Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ivy League in the Big Apple?

I like to plan way, way far ahead. I was looking at colleges when I was a freshman in high school, and now I'm looking at grad schools, even though I don't plan on applying for a couple more years. Top pick on my list? Teacher's College at Columbia University in grand ole' New York City. It's been ranked the 2nd best grad school for education programs (Michigan's the first, but that's far!), and it's juuuust close enough for me to commute from home. Yesterday, I took a trip there with my mom to check it out:

The buildings behind me are the Teachers College part of the university. So established and academic!

On the main campus. So grand! Much different than the campus at my current school.

I was impressed with the school, to say the least. It has all the things I want, things that I feel like I'm missing at my current school. A globally-esteemed program, prestige, famous and incredibly knowledgeable faculty, all that grand important stuff that I think about when I think of a great school. My current school is a small state school, without recognition beyond New York state, nestled in the hippie-artsy hills of the country. I love it,'s not for me anymore.

But is Columbia for me? I may feel out of place at my current school, but I feel comfortable, and everyone there is so friendly. I'm afraid that at a big important Ivy school, that friendliness will be placed by snobbishness and pretentiousness. And it's in the city, no less, on the edge of a rough neighborhood. I am a wimpy suburban girl. I like my safe little bubble; I don't know if I'm aggressive enough to handle NYC. Part of me wants to go just for that reason: I want to break out of my bubble and "grow some balls," to put it crudely. And I want to be challenged in school, to really learn something by working hard and breaking a sweat.
But there are so many questions running through my over-worrying head: Will I be able to handle the hour and a half train ride every day? Will I be able to make friends as a commuter? Would I be able to handle the coursework, and more importantly, the fieldwork in the brutal inner city schools? Will I meet others with similar tastes and interests, or will I be stuck in a sea of hipsters? Is it smart financially, considering I'll be on a new teacher's salary?

I feel like I need to make a change, and attending a school like Columbia might be that change. If it's the right change, well...there's no knowing. I just have to figure out these things through experience.

If any of you have any advice for me and other soon-to-be-graduates, about grad schools or navigating through your twenties, I'd love to hear it!



Cee said...

Elizabeth, do you live at home and go to school now? I'm a believer that everyone should experience living away from home/out of your comfort zone sometime in life, and college is a great way to do so. I went to undergrad away from and relished in the independence. For grad school, I lived at home while I worked. Maybe it's because I already experienced the whole "college life", so I didn't really feel grad school was all that important to me beyond learning. But that could just be my major and the program I was in. If Columbia is worth it to you, financially and makes sense career-wise, I would say go for it. The commute would be long, but the program is only for a few years, right? If it becomes unbearable, you could consider moving to the city temporarily. It just sounds like an amazing experience (both academic and for you to grow as a person)! Best of luck!

ShortBlonde said...

Cee- I live in a house with some friends now, I don't currently commute. I LOVE my independence, but I'd prefer to stay at home for a while to save money. I agree, living on campus is definitely worth it, at least once! Thanks for your kind wishes :)

Jen HaHA said...

As someone who is not using the degree I paid for myself, I don't know how valuable my opinion (not advice) is. I think it would be a great experience, mostly because I love NYC! Living on(?)/close to campus would be awesome, but spendy. Memories to last a lifetime though! The long commute could be a good time to study though. Brutal inner-city fieldwork could be very rewarding in the end. I see pros and cons. It's good that you're thinking it hriugh because I sure didn't know what I was doing when I was in my early 20s. I didn't think things through so clearly, hence degree in Journalism but working in Finance.

Jen Hemming and Hawing Again

Diana said...

I say go for it!

- A master's degree DOES get you more money in teaching, unlike in some other fields.

- It's always a good thing to have an Ivy or a well-known college on your resume. I have that and it has made me stick out of the pile in HR sifts. Colombia is known all over.

- Especially if your undergrad is small you will benefit from a larger environment. It's good to get a variety of experiences.

- There are many neighborhoods in NYC, and some do feel smaller or more suburban. I like Union Square or SoHo but it's personal choice.

- You might not get the same close-knit social experience living in the city the same way you do in a college off by itself. But there are so many people around that I'm sure you will find someone you like.

- I don't think people at Ivy schools are pretentious. The people in the suburb I grew up in were a lot worse. ;) Lots of people who go to elite schools are on financial aid since they tend to have large endowments.

- Full disclosure - I'm getting a master's in a big city so I just made this decision myself. I've always lived near a city though so it was pretty much a no-brainer. I think the school you choose for MA is different than undergrad - I wasn't as concerned about the social scene, for example, since I'll be living off campus.

Raulston said...

I will be applying to Columbia for med-school and I will say that many of their programs are exceptional! If you like the City go for it. Study hard for the GRE and you will have no problem!