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4 Years Later: Reflections of a Columbia College Senior

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Replies to: 4 Years Later: Reflections of a Columbia College Senior

  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek 1645 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @photographer -

    i never said that you don't find similar kinds of superficial love of columbia. i just think it is rather obvious from the corpus of work you find here, to my engagement with columbia both in professional and casual settings the way in which i feel a very real connection to the place that goes beyond reminiscence.

    i mean i'd say i love columbia more than most columbians love columbia too; i was just making a point that in reality college-love is often a mechanical act for most and rarely a profession, and that there is to be frank a spectrum of how much people feel connected to their alma mater. one that disputes the OPs rather blanket statement.

    i will say this - i have yet to meet a yale student who believes that yale transformed them, all i hear are memories. i can say with certainty i believe columbia transformed me as a person. this is not science, it is not truth - but in the same vain as the OP it is observation that hopefully informs your judgment.
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  • enagelCC12enagelCC12 7 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    As a current junior, I'd like to offer a little bit of my experience in the school.

    First of all, like truazn said, it's not for everyone. Columbians are a very self-selecting group because Columbia is such a specific fit. To have The Core in New York City on such an incredibly diverse and international campus is something that won't appeal to everyone. But I've found that those who are here really do appreciate it. I appreciate being here every day, walking outside and taking in just how beautiful our campus is, and then walking outside the gates and being on Broadway - it's a feeling like no other.

    That said, Columbians, like New Yorkers, are very independent. But Columbians, like New Yorkers, are also incredibly passionate. And very giving. I've always found that my fellow students are willing to help me out whenever needed - for instance, I haven't gotten a whole lot of sleep this week, and every time I bump into a friend, they ask if there's anything I need. During freshman year, when everyone was taking Frontiers of Science, we would all sit in the hallway of John Jay (11!) and help each other with homework, and when it came time for our Lit Hum finals, we sat around and quizzed each other on quotes and themes and compared notes from class. That's my Columbia. I'm still best friends with most of the people I lived with freshman year, and I've made many more friends by finding common interests. I'm a theatre major, and the theatre community has been so welcoming here - but I've also got friends who write for the newspaper or do Model UN, and even a friend who started an undergraduate fashion magazine. Columbia is not necessarily the type of place where everyone goes to Homecoming - though a good number of people do, and loyal sports fans are very much visible on campus. But our community comes together as a whole over different things - like tonight, they'll light the trees on College Walk, and the Deans will speak, and a capella groups will sing, and there will be free cider. We turn out in droves for the trees. We packed Low Steps to watch President Obama's inauguration on the JumboTron. And 3000+ students, faculty, and administrators turn out for the Varsity Show each year, a time when we can all get together to laugh at the year's events and at ourselves. I have the privilege of directing the Varsity Show this year, and I take that responsibility seriously and treat it with care, because the Varsity Show is a love letter to Columbia - it's our way of saying "Hey, look how silly we are and how silly the year has been... but wasn't it fun?" That, for me, is a very Columbian experience. And just as much as you can say to someone in the elevator "What did you think of the Iliad?" you can ask "What did you think of this year's Varsity Show?"

    I know I'm saying a whole lot, but I do have a lot to say about Columbia because it's very, very dear to me. I can't pretend to know how my love for my school compares to others' love for theirs, but I'm proud to be a Columbian, to sit in class where Tony Kushner and Barack Obama have sat, reading the same things - and the same things that tie me to Columbia alum tie me to my fellow students. That's the Columbia I know, and am currently living. Where a classmate brings in muffins for a 9am class, and then I can hop on the subway and see someone helping a complete stranger carry a stroller down the stairs. Columbia, like New York, is about the convergence of so many independent, passionate, interesting lives in one place, in one common vein. We're proud to be New Yorkers. We're proud to have read the Iliad, and we're proud to be Columbians. That's what Columbia is for me, and for all of my friends on this campus.
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  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek 1645 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @truazn

    last night i got 6 phone calls from friends out in San Francisco who were attending PrezBo and Bill Campbell's talk and book signing out at the SFMoMA. they were all nostalgic, enjoying the moment, and above all thought i'd enjoy knowing how many of our generation were there to experience this event together far away from NYC.

