i feel this is certainly becoming the case. it is good to know that folks like truazn are able to go through and gain a lot from their experiment, but they do indeed still represent an old guard to columbia, one that slowly is ending. or at least that is the unnatural optimism of someone who owes a lot to his experience at columbia.
  • goestowashingtongoestowashington Posts: 100Registered User Junior Member
    I'd like to add that prospective students should regard with deep suspicion any person who warns them how difficult it will be for them to network in New York City.
  • truazn8948532truazn8948532 Posts: 1,512Registered User Senior Member
    @ admissionsgeek - Columbia was my first choice, I applied ED. Regardless I agree with what you've said. Columbia is a great place for the right person. My post was simply meant to identify some strengths and weaknesses of the school, and if anything, reflects a personal preference I've subsequently identified through the benefit of hindsight.

    anyway wow, just saw I joined this in like 2005... i was like a freshman in high school. whoa. time passes quickly.
  • Silence1113Silence1113 Posts: 664Registered User Member
    @Truazan:I think that you are right when you say Columbia is not for everyone. Some people can't take the challenge.

    However the rest of your post is very subjective. How could you say that there is no network in NYC? Besides that, not all Columbians need a network. Perhaps your future job requires by nature a network. Some other Columbians do not need a network (for example I don't need a network due to the fact that I want to be in the med field).
    I was just reading your "I know I'm deferred" post from '06 yesterday.
  • hellojanhellojan Posts: 1,624Registered User Senior Member
    I feel like it's almost impossible to compare the communities at Yale and Columbia in any good way. I've spent a lot of time at Yale - all of it with a friend at Davenport College. I think that I get their scene and I like the residential college idea. But, honestly, Yale is the proverbial city upon a hill.

    Look at New Haven and, for the matter, the greater New Haven metro area. All of the student body's energy has to be focused on campus life, the residential college system, secret societies, etc. What else is there for a lot of bright, motivated people to do in New Haven but interact with one another? Go out to Toad's? Psssh.

    Here, in New York, rarely does an ounce of creative energy have to be wasted - and if it's being invested in a secret society, that's exactly what's happening. In New York, if you're looking for a scene and you haven't found it, well, you are not looking hard enough. I don't care if you're looking to start an all female steam-punk table tennis team. You'll find 50 people in Manhattan interested in doing the same. That can be dizzying.

    The same can be said for Columbia. It's up to you to focus your energy and find your community - and it certainly does exist. There's just no template. When you arrive you don't get put into a residential college with preprogrammed rivalries, etc. You work at making it happen for yourself and, invariably, you connect with people who are doing the same. If Yale has community, it's downright stagnant next to something like what we have.
  • PhotographerPhotographer Posts: 206Registered User Junior Member
    @ Admissionsgeek

    I don't pretend to know any better. But this to me sounds questionable:
    i know i love columbia more than most yalie loves yale, whose appreciation for yale is mostly superficial instead of deep. built on structures that always outlast them, on processes that rarely bend with them. it is more admiration than love.

    What makes you say so? Seems to me a rather empty statement. I'd like to think Yalies have their reasons for loving Yale and Columbians have their reasons for loving Columbia. How can we deem one reason more superficial than another?
  • ccuser18ccuser18 Posts: 1,054Registered User Senior Member
    i feel like columbia and i changed together, that we grew in almost a symbiotic way, and as i look back i can still see the imprints i made during my time there.

    Are you arguing that Yale does not allow its students to grow and make imprints during their time there?
  • backtousbacktous Posts: 104Registered User Junior Member
    @truazan: Thanks for your post. It reflects exactly I have been fearing, at least a little bit, all along... I am an ED applicant. "IF" I get accepted, I will keep this in mind - that there are certain school-spirits that I may be missing.
  • confidentialcollconfidentialcoll Posts: 2,491Registered User Senior Member
    As someone pretty close in class year to truazn (as well as wall street job), I agree with all the positives he cited about columbia, but I only partially agree with all the negatives.

    school spirit and sports

    if you go to any of the big sports games like homecoming or our first ivy game against princeton each year or our first league basketball game / any strategically important league game you'll see the stands either at capacity or nearly there. this flies in the face of
    Most students at Columbia have never been to a single Columbia sports game.

