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Columbia (GS) or Reed College? Help me choose!

AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
Hello! I posted something similar to this sometime ago, but I'm looking for more feedback, especially because I've crossed one school (Swarthmore) off my list. Here's the short story: I'm a student who spent two years at Reed and then took a medical leave, which let me apply to Columbia GS as a non-traditional student. Next semester I'll either be returning to Reed or attending Columbia GS. My ultimate goal is to attain a PhD in philosophy at a top program and teach it at either a nationally ranked LAC or Research University.

I prefer Columbia to Reed because it is closer to home, has more name-brand "prestige", and offers a greater variety of courses.. I worry about it because I've heard that it has worse graduate school placement than Reed in philosophy and doesn't have the sheer intellectual intensity of Reed. I also am concerned that I won't be able to establish close contact with professors, do significant undergraduate research, or take enough philosophy courses over two years since I'll be bogged down in the "Core". At Reed, I'll be able to take plenty of philosophy courses since I've fulfilled the distribution requirements, and I'll have a lot of opportunities for undergraduate research and contact with professors since the classes are so small.

I'm really torn between the two: a lot of people want me to go to Columbia since it has that name-brand appeal, but at the same time I'm not sure that Columbia will actually be more efficacious at getting me to my ultimate goals. And though I like the fact that Columbia's philosophy department is so big and vibrant, I'm worried that I'll be crowded out by the graduate students there. Reed has a really strong record of sending people to top PhD programs in philosophy, and I'm not sure that I should pass that up. Any advice?
edited July 10
21 replies
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Replies to: Columbia (GS) or Reed College? Help me choose!

  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Bump!
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  • whidbeyite2002whidbeyite2002 196 replies1 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited July 10
    @Aspiringacademic, it sounds as though you would prefer Reed. Columbia has name recognition, but with your major and aspirations, any future PhD program in philosophy will know all about Reed.

    That said, I am concerned about your previous health issues. Is there a possibility of recurrence? Does being closer to home put your mind at ease should your health decline again?

    Columbia and Reed are both fantastic choices. My daughter had a really hard time turning down Reed for Columbia.

    Wishing you the absolute best!
    edited July 10
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @whidbeyite2002
    Thank you very much for the advice. I do feel like, deep down, I prefer Reed. But I know that being at Columbia might be better for my mental health since its closer to home, and I do feel tugged toward Columbia due to the name-brand prestige. I'm just not sure what decision to make, honestly. I feel like any choice I make I would end up regretting, even though that's definitely not the way to look at this sort of thing!
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  • jorakidjorakid 6 replies1 threadsRegistered User New Member
    If this helps in your decision-making, the school of General Studies has less prestige, for those who know what it means and don't just look at "Columbia". I think it is an easier sell if you have really have an untraditional background (i.e., Veteran), and are going there later in life. When I see it in a young person, I just think they tried to get into Columbia through a back door, but aren't of the same academic caliber. I know that's not fair, but that's my bias. I would be more inclined to finish up at Reed. All of that to say, I would not let the prestige thing weigh very much in your decision. Your health, the classes you want to take, location and personal reasons should be factoring in much more.
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  • merc81merc81 10254 replies155 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    If I recall from your other comments, you come from a highly educated family. What are their thoughts?
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    My family wants me to go to Columbia. And to be honest, I'd be perfectly happy going to Columbia even if it meant I had to trudge through a lot of distribution requirements and such. I'm just concerned Columbia won't be as good a launching pad for a career in academic philosophy at Reed. If I knew that it was, I would go there in a heartbeat.
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited July 11
    Bump. Could really use some more advice/input.
    edited July 11
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  • happymomof1happymomof1 29606 replies173 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 11
    Have you specifically asked the department at Columbia about placement into PhD programs?

    Have you sat down with an advisor at Columbia to work out a plan of studies that will get you out of there in two years?

    If you haven't done those two things yet, do them ASAP.
    edited July 11
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Thanks for the questions. I have emailed a number of professors and I plan on asking them about placement into PhD Programs. I'm supposed to be set up with an advisor soon, so I plan on meeting with them shortly.
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  • merc81merc81 10254 replies155 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 12
    You really can't top Reed for your career interests, and I'd think within academia in general there'd be significant prestige associated with a Reed diploma, so it's possible that Reed might represent the more prestigious of your choices as well.

    Nonetheless, if you'd be inclined to choose Columbia GS in a heartbeat under reasonably promising expectations, then I think Columbia's overall education and reputation could set you on course to where you would like to go also.
    edited July 12
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Thanks Merc81. I've done some additional research and found that, overall, Columbia and Reed's graduate placement is about the same. Reed sends more people to top 10 programs, but it also sends more people to programs that aren't very good at all, so its profile is a bit more "uneven" than Columbia's (it looks like almost nobody from Columbia ends up at a doctoral program outside the top 20). So Columbia is the "safer" option, and Reed the more risky one.

