• Columbia University

TSR Wiki > University > Choosing a University > University Guides > Columbia University

Visit our discussion forum.

General Information
Established: 1754
Location: New York, USA
Address: 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027-6902
Telephone: (212) 854-1754
Website: www.columbia.edu
SU/Guild website:
UCAS Code:
Type: Private, liberal arts

Total students: 24,417
Undergrad: 5,602
Male:female  :
Typical offers:
Applicants per place: 9.5


Columbia University in the City of New York

"The quintessential great urban university"

Columbia is an Ivy League university based in New York City. It was founded in 1754, and is the fifth oldest university in the United States. It was originally called King’s College, but was later renamed to Columbia University. Its full name is Columbia University in the City of New York. The university is particularly famous for its Core Curriculum and its New York location.


The undergraduate part of the University is split into Columbia College (CC) and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Because I am in CC, I will only deal with the College for now.

Essentially, your CC degree is composed of three things:

1. The Core Curriculum

2. Your major/concentration

3. Electives.

The Core Curriculum forms a solid foundation for the rest of your degree, and centers around a ‘Great Books’ education. I’ll go into this in more detail in the next section. You are then required to either declare a major (essentially a field of specialization), or a concentration (a smaller version of the major). You are also allowed to double major, or to take a major and concentration together. Some particularly strong disciplines at Columbia include East Asian Studies, Political Science, Economics and Anthropology. Columbia was the first university in the United States to offer Political Science and Anthropology as disciplines, and I believe had the first East Asian Studies department in the country. Each major has a different set of requirements, and further information can be found in the Columbia College bulletin. After this you have a bunch of electives to play around with, which can be taken in any department in the College. These can be used to explore individual interests, to help you decide your major, or to further supplement your major requirements.

It is not uncommon for people to declare majors a number of times before finally settling on one. This is one of the advantages of the US system. You are only expected to declare a major by the end of your sophomore year.

Core Curriculum

This is the cornerstone of a Columbia education, and what really sets Columbia apart from other top US institutions. The Columbia Core Curriculum was the first of its kind, setting the benchmark for other colleges, and remains one of the most extensive Core Curriculums still in use. Here is a rough outline of the Core:

Literature Humanities – year-long Western literature course, beginning with Homer and ending with Virginia Woolf

Contemporary Civilization – year-long Western philosophy course, covering most of the important Western philosophical texts

Art Humanities – semester-long art history course, focusing on in-depth study of selected artistic works

Music Humanities – semester-long music appreciation course, focusing on in-depth study of a number of famous composers and musicians

Major Cultures – two courses, chosen from a list, dealing with other cultures. There are also courses dealing with issues of ethnicity and race in the United States

Language Requirement – the equivalent of two years of college-level language study, chosen from an extensive set of options (ranging from Swahili to Chinese)

Physical Education – two PE courses, chosen from an extensive list (including things like squash, ‘self-paced’ and strength training), and a swim test to be taken before you graduate

Further information, including syllabuses and course selections, can be found here.

New York City

Columbia’s New York location is one of its biggest assets, and Columbia prides itself on its identity as an urban university. New York is often described as Columbia’s ‘extended classroom’.

Students gain from this in a variety of ways. First, many professors will take their students out to various places in the city to supplement their academic coursework. If you are taking an art course, you will go see the real thing – whether at the Met, the Guggenheim or MoMa. For those interested in business, Wall Street is a subway ride away, and for those with an international bent, the headquarters of the United Nations are situated in New York. Columbia specifically keeps Fridays free for students to take advantage of the numerous internships available in New York. You will experience Columbia’s close ties with the city the minute you step onto campus: in the first week (Orientation Week), Columbia rents out the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art for an evening exclusively for incoming Columbia freshmen, as well as Ellis Island later on. And of course, everything else that New York has to offer – whether it be nightlife, shops, restaurants or museums – is just a subway ride away.

Student Activism

Q: How many Columbia students does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Seventy-six: one to change the light bulb, fifty to protest the light bulb's right to not change, and twenty-five to hold a counter-protest.

Columbia has a long history of student activism, which continues on to this very day. The most memorable event was the student uprising of 1968, when students forcefully took over various buildings (using the university’s extensive underground network of tunnels). They protested Columbia’s complicity in the war, racism in general, and urged more responsible relations with the surrounding communities in Harlem. In late 2007, a group of students went on a hunger strike for over a week to protest various issues, including Columbia’s proposed expansion into Manhattanville in Harlem, the Euro-centrism of the Core Curriculum, and underfunding in Ethnic Studies and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. A similar hunger strike occurred in 1996, which resulted in the introduction of the Comparative Ethnic Studies major and the creation of a Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.


Barnard College is an all-female liberal arts college situated opposite Columbia, and is closely affiliated with Columbia. One example of this affiliation is that students at either college can cross-enroll in classes. For the guys, Barnard is a pretty good deal, and boosts the male-female ratio from 1:1 to roughly 1:2. There is meant to be friction between Columbia and Barnard girls, as Columbia males become a rare and valuable commodity. Barnard girls are generally considered to be better-looking than their Columbia counterparts, leading to the saying: “Barnard to bed, Columbia to wed”. Barnard is sometimes humorously referred to by Columbia students as the ‘Barnyard’.

Social Scene

Bars around campus are increasingly tight on IDs and enforcing the drinking age, although some are more lenient than others. With a passable ID, liquor is fairly easy to come by at nearby stores. I am not aware of any clubs in the surrounding area. Remember though that this is NYC, and there are plenty of 18+ clubs downtown (where you have to be 21 to drink). It might be worth investing good money in a decent, scannable ID if you plan on hitting the scene often. As for campus parties, they generally suck. Greek Life is not big at Columbia, and only a small minority of students are enrolled in fraternities and sororities. Frats generally throw a fair number of parties, although most of them aren’t very good. One frat to watch out for is ‘PiKE’, which is notorious for spiking their drinks and generally dodgy behaviour.


“Roar, Lions, Roar!”

Columbia is infamous for its terrible football team, and at one point had an impressive 44-game losing streak. Matthew Fox, lead actor in LOST, played wide receiver in the game that finally ended the losing streak. However, Columbia does have some respectable teams, for instance in tennis and wrestling.

Official Colours and Mascots

Baby Blue.

Some Notable Alumni

Barack Obama

Warren Buffett

Jack Kerouac

Alan Ginsberg

Matthew Fox

Milton Friedman

Art Garfunkel

Theodore Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Robert Nozick

Lauryn Hill (Singer)

Further Information

Columbia website

Columbia wiki

Uni in the USA review

Humorous page on Columbia

If you have any questions about Columbia, feel free to PM me (Champagne Breakfast).

Try Learn together, TSR's study area

revision notes




a study planner

of discussions

How are you feeling in the run-up to Results Day 2018?

The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE