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Columbia University: Columbia College

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Founded in 1754, Columbia University has grown from a small liberal arts college, Kings College, to a large and dynamic research university in one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities. Alma mater to Alexander Hamilton, Lou Gehrig, Tony Kushner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Barack Obama, Columbians also invented FM radio and designed the New York City subway system. Columbia College, a small liberal arts college, has a unifying, discussion- based Core Curriculum with a focus on classic texts in literature and philosophy, great works of visual art and music and interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge science. The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science aims to train technologically adept and socially conscious engineers, able to design for the world of tomorrow. Graduates of both the College and the Engineering school graduate with the critical thinking skills necessary to meet the needs of the 21st century.

The diversity of the undergraduate student body plays a crucial role in the Columbia experience. Half of undergraduates self-identify as students of color and approximately 17% are international students. With all 50 states represented, as well as 90 countries, the conversations in the dining hall and the residence halls are always diverse and exciting. Whether it’s debating how Machiavelli’s The Prince relates to current events or the most efficient way to design a water filtration system, Columbia students are never afraid to express an opinion, and always willing to listen to those around them.

One of my favorite Columbia memories is at the end of graduation. Clad in my Columbia blue cap and gown, I took a last look around at the place I called home for four years, and over the loud speakers Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was playing. I thought about the nervous excitement during orientation, when two floor mates and I decided to take the bus to the Met and buy posters for our rooms. I thought of the countless papers I had written about politics, history and philosophy, the friends I had made from all over the world, the Congressional campaign internship, the all-night bike tour of New York City where I watched the sunrise on the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Sinatra sang “If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere…” and as I prepared for my next adventure teaching English in Japan, I was confident that no matter what came next, I would make it.

Walking through the wrought-iron campus gates, the contrast between the bustling city outside and the wide open green lawns and intimate community inside is striking. With guaranteed housing for all four years, Columbians take advantage of the 500 campus organizations ranging from Amnesty International to WKCR, Columbia’s radio station, to the Black Students Organization to a dozen a cappella groups. On a Friday afternoon you might find yourself tutoring local middle school students, and then taking in a Division I basketball game with some of your floor mates that night. The world comes to Columbia—world leaders, artists, musicians, inventors, scientists—all at events open to students. In recent years speakers have included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, musician Wynton Marsalis, Hillary Clinton, former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, and the Dalai Lama. Add to this film screenings, concerts and intramural sports, and sometimes the biggest challenge is deciding what not to do.

Campus life is only the beginning. Columbia is located in Morningside Heights, a college town nestled on the upper west side of Manhattan. The majority of the Columbia faculty lives right in the neighborhood and students often bump into their professors at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, at West Side Market, or Morningside Bookshop. Morningside Heights also houses such other icons of higher learning as Bank Street College of Education, Union Theological Seminary, and the Manhattan School of Music. Indeed, strolling along Amsterdam Avenue you might just bump into a future teacher, rabbi, musician, or even a future president. Home to numerous ethnic restaurants, bars and bookstores, on a given night students can take in a jazz show or a poetry reading, and then have a Broadway shake and cheese fries at Tom’s, of Seinfeld fame.

As much as can be found within blocks of campus, a Metrocard will get you, within minutes, to the center of the most cosmopolitan and dynamic city on the globe. There, you might secure an internship with any number of leading publishing houses, law firms, museums, financial institutions, or theaters. But the allure of New York City extends well beyond its professional offerings. With free entrance to dozens of museums, discounted tickets to off-Broadway and Broadway plays, operas and concerts, New York is a mecca of art and culture that serves as the perfect backdrop to a Columbia education. Add to that the Knicks, Astroland, Bronx Zoo, Central Park’s Great Lawn, the Mets, the Hayden Planetarium, Chelsea Piers, and Katz’s Deli, just for starters, and there can be little doubt that New York is truly an embarrassment of riches.

Through a combination of rich academic offerings, New York City’s infinite career and cultural offerings, and a vibrant campus life, Columbia students have access to, literally, the world. These opportunities compel students to find balance—to do cancer research in the lab in the morning, throw a Frisbee on the lawn in the afternoon, and then check out the latest off-Broadway play in the evening. This exercise serves Columbia graduates well as they head out into the world.

For Columbia College students, the Core Curriculum provides a foundation for becoming a critical thinker and global citizen. By delving into some of the world’s most significant works of literature, philosophy, art, and music, students graduate with the deep sense of what has come before. This Core experience is then matched by the more than ninety majors taught by Columbia’s world-class faculty. Of course, whether a student studies the humanities, arts, social, physical, or life sciences, New York provides an ideal extension of the classroom.

