Total Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,931
Institutional Type: Private
Curricular Flexibility: Less Flexible
Academic Rating: 5
2. Memorial Sloan Kettering
1. Mount Sinai Hospital
2. Morgan Stanley
4. Goldman Sachs
5. JPMorgan Chase
1. New York City
2. San Francisco
3. Los Angeles
4. Washington, DC
College Scorecard (Early Career): $83,300
EOP (Early Career): $75,300
PayScale (Mid-Career): $126,800
Attending an Ivy League school that also happens to be located in Manhattan is, for many, an opportunity to have your cake and eat it too. It’s no wonder that this particular “cake,” Columbia University, is one of the most selective schools in the country. It’s also one of the most rigorous in the classroom. The 6,323 exceptional students who make it through a treacherous admissions gauntlet are spread across two schools: Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. Combined, those schools offer ninety-six unique areas of study as well as a number of pre- professional and accelerated graduate programs.
The academic experience at Columbia is driven by the famed core curriculum that lays out an extensive to-do list that includes highly specified courses rather than categorical requirements. Those courses include Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West, Masterpieces of Western Art, Masterpieces of Western Literature & Philosophy, Frontiers of Science, University Writing, and Music Humanities. Additional science, global core, foreign language, and physical education mandates add seven courses to the core as well as two activities (for phys ed). School of Engineering & Applied Science students only tackle approximately half of the core curriculum (depending on your major). Columbia College students will spend roughly a year and a half slogging through this considerable scholarly workload.
Class sizes are small with more than 80 percent containing fewer than twenty students. The student-faculty ratio is 6:1, but you are likely to be instructed by a few graduate students as you work through the core. Fortunately, only full-time professors lead classes within each major. More than 500 students per year participate in the Columbia Overseas Program. A little over one-quarter of the students leave Manhattan for a foreign country during their four years of study. Undergraduate research is taken seriously by the university, which offers multiple avenues through which students can work side-by-side with faculty on their projects or pursue funding for their own original research ideas. Recent student projects included the following: “Analyzing Sediment Levels in New York Harbor to Examine Urban Growth” and “Examining Chemical Pathways in Stimulating Ovarian Follicle Stem Cell Renewal.” Those who participate in a ten-week Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship present their findings the following spring at a school-run symposium and can publish their work in a number of undergraduate academic journals affiliated with the university.
The largest number of degrees are conferred in political science, economics, history, computer science, and mechanical engineering. The Engineering School as a whole can be found near the top of most national rankings, along with nearly every other department and program. Outside the Classroom
Morningside Heights is a quiet, relatively safe section of New York City, and while Columbia is not situated in the traditional heart of the city like NYU, there are plenty of restaurants and cultural experiences within the immediate vicinity of campus. Unusual for an NYC university, 93 percent of the student body lives in college- owned housing. (Try to rent a place in Manhattan at your own risk— or your wallet’s.) A decade ago, Greek life was flatlining with a minimal number of participants, but in recent years it has undergone a rebirth, and now nearly one in every five undergrads joins a fraternity or sorority. The Lions field thirty-one NCAA Division I teams and an additional forty+ club squads, including a number of recent strong performers. Columbia has won seventeen Ivy League titles in the last five years. A full cornucopia of opportunities await through the school’s more than 500 student-run organizations. With thirteen a cappella groups, twenty-three dance troupes, thirty-one student run media outlets/publications, and forty political organizations, everyone can find a place to explore their passions at Columbia. The volunteer spirit is also strong with the Community Impact Organization attracting more than 900 members who work in twenty- seven community service programs throughout New York City.
