Hello Class of 2024! Whether you’re planning on returning to campus or not, Required Reading can help you learn as much about CU as possible. Subscribe to get all this info sent directly to your inbox. This article was published in a previous edition of Required Reading but has been edited in 2020 to ensure that the information is up to date and relevant.
Students at Columbia come from all over the world. Some have already visited campus, while others hail from a completely different continent. If you come from farther away, however, don’t feel excluded. There’s still a way for you to get acquainted with campus even before showing up. If you aren’t planning on coming to campus next semester, no worries! Here’s the best of what campus has to offer.
If you took our fun Columbia trivia quiz, you’ll know that there are a ton of libraries on campus (over 20). If you want a full overview of all the libraries, check out this article. These are just a few of the libraries that students frequent on a daily basis.
This big, rectangular building was probably displayed prominently on the admissions packets or info pamphlets you received about Columbia. It’s the biggest library on campus, the one students visit the most, and an icon of the school itself. Studying in Butler has its pros and cons. For one thing, there’s a decent café, Blue Java, and many of the study spaces are also overly picturesque. The building is open 24-hours, even though certain study spaces close at earlier times and you’re bound to run into people you know. However, it can be hard to find a seat to study (especially during finals). The stacks, the inner rectangle of the library where all the books are, can also be super confusing to navigate. Luckily, the Circulation Desk staff on the second floor can help you find what you’re looking for.
The Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning
The newest addition to campus, Barnard’s Milstein Center, notable for its natural light and big windows, was inaugurated in the Fall of 2018 and immediately became a student favorite. The library is found on the first three floors of the building, with spaces for collaboration, individual booths, and quiet study tables. If you struggle to find a seat, there are other areas throughout the building (such as the study tables located on the ground floor and the group study rooms on the fifth floor) that you can use as well.
This is the one that looks like Hogwarts. It’s much smaller than Butler and has those very aesthetic ceiling-high bookshelves. It’s a bit behind Low Library, meaning that it’s not a far walk at all, but like Butler, it can be a bit difficult to find a seat because it’s pretty small. There’s also a less aesthetically pleasing lower floor with, surprise surprise, another café (sense a pattern here?).
Also known as the East Asian Library, Kent Library is located in the academic building Kent Hall. It’s a bit like Avery architecture-wise and is a decent choice if the other is taken. It’s really only full during finals week, as it’s not as widely known as Butler and Avery.
Science and Engineering Library
Located inside NoCo (its full name is Northwest Corner Building, but we call it NoCo to save time), the science and engineering library is frequented by (surprise!) SEAS students. However, all students can get in. It has a distinctly different aesthetic than the other libraries on campus—while Butler, Avery, etc. have more classical architecture, the science and engineering library looks modern with large glass window panes, light wood floors, and colorful rolling chairs. The outside looks sort of out of place on campus (see image below), but the inside has plenty of natural light.
There are a ton of cafés both around and on campus, which is good because Columbia runs on caffeine.
This is probably the coffee classic of most Columbia students. There are actually two locations on campus: The first (and more well-known) is located in aforementioned NoCo, where it’s nearly impossible to find a seat at all times of the day. With its white marble floor, light blue cups, and large windows looking onto Broadway and 120th Street, this is the place to capture all your Instagram-worthy coffee pics. The second (and newer) location is in the School of Journalism, where Up Coffee (RIP) used to be.
This is located on the first floor of Butler Library, meaning that it’s the perfect place to frequent during one of your many study breaks. It might be a bit overpriced, but the pastries are good and it’s close to all the action, so most people aren’t complaining.
Located on the lower level of Avery, Brownie’s serves more than just your traditional pastries. They have soup specials for each day of the week, and the offerings are generally pretty healthy (so they’re probably not serving up, contrary to the name, many brownies. Sad, but there’s other places you can get them).
On the first floor of the Diana Center on Barnard’s campus, this place serves Starbucks coffee and is great because it’s really easy to pop into on your way to class, as it’s not too far from Altschul or Milbank, and you can use your meal points here. It also offers an array of ready-to-eat items, from sandwiches to sushi, and hosts a renovated seating area overlooking Broadway and Futter Field.
Found inside the Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning, Peets is ideally located if you are planning to study in the library or running to/from class on Barnard’s campus. If you want to avoid the long lines, you can order your coffee on Peet’s app and pick it up at your convenience. Like Liz’s, you can use your meal points here.
First Year Dorms
Most Columbia and SEAS first-years live in Carman, Furnald, or John Jay, and a few will end up in Wallach or Hartley. Barnard first-years all live in the Quad, which includes Sulzberger, Brooks, Reid, and Hewitt.
Carman is definitely known as the party dorm amongst first-years (and as you move up through the class years, you’ll realize that there’s really a Carman for each year). In Carman, you’ll likely be living in a double within a suite, though your number of suitemates will vary. The good: You won’t have to share a bathroom with your entire floor, just with those in your suite. The bad: Carman’s aesthetic is off-white cinder block, kind of like a prison, and there may be puke in the elevators during the weekend.
While Carman’s the party dorm, Furnald’s the quiet dorm. With mostly singles, Furnald can be more isolating than other dorms, but there are often shows and events (like Spec’s last Free Food Expo!) that take place in the large lounge on the first floor.
John Jay is a nice synthesis of the two. It’s not super quiet like Furnald, nor is there a rager on every floor on Friday evening. You also still have a good chance of getting a single, and you’re close to John Jay Dining Hall and JJ’s Place, which can either be a good or bad thing. Good because you don’t have to leave the building for food, but bad because the smell of JJ’s wafts into the windows of the lower floors at all hours of the day.
Wallach and Hartley
Wallach and Hartley form the Living-Learning Center, an opportunity for first-years and upperclassmen to live together. Because many rooms are reserved for upperclassmen, fewer first-years live in these two dorms. However, the LLC mentorship program is a great way to make friends with more experienced Columbians!
The Quad is where all first-years live at Barnard, and it’s located on the corner of Broadway and 116th Street. First-years live in three dorms that make up the Quad (though you’ll occasionally hear about a newbie who’s put in Hewitt, generally an upperclassmen dorm): Brooks, Reid, and Sulzberger.
Brooks is the oldest Barnard dorm and has its pros and cons. The pros are that the furniture is pretty nice, and some dorms even have bay windows and fireplaces. The bathrooms were renovated so Brooks reputably has the best showers in the Quad. The cons is that the dorm doesn’t have any AC’s, and the doubles are pretty small (but the quad rooms are bigger than Sulzberger quads). Brooks also boasts a picturesque study lounge with huge windows overlooking the street, so if you are planning on studying late into the night you don’t need to leave your dorm for the library but study downstairs instead.
Sulzberger is reputably the nicest dorm in the Quad, just because it has AC (a luxury in the stifling heat of August) and the doubles tend to be more sizeable.
Reid is wedged in between Sulz and Brooks. Configuration wise, it’s more like Sulz, as the furniture is the same and the doubles are pretty spacious. However, like Brooks, it doesn’t have AC.
You’re not able to pick into a specific Barnard dorm as a first-year, but you are allowed to indicate your preferences.
Alfred Lerner Hall
Lerner Hall is our equivalent of a student union. You can find almost everything you need in Lerner: performance spaces, lounges, study rooms, places to eat (including Ferris Booth Commons, one of Columbia’s three dining halls), meeting rooms, and important offices (like Counseling and Psychological Services and Undergraduate Student Life). With large ramps that span across the building (which students tend to make fun of), Lerner has a distinct architectural style that sets it apart from every other building on campus.
Which buildings you spend the most time in will depend on your schedule, but there are a handful worth checking out.
A lot of first-years go to Schermerhorn for their Frontiers of Science discussion sections. This is the one with the geology library on the sixth floor and the Wallach Art Gallery on the eighth. It’s located on the east side of campus (closer to Amsterdam than Broadway), and it’s about a five-minute walk from most first-year dorms. There is a giant blue banner for Wallach hanging on the side of the building, so it’s not too hard to find.
Hamilton is a minute away from John Jay, Hartley, and Wallach and maybe three minutes from Carman and Furnald. A lot of language classes are taught here, and this is also where the Center for the Core Curriculum is housed.
Havemeyer is important if you’re going to be taking chem during your time at CU. It also houses the most famous lecture hall on campus, which has been featured in movies like “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Ghostbusters,” and more.
Mudd is SEAS territory, so all our engineering folks will spend a decent amount of time here during their four years at CU. Unfortunately, in our humble opinion, it’s in a three-way tie with Uris and Pupin for the ugliest building on campus.
Barnard Hall is the first building you see when you walk through the Barnard gates. This building is especially important for first-years because it’s where most of the First-Year English and Writing classes are taught. Hewitt Dining Hall and Barnard’s gym can both be found in the basement; on the first floor is the LeFrak Center (the temporary library), and on the third floor is the dance department.
If you are interested in the dining halls on campus, check out our recent article on a guide to Columbia’s dining halls.
Of course, this doesn’t even graze the surface of everything that’s available on Barnard and Columbia’s campuses. There’s still so much more to talk about (like the buildings off-campus, the gyms, Morningside Heights restaurants, etc.), but hopefully, this gives a taste to those who live too far away to visit.
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Deputy Spectrum editor Jazilah Salam can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Columbia on Twitter @CUSpec. Veronica Grace Taleon was Spectrum’s editor. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.