Undergrad: Cornell or Columbia


After miraculously being accepted to both schools I am really having trouble deciding. I feel each have some strengths and weaknesses.

Cornell - Strengths: Highly ranked, wonderful facilities, and alumni connections. Weaknesses: It's in Ithaca, 5 straight years of architecture, very stressful/long nights.

Columbia - Strengths: In New York City, a more balanced curriculum, better extra curricular opportunities, 4 years. Weaknesses: Not as strong of a design program, may too balance of a curriculum?, and I am unsure of the facilities (visiting later this month), not enough architecture?.

I have received about the same financial aid from both schools. I am somewhat concerned with Columbia and being able to afford an M.Arch after. However, after reviewing some of the threads here, it appears some people receive generous funding from top M.Arch schools i.e. MIT, Washu, GSD. Is this merit based, need based? If someone could also explain this further I would very much appreciate it.

Sorry for such a long post; it's just that my decision will really affect my life for at least half a decade.

Any responses, opinions, experiences, would be greatly appreciated.

Apr 1, 13 8:43 pm

I had to make the exact same decision several years ago. I chose Columbia, because I wanted to be exposed to a more complete liberal arts education, although I also liked what I saw of Cornell. If you pick the right professors (ask around to find out who is the hardest), the Columbia studios are as intense as you want them to be and can handle - ie. as many all-nighters as you want, and you won't be the only one doing them, but if you want to approach it in a more balanced way you can do that too. Not all of my classmates were sure that they wanted to do architecture, but there were also plenty of them there who were. Freshmen don't normally take studios, but if you are assertive it's possible to get in one. For the past few years the seniors have had a traveling studio.

The program leans towards the conceptual side, and you get exposed to a lot of contemporary thinking about networks and systems. There's a range of architecture electives in the department, and no real limit to how many of them you can take, and you can also (fairly easily) enroll in GSAPP classes and go to their events (probably some of the best speaker lineups anywhere), as well as taking advantage of all the other great architecture events and resources available in New York City. If you work towards it, you have a pretty decent chance of getting into any graduate school except maybe Princeton, which of course is hard for anyone, and a few people do even get in there.

The facilities are decent - they have one laser cutter, new iMacs, and the studios aren't as nice as they used to be but they don't get in the way of your work.

As for MArch funding... some of it is merit-based and some of it is need-based, depending on the school, but as a graduate student the criteria for need-based scholarships is looser since it doesn't always take your parents' incomes into account. 

 Let me know or PM me if you have any more questions.

Apr 2, 13 1:34 am

Oh, and people have also been regularly able to get jobs and summer internships while in or after graduating from the program, without any other further education.

Apr 2, 13 1:42 am

Do you have any thoughts on what this person has to say:

And after having looked at some of the top firms (OMA, P+W, HOK, SOM, F+P) it seems a lot of them require an accredited program to get internships...which 4 year programs are not...were you still able to get significant internships and opportunities?

So there is good integration between the undergrad and GSAPP? Because the undergrad website is in shambles, really and is quite out of date.

What about computer integration? Do the studios teach you Revit, AutoCAD, Maya, etc.? Or is that all self taught?

Did the core get in the way? I like the idea but it is a lot of classes you have to fill.

Are there any CNC machines or anything else besides the one laser cutter? That seems a bit spare...maybe in the GSAPP?

Are there any connections between undergrad and the GSAPP? I.e. being able to grad classes in your senior year and get an M.Arch quickly (you are able to do this at Harvard, I know).

Thank you so much for your answers! It is greatly, greatly appreciated. Thanks! (I would PM you but I'm not sure how....)

Apr 3, 13 4:01 am

Cornell and then you get a scholarship for an MArch definetely

Apr 3, 13 4:36 am

The person you linked to is partially right in the sense that the program is intentionally not geared towards technical skills or a career development conveyor belt. (Not that Cornell is either, even if they would happen to teach you more of those skills sooner as a BArch program.) The Columbia program wouldn't value teaching you Revit or having a CNC mill or placing you in an internship at SOM as much as they would value teaching you how to think about architecture in an intellectually rigorous way. (And by "thinking" I mean both theory and design.) It sounds like the person who wrote that post was interested in a different approach to architecture than the Columbia program is interested in. There were some more practical/career-minded students at the school but in my experience they didn't have the same problems that the previous poster did. 

You have to do a lot of that kind of technical and pre-professional development on your own - ie. you have to learn the software on your own (with a few tutorial sessions) which is the same way it is in my MArch program now. In the same way any "integration" with GSAPP is unofficial - it's an opportunity you have to pursue on your own, which doesn't mean that it isn't doable. You won't be able to use their machines, and there's no way to get an early MArch. You *will* learn how to design very effectively and put together an impressive and conceptually driven portfolio.

(Although they generally have a hands-off attitude when it comes to things like career development, that isn't true for things like personal attention in studio - you will get plenty of that.)

People who are self-motivated have gotten "significant internships and opportunities" - I know that a number of people have interned or gotten jobs at places like BIG/OMA/JDS. I interned at a small firm. Apparently some firms particularly like our graduates because they have more experience with abstract reasoning and aren't just pure technicians - technical skills can be taught to anyone in a job but those abstract abilities are fundamental.

If you want to get a professional degree after Columbia you will likely go to an MArch program afterwards, and it will almost certainly take three years, which is what it would take at most of the selective schools anyway - in my MArch program now there are a lot of people who came from more technical programs who are still having to take three years and hope that they get waived out of technical classes which they took before. 

It's hard for me to draw the line in terms of asking whether or not my other class requirements got in the way of studio because I really enjoyed my other classes and having plenty of opportunities to study subjects like philosophy, literature, sociology, and astronomy (I could go on...) in addition to my direct future career goals. It didn't get in the way of still dedicating lots of time in studio and taking lots of architecture electives.