The Columbia Center for Career Education (CCE) has twenty-six professional staff members who are dedicated to undergraduate counseling, employer relations, and other functions related to undergraduate career/graduate school exploration. That 243:1 student-to-advisor ratio is better than average compared to other schools featured in this guide. The CCE is a well-oiled machine that provides meaningful guidance and experiential opportunities from freshman year through graduation. Last year, staff engaged in 8,473 one-on-one counseling sessions (98 percent of students reported those as helpful), facilitated 3,547 on-campus interviews, and posted more than 36,000 jobs and internships on the LionSHARE database. Hosting over 400 events that attracted 10,305 students, the CCE is dedicated to bringing a range of large-scale career fairs as well as industry showcases where students with targeted interests can learn from professionals in fields such as book publishing, fashion, sports marketing, and health-care technology.
Columbia does an excellent job with outreach, but its internship numbers are, perhaps, even more impressive. A staggering 85 percent of undergraduates complete at least one internship. In part, that phenomenal participation rate is due to Columbia’s relationships with hundreds of major employers. Thanks to its high level of undergraduate engagement and superb employer relations efforts, the Center for Career Education receives high praise overall from our staff.
Examining the most recent graduates from Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science, 72 percent had found employment within six months, and 17 percent had entered graduate school. Financial services, engineering, and consulting were the three most favored industries. The companies hiring the largest number of Lions are among the most desirable employers in the world including IBM, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Google, Citigroup, and Credit Suisse. The median starting salary for graduates of Columbia College/Columbia Engineering is $70,000. Six-figure salaries were reported by 13 percent of graduates, primarily those with engineering degrees, while 30 percent of grads earned less than $50k in their first year of full-time work.
Those moving on to graduate/professional school were welcomed in large numbers into other universities of Columbia’s ilk. In addition to remaining at Columbia (the most popular choice), top ten institutions attended were Stanford, Harvard, NYU, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Cambridge, Oxford, Icahn School of Medicine, and Cornell. A significant number of students from each graduating class also generally secure spots at elite law and medical schools that include the university’s own top five law school and the esteemed Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons.
• “We’re not in Midtown, Downtown, or NYU territory, so we have a campus which is quiet when you want it to be. It’s still in a city so it’s the best of both worlds.”
• “Morningside Heights has developed into our version of a college town. A lot of Columbia’s culture and student life revolves around the area. A lot of businesses in the area have curated the experience for students.”
• “We are in the city so you don’t have to commute. When students talk about going off-campus to do something in Manhattan, you can just hop on the subway.”
• “Morningside Heights is just a nice place to live in. It’s fairly safe, you have Central Park near you and the river near you.”
• “You tend to get swallowed by the community. The city is so big and you can step off campus if you have to.”
• “It can get loud because we are next to a hospital.”
• “A lot of people treat Morningside Heights as a bubble. If you want, you can stay there for your entire semester without going downtown. It can be pretty isolating.”
• “Since New York is crowded in general, things like the gym, dying halls, and dorms can sometimes get overcrowded.”
• “The people here. The students are extremely driven and very smart, which is something I’ve come to really appreciate.”
• “For pre-professional development, I think Columbia is a good balance because it’s not all about professional development but also it supports you with that.”
• “The name goes far. By name I also mean the connections you’ll make. If you go to a professional event, chances are there will be a Columbia representative or alumni you can reach out to. If you’re applying for a position somewhere like Google, there is definitely someone from Columbia working there you can get advice from.”
• “We have a lot of renowned faculty on campus. There are faculty who have won the Nobel Prize for their research. That translates into opportunities and student research and how involved we are in that.”
• “The Core Curriculum offers an opportunity to explore different kinds of classes and brings the Columbia campus together because it’s a common thread among students.”
• “The diversity of people you meet, both professors and students.”
• “Columbia is really fast paced. If you’re mellow and like to be in a less busy location, it’s probably not the best place for you because you have to be on your A-game here.”
• “The stress culture.”
• “Feeling isolated at times from being in such a large environment in New York City.”
• “If you want a small school environment, you won’t get that for the first two years. The humanities classes are a lot smaller, but the first two years of being an engineer are in lecture classes where chances are you’ll be talking to your TA, not the professor.”
• “The Core Requirements are a pretty big deal, so it’s definitely something to consider when deciding. You have to decide if you want to take all of the core classes.”
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