Columbia has somewhat traditional ideas about education, but there's also
     this license -- this challenge -- to think what you want.  We study 
     magnificent works of art and literature, but we come to the classroom 
     with modern perspectives. It's just a wonderfully integrated and 
     individualizing experience.

     Kristin Case '98

Columbia College:
light among lights.

Columbia College offers these undergraduate majors:

African-American Studies
Ancient Studies
Art History
Chemical Physics
Classical Studies
Comparative Literature
Computer Science
Earth and Environmental Science
East Asian Studies
Economics - Mathematics
Economics - Operations Research
Economics - Philosophy
Economics - Statistics
Engineering (five-year program)
Environmental Science
Film Studies
German Language and Literature
German Studies
Hispanic Studies
History -Sociology
Italian Cultural Studies
Italian Literature
Latin American Studies
Mathematics - Statistics
Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures
Neuroscience and Behavior
Political Science
Regional Studies
Russian Language and Literature
Russian Studies
Spanish Language and Literature
Spanish Studies
Terrestrial Geology
Theatre Arts
Urban Studies
Visual Arts
Women's and Gender Studies

It's a cold, blustery morning in February, a few weeks into Columbia College's Spring term. The classroom on an upper floor of Hamilton Hall is warm, and one of the first students to arrive cracks a window before easing into a seat. During the next few minutes, more people arrive, find their places around the big wooden table and talk quietly among themselves. The mood is subdued; clearly this would have been a great morning to sleep in.

The twenty-two students in this section of Literature Humanities know each other well. They've already been through a great deal together, grappling as a group with some of history's weightiest ideas and issues. By the end of this term -- this is a two-semester core curriculum course -- they will have confronted major works by more than twenty authors, ranging in time, theme and genre from Homer to Virginia Woolf. Today's topic: Dante's Inferno.

The professor arrives -- a lively person with a no-nonsense air and a sizable stack of books, each festooned with bookmarks. Conversations wind down, and after one or two routine announcements and a quick check to make sure everyone has today's handout (a diagram that depicts Dante's nine levels of hell), the professor gets down to business: "What did you think of the Inferno? And what is the significance of Dante's design for hell?"

Those questions trigger furious discussion, as students exchange views emblematic of their backgrounds. Often several people speak at once. A sense of intellectual energy, shared curiosity and mutual respect permeated the classroom as the professor guides the students through the debates and controversies of the day.

"Look, I just can't accept the notion of heaven and hell as real, physical places of eternal bliss or torment," one student says. "Say you go to heaven. No matter how wonderful it is, how can you be happy and contented while other beings -- maybe people you knew -- are living in unending pain and misery? What, you're supposed to forget about them, now that you've made it into paradise?"

Across the table, another student speaks, "Is it blasphemous for Dante to color hell in his own image? I think that for him even to assume that hell exists is morally imperialistic. But if there is a hell, am I more likely to see Odysseus or Schwartzkopf in mine?"

The discussion continues. Propelled by the professor's skillful use of the Socratic method, students deal with various topics. As a group, they seek a clearer perspective by relating the work at hand to the texts they've read and discussed earlier in the year -- Homer's Iliad, for example, and Vergil's Aeneid. They analyze Dante's literary devices, and they relate his ideas to what they've learned in their homes, schools and places of worship. Frequently there's disagreement, but the two hours pass quickly. And on Monday, it'll be on to another text.

What's happening here. If you can appreciate the rationale of our core curriculum -- the courses that we expect you to complete during your first two years or so -- you'll understand a great deal about the singular educational experience that's available to you in Columbia College.

As an introduction to the in-depth study of the humanities and social sciences, the core curriculum is intended to help you explore what it means to be human. Before you turn your attention to your academic major or concentration -- and as preparation for advanced work in the field of your choice -- we want you to take time to immerse yourself in literature, philosophy, history, music and art. Aggressively. Hungrily. Passionately. Yes, it's a heady experience. But it's also an experience of the heart. As you progress through the core, your understanding of yourself, the world, and your place in it will deepen significantly. And along the way you'll also acquire and hone the very practical skills of observation, analysis, exegesis, argument, imaginative comparison and respect for the nuances of the intellect.

