Was Columbia Your First Choice?
Updated: Aug 2, 2021
by Nia Brown
First choice? Columbia was the only choice!
The Dean, and also several brochures, said so. “The Greatest University in the Greatest City in the World,” they said. As a high-strung high schooler, I aspired to greatness. Was this a veiled putdown of NYU and CUNY, or an invitation to boldly misapply the transitive property, in which case the claim would be that Columbia is the greatest university in the world? Either way, the slogan was written and repeated ad infinitum in the promotional materials, so it’s probably true, or at least subject to litigation later down the road.
Buzzfeed said so. With a parent who didn’t go to college at all, we all knew it was up to me to keep us in the bourgeois. “But which Ivy will I go for?” my 2013, prodigious self pondered. I took the Buzzfeed quiz and I selected the rainbow pizza cat icon for all the answers. But which dog? I picked the dog with the funny hair. Columbia, it answered. I went back picked all the answers at random. Columbia, Buzzfeed whispered firmly.
All the stars said so. As an Aquarius, I needed someplace with some humidity. Rain, maybe, a blizzard or two. A place where the pull of Mars is undeniably weak. I am, moreover, a shrewd person and I needed to escape the Sacramento suburbs in spectacular fashion; I needed a place with a wide selection of laundromats to cry in. As it was for Joan Didion, so it would be for me.
The meticulous research continued. Trust you can definitely not go wrong making your college decisions based entirely on who the alumni are: Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lucien Carr, Amelia Earhart. All these people have one thing in common: I have heard of them. And naturally, if I went to Columbia, I would be a red stone step closer to achieving the highest office in the land, landing offensive, racially improbable roles in blockbuster films (AHEM, Prince of Persia), killing a man and dumping his body in the Hudson, or disappearing whimsically over the Pacific. Though I am a nervous flyer and am only interested in doing some of these things, it was that vague yet aggressive promise of wild opportunity at Columbia that really sold me.
From the Comment sections on Bwog I assured myself of how rigorously intellectual Columbia really was, and how aligned we were in taste. It is certainly not UCSB or a southern state school: no wild sporting events confirmed to have actually ever happened (I like football but am scared of vomit), no preponderance of creepy, extensively-loafered frat boys. Our Greeks really are just pretty Greek, steeped, as is the whole of the captive student body, in the timeless wisdom of the Classics. Just the kind of knowledge I need to face this perilous world.
It is all obvious. Columbia was the first and only choice. But when I first realized that I would, in fact, be going to Columbia I suddenly had a few doubts. Four years at the greatest university in the greatest city in the world, I thought. What if I wasn’t great enough? What if there weren’t enough laundromats? When I met Obama at some swanky alumni event would he return my fist bump or sulk in the corner with Eric Holder?
These questions kept me up at night. But each time these doubts occurred I extinguished them by rereading the highly personal and specific congratulatory assurances contained in my electronic acceptance letter, along with the predictions from the day’s horoscope and weather reports for New York City: Thunderstorms ahead, with a good chance of making friends in the military.
by Caroline Hurley
No, Columbia was not my first choice. In fact, let me rephrase that – hell fucking no, this place sucks. It doesn’t really take an Ivy-League level of intellect to see it, either.
First of all, the “diversity” is fake. It’s so diverse, only a highly image-conscious admissions team could have engineered it (hint: they did). And really, if this place really were so diverse, why would be it be the case that everyone in my undergraduate consulting club hails from the same Westchester suburb as me?
Columbia isn’t fun. People drink six nights a week at America’s #1 party school, seven if they’re not religious. The shuttering of Cannon’s will have literally zero effect on social life here, because there wasn’t any to begin with. I bet you 2020s have never even heard of Cannon’s, and not because you just started, but because it simply wasn’t legendary enough. No, nerds are not “more fun,” nor do we “do it best” in Manhattan. State schools are more fun. Period.
Speaking of state schools, we absolutely suck at sports. Like, we completely blow. Forget day drinking at football games, unless you want to be alone, drunk cheering for the losing team. (I did get a lot of free stuff though.)
Worst of all, I’m getting a trash education here. Classes (literally every class you will ever take here, from Principles of Corporate Finance to your Private Equity and Hedge Fund Investing Senior seminar) are full of self-righteous pricks – high school newspaper editors, mock trial competitors, student government anythings, you know the type – people who sit across from you in LitHum and utter things like, “I agree with what you said but I am also kind of confused because I don’t remember Napoleon Bonaparte being a very prominent character in Lysistrata,” or “Uh, why does the coffee you just spilled on my notes smell like bourbon?” These are the kind of people I do not want to spend my college years with.
To its credit, Columbia has skyrocketed up the US News university rankings since President Bollinger ascended the throne. When the Prez started out in 2004, CU wasn’t even top 10, but shortly after his tenure began, so followed our rapid ascent.
So let me reiterate – Columbia was NOT my first choice, nor was it my second, or my third. Columbia was my fourth choice. Or at least it was when I applied to college in the winter of 2013. This is up from when it was my eleventh choice in 2004. (You would think that if they decided to keep PrezBo on, the rankings climb would keep on keepin’ on as well. But it has been twelve years and we’ve peaked at an embarrassing fourth place.)
I remember how disappointed I was when I realized I would be going to Columbia. Four years at fourth-best Col-LAME-bia, I thought. And everything I’ve experienced here only confirms that I was wrong to pick anything less than the number one school in the country. (Nevermind the fact that the number one school didn’t want me.)
After all, this isn’t what college is supposed to be! I am appalled at how Columbia lacks most of the timeless hallmarks of a Great university. Nobody here knows what tailgating is, and I can’t tell if that is because there are no parking lots in Manhattan, or if Columbia just has the highest concentration of L7 weenies on the planet. I suspect the latter.
If this is what it’s like at the fourth best school, I can only imagine how terrible it must be at the others. Oh well. Should have gone to Princeton, which, last I checked, is still my first choice.