Can you manage to visit them, if you haven’t already?
If you can’t, have you read Fiske and the Columbia and Brown threads here?
FWIW, my husband, born and bred in NYC and something of an extremist on the pro-NYC front, only considered schools in NYC. He went to Columbia. He’ll tell you he was satisfied with his choice because he got to stay in NYC. . . BUT he didn’t really enjoy college. Columbia wasn’t a particularly good fit for him, aside from being in NYC. He didn’t warm up to the people much and he had mixed feelings about the Common Core (it was a great education, but he would have liked the flexibility to take some classes he was interested in but didn’t have time for.)
My advice to you, based on the little I know about you, would be to go to Brown. Providence certainly isn’t NYC, but it’s not the middle of nowhere. You have a lifetime, plus school vacations (I’m assuming you live near NYC) to see Broadway shows. I promise, the difference in prestige between Columbia and Brown is negligible and is not going to have a significant effect on the course of your career. If you’d actually enjoy the people, the atmosphere and the education at Brown more, Broadway and prestige aren’t enough of a reason to choose Columbia.
It’s all relative. I was born and raised in Massachusetts and went to college in Connecticut, so New England was my benchmark for polite and pleasant social behavior. I spent one summer during college in Israel and, at first, could not believe how rude the Israelis were. I’d walk into a store and they wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence. They were often, umm, let’s say, abrupt.
I was talking to an Israeli about it one day and his take was that he found Americans really phony. He had been in NYC not long before (hardly the capital of smiles and friendliness). He was staying in a hotel and when he came down in the morning and the woman at the front desk asked how he slept, it didn’t ping friendly to him, just fake and annoying because he knew she didn’t really care. It gave me a whole new perspective.
My understanding is that Europeans generally think Americans (even northerners) smile too much. We come across as untrustworthy because the smiles don’t seem genuine.
One person's pleasant social lubrication is another person's fakeness and insincerity.
I love travel for the opportunity to see things from new perspectives.
I would imagine one factor in successfully going to college in a different culture is the ability to see things from a different point of view.
I’d also urge any northern kid going to school in the south to learn the true meaning of "bless your heart." I have enough southern friends to know that that phrase is NOT as kind as it sounds.
Even with holistic admissions, admissions to top US schools used to be more like McGill in certain ways. Holistic admissions are never going to be as transparent or easy to understand as schools with a cut off. There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems.
But schools didn’t used to have a vested interest in decreasing acceptance rates and increasing yields. I recently read (sorry, don’t remember where) that in 1980, Penn's admit rate was about 40%. That’s the year I graduated high school. I can tell you that, while one didn’t have the certainty one can have with the McGill approach to admittance, it was no where near as stressful and crazy making as things are now because the admit rates were so much higher. Yes, there was marketing, but nothing like today’s scale. Schools had absolutely no reason to encourage applications from people they knew they’d never admit.
I blame US News and World Report. When I applied to college, there were no rankings or none that carried any importance. I looked at the selectivity categories in Barron's. But there were maybe two dozen schools in the most selective category and no rankings within that category. Sure, we knew that it was harder to get into Harvard than Haverford and that Harvard was famous and prestigious in a way that Haverford wasn’t (not intending to knock Haverford, an excellent school). Parents and student weren’t obsessing about the difference between the number 5 school and the number 10 school because there were no ranks to obsess about , so schools weren’t obsessing about raising or maintaining their ranks.
Holistic admissiones have their origins in anti-semitism, but today can be a way to create an interesting class, give kids from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance and take into account the wide range of US high schools. If you want to keep the advantages of holistic admissions but dial back the crazy, convince the top 20 schools on US News's 2 national lists to refuse to cooperate with the game.