    many people you meet might tell you this, but if you bother to go to sports games you'll often see a large and growing crowd. I couldn't get into the Columbia - Cornell basketball game last season, that's how bad it was.
    Social events on campus are scant - the action takes place in New York City.

    again this was not my experience at all, the campus bars were packed on most weekend nights, any claremont, ruggles or EC party I went to was overflowing. you need to be invited to these parties and if you don't make an effort to make friends and be friendly / fun to hang around with, then you probably won't get invited to many of these parties. But they are there and I had awesome times at them. There's also a lot of random stuff going on on-campus that's unrelated to dancing or drinking. I can't remember how many times I jumped over the south lawn fence to either play soccer when it was dry or play in the snow.
  • ShruggingSheepShruggingSheep Posts: 164Registered User Junior Member
    As you get to college and move towards your professional career, you realize the most important element of your success is *network*.

    As unfortunate and reprehensible as I think this is, it is sadly true. Couldn't agree with you more on this point. As for all your complaints about how there isn't stuff to do on campus, I know that a good number of people participate in all these artificial school-sponsored events. It's just that when you juxtapose it with all the other cool stuff you could be doing in NYC, the campus activities seem kinda lame in comparison.
    Columbians are aggressive, capable, and some as well form deep relationships.
    i would've been surprised if he/she would've loved columbia in any substantive way besides what it could provide for him/her.

    I think these two go hand in hand, and contribute greatly to the lack of "community" that the OP bemoans. Also, to be fair, what admissionsgeek said about the OP is by no means unique to the OP. I can't begin to count the people who are focused on extracting the maximum value (career-wise) from Columbia. A lot of these are finance types, of which there are plenty here. And of all the finance types I've met here, I could count on one hand the number I didn't think would stab me (or each other) in the back just to get ahead. (The few that don't fall into that category are pretty much undecided and are staying on the finance wagon until they figure out what to do with their lives.) Most of them are great at pretending to be nice, but you know what they say about daggers and smiles.

    (Full disclosure: I used to be a finance type until I got too disgusted with what I saw around me and what I saw I would have to become to keep up.)

    Btw, if you are a finance type student/alum reading this, don't get your panties in a bunch. I am referring only to the HARDCORE ones who talk about nothing but finance from the moment they set foot on College Walk (i.e. falling into it senior year because you didn't know what to do doesn't count). Also, this is just my 2c.

    So yeah, some community we got here. Come check it out if you don't believe me. lol
    Columbia was my first choice, I applied ED.

    Let's be honest here. Not everyone who applies ED does so to their first choice. ED Columbia is a less risky option than SCEA Yale + RD Columbia and getting into neither.

    Edit:
    my hope and goal is to perhaps start a cadre of converts that treat columbia as their first choice.

    To be fair, there exists a SIGNIFICANT chunk of people that fall into this category, that absolutely love Columbia and couldn't dream of being anywhere else. They are also usually the people who truly love what Columbia has to offer, and are here to learn simply for the sake of learning (and not as a means to some other end). There are a lot of happy people here, it's just that you can run into a couple of bad apples here and there that can sour your experience. The good news is that it's easy to avoid them (once you know who they are) and seek out better friends.

    Also, I've found what Skraylor said in the post below to be generally true: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/columbia-university/817714-there-any-dumb-people-columbia.html#post1063594682
  • confidentialcollconfidentialcoll Posts: 2,491Registered User Senior Member
    continued...
    To put it simply, Columbia does not foster a sense of community.

    to me this was a starting condition and part of the reason I thought about transfering out my freshman year. No one at Columbia held my hand or ever kept track of whether I was making friends / doing well in classes / satisfied with my experience. It was a large campus and difficult to make friends at first. I grew up a fair bit my freshman year and realized that the burden does fall on me to make friends and to find the community.

    Let me ask you this truazn: you saw that Columbia lacked community but when did you go out of your way to form / enhance a community?