    the one thing i will add to your perspective is that while you are still a senior, the nostalgia is not quite as strong. as the year runs out, and more so when you finally leave morningside heights, it will rush back to you. the core will mean more than just a good heuristic, the sense of isolation that you thought was there will give way to memories of times in which you were stuck with friends in butler all night, parading at all hours through campus, doing things and experiencing life in ways your cloistered peers could never imagine.

    as your friends at yale or elsewhere come to nyc to live and seek out your advice, your leg-up on the competition becomes more apparent, the vast network that you have at columbia, the ready-made system that you will find through ccya or seas young alums, through the columbia club and beyond will be instantly gratifying.


    monydad, i and others have often talked about the difficulty of being satisfied at columbia until you have proper distance from the experience. satisfaction is something that is hard in nyc not because your experience is not superlative, but the overarching sense that you want it to be even better.

    there ought to be a tension between loving the moment and feeling like it could be better, and living in new york where things are fleeting, connections are made in the most serendipitous of ways, it is a place that reinforces a lack of satisfaction that can be confused with a poverty of experience.

    it is only once you gain the necessary perspective that the silly things that were quotidian to you gain new significances. for me it was often when i visited one of my best friends at yale that i felt a gut wrenching pain of awkwardness. i always looked forward to getting back to morningside heights where everyone seemed to have a much more realistic and nuanced connection to the place and space, one that was changing, never fixed, that moved with the time.

    in a sense it is the love of what makes new york special, is to love columbia. the sense that you are always moving and yet not at the same time. a duality that to those among us who tend to intellectualize even the most normal of

    plus a final thought - i think living in nyc during your college years is one of the best decisions i could have ever made (and this coming from someone that originally wanted a smaller more isolated school, but fell for columbia when he visited). if you wanted high school part 2 (or for most boarding school part 2), sure, i get you have options out there that re-enact that kind of mentality. but once you have a real job and are working 100 hrs a week in nyc, you wont experience nyc and the big city the way you could've as an undergrad. venturing to a museum on a tuesday, sneaking into that industry party, interning while studying, eating on a budget, finding someone else to pick up the tab; these are experiences that you don't get to do again, and i couldn't imagine doing it anywhere else.

    i don't like the adage columbia isn't for everyone. sure most of us are independent, but many of us didn't enter columbia or move to nyc like that. i think more than most places, columbia certainly changes you. in subtle ways at times, in bigger ways. in good ways and to some in bad ways, but that is what makes life exciting. it becomes hard then to know who is right for columbia, in my mind it is someone who isn't afraid to be changed - and that rubric fits a lot of people.
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  • dolphins3636dolphins3636 128 replies16 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    truazn: I don't think most Columbians care at all, but there are a lot of **** on this board so i felt I should probably qualify my statement :)
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  • beard taxbeard tax 243 replies4 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    As a junior, I feel that a lot of what truazn and others have shared on the board is correct. The Columbia social experience is about who you meet during your freshman year, and what activities you do on campus to meet new people. From there, it's about how you keep in contact with them. The social scene is highly fragmented, because you'll need to know someone to get invited to any party on campus. By no means is there a cohesive Columbia community, just separate cliques of friends exploring the city or partying together. It can become a very lonely place if you don't meet the right people during freshman year and have trouble really putting yourself out there to meet new people.

    For example, my friend went to Yale and they have parties each weekend hosted by the student council like the Screw. There are some annual events on campus like the Varsity Show and the Tree Lighting Ceremony but are these events social at all? These events aren't parties and though it can be a place to meet people, it's not meant to be a social event.