Our engineers have exposure to that same liberal arts core, but add to it cutting-edge technological prowess and real-world experience through the service-learning course taken by all first-year engineering students. Whether developing the next artificial heart or designing advanced water filtration for developing countries, Columbia engineers leave with a sense of the tremendous impact one person can make.

With all this to take advantage of, Columbia seeks to put together a class of students who have already begun to make an impact in their school and community. The comprehensive application process provides ample opportunities for applicants to paint a rich picture, including their aspirations and interests. Once admitted, Columbia’s Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing will work with the student and the student’s family to finance all four years of the student’s education.

Four years at Columbia sometimes does not feel like nearly enough. With a diverse and vibrant student body, a rich academic experience, and New York City just outside the gates, it is easy to want it never to end. But when it does, graduates find they are ready for the next step, as Columbia has prepared them to do whatever it is they set their mind to do.


At Columbia I could engage with the most important ideas of our time with professors and peers who had the same enthusiasm for thought and problem solving. Through the Core Curriculum I learned to expand myself beyond subjects; take intellectual risks, and think about issues from different perspectives. Columbia is a place that values questions as much as answers; it is thought becomes practice in any number of student-initiated ventures. It is a total academic experience.” —Keith Hernandez, Class of 2007, History

Columbia College students begin their college career learning and interacting in intimate discussion-based seminars typically taken during their first two years. These courses, in literature, philosophy, music, and art, part of the Core Curriculum, create a space for lively debate and exchange of ideas. Beginning in 1919 as a course on War and Peace, the Core has evolved into a curriculum that unites the entire undergraduate population, not just with each other, but with alumni from across the years. In one seminar, Literature Humanities, students are transported into the writings of Plato and Homer, Shakespeare and Sophocles. There is something spectacular about debating the ideas of Madison, Burke, Hobbes, and Marx with classmates from across the globe, each with their own spin on these works and how they relate to the modern world.

The City

For Art and Music Humanities students, New York City serves as an extension of the classroom. With world-class museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA, as well as countless smaller galleries, students study visual art close up, discerning brushstrokes from double exposures. Likewise, music students enjoy an embarrassment of riches at their disposal: opera at Lincoln Center, classical and avant garde concerts at Carnegie Hall, jazz and more contemporary offerings at New York City’s smaller music halls and clubs.


For Columbia engineering students, the curriculum is similarly structured to provide students with a foundation from which to build and grow. In addition to enrollment in half of the liberal arts Core, engineering students begin their coursework with a solid foundation in calculus, physics, chemistry, and economics. A cornerstone of the Columbia engineering curriculum is a core service-learning design class, Design Fundamentals Using Advanced Computer Technologies. The only one of its kind required nationally, the course is designed to give first-year SEAS students an authentic window into the life of an engineering professional. In small groups, students work to solve a real-life problem of a New York City company or organization, using the state-of-theart Botwinick Multimedia Learning Laboratory. Past projects include the design of accessible playground equipment for children with disabilities and the development of a mixed-use bus stop that monitors environmental conditions for risks to asthmatics. At the end of the project, students present their product to their client. The experience is designed to cultivate in engineers an awareness of the impact of their designs on the world around them.

Engineering Departments and Majors

  • Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics
  • Computer Engineering Program
  • Computer Science
  • Earth and Environmental Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering and Operations Research
  • Material Science and Engineering Program
  • Mechanical Engineering


Following exposure to a number of academic disciplines and departments, Columbia students declare a major during their sophomore year. At this point students examine a specific area or areas of academic study more fully. The result of the Columbian’s at once broad and narrow education is a “jack of all trades, and a master of one.” Columbia College students choose from over 90 wideranging majors, with new programs, like the recently added Sustainable Development, being developed every year.


Columbia boasts a world-class faculty, committed to undergraduate education. Whether they are innovative scientists, critically acclaimed artists, or widely respected public intellectuals, faculty members are accessible and very involved in the life of Columbia undergraduates. As a result of Columbia’s intimate classes (more than seventy-five percent of classes have twenty students or less and the student-tofaculty ratio is six-to-one), students develop relationships with their teachers that then extend outside the classroom, and continue past graduation. Whether during an all-night bike tour of New York City, during an aerobics class, or at a review session over pizza at the apartment of their engineering professor, students and faculty have the opportunity to relate as neighbors and friends, as well as teachers and students.

Columbia offers a number of joint programs, including a 3-2 Combined Plan, in which students complete three years at a liberal arts institution, two years at SEAS, and graduate with both a BA and BS in five years. There is a fiveyear program offered with the School of International and Public Affairs, allowing students to complete both an undergraduate and MIA and MPA. Finally, Columbia offers a joint program with Juilliard, allowing exceptionally talented Columbia College student access to instrumental and voice instruction through both an Exchange and Joint Degree program.