    From my sophomore year onwards, I started stopping by the rooms of everyone on my floor to make friends with them (I wasn't the RA then), I joined a big club of campus and decided to throw myself into what they do. In my junior and senior years I was in leadership positions for this club, and trying to run social events for people to make friends, trying to throw parties for club members (and their friends), trying to get freshmen in the club to make friends. I too saw a general lack of "automatic community", but I just took small steps and made myself a huge network, along with extremely close friends. Every time I meet good friends from Columbia, I "reminisce about college experiences", find that "special bond", things like exploring the tunnels together, getting kicked off south lawn for playing soccer, slaving over some crazy homework assignments, heatedly arguing in contemporary civ, cava-ing that idiotic freshman, cycling around the city at midnight.

    I will say that Columbia at first can seem lonely, intimidating and severely lacking in community. Once you realize that most of what happens to you socially at Columbia is up to you, and then if you manage to get uncomfortable and take initiative to make friends, the community / good times / bonding and social balance is all there. Post college, I can say that this is a good life lesson that most people only pick up in College.

    I don't think I would have enjoyed a cozier environment like Dartmouth or Williams at all, I think the social politics would have gotten stuffy, I would have run out of things to do, I would have been happy my freshman year and bored and drunk my senior year, I'm saying this because I went to two small and pretty rural high schools. If I could have been equally happy at smaller and cozier schools, I doubt I would have learned and grown as much.
  • truazn8948532truazn8948532 Posts: 1,512Registered User Senior Member
    All valid points. Anyway to all the incoming freshman and whatnot, I guess what's to be gleaned from this thread if anything, is that your social life is really what you make of it. Being in NYC will give you plenty of opportunities to pursue a myriad of activities - but it's up to you to really build a social group.

    To everyone who is about to join college, something I gleaned from the past four years - your academic achievements and extracurricular achievements are important in the short-term (i.e. finding a job), but it's really the friends that you meet here (or the lack of them) that will carry you in the long-term.

    @collegecoll - I had a similar experience w.r.t finding the campus a place where no one really looked after you. I learned to adapt to the system academically - it certainly made me more independent, and it allowed me to build up a great professional resume. But what I didn't do (that you did) was to make an effort to extend myself socially beyond what I was comfortable doing at the time, and that's my biggest regret.

    Guess there's always that MBA right? If I had another shot at Columbia B-School in the years to come - I'll be sure not to make the same mistake twice.
  • slipper1234slipper1234 Posts: 9,085Registered User Senior Member
    Truazn - this is why I transferred to Dartmouth. One reason alone - community. Knowing many Columbia undergrads and the loyalty they have vs. Dartmouth is isn't even close. I think Columbia is an amazing school but it isn't for everyone. You only have one college experience and in my opinion long-term loyalty and student body tightness is an important factor to consider.
  • confidentialcollconfidentialcoll Posts: 2,491Registered User Senior Member
    is that your social life is really what you make of it. Being in NYC will give you plenty of opportunities to pursue a myriad of activities - but it's up to you to really build a social group.

    I have to second this, the social life and community is all there, but you need to find it and make it, most other colleges will help you along the process more than Columbia will.
    Guess there's always that MBA right? If I had another shot at Columbia B-School in the years to come - I'll be sure not to make the same mistake twice.

    the fact that you recognize it as a mistake, is probably enough that you shouldn't regret it - heck there's your whole final semester to make new friends and strengthen old ones. If I ever go to b-school, it'll be so that I can re-live some of the college craziness that I now miss a fair bit.
  • pbrpbr Posts: 1,018Registered User Member
    I applaud all the contributors to this very thoughtful thread. If the level of discourse continues at this high level, I hope the thread gains "star" status.

    As a parent, I have no insight into Columbia life except through my sophomore son. As a social beast and party animal, he has not experienced any of the social isolation so often mentioned in discussions regarding student life at Columbia. As soon as his parents dropped him off last year, he was checking out the frats. After joining a frat, he immersed himself in a very active club sport. As far as I can tell, he spends every waking moment working, playing, or on his way from one activity to the other.

    As a former NYC grad student (at a downtown rival law school), I fully understand that the city can be a lonely place, if one doesn't proactively seek "community." From what I understand, the Columbia undergraduate student body and its administration increasingly realize the benefit of campus community. Witness the explosive growth of the Greek community, and the recent blessing of Greek life by the Barnard administration. The city remains important, but for many (including my son), the menu of activities, and nurturing provided by friends, is more than adequate within the four walls of the Columbia community.
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