    As an aside, many of my friends and people I know feel the same way about Columbia. I have never met anyone on campus who is passionate about Columbia. More common than not, I've found students who are unhappy about the quality of their social lives. I'm sure I'll get a bunch of flak from confidentialcoll about being a sheltered, anti-social, finance type who's the only person going through this experience but I assure you that it's not. Quite honestly, I feel that a lot of students put up with the school for career opportunities.
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  • monydadmonydad 7830 replies158 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "if you wanted high school part 2 (or for most boarding school part 2), sure, i get you have options out there that re-enact that kind of mentality. "

    A little demeaning no, one might alternatively say that if you want "pretend pre-grown-up working world, part 1", except without the rather important "I have money" part, there are places you can go to re-enact that kind of mentality.

    "Once you have a real job and are working 100 hrs a week in nyc, you wont experience nyc and the big city the way you could've as an undergrad."

    I guess so, in part, because then you can actually eat at the restaurants, not just look in the windows. But on the other hand, there are plenty of working people in lots of those places the students are going to, also 'experiencing" them. That's an element of the problem (for some) being expressed here, IMO. The amount of time you spend immersed in a community consisting solely of your fellow students is reduced, relatively, due to their diffusion into the city. That immersion is conducive to familiarity which breeds relationships. And lack of it is conducive to the isolation that is not unknown in the cold, anonymous city.

    Looking at it the other way, once you have a real job and are working 100 hrs a week in nyc, you won't ever have the chance to experience life as a 'real" college student in a campus-based environment. It's a unique, special time of life, some people prefer to experience it in a unique, special setting, immersed with their peers. Rather than a setting only trivially different from what they will experience for the rest of their life afterwards.
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  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek 1645 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    sure monydad - save for the fact that pretend pre-grown up is as you note still a new experience, it is part 1.

    the other example is a case of arrested development, the latter naive precocity. i suppose we could always demean one or the other. in fact there is always the extent that everything we do is either copying our own past or someone else's, but that is a liberty for those of us who think too much about things.

    personally, i rather fail at something new than re-enact something old. and i know i'm in the minority in this question. that is why so many students do not apply to columbia is because they do want the 'traditional' college experience. which in the most cynical light is nothing more than a desire to do something comforting.

    as for the one-sidedness of my argument: if you don't come out with a strong assertive argument, what is the point in sharing it. i am arguing against an acculturated notion that college is supposed to be an escape from the real world that dominates popular perception about what college is, can be, should be. it is not to say that columbia is better than other options (though come on, it is the best), but it is significantly unique (and unique even among urban education experiences) that it should be taken seriously for what it is, and that blank comparisons invariably lead to unfair analysis. what you gain from going to columbia is far and away different than what you could at a peer school because the experience is not the same.

    and though i think most top schools have experiences that are relatively interchangeable - same emphasis on undergraduate education, advising, placement, social life. some are better than others, some are worse than others. but none in the top tier really provide an education that goes far and away beyond the classroom. independence isn't by itself an ingrown quality, but something that develops as students engage with the spirit of the city, the complexities of city life in real ways. and whose laboratory of exploration doesn't mean staring at windows - but having an alum take them inside, going during restaurant week, finding deals that blow your mind. at times the most incredible experiences are the ones you weren't 'supposed' to have, but do because of the dynamism of where you live.
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  • SchadelbrecherSchadelbrecher 71 replies19 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    As a junior in high school considering where to apply and where to ED and everything... I feel like this thread has really helped me see what Columbia is like.

    I hate to say it, but I think it's been knocked a few pegs down on my list now. I am fiercely independent (I plan to opt out of most all of the freshmen "community building" programs if I get into my first choice college, including freshmen-only housing) but the idea of something being there if I need it is important to me. While you all say that the independence helps to give you a leg up, so you know what the real-world is like, isn't that true with the entire college experience? If it is truly what you make it in the end, at (most, because there's always some exception) any university you can decide whether you want to be actively and fully involved in the community or more independent and focusing on setting yourself up for after college primarily. The thing I'm seeing with Columbia, is that you don't seem to have the option to really choose. You are independent at Columbia. If that doesn't fit with you, then maybe you should rethink your post-secondary education. Of course, correct me if I'm wrong. What I'm trying to say is, I don't know the kind of person I'll be in two years or three years or even 5 years. Maybe being forced to be independent will be absolutely perfect for me, and maybe I'll feel like truazn, like something was lacking. Regardless, options are attractive to me. So why otherwise I adore Columbia, this thread is making me heavily reconsider where it stands on my "first choice, second choice, etc." list.

    Please correct me if I'm getting the wrong idea, though. (that's why I posted this, to make sure I'm getting the story on Columbia right)
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  • truazn8948532truazn8948532 1332 replies180 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It's a personal choice - my suggestion to prospective students is to talk to someone they really trust who's an alum/current student.

    One of the motivating factors that moved me to post this thread was that I decided to join a tour-group on the way back to my dorm --- and the tour guide (who I knew personally) was honestly painting a very, very distorted picture of Columbia's "community" scene. And watching how excited the prospective students got upon hearing our "deeply entrenched customs and traditions", I couldn't bear this misinformation being spread.

    Look - my point here is not to bash the school, nor champion it like I used to (if you check some of my earlier threads, I was an absolute pro-Columbia advocate before I came). This is just a candid assessment of what the Columbia experience really is.

    Fyi - I just got out of a small seminar class with seniors and some grad students, and took a little informal poll. The most response I got to "Did you feel like you enjoyed 4 years at Columbia?" was "Yes... and No". I'd say that captures just about the sentiment on campus.
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  • Silence1113Silence1113 614 replies50 threadsRegistered User Member
    I guess the non-party type of people would fit fine then.
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  • smile99smile99 155 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Would you say then that Columbia is one of those experiences that sounds great on paper but actually isn't?

    And of course when you compare Columbia to Yale you can come up with some things that Yale may have above Columbia. But in comparison to other schools, like Northwestern or good state schools, how is Columbia?

    In any case... I will make sure to read this thread if I'm deferred or rejected ED. :)
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  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek 1645 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    the irony of columbia is that there are a lot of things you do (whether you realize it or not) that are very much preordained, and so i love it how you have folks that say columbia is too independent, and then you hear folks that knock the structure of columbia. it is both! if you want to find something to hate about columbia, you can find it. but that doesn't reject the fact that there is order to that mayhem.

    a) you can't opt out of freshman only housing, you must do orientation activities.
    b) you must take the core.
    c) you really ought to live on campus all 4 years because of costs and most folks do.

    but beyond that you do get to chose how you want to live your life for the next four years. where you go, what you do, how you associate.


    and truazn - first i think you are just ****ting on columbia. the view that students get in tour sessions is not just about getting them to like columbia, but it is also buying into this whole college admissions game, you aren't going to go to yale and get the 'real' story there either. or how miserable folks can be there. and frankly i've met folks who have been miserable everywhere, you can't take the sad out of the sadistic. to offer a truly nuanced perspective even here you'd actually have to go through and tell us moments that made you happy, that excited you, challenged you, and all those details. to gain full perspective into columbia as anything besides 'not as community-based' as yale, i'd ask you what was your experience when you had a bad day, did anyone come comfort you the way my friends would help me out.

    a friend of mine after i told her i had difficulty grappling with the fact that folks didn't love columbia in the same way was the first to get me onto this way of thinking. she said - you have to expand your understanding of community from the cliche to the things that matter. columbians perhaps may not wear columbia as a symbol of something, but they hold a respect and admiration for each other. they will have your back when things matter.

    and that was my experience and continues to be my experience since graduating. unique? perhaps. but the biggest point should be for the prospective students is just as it is possible to spend 4 years and not engage columbia's community, it is possible to spend 4+ years and continue to explore and engage with it. if it is possible? then all that matters is making your choice to do what you need to do to feel attached.

    to truazn as i have said to beard. i am relatively well engaged with columbia still, if you want someone to pm, feel free. if you have ideas you want to make about how to make columbia's community richer, about how to make your experience before you graduate better, let me know. the thing that alums are most receptive to are students that want to talk about making columbia better. there are things that columbia does very well, there are things that she is lucky to have because of the confluence of timing and space, but there are things we all hope she could do better.

    instead of disengaging, i hope your criticisms encourage you to find new ways to engage.
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  • Silence1113Silence1113 614 replies50 threadsRegistered User Member
    I read everyone's posts...and I feel I should give my opinion on all this.

