I wanted to post all the information I could to help educate people who are considering GS, but are having second thoughts due to the negative posts throughout the majority of these [ivy league] college forums. I was recently admitted into Columbia GS, a fact that I take tremendous pride in, and the decision to apply to Columbia was not a hard one to make. *(A little side note about myself: I do not rush into decisions that will have a tremendous impact on my life both mentally and financially). I wanted to be as thorough as possible after considering Columbia GS, so I read and researched just about everything I could that had to do, or mentioned, Columbia GS and this is what I have found:
Columbia GS is one of the official three undergraduate schools at Columbia University, dedicated to non-traditional students. The other two undergraduate schools that make up Columbia University are Columbia College and Columbia Engineering (formerly known as SEAS), which are dedicated to traditional students. You must apply to GS if you have taken at least a one year break in your education, and you cannot apply to either CC/CE if you have taken more than two semester course loads at another school. In addition, you are automatically ineligible to apply to CC if you have taken over a year break from school. Also, you cannot apply to more than one school during the same cycle.
Being that all three schools are official undergraduate schools of Columbia University, they are all considered to be in the "Ivy League". Some have questioned the prestige of Columbia GS because the admissions process and criteria differs from that of CC, but it should also be mentioned that CE too has a completely different admission process and criteria from either schools. This is because all three schools have different admission committees that review their own applicants for each specific school, thus the different admission rates for each school. The rankings are based on the combined average CC/CE admission rates. GS rates are excluded in the overall admission rates, because (from what I've gathered):
1.) Most applicants for GS are transfers opposed to first year students
2.) GS applicants are non-traditional it would not make sense to lump them into the admission rates with the other traditional applicants considering there is different criteria that are examined. Nearly all the other schools in the nation only record traditional students admission rates, it only makes sense for Columbia to do the same.
*if there are more logical reasons I'm sure someone else with add to this section.
Now, I have no idea what life is like at Columbia nor after graduation, but the fact of the matter is that GS is a part of Columbia U, regardless of how the other students or peers throughout academia view GS students. Prestige has become synonymous with admission rates, but I would not be too worried about GS admission rates considering there is only a fraction of qualified applicants able to apply to GS (about 1500-2000 transfer apps) compared to the 34,000 first year apps CC/CE had this past year. Not to mention CE had admission rates varying between 23-31% prior to 2006. In reality if you took CC/CE admissions rate for 2005(I believe this is the correct year) CC had a rate of 12% and CE had a rate of 31% making their combined rate about 21.5%, similar to the rate of what GS posted recently. Their marks have come down dramatically in recent year (especially after Obama was elected in 2008), but this is because of the substantial increase in applicants. As the years pass, GS will continue to have lower acceptance rates as it becomes more well know (if you want to look at it in that light).
As for the classes, there are only a few that GS students can't automatically register for (I believe they can petition for registration into these courses however), but they have the same equivalent course in the GS sections. The rest of the classes, including the core requirements are the same and integrated. You learn side by side with the other students of the college as well as from the same professors, and graduate with the same Columbia University degree, with only minor adjustments:
GS diploma: Regarding the School of General Studies Diploma | General Studies
This is an image of the diploma, posted on the GS website
CE diploma: File:SEASdiploma2003.jpg - WikiCU, the Columbia University wiki encyclopedia
As you can see this is nearly identical to the GS diploma (along with 13 graduate school diploma)
CC diploma: File:Ccdiploma2007.jpg - WikiCU, the Columbia University wiki encyclopedia Diplomas - WikiCU, the Columbia University wiki encyclopedia
Only CC and Columbia Law have diplomas in Latin, but are worded the same as the other diplomas (including the GS diploma)
The only real difference you will find with these diplomas are the dean's signature line. They will correspond to the specific school in which you attended (ie: General Studies, Columbia College, etc..)
One last this I wanted to reiterate, is that GS is a unique school within the "Ivy League". There is no other "Ivy League" school that houses a specific undergraduate college for non-traditional students. Yale and Brown have programs within their college, but they are not schools of either institution. Yale only accepts about 5-10 transfers (and usually they are extreme cases such as Mike Richter - former NY Rangers Goaltender) into their Eli Whitney program, who graduate with a degree from Yale College, because there is no other undergraduate school at Yale. The same goes for Brown's RUE program; however, you must be away from school for at least 5 years. The other programs mentioned on this board that were compared to GS were Harvard extension and UPenn LPS. Harvard extension is similar to Columbia's School of Continued Education, but is open enrollment. You can take courses at Harvard under certain contingencies, and you will not be fully integrated as some people alluded to. UPenn's LPS is not a school, it is actually a program housed within another college (School of Arts & Sciences) at UPenn.
I hope this helps. It is late so please forgive any misspellings or shortcomings. If I left out any information, I will add it another time.