Saturday, March 22, 2008

Columbia Visit - Part 1

Columbia Visit

On Thursday, Mar 20th, I visited Columbia for some information gathering. The plan was to sit in on a class from 10:45am to 12:15pm, take the info session from 12:30 to 2:00, maybe speak to a Student Ambassador quickly from 2:00 to 2:10, then run to another class from 2:15 to 3:45. After that, I figured I’d chat up a few random students before departing for NYU Stern’s info session at 4:30 (jam-packed day I know). I’ll talk about NYU Stern in a separate post.

Well the morning started off poorly as I woke up at 10:15 cuz my alarm didn’t sound. It takes me about an hour and a half to commute to campus from my parent’s home in Long Island (where I was staying) so I wound up getting to campus at 12:10. For those of you who don’t know, Columbia is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, not the choicest of locations considering how sweet the city’s other neighborhoods are, but still really cool because of its proximity. Though it’s sandwiched between the Harlem (not a good thing) and the Upper West Side (relatively good thing), Morningside Heights does have a culture all its own, thanks in large part to Columbia’s presence, creating a young, indie, artsy, intellectual atmosphere. I used to hate the neighborhood before I got to know it, thinking it was just a poor, dangerous area. Now I like it (again, in large part because of my positive Columbia associations). I like to characterize it as a “poor man’s East Village” for those of you who are familiar with the city’s coolest, trendiest, and most artsy area for young people (in the opinion of some, including mine). There’s no doubt that the neighborhood will become more “desirable” as the years go on (again thanks in large part to Columbia) but even now, it’s not half bad either. It can’t compare to NYU Stern’s premier location in the middle of the Village right below Union Square but still, pretty darn cool since it’s still in NYC and lotsa young people abound.

I’ve actually been to Columbia millions of times because I lived on the Upper East Side for over a year. It was (and still is) incredibly difficult to find a good place to play indoor pick-up basketball so I used my wits to acquire a membership to Columbia’s gym which goes by Levien Gymnasium as well as University Blue Gym (they are two gyms part of the same underground complex). I should probably take this time to note that Columbia’s gym is probably the least impressive thing about the school- it’s just plain horrid. I liken it to a crappy high school gym and the university blue gym actually has some blue artificial tack-like surface in place of a court. Space is really limited too, meaning that students are always fighting over court availability. I’ve personally witnessed more than one argument from people who want to play pick-up basketball and people who want the space for soccer scrimmaging. Sometimes they even split the courts up so that both groups can use it which makes for really cramped, embarrassingly limited play for both parties. Basketball is a huge part of my life so this saddens me greatly. However, I know the gym isn’t the most important thing in the world and that I’ll likely have far less time with which to play when I’m in b-school.
But I digress. Columbia’s campus is really quite pretty. The architecture is beautiful and there’s really a sense of history about the place. The Low Memorial Library and Butler Library are both iconic Columbia buildings and they sit on opposite sides of the campus green which is really pretty especially considering the fact that we’re in the middle of Manhattan (or in the north of Manhattan to be more precise). Columbia does not have a “city campus” like NYU which is a conglomeration of NYU-owned buildings in a concentrated area among non-NYU buildings. Rather, Columbia has actual campus gates with security (though anyone may enter) and a campus green to offer an enclosed community feel. I really dig that. I used to think the campus was small and unimpressive but the more you walk around, the prettier the architecture becomes, and you come to realize that the campus isn’t that tiny after all. Rodin’s sculpture of “The Thinker” is even on campus in addition to a huge sun dial and numerous other details I can’t recall right now.

Columbia B-School is situated almost entirely within two buildings, Uris Hall, which is exclusively business school stuff, and Warren Hall, which is shared with the Law School. I arrived at Uris Hall and went searching for the Admissions Office on the second floor. I couldn’t locate the room so I asked a random student. As luck would have it, he was one of the Student Ambassadors that was supposed to be at the info session later, and he was looking for the office as well! His name was Jairo and he was extremely friendly and helpful. With Jairo leading, we found the admissions office within 30 seconds and I thanked him, but not before I grilled him with some questions. I asked him about the student body and whether the career opportunities are really as great as they seem, and he answered them all with great sincerity and candor (at least I think). He was a really nice guy, no wonder he was an Admissions Ambassador. He even offered me his business card (all Columbia students are given business cards for networking purposes, a great idea!) so I gladly accepted, knowing that I’d see him again in the info session.

Looks like this is already quite long… I’ll give it a breather for now and continue soon.

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