<p>It can be difficult to visit multiple schools, especially with Duke far apart from the others. Here's a few snippets I saved from students/alumni. Not all of them apply to you. I haven't found a good description of Princeton, and Penn is too hard to fit into one description due to its very different schools. </p>
<p>The work is very tough but not meaningless. Cornell is not a walk in the park, but Cornell graduates, especially in some fields (engineering, hotel, AEM, ILR, etc.) are among the most sought after in the country, even above many of the other ivies. Cornell students consistently gain acceptence into the most elite medical, law, and business schools. And employers constantly turn to Cornell because they are looking for motivated, well-trained individuals to lead their companies into the future. Cornell students do work hard, but they play even harder. Don't think that just because you are going to a reputable school you will be a slave to your classes. Cornell students, even in the most labor-intensive of majors, still find time to do whatever they want. On weekends, Cornell comes alive with an intensity not usually seen outside of state schools. If you think that you will be sacrificing your social life when you come here, you are in for a big surprise. From hockey games to concerts to the massive parties which draw students by the hundreds, they all find a way to blow off steam and have a great time.
<p>Brown students are unique in that they tend to have a flair for everything they do. I can't really describe it, but it certainly is not the typical image of an ivy league student. You'll have to see it for yourself. Brown's major selling point is its lack of an open curriculum, a great aspect if you feel like a core curriculum would hold you down. There are requirements for a degree, but other than those, you can take absolutely anything you want, and you can even take any and all of your classes S/NC (pass/fail). You can add a class during the first 15 days of the semester, after that it costs 15 bucks. You can drop a class up until the last day of classes (if you're doing really poorly in a class and don't want it to blemish your record). The professors are very easy to approach. The people you share your day to day life with come from varied backgrounds but are admitted on the same standards as you; you won't find too many cookie cutter, valedictorian shut-in types here. Everybody is dynamic, and it makes for a very, very fun and ambitious student body.
<p>Most Dartmouth students are incredibly friendly and open, and its easy to communicate with them. There is actually a lot to do, and people seem to enjoy random fun things such as road trips, jumping in the river, fun parties, etc. The place always has something going on. The student body is very tight, and it is amazing how people will go freely between frats and other places as compared to many other schools. The campus is beautiful, especially in the summer and winter. Students take advantage of this by going hiking, skiing, etc. The school also breeds a sense of coziness, and things like drinking hot chocolate with some friends by a fireplace in a dorm on a random night happen all the time. It's a place that breeds intellectual curious students, many of whom really get to know and appreciate each other. The professors are truly amazing and the opportunities such as grants, study abroad, etc are endless. The only thing I could say negative is that most Dartmouth students are relatively social and outgoing, so there is a tendency for some students to conform vs. other places. Also, some of the frats are jock-dominated, then again there are others that are not. All of the community aspects at Dartmouth end up serving graduates tremendously well. The school's alumni are ready and willing to help out to extrordinary measures in a variety of fields ranging from entertainment to private equity. Also, graduate placement is outstanding and Dartmouth is one of the best in the world at placing graduates into top programs and jobs.
<p>*Academically, Columbia is about the core first and foremost. Its a great academic experience (the 'cocktail party education' since you seem to study almost all the great western works). It also ends up forming a community since you take the same class with the same 20 students for the entire year. In other academic areas Columbia offers a broad range of classes (like Hindi for example), but in the feeder class areas (such as pre-med and calculus) the classes are huge and the operationis factory-like. For those going into very specific areas and are willing to do part time internships (fashion, music), the NYC advantage is there. For everyone else Columbia recruiting is no better than the other Ivies.</p>
<p>Socially, Columbia is a city school. Most columbia students are a more intense, urban breed who are very willing to trade on campus parties for going out downtown or socializing in smaller groups. The West End is a decent college bar, but its nothing compared to the party scene at the social ivies (Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton, Brown). Columbia is great for an independent student who wants NYC culture and is a little intense. Like any school there is some community - Carman Hall is a first year hall and John Jay is a first year dining hall, but after this the dorms and dining experience is much less social. Columbia students also don't seem to be out to help everyone, its a much more cliquey scene. Columbia is strict about parties in the dorms and since it students don't have houses, you miss out on the laid back house parties that are prevelant at almost every school. Its also a big university, so its not like you know everyone. The library is quiet and filled with is unlike the social libraries at the other ivies (it used to be very social until a few years ago). If you are a person seeking community, big festivals, and like to see a bunch of people you know on the weekends all the other Ivies are better options. If you don't care about the community aspects as much and want to find amazingly talented people in a more intense environment Columbis is the perfect ivy.*