Columbia’s Core Curriculum happens to be legendary. The curriculum is made up of a set of common courses required of all undergraduates, regardless of their choice in major. The communal learning—with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time—and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core. This arrangement means that students are gaining exposure to literature, philosophy, history, music, art, writing, and science—course work that may build upon pre-existing interests or introduce students to new ones. One current student tells us, “I am big on the sciences, and I knew that if I did not attend a school that had a core curriculum all I would take are science classes. With Columbia’s core, I am able to have a more holistic education.” One of the oldest Core courses, and one that all freshmen take, is the Literature Humanities course. Essential reading—texts that have never left the syllabus—include Dante’s Inferno and Homer’s The Iliad and exemplify the goals of the Core to explore “foundational texts” and “enduring documents” while honing essential skills such as logic, creative thinking, and argument. The College says, “Ask Columbians about the value of their Columbia education and the Core is likely to be the first thing they will mention.” Many of the student’s we surveyed also praised the University Writing course: Rather than approaching writing as an innate talent, the course teaches writing as a unique skill that can be practiced and developed. A computer science major testifies that their University Writing professor “would meet with me one on one, on multiple occasions, for each paper so I [could] produce the best material I possibly could. That sort of dedication really helps you grow.” Alumnus Wah Chen adds that he was grateful for this liberal arts foundation when he went on to business school: “[It is] extremely valuable insofar as giving individuals a framework from which to make everyday judgments like ‘What is right, what is just, and how can I contribute?’ across all possible career fields. Expertise can be learned later, but judgment is developed in college.”
Seventeen percent of Columbia’s students are international; over 150 countries are represented on campus; there are about 50 languages available to study at Columbia. Furthermore, there are more than 200 study abroad programs available to students through Columbia’s Office of Global Programs. In addition to those, there are summer programs, fellowships, and global field studies that are part of classes or research projects. Columbia also has a network of Global Centers in places such as Mumbai, Beijing, and Paris and special programs at universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Then there’s the Columbia Experience Overseas program, which enables students to have summer internships abroad in places like Istanbul and Singapore, among many others locales.
And you don’t even have to leave campus to participate in international issues. Approximately twenty World Leaders Forum events happen each year, bringing newsmakers to campus for lively dialogue (past participants have included Ban Ki-moon, Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama.) Columbia could easily be considered a global university in the world’s most international city.
Being a first-year does not preclude students from taking advantage of Columbia’s tempting global opportunities. In fact, the Presidential Global Fellowship funds trips for undergraduates that take place during the summer after their first year. Global Fellows have a fully-funded experience (a scholarship covers the program fee for a Columbia study abroad program and a stipend covers round-trip airfare plus living expenses) that is enhanced with specialized advising focused on academic and career. The goal is that when Presidential Global Fellows return they will be equipped to make the very best use of the Columbia’s global networks on campus and beyond. Advising sessions and other program requirements are set with this goal in mind. In fact, one requirement of the program is for fellows to meet with President Bollinger to discuss topics related to globalization. On how many college campuses can students say that access to the President is a built-in experience?
Columbia actively encourages student involvement in faculty research, and for Columbia Engineering students, opportunities span across all nine engineering departments. The Student Research Involvement Program (SRIP) was designed to enable engineering students to participate with 400-plus positions reserved for engineering undergraduates. Students can find information on specific research opportunities through an online portal, after which they may find themselves working on mathematical models for HIV prevention funds in Sub-Saharan Africa or on a design for a lightweight, inexpensive, and human-friendly robotic arm. Students who participate in summer research programs at Columbia or elsewhere have the opportunity to showcase their work at the Undergraduate Summer Research Symposium (a great place to hone those presentation and communication skills as well!).
Students and alumni have had various reasons for attending Columbia, including the people (“Everyone I met who had attended Columbia was cool, interesting, smart, different”), the talented graduates (“So often, when I read the backflaps of biographies of my favorite authors, Columbia was mentioned”), the location (“It was in New York City” home to “the culture, the events, the variety, the internship and job potential, and many other things I felt were within my grasp”), and the classes (“The relatively small class size was something that really attracted me and I wanted to have a more diverse and unique experience”). And after graduation, they’ll be welcomed into a network of 60,000-plus undergraduate alumni. In terms of Columbia’s reputation and what it can do for its graduates, Mike Brown Jr., founder and general partner of Bowery Capital, feels that “students graduating from Columbia College have had a rare opportunity due to proximity to take a number of internships, external project opportunities, and see New York City in a very different way from most other students around the world. They have a strong sense of self, a genuine curiosity about them given their NYC experiences and exploration, generally a strong work ethic, and finally strong interpersonal skills.”
Doers and makers have access to plenty of design spaces on campus that will help them turn their ideas into something tangible. Graduating entrepreneurs can take advantage of a co-working space with seventy-one seats for young alumni (including Columbia Business School entrepreneurs). And the CU Maker Space welcomes current students (as well as Columbia faculty, staff, and post-docs) to use its space as a resource “for projects, hobbies, building prototypes or just trying something new.” Most of the equipment you’ll need is housed there as well, including 3D printers, a laser cuter, sewing machines, power tools and woodworking equipment as well as supplies like solder and glue. Student challenges such as the Columbia Venture Competition offer project opportunities and prize money to fund early-stage ventures.