    First of all I have lived in New York City all my life. With that said, I believe that the discrepancy between what "truazn" and "admissiongeek" are saying has to do with the setting of Columbia.

    Now, after reading "truazn"'s post, I, as a resident of New York City, was not surprised or scared by this lack of community that he mentioned. The reason is that, this is how I lived the past 17 years of my life...so it's nothing new to me...nothing new to anyone who lived in NYC either. It's just the nature of NYC. Since NYC is an international city, and the most diverse city in the USA, it does not have a true "community" feel to it, that could be found in rural or suburban places like CT (Yale) for example.

    Far away from Columbia and such, it could be seen in the city if you live in it. Many neighborhoods in the "true" NYC (Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx) lives in sort of groups, due to the diversity which enables people to do so. I called those 4 the true NYC because it's where most commoners live anyways... the ones that live in Manhattan, and those are usually rich white folks.

    Back to our topic, I personally wasn't going to dorm in Columbia in the first place...only 30 minutes form my house...without giving any care to the "community" part of it. Nonetheless, I changed my mind, due to the "you make all your friends by dorming" statements. But I really had no care of value to Columbia as a "community", since, as I said above, I have lived all my life without feeling a true community. If I end up in another college besides Columbia in NYC, I would probably just live with my parents, like the rest of my former high school friends.

    In conclusion, I feel it's who you are and what you grew up on.

    But there is one thing that I 100% agree with "admissionsgeek" on: You have to lose something to know its value. In the case of Columbia, 5 or even 10 years from now, when you lose (leave) Columbia, I guarantee you that you will appreciate Columbia, besides all the negatives that you said about it.
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  • truazn8948532truazn8948532 1332 replies180 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Admissionsgeek - There's really no need to get so defensive or agitated. I no longer have a stake in this 'game'. In a few short months, I will graduate Columbia University in New York with my bachelor's degree, and the next part of my life will begin.

    The whole point of this thread was to give an unbridled view of what Columbia is, and what it is not. For the members who were long on here enough, they know that I was absolutely the biggest advocate of Columbia. And I'll reveal why that is - both my parents are tenured faculty here. I grew up with Columbia, and always thought I'd love it. To any naysayers or Penn-**** back in the day - well, you should've seen some of the threads archived.

    As you mentioned, Columbia has been a transformational experience. Despite my personal feelings about the lack of community here, there's no doubt that the experience has *forced* me to become independent, which in turn has benefited me and will continue to benefit me in the real world.

    But it is disingenuous to attempt to convince all these prospective students, some of whom will be plunking down $100's of thousands of dollars, and more importantly, will spend four of the most impressionable years of their lives here, that Columbia is a school which has a strong sense of identity and fierce loyalty among its alumni. That is simply not the case.

    Anyway, this will be my last post. If any applicants want to PM me privately, I'll be happy to continue the dialogue. In the meantime, best of luck to everyone!
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  • admissionsgeekadmissionsgeek 1645 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "And I'll reveal why that is - both my parents are tenured faculty here."

    that is interesting, puts a whole new perspective on things.

    you don't have a stake in the 'game,' but at your choice you could have a stake in columbia.

    you still haven't taken up my charge - if you have any desire to make the most of these next 7 mths, let's have a chat. i think for many of my friends - frustrated for most of college it was not the blooming until senior week where we finally could feel something a bit more. anyhow, i criticize your view not because it is wrong, but because anything true is never come about without someone pushing against your seems. if you truly find columbia's community lacking, that's one thing. though as the tree lighting ceremony is going on right now, it is telling you are here dialoguing and not out there. if anything i have hoped to challenge your idea of community as narrow. does that mean i am not going to be a bit aggressive in my wording? well i am trying to get a point across. i am not trying to get you to like me, i just hope that something i say sticks in your head for some time until you can decide what you want to believe (as i hope all prospies do).