Cutting Edge Research: Columbia Faculty Leads the Way

  • Columbia faculty supervises more than $530 million in sponsored research
  • Nine current faculty are Nobel Laureates, part of a cumulative total of seventy-seven Nobel Prize winners in the Columbia family, past and present (including faculty and alumni)
  • 143 are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Thirty-eight are members of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
  • Twenty of the National Academy of Engineering
  • Forty-one of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Four have won the National Medal of Science
  • Twenty-eight have won a MacArthur Foundation Award, popularly known as the “genius grant.”

A Global Community

Located at the crossroads of the world, Columbia attracts an incredibly diverse student body, eager to learn from each other and the city around them. With all fifty states represented, and more than one hundred and fifty countries represented among faculty and students, nearly every interaction in and out of the classroom provides an opportunity for cross-cultural dialogue. The Office of Multicultural Affairs, which advises nearly 50 cultural and identity-based student organizations, provides a space for students to both embrace their own unique cultural heritage and explore others. Additionally, Earl Hall is the home for the nearly forty religious and spiritual organizations, and the Office of the University Chaplain works to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue and programs on matters of justice, faith, and spirituality.

This exploration also happens in the classroom, often facilitated through interdisciplinary studies promoted by the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Finally, Columbia students have a long-standing commitment to service and activism, in an effort to constantly improve both the school and the surrounding community. Whether through Community Impact (consisting of nearly 1,000 Columbia student volunteers) or one of the many activist or service groups, Columbia students leave their mark.

Columbia Around the World

Columbia offers hundreds of study abroad options, including the Columbia-sponsored programs below:

  • Columbia University in Beijing at Tsinghua University
  • Berlin Consortium for German Studies (BCGS)
  • Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS)
  • Columbia-Penn Program in Paris at Reid Hall
  • Summer Business Chinese and Internship Program in Shanghai
  • Italian Cultural Studies in Venice

Financial Aid

For many families, one of the first questions when considering a school like Columbia is “Can we afford it?” Fortunately, Columbia has long been committed to making sure that all admitted students, regardless of their family’s economic situation, can attain a Columbia education. Columbia meets the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student through need-based grants and work-study. Nearly half of all undergraduates receive some form of need-based aid and Columbia has the highest percentage of Pell Grant recipients of any Ivy League or private research university.

With a need-blind admissions policy, the Office of Admissions does not consider a student’s ability to pay for tuition and fees when reviewing his or her application. This policy applies to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, citizens of Canada and Mexico, and persons granted refugee visas by the United States. Although a large number of foreign students apply and receive substantial financial aid, financial need is taken into consideration at the time of admission for international students.

Everything about Columbia excited me as a high school student: the Core Curriculum and the small class sizes, the internship and cultural opportunities of New York City, as well as the vibrant campus life. As the daughter of a teacher and a nurse, I was concerned about whether I would be able to afford a school like Columbia. Despite some concerns by my parents, I applied for Columbia Early Decision, and was pleasantly surprised when I received a financial aid package we could work with. Yes, I worked over summers and had a work-study job during the school year. But Columbia made my dream possible, and for that I will always be grateful.” —Adina Berrios Brooks, Columbia College, Urban Studies, Class of 1998

Recently Columbia has made some significant enhancements to its financial aid policy. These include

  • The elimination of loans for all financial aid recipients, regardless of their family income.
  • Families with calculated incomes below $60,000 and typical assets no longer are expected to make a parental contribution, and those with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 and typical assets have significantly reduced parental contributions.
  • To support students pursuing study abroad, research, internships, and community service opportunities, Columbia offers additional funding and exemptions from academic year and summer work expectations.

These initiatives continue Columbia’s longstanding efforts to create a diverse community, with students from every socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic background, all fifty states, and from all over the world.


One of my fondest memories of Columbia was the first time I walked out of a World Leaders Forum event in Low Library and looked toward South Field. On the steps of Low Library, a new friend and I saw a group of students having sandwiches over a conversation about Aristotle, another group taking turns playing a guitar, one student typing a paper on her laptop, and another student reciting lines of poetry from a play. Just beyond the field stood all of the firstyear residence halls, and behind us was the president of Pakistan gathering his belongings. It was right then that I realized how incredibly special Columbia is: the world was literally set at our doorstep, and there was no way we could turn it down since we knew that Columbia believed in us.” —Brian Smith, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Computer Science with a minor in Economics, Class of 2009

Residence Life

With guaranteed housing for all four years, nearly all Columbia undergraduates live oncampus. First-year students all live in one of five dorms that form a U around Columbia’s South Field, ensuring ample opportunities for pick-up Frisbee, impromptu study sessions, or debates over dinner in John Jay Dining Hall. The housing options are incredibly diverse, including single rooms, even for first-year students, apartment-style suites, and a Living and Learning Center where residents live together around a common theme, academic or otherwise. Residence Life staff, deans, faculty members, and other students work together to provide a stimulating yet comfortable home, housing programs on topics as varied as career development and current events. Finally, with a myriad of dining options right on campus, students grab a latte and bagel right before class, some sushi before their volleyball practice, and then a late-night snack of cheese fries at JJ’s Place.