    Right now, I think I am therefore leaning toward Columbia. But let me know if anyone else has input.
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Well, I was pretty much set on Columbia until I learned from a webinar that I’d have to take twelve required courses outside philosophy over two years, and that the administration of gs wouldn’t let me into grad courses even though professors let me in. Looks like I might be heading back to reed...any further advice would be helpful.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77761 replies678 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Thanks Merc81. I've done some additional research and found that, overall, Columbia and Reed's graduate placement is about the same. Reed sends more people to top 10 programs, but it also sends more people to programs that aren't very good at all, so its profile is a bit more "uneven" than Columbia's (it looks like almost nobody from Columbia ends up at a doctoral program outside the top 20). So Columbia is the "safer" option, and Reed the more risky one.

    There may be a self-selection effect, in that Reed students who can only get into lower ranked PhD programs go there, while similar Columbia students seek employment.
    the administration of gs wouldn’t let me into grad courses even though professors let me in.

    That's a rather odd policy, which causes Columbia to lose one of the advantages it has versus a LAC like Reed for the strongest students in the major.

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  • juilletjuillet 12637 replies161 threadsSuper Moderator Super Moderator
    My guess is that any differences in graduate school placement at Columbia is more due to student desire than capability. Reed, and other LACs like it, are known for being intellectual powerhouses where intense students go when they want to go to graduate school. Columbia (where I went to graduate school) can feel a bit pre-professional, but the students can absolutely be eggheads (even the ones who want to go to McKinsey or Microsoft after graduation), and talented students can absolutely go onto PhD programs and into academia. I agree with ucbalumnus's comment about the selection effect you see for Reed students vs. Columbia students wrt what kind of PhD program they go to.

    You can establish close contact with professors at Columbia. It's a medium-sized university, and I have seen many professors take an interest in talented undergraduates.

    However, I will say that choosing Columbia mostly because of the "name brand" isn't a great idea, especially given your goals. Either Reed or Columbia will help you get them - and in some ways, Reed may be better, as it is noted for getting students into great graduate schools AND you have more flexibility in selecting your courses now. The greater breadth of classes at Columbia won't help you if you can't take them. Were I you, I'd return to Reed. You can always take a wide variety of interesting philosophy courses in graduate school.
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Thanks Juillet. I suppose the consensus leans in favor of returning to Reed. There are a couple considerations keeping Columbia in the mix, like the fact that the Faculty's research interests are much more diverse and that I'll therefore be able to zero-in much more on my particular academic interests, but I suppose I'll just have to sacrifice that.
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  • HapworthHapworth 518 replies0 threadsRegistered User Member
    The OP mentioned "mental health" earlier, and if this is a serious concern, then are there options beyond Columbia GS that will allow the OP to finish the degree but be closer to home (NY, I assume)? Yes, Reed is a serious place for academics, and its graduates have stunning grad-school admit rates, but Reed, I imagine, can also be an intense place, not just academically but also in terms of its overall culture (Reed is not just progressive; it is uber-progressive, idiosyncratically so). That said, Reed is a terrific school, and only the OP can decide if two more years at Reed is doable.

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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Thank you all for the advice! In case anyone was curious, I've decided that I'll be heading back to Reed this fall! Once a Reedie, always a Reedie, I suppose.
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  • merc81merc81 10254 replies155 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    You made a fine choice for your interests, and I think you will have no regrets. Best of luck!
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  • PublisherPublisher 7762 replies80 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @Aspiringacademic: Curious as to why you crossed Swarthmore off your list & whether you considered NYU ?

    Also, which universities have the best graduate programs in philosophy ? Thanks in advance !
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  • AspiringacademicAspiringacademic 116 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @Publisher
    I crossed Swarthmore off my list for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that they don't seem to send many people to top 10 analytic graduate programs, at least according to a recent report by Eric Schwitzgebel. I did consider NYU, which has (arguably) the best philosophy program in the world, and which sends undergraduates to very good philosophy programs, but I ultimately decided that I didn't really like the intellectual atmosphere of NYU for undergraduates. So I didn't even send out an application there.

    As for who has the "best" program in philosophy, that's a tricky and controversial question. The most well-known rankings are Brian Leiter's "Philosophical Gourmet Report", which does tend to be a pretty decent register of which programs are strongest in the core areas of analytic philosophy - metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. The top four schools in Leiter's rankings are generally NYU, Rutgers, Princeton, and Oxford. Michigan, Pittsburgh, MIT, Yale, and Berkeley also consistently make very strong showings there. However, there are also hardline "continental" programs out there which barely show up on Leiter's reports, and which are considered very prestigious in certain circles. DePaul, Penn State, Emory, Vanderbilt, Stony Brook and Warwick all fall under this category. And it's worth remembering that which universities do the best in rankings aren't necessarily the best for placement into tenure-track jobs. There's been a lot of research on this recently, and I'd be more than happy to share it if you PM me. Regardless, hope this helps.
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