All engineering courses are curved. We have a reasonable amount of choice in our courses. They tell you to take so many semesters of math, physics, chem, non-technical requirements, etc., but you get to choose from different levels as to how you finish the core. For example in Math, you can choose from Calc I, II, III, IV or Honors Math. Chemistry lets you choose from Gen Chem, Intensive Gen Chem, Organic Chem. Physics - intro, intermediate, accelerated. You get the idea. There are lots of other options like these. Look up the bulletin for more info: The First-Year/Sophomore Program | Bulletin | Columbia Engineering
Note: Columbia's a stressful school: Columbia is the nation’s most stressed school | Spectrum
. You will learn a lot, but be wary if you don't like living and breathing your work.
Regarding competition and people helping:
Let me ask you a question. What do you think? Students here come from all over the world from different backgrounds - just like other schools. They are just as predisposed to helping a friend as any other student. As much as College Confidential would like you to believe that all universities are worlds apart, the truth most colleges on the inside are all the same. Same classes, similar people, same opportunities.