Organizations and Clubs

One of the biggest challenges at Columbia is choosing which student organization or club to join—with nearly 500 student organizations to choose from there is truly something for everyone. From a cappella to anime, debate and dance, Columbians are among the most active and engaged college students in the country. There are groups that repre- sent every political orientation, religion, and ethnic background, as well as career and academic interest.

SEAS offers students the opportunity to become involved in any number of the 500 activities on campus. I knew engineers who were involved in everything from the Columbia Daily Spectator newspaper to the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe to the Society of Automotive Engineers. Columbia Engineering gave me the opportunity to access the resources of a large research university without sacrificing the small school feel of SEAS.” —Elizabeth Strauss, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Chemical Engineering, Class of 2008


Whether you are an avid sports fan, recreational martial artist, or a serious varsity athlete, Columbia has something for you. With a number of Olympians and Olympic medalists, past and present, there are also more than eighty club and intramural sports in addition to the thirty varsity sports.

As an original member of the Ivy League, Columbia competes in NCAA Division I sports. Men’s varsity teams compete in baseball, basketball, cross-country, fencing, football, golf, rowing (heavyweight and lightweight), soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, wrestling, and track and field, as do women’s varsity teams in archery, basketball, cross-country, fencing, golf, field hockey, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, and track and field.

Columbia students cheer on their Lions at Baker Field, Manhattan’s only football field, or at the pool or on the basketball course. It is not unusual to see the cross-country teams running through Central and Riverside Parks in Columbia blue.

Local Community

New York City

Being a college student in the Big Apple presents infinite possibilities. While there are some weeks when Columbia students stay busy on campus and Morningside Heights, eventually the rest of New York City beckons. In addition to being an extension of the classroom, the city is the center of commerce, culture, and art, providing professional and social opportunities for all.

Columbia students take advantage of internships in a wide variety of industries, often found with the help of the Center for Career Education. With few classes held on Fridays, students can be found in the city’s law firms, art galleries, laboratories, nongovernmental organizations, and publishing houses, gaining real-world experience and begin networking and building relationships while still in college. Whether interning at MSNBC, for the Mayor of the City of New York, or working at a cell and tissue engineering lab, these experiences help students to better understand their career options and give them a leg up when looking for employment after graduation.

New York City is more than a place to work, of course. Even on a student budget, there are lots of ways to take advantage of the city’s many diversions. The city’s numerous ethnic neighborhoods are home to cheap eats, and the Columbia University Arts Initiative (CU Arts) regularly provides free and reduced price tickets to cultural events all over the city. Opera, jazz, theater, art galleries—every weekend there is somewhere new to explore, all a subway ride away.

Sophomore year, I spent almost every Thursday afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. With your Columbia ID you get free admission to the museum so I decided to take advantage of it. I would bring a book I was reading for my Contemporary Civilization class and sit in front of a brilliant piece of art for hours and hours. It was a dream that could only be realized in NYC and as a Columbian.” —Tiffany Sanchez, Columbia College, Environmental Biology, Class of 2010


Columbia’s Office of Career Education (CCE) works with students and alumni to develop the skills required to better understand the career development process. Whether students are wondering how to get started; looking for an internship; thinking about graduate school; seeking advice on interviews or resumes; looking for a part-time or full-time job; or in their first or senior year, Career Counselors are available to meet with students individually to discuss their career issues. Additionally, CCE works with more than sevenhundred organizations to recruit talented individuals interested in careers in a wide range of industries and professions.

Columbia alums give back to their school in ways big and small. Columbia College alumnus John Kluge recently gave a $400 million gift to the university to be used toward expanding financial aid. Alumni like actor Matthew Fox, CC ’89, and Attorney General Eric Holder, CC ’73, returned to give the Class Day keynote address. Others return to campus to mentor current students or participate in panel discussions or informal events that relate to their professional work. Columbia’s Young Alumni works to bring alums from the prior ten years together, through social and professional events on-campus and around the world.

Prominent Grads

  • Edwin Armstrong, Inventor of FM radio
  • Art Garfunkel, Musician
  • Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees
  • Allen Ginsberg, Poet
  • Alexander Hamilton, First U.S. Secretary of the Treasury
  • Oscar Hammerstein, Composer
  • Langston Hughes, Author
  • John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • John Kluge, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
  • Alfred Knopf, Publisher
  • Tony Kushner, Playwright
  • Michael Massimino, NASA Astronaut
  • Barack Obama, President of the United States
  • Richard Rodgers, Composer

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