What that foundation -- which we adamantly affirm is the finest foundation in the liberal arts available anywhere -- you'll be well prepared to make the most of Columbia College's other offerings and to benefit from a lifetime of continued intellectual inquiry and discovery.

Almost all of your courses in Columbia College will meet in small section. With about thirty-six hundred students, we have the advantage of being the smallest liberal arts college in the Ivy League, and we go to great lengths to make that advantage work for you in every possible way.

How will everything come together into a coherent, meaningful four-year program? Let's look at some of the particulars.

Required courses in Columbia College. Requirements differ somewhat for students in Columbia College and for students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In Columbia College, the full complement looks like this:

  • Contemporary Civilization (a two-term core course)
  • Literature Humanities (a two-term core course)
  • Art Humanities (a one-term core course)
  • Music Humanities (a one-term core course)
  • Logic and Rhetoric (a one-term seminar in composition)
  • Science requirement (three one-term courses)
  • Foreign language requirement (up to four one-term courses or the equivalent)
  • Major cultures requirement (two one-term courses)
  • Physical education requirement (two one-term courses and a swimming requirement)

Note that although Columbia College offers you a strong educational foundation through core courses and other requirements, you'll also have a great deal of freedom to explore the curriculum through the electives you choose.

Getting started. Most students make it a point to complete most or all of their core requirements -- and to acquire a good sampling of electives -- by the end of their second year. Toward the end of your second year, you'll declare a major or concentration. At that time, a faculty member in the department you're about to join will become your academic advisor for your junior and senior years.

Special options. You'll have a great deal of latitude in Columbia College to fashion an academic program that meets your particular interests and needs. For example, you may decide to pursue and interdepartmental or interdisciplinary major of your own design, you might opt for supervised independent study on a special topic, or -- like many Columbia College students -- you might choose to study at an institution outside of the United States. Special programs available to qualifying Columbia undergraduates include:

  • The Junior Year at Oxford/Cambridge
  • Study in France (Columbia owns and administers Reid Hall, in the Montparnasse district of Paris.)
  • A two-term program at the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies
  • The Berlin Consortium Program, a German studies program based at the Free University of Berlin

Joint-degree programs Joint-degree programs are available for students who wish to combine their work in Columbia College with work in one of these schools:

  • The School of Engineering and Applied Science (The Combined Plan, a 3-2 program, leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree at Columbia College and the Bachelor of Science degree at the School of Engineering and Applied Science after five years of study.)
  • The Juilliard School of Music (a five-year program that leads to the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Music degrees.)
  • The School of Law (A six-year program, available to two students annually, leads to the Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence degrees.)
  • The School of International and Public Affairs (The international Affairs Five-Year Program leads to the Bachelor of Arts and Master of International Affairs degrees, and a five-year option offered in conjunction with the Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration leads to the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Public Affairs degrees.)

Preparation for health careers. Columbia College offers a special premedical concentration that enables you to prepare for professional study in medicine, dentistry and other health fields.

Preparation for careers in law. Although law schools don't require specific programs as preparation for admission, undergraduate work in many majors within Columbia College offers highly satisfactory preparation for continued study in law.

  You find joy in ideas. You can lose yourself in 
  a good book, a lively debate, a great painting, 
  a timeless piece of music, a favorite film -- or 
  a baseball game.  Good news: we know some 
  thirty-six hundred Columbia College 
  students who are looking forward to meeting you.


  I can't say enough about 
  the faculty at Columbia. 
  Even during the first 
  two years, access to 
  faculty members is 
  premier. No doubt about 
  it, you'll study with 
  faculty stars from year
  one. The faculty and the 
  curriculum -- those are 
  the main reasons you 
  come to Columbia.

  Peter Freeman '96


The Columbia University Libraries is one of the largest academic libraries in North America. Organized into twenty-two collections related to specific disciplines, the system's holdings include more than six million books, nearly five million microforms and more than twenty-six million manuscript items in twenty-six hundred collections. Undergraduate students at Columbia University and its affiliated institutions have full access to all library privileges and services, including the World Wide Web and Internet resources.

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last modified: January 15, 1997
Chris Gwiazda, College Web Manager, [email protected]