I think that Cornell also prepares people well conceptually and intellectually, so none of what I said is meant to imply that Cornell is less conceptual - the most essential difference is that at a BArch program you would spend more of your time and class thoughts learning about the technical side of architecture sooner and less time studying other subject areas outside of architecture.

Apr 3, 13 9:50 am

I wrote that kind of quickly ... When I said that Cornell wasn't geared towards technical skills I didn't mean that they wouldn't prepare you professionally or teach you more of them than the Columbia undergrad, but rather that they still try to balance those technical skills with conceptual thinking in their own way.

Apr 3, 13 10:18 am

Thank you for your comments again, snail. I apologize for the late response. I just got back from visiting both schools. I was very impressed with AAP (Cornell); their facilities were phenomenal (working in a building by Koolhaas would be an honor) and the resources/classes/professors seemed good. However, it seems it is incredibly taxing upon students and there appears to be some grade deflation (i'm keeping law school as a back up just in case so I will shoot for a high gpa). The biggest discouraging factor, however, is that the rest of the school was terrible (okay, maybe not terrible, but I did not get a good feeling coming from the student body, the constant winter, difficult environment). The rest of the school didn't seem to be a good fit.

With Columbia, it was just the opposite. I was not particularly impressed by the studio work, facilities, faculty, and there was a dearth of resources. I think you accurately described their pedagogy and what I saw in your previous post. I spoke with the dean and they seemed to have good graduate school placement, though. I got the feeling that if I go to Columbia, I would not study architecture. The rest of the school, however, I loved. The people were very nice, the dorms were nice (if I go, I think I'll live in Carman), and the overall environment I enjoyed greatly. This really begets the question of a B.Arch versus an M.Arch I (I think if I go to Columbia I would study Economics or History). But again, I worry that I will not be able to get a sufficient design education with only three years in a graduate school. Any more thoughts? 


I really appreciate your comments and help!

Apr 16, 13 12:40 am

I'll keep this short since I have to run, but I guess I'll just reiterate that at Columbia I was able to find opportunities to still make architecture a big part of my life, by intentionally seeking them out. I would say that you will still be able to get a good design education at Columbia - I feel like I was well prepared for grad. school and I feel like in my first year of the MArch I haven't learned anything shockingly new in terms of developing my design skills. Of course I don't have the perspective of a B.Arch to compare it to.

I'm surprised that you were unimpressed with the student work - maybe you weren't looking at the right studios. When I was making my decision the work was one of the things that won me over and made me realize that Columbia would still be high quality. Remember that the flashiness of the presentation isn't everything - you want to look for evidence of analysis, critical thinking, and concept.

Either way, I feel like you can't go wrong ... think about what you want to do the most.

Apr 16, 13 3:06 pm

Thank you for the response. I'm bumping this for some more opinions.

Apr 25, 13 11:59 am

You mentioned law school as a back up plan, which I interpret as you're not fully sure if you want to be an architect in which case why would dive into a 5 year program/B.Arch.

That Columbia is in NYC is a huge selling point, but I have to say there is something nice about going to college in a more rural place. It's like you're shut off from outside distractions for 4-5 years, and it's really conducive to exploring/studying what you love wholeheartedly.

Apr 25, 13 2:23 pm

I want to keep law school as a back up in the very small chance I choose not to continue with architecture. Does Cornell B.Arch preclude the possibility of law school?

Anyone else care to offer an opinion? Please?

Apr 27, 13 12:41 am

No, a Cornell B. Arch obviously doesn't preclude the possibility of law school. What I meant was getting a B. Arch means that from day 1 of school, you're basically doing all architecture.  Yes, you can take electives in other subjects, but the bulk of your time and energy will be spent on architecture-related work.  It's a pretty big commitment that I myself didn't realize I was making when I was only 18yrs old. Obviously you can try it out and transfer majors if you decide you hate it, but it's a hassle and could put you behind in your new major.  If you're not sure whether you reaaaaally want to pursue architecture, then why not go to Columbia, get a more general education in a different major, while also getting a taste of studio life? It seems like you like the school better anyway.


As a side note, I happen to know many lawyers/people who went to law school, and the ones who did it as a back up plan, and not because they absolutely love studying the law, are completely miserable. It's the exact same with architecture. I wouldn't ever tell someone to study architecture as a back up plan because unless you are super passionate about it, it would be a pretty awful existence.

Apr 29, 13 12:34 pm

I agree with the above statement. Columbia for undergrad and then see if you are still interested in architecture. If yes, then a 3 years masters and you're set. If no, then study up for the LSATs and to law school it is. 

Apr 29, 13 2:15 pm

That Columbia is in NYC is a huge selling point, but I have to say there is something nice about going to college in a more rural place. It's like you're shut off from outside distractions

Interesting observations.  The worst combo is an urban undergrad combined with a rural grad program, especially if you stayed out and worked in between.  In some cases, you've become too cosmopolitan for the second setting, unless it's a suburban setting of a big city (i.e College Park, MD and its relation to Washington DC) which I think offers the best of both worlds.

I will agree that if you are a not a party type, you'll do better in the rural setting, where the types of distractions (parties and alcohol) are limited.  You're right.  There are less distractions.  Not only that, someone who studies architecture can visualize just fine and doesn't need to be in an urban setting to do their work, though it's nice for field trips and office visits.  However, even if you are not a party type, an urban setting for a school can still provide for a lot of distractions from what you are supposed to be doing.  I certainly found a multitude of interesting things I'd rather be doing, and it wasn't partying.

Apr 29, 13 2:29 pm

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