Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part I)

19 Aug

Living so close to New York City, we had to visit Columbia University in the City of New York (that’s the full name of the university) and its affiliated sister school Barnard College, in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.

Both colleges are literally across the street from each other, the street being Broadway. Architecturally both campuses look similar to each other with neoclassical brick buildings with copper green roofs.  Barnard College occupies four acres on the west side of Broadway starting at 116th Street and Columbia is on the east side, their physical proximity reflecting the yin and yang nature of their relationship.  In the past, women applied only to Barnard, a women’s college and member of the erstwhile Seven Sisters (Vassar became co-ed and Radcliffe merged with Harvard, leaving only five Sisters).  Then Columbia opened its doors to women in the 1980s and now women can apply to either Barnard or Columbia.

I was surprised to learn that Columbia and Barnard are separate entities, each with its own faculty, endowment, and trustees.  Each administers its own admissions process and financial aid.  A long-standing affiliation agreement and historical relationship binds both institutions together to the benefit of students on both sides of Broadway.  Students can cross-register and take classes at either college, eat in each other’s cafeterias, even live in each other’s dorms (although our Barnard guide told us that Barnard has nicer dorms).  Barnard students graduate with a Columbia University degree.

Columbia’s three undergraduate colleges are Columbia College, the liberal arts school, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and for nontraditional students such as returning veterans or older students, the School of General Studies (the average age of a General Studies student is 29).

Each of these schools has its own general education requirements.  Columbia College is best known for its rigorous “Core Curriculum,” a series of required courses like Contemporary Civilization, Literature Humanities, Art Humanities, or Music Humanities.  These courses introduce students to foundational texts in each area.  In Contemporary Civilization for example, students read the Bible, the Greek philosophers, the Koran, the French Enlightenment writers, Marx, Darwin and others.  In Literature Humanities they start with the Greek writers and end with Dostoevsky and Woolf.  The School of General Studies and engineering students take a modified version of the Core Curriculum.

In contrast, Barnard requires its students to select courses arranged around different themes.  For example, to satisfy the “Reason and Value” theme, students can choose from over 90 courses in 15 departments.  Some of these courses can also be used to satisfy a requirement for their major or minor.

Differences in curriculum aside, both Barnard and Columbia are difficult to get into.  Last year Barnard received the most applications in its history and admitted 28%, making it the most popular women’s college.  Columbia’s admission rate dipped to 9% for its class of 2014.  Does the difference in admission rates have any impact on the students on both sides of Broadway?

Stay tuned for Part II of my trip report.

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2 Responses to “Trip Report: Barnard and Columbia (Part I)”

  1. ann thurlow August 19, 2010 at 1:34 PM #

    I was able to get into Barnard in 1974, as a recovering underachiever, because it was the only Ivy League university that actually had lower admissions standards for women than for men. Traditionally, young women couldn’t rely on the “Old Boy Network” (ie. dads were less likely to offer a new building to get a daughter in) or athletic prowess to earn a place; with Barnard, too many parents feared sending their little princesses to the big, bad city. I knew parents who allowed their daughters to apply to Penn (in a considerably more blighted neighborhood), but not Barnard.

    My husband, like most of his classmates at Columbia College, had wanted to go to Harvard; he has never regretted that he didn’t – Columbia & Barnard have small undergraduate departments, and do not rely on graduate student assistants.

    I felt as safe in the immediate Morningside Heights neighborhood as I did anywhere in the world. It’s busy, brightly lit, and well-patrolled around the clock.

    Good luck;

    Ann

  2. Jerry August 31, 2010 at 10:52 AM #

    Can’t believe admission rate diffs so much between Columbia and Barnard…

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