Columbia University

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university, located in Upper Manhattan. Having been established in 1754 as one of nine colonial colleges, prior to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in New York and the 5th-oldest in the U.S. It is also regularly ranked by numerous major education publications as one of the Top 10 Universities in the world.

Columbia was originally established on Madison Avenue as “King’s College” by a royal charter from George II of Great Britain, in reaction to the founding of Princeton University. Following the Revolutionary War, it was renamed “Columbia College” and placed under a board of trustees in 1787, headed by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay who were both former students. In 1896, the campus was moved to its present location and given its current name.

Columbia is organized into 20 schools, including 3 undergraduate schools and numerous graduate schools. Columbia’s notable alumni include: 5 of the Founding Fathers of the United States, 3 U.S. Presidents, 29 foreign heads of state, 10 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 96 Nobel laureates, 38 living billionaires, 11 Olympic medalists, 39 Academy Award winners, and 125 Pulitzer Prize recipients. Alumni of the university have also played an important role in the development of many important scientific breakthroughs, including:

  • the laser (and maser);
  • nuclear magnetic resonance;
  • the first nuclear fission reaction in the Americas, as well as much of the initial research and planning of the Manhattan Project;
  • a brain-computer interface;
  • the drosophila experiment, considered the origin of modern genetics; and,
  • the first evidence for plate tectonics.

All together, the Physics Department has been affiliated with 33 Nobel Prize winners, which is the 3rd most of any American institution, behind MIT and Harvard. There have also been 22 Nobel Prize winners in Physiology and Medicine, which is also the 3rd most of any American institution. Columbia was also the first school in the U.S. to grant an M.D. degree.

The university is also noteworthy for annually administering the Pulitzer Prize, a national award for achievements in:

  • newspaper, magazine and online journalism;
  • literature; and,
  • musical composition.

The award was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of Joseph Pulitzer, who had made his fortune as a newspaper publisher. Prizes are awarded in 21 categories. In 20 of them, each winner currently receives a certificate and a cash award of $15,000, while the winner in the final category, for public service in journalism, is awarded a gold medal.

Columbia’s low undergraduate acceptance rate (of about 5.5%) makes it one of the most selective among U.S. colleges and is the 2nd-most selective among Ivy League schools, after Harvard. Overall, the university is ranked 3rd-best by U.S. News & World Report, behind only Princeton and Harvard. The university’s endowment, currently at $10.9 billion (as of 2018), also makes it among the largest of any academic institution.

A well-known bronze sculpture, known as Alma Mater (“nourishing mother”), by Daniel Chester French (best known for his statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial) is located on the steps of the Low Memorial Library. An owl, which is a symbol of knowledge, is hidden in the folds of her cloak. When originally installed, the statue was gilded in gold; however