Living and Lifestyle
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Though visiting CU’s website and taking a tour of campus can give you a pretty good idea of what being a Columbia student is like, these endeavors alone can still leave you feeling unsatisfied.

So what does life really look like as a first-year at Columbia College? I mean, the Columbia website tells you what the Core is and what kinds of extracurricular activities there are, but it doesn’t tell you how you can balance classes, studying, clubs, and your social life. So, here is a glimpse of what my day looks like as a first-year student in CC.

8:00 a.m.: I wake up when my phone alarm goes off. I get up at this ungodly hour because I have a sense of foreboding that I’ll have a pop quiz in my Principles of Economics class.

I’m surprised by how quiet the dorm is. I live in Carman, which is considered to be the rowdiest first-year dorm at Columbia, so this is the only time when the dorm is actually quiet.

8:30 a.m: I walk to a classroom in Schermerhorn Hall (a building whose name, to this day, I don’t know how to correctly pronounce). The room is filled with a bunch of bleary-eyed students— the class,scheduled in the earliest weekday non-Core course block,starts at 8:40 a.m. If you’re not a morning person, do not sign up for one of these.

It turns out there isn’t a quiz today in Principles of Econ, which is taught by Sunil Gulati, vice president of FIFA, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, and one of CU’s most famous profs. I learn so much in this class, so I guess waking up at 8:00 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays is worth it.

9:40 a.m.: After the class ends, I get breakfast at my favorite dining hall, Ferris. I love Ferris’ crunchy tater tots and hearty soups—definitely better than the food at John Jay, though that is very much debatable. While I eat, I catch up on my Literature Humanities (aka, Lit Hum) reading because that’s what’s up next for me, and participation is a huge part of my grade. (Pro tip: Participation is key to getting a good grade in any Core class.)

12:10 p.m.: I’m in Hartley, one of the quieter first-year dorms, because surprisingly, that’s where my Lit Hum class takes place. Lit Hum, like University Writing and Frontiers of Science (dubbed UWriting and FroSci, respectively), is a required course for every first-year student.

Unlike UWriting and FroSci, Lit Hum is a one-year course, as opposed to only a semester-long one. It’s also a seminar class, which means the class—capped at 22 students—is heavily focused on discussion. The course is very reading-intensive, as you move through 300-page books every week (on average). You’ll love it if you like reading and if you have an enthusiastic professor. Both of these apply to me, so Lit Hum actually happens to be one of my favorite classes!

2:00 p.m.: I’m always so exhausted and hungry after class. I go back to Ferris to grab lunch (gotta use those meal swipes) with a few of my classmates and friends. As we eat, we usually discuss our next essay topics for Lit Hum or just talk about life in general. Ferris is only a few steps from Carman, so I head back to my room after lunch.

4:00 p.m.: I have a couple of hours before my next class, University Writing. The workload in this class, which consists mostly of writing and reading assignments, depends on who your professor is. Mine, thankfully, is very generous and chill, so I only have a few hours of work every week.

Since I already finished all of my UWriting work for today’s class, I either do some additional studying for my other classes, take a nap if I’m really tired, or practice the violin (I’m in the Columbia-Juilliard exchange program).

5:40 p.m.: I’m in my UWriting class. As with Lit Hum, UWriting is a seminar, so you’ll be in a class with about 15 students.

Here’s what you should expect in UWriting, regardless of who you have as your professor: There are four essays you need to write, called P(rogression)1, P2, P3, P4. It’s called a progression rather than just a plain ol’ essay because the entire point of the class is for your college writing to—surprise—progress. You can expect each essay to get a little bit more difficult. Right now I’m working on my P3 exploratory draft!

7:00 p.m.: After UW I grab a quick dinner at Ferris, again (can you tell that I’m a Ferris maniac?). Then, I head over to the offices of the Columbia Daily Spectator on 112th Street and Broadway, where I write for Spectrum. My job is to write articles (like the one that you’re reading now) and come up with new topics to write about.

8:00 p.m.: All the classes and meetings are over, finally! I go back to Carman and find my floormates making pancakes and watching Harry Potter, so I join the fun and relax for a bit (aka until the movie ends, of course).

After that, I head back to Butler since I have two essays due and a midterm next week. Usually I study in my room, dorm lounge (unless it’s too loud), or Butler, the only library that’s open 24 hours.

Keep in mind, though, that a “typical” day at Columbia might not even exist, given the variety of interests that students have. Still, it’s super important for you to have a picture of what your day might look like. As you can see, as a first-year CC student, the Core is half of what you take, but there’s still plenty of time to work in classes you’re interested in while managing to find time to do what you love outside of the classroom.

Have any questions about what it’s like to be a Columbia student? Ask us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum. We’re also very technologically adept folk, so you can also email any questions you have to

Sein An is a Spectrum trainee and a Columbia-Juilliard Exchange first-year. She will fight with anyone who thinks John Jay Dining Hall is better than Ferris. Reach her at

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