    and of course it is my job to convince every prospective student - as it is your job (and that of others) to be my foil. i have never pretended not to have partisanship. i could tell students about the worst parts of columbia, but that isn't all that helpful because it really is - whether you choose columbia or connecticut college - how you approach that experience. that is what i've staked my presence on this forum as. to talk about what is possible and let students decide from there.

    if you found my statements unnecessarily bellicose, i'm sorry, didn't mean that to be my intention, though i think some credibility is due - if you weren't approaching finals week, if this was in the middle of winter break, or after you graduated from college, that would be one thing, but pick the worst time of the year when it starts to get cold as bollocks, yeah i was going to be a bit pushy. no disrespect. and that is why the offer still stands. good luck.
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  • ShruggingSheepShruggingSheep 155 replies9 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    columbians perhaps may not wear columbia as a symbol of something, but they hold a respect and admiration for each other. they will have your back when things matter.

    Sorry dude, it boggles my mind how you can think this. There is no way a random Columbian you run into is going to "respect" you, "admire" you, or "have your back when things matter" just because you are a fellow Columbian. You think someone is going to feel bad for you because you bombed a midterm or didn't get an internship? The only people here who would fit this description are one's FRIENDS.

    People are not going to give you credit just for getting into and attending this school. (This ties in with truazn's point about the 20% alumni networking response rate.) My experience has been that the average Columbian doesn't think much of his/her peers for a variety of reasons - too unintelligent/too nerdy, too obnoxiously loud/too socially awkward, too ambitious/too unambitious, too intellectually insipid/too intellectually pretentious...the list goes on. Most people are just really good at pretending to get along with each other. Check out collegeacb if you want to know what people really say about each other under the cover of anonymity.

    Also, it's not very constructive to dismiss truazn's experience by saying "you are just ****ting on columbia". He's just trying to give prospective students another perspective to weigh against what they hear on the campus tours. Whether or not that bumps their impression of Columbia down (relative to Yale and other schools) is irrelevant. It's important for people to know two things:

    1. There exists a non-trivial proportion of unhappy, socially unsatisfied people here at Columbia.
    2. It is definitely possible (though it is by no means guaranteed, as others have pointed out) to be happy, content, and have an exhilarating college experience here at Columbia.
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  • goestowashingtongoestowashington 89 replies11 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Haters abound. It's like they smell positivity and come out for the feed. Columbia is a great school. It is not for everybody. Fun fact: no school is.
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  • iamanappiamanapp 442 replies28 threadsRegistered User Member
    huh, this is so weird. all alums of my High School who are at columbia right now say the same thing! do you guys think it's the school's fault at all?
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  • beard taxbeard tax 243 replies4 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    I think that the administration has little to do with the social dynamics of the university (they don't really care so this could be a fault), but if you mean the atmosphere, I think that it's the school's fault because of the fragmented nature and lack of a cohesive community. (One can argue that the school's administration is at fault because of lack of dormitory space for underclassman parties but it's NYC so space is at a premium; there's lack of advising and someone to go to if you have a problem; etc)

    It's difficult to say why, but I feel that it's tough to join the social scene at Columbia since it's based on friend groups and to a large extent fraternities. You lose out if you don't make the right friends during freshman year since these cliques that stay together during college. It's hard to meet people after NSOP because the classes are lecture style and many organizations on campus aren't listed. You'll really have to take time out of your schedule and leave your comfort zone to meet new people and there's no guarantee that you'll be friends. If you have a floor that you don't mesh with or don't join the right organizations, it's difficult to go out and make new friends when there's such a disjoint campus with so many groups of students doing their own thing in NYC.
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  • slipper1234slipper1234 9044 replies40 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I feel like I know Columbia incredibly well, having attended the school for one year of undergrad and for graduate school. I think truazn is spot on - there just isn't a strong community at the undergrad level bottom line.
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