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The spring and summer before I went off to college, one of the biggest things I would fret over was where I was going to live. I did research on all of the first-year dorms, hoping that luck would be on my side and put me in the best one (spoiler alert, it didn’t), and planned my room’s ~aesthetic~ months in advance.
Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks since you heard the good news, you’re probably thinking about the same things. To help you out a little bit, here’s everything you need to know about the first-year dorms at Columbia and Barnard.
But before we begin...
We’ve created a product that a ton of current students use during housing selection in the spring. It’s called The Shaft. If you have absolutely any questions about housing at Columbia or Barnard (even first-year dorms), check it out—we should be able to help you learn as much as you can about the dorm you might end up with. It’s got dozens of reviews, photos, info, and video tours.
At Columbia, you don’t get to outright pick where you want to live, but you do get to list your preferences and the school will try their best to match you with what you want. (Tbh, it’s pretty rare that you won’t get your first pick.) First-years end up in one of five dorms: John Jay, Carman, Furnald, Wallach, or Hartley.
John Jay is located on the southeast corner of campus, directly adjacent to Butler Library. If you have a room facing campus and not the street, the view is actually really nice.
As we’ll go more into later, John Jay’s social scene is a mix between Carman’s and Furnald’s, meaning that it can still be pretty social on some floors, but don’t expect to find people shuffling in and out of a party every weekend.
There are a lot of rooms on one floor, meaning it can be hard to form really close relationships with each of your floormates. On the bright side though, almost every single room in John Jay is a single, which means you won’t have to suffer through any potential roommate drama your first year.
Ideal for: people who don’t want their dorm to be completely dead, but also not too loud or disruptive.
Pros: close to all major campus buildings; close to John Jay Dining Hall; most rooms are singles.
Cons: it’s a large dorm, so it can be hard to get to know your floormates; if you’re on one of the first floors, some people complain that you can smell the kitchens from John Jay Dining Hall.
Carman is undoubtedly the loudest first-year dorm. As we get closer to NSOP, you’ll hear a bunch of old-timers talk about the parties and pregames in Carman every weekend. A word from the wise: they’re not lying.
Unlike John Jay, Carman is set up suite-style, meaning that a couple of people per suite (usually four) share a bathroom. In each suite there are generally two doubles, meaning that you’ll have a roommate. (Depending on your personality, this could either be a good or bad thing.)
Carman is located on the southwest corner of campus, meaning it’s not too far from the campus’ major buildings either—Ferris and Butler are a two-minute walk away.
Ideal for: people who want to get really close with their room/suitemates; those who prefer a louder, “real college” social scene.
Pros: not far from major campus buildings; each suite gets its own bathroom (and it’s cleaned by Columbia Facilities), so you don’t have to worry about sharing with 20 to 30 people; doubles are sizable (around 220 square feet).
Cons: if you’re more introverted or don’t want to be around the party scene, you really won’t like it in Carman; its aesthetic is off-white prison cinder block, which might be a small thing, but still.
Furnald is just as quiet as Carman is loud (except on the first-floor lounge, which we’ll talk about in a bit), which can either be a good or bad thing. Good if you don’t want your living quarters to be a party zone every weekend, bad if you don’t want to leave your residence hall to find something to do or someone to hang out with.
However, this doesn’t mean that Furnald is completely dead. For one thing, there’s at least one lounge on every floor where people will convene either just to hang out or do homework, so you can find someone to chat up there. Additionally, the first-floor lounge in Furnald hosts campus events, such as a cappella performances, and (this past semester) Spec’s Free Food Expo. If you ever start feeling confined, you can always pop downstairs and see what’s going on.
Like John Jay, Furnald is made up of mostly singles. Take advantage of this while you can—as you’ll realize in later years, your chances of snagging one as a junior or sophomore are much less likely, surprisingly enough.
Ideal for: people who aren’t comfortable with a ton of parties going on on their floor.
Pros: largely made up of singles, a rarity at CU; even though it’s quieter than Carman and John Jay, there are lounges on every floor, so you do have the opportunity to get to know your floormates a bit.
Cons: Furnald is quiet, there’s no getting around that. If you think you’ll feel separate from the campus community if you live in a place like this, definitely consider John Jay or Carman.
Wallach and Hartley
These are two separate dorms, but they’re similar enough that we can put them together. Wallach and Hartley are different from the other three that we’ve mentioned because upperclassmen live here as well. This is because both Wallach and Hartley are part of the Living-Learning Center, which basically creates a community where first-years are mentored by upperclassmen so their transition to college is a little more smooth. If you live in Wallach or Hartley, you can expect a support system to form around you to help you with any questions or problems you encounter during your first year at Columbia.
Wallach and Hartley are located right next to John Jay, so they are also very close to all major campus buildings. In these dorms, first-years will either end up in a single or double, so you may or may not have a roommate. However, both of these dorms are divided up into “suites” (or that’s what they call them—a lot of times they’ll have over ten people in them, so it doesn’t really feel like a suite), so you’ll still have chance to get to know a bunch of people on your floor.
There’s very little pros of living in Wallach over Hartley, or vice-versa. Regardless of whichever dorm you end up in, you’ll still be part of the LLC community, you’ll still live in either a single or double, etc. The only thing that might be noteworthy is that Hartley is slightly less renovated than Wallach, so if you’re considering either of these dorms, you’ll probably prefer Wallach over Hartley.
Ideal for: people who want extra support in their transition to college.
Pros: great support system; because there is this mentorship program, you won’t feel like the dorm is antisocial, as it’s more likely that you’ll actually get to know your floormates.
Cons: when we say social, it’s not social in the way Carman is. If you want more of a party vibe, Wallach and Hartley are definitely not for you.
Just like at Columbia, you don’t get to choose which dorm you’ll live in. Additionally, it’s very rare (if at all) that a Barnard first-year will end up in a single—you’ll either be in a double, triple, or quad (rip).
Brooks is the oldest dorm on Barnard’s campus, which has its pros and cons. Pros: It’s beautiful—Brooks furniture is the nicest, and some dorms even have fireplaces or bay windows. The cons: It’s old* (so no AC, and an overall feeling of “Wow this should probably be replaced,” etc.)
If you end up in Brooks, you’ll either live in a double or quad, but the quads are broken up into two doubles with a shared “common” space (more like a random room where people put their desks). You’ll also share a bathroom with the entire floor.
There is a lounge, but because each floor of the Quad is connected with the three other residence halls, it’s actually shared between you and the ~90 people on the floor. However, don’t worry about space—they’re rarely ever crowded.
With the exception of Sulz quads, Brooks probably has the smallest square foot-to-student ratio. The doubles can feel a bit cramped, and the rooms are pretty narrow. However, with some crafty furniture arrangement, you can make things work.
*Note: A part of Brooks’ oldness that needs to be called out specifically is that there is usually a total of ONE outlet in a double. Even though it says that extension cords are low key banned, you will need them. You can get around this little issue by buying a surge protector that doubles as an extension cord, as they won’t confiscate those.
Ideal for: people who want an old-timey, classy dorm feel.
Pros: nice furniture; probably the prettiest dorm in the quad; the bathrooms aren’t as nice as Sulz’s or Reid’s (but you can really use whatever bathroom you want in the quad).
Cons: No AC; you might end up in a quad.
Reid is the smallest hall in the quad, but the doubles are still pretty sizable (definitely larger than Brooks’, and probably the same size as Sulz’s). Additionally, if you end up in Reid, you don’t have to worry about being placed in a quad, as there are only doubles here.
The furniture in Reid is the same as in Sulz, and though it’s not as pretty as that in Brooks, it might be more practical. In Brooks, you have to share a built-in closet with your roommate (which, trust me, isn’t enough space), and then you each get your own set of drawers to go under your beds. In Reid, each person has their own closet-drawer combo, so you don’t have to fight over hanger space with your roomie and your clothes won’t get wrinkled because you don’t have to stuff them into a drawer.
Ideal for: people who don’t end up in Sulz, and it was their number one (as Reid is pretty much an AC-less Sulz).
Pros: sizable doubles; good closet and storage space.
Cons: No AC.
At Columbia it’s hard to say which dorm is the best because their social scenes are so different. At Barnard, on the contrary, there is one dorm that is better than the rest, and it’s Sulz. Why? Sizable doubles and AC. I’m sure you’re all probably thinking that we’re a bunch of randos hyped up on air conditioning, but trust us, you’ll get what the big deal is when you spend the hot months of August, September, April, and May in an airless room.
Sulz has everything that Reid does, so the only other thing to note here is that there is the possibility of ending up in a quad, which, tbh, is too small to naturally fit four people. The quads in Sulz are worse than the quads in Brooks because the ones in Sulz are pretty much just large rooms where they’ve fit four beds and four desks in. There’s a way to make it work out so you’re still comfortable, but pray that you don’t get put in here.
Ideal for: people who don’t like sweating it out for four months of the year.
Pros: I’m sure there are plenty, but there only needs to be one mentioned here: AC.
Cons: the possibility of landing in a quad.
Landing in the right dorm is a combination of knowing which space will be right for you and luck. At the end of the day there’s really nothing you can do to control where you land, but it’s still really important that you know what to put down as your number one preference.
Veronica Grace Taleon is Spectrum’s editor and a Barnard sophomore. She lived in Brooks her first year, and was #shook before she even knew what that meant when she realized there was only one outlet. Reach her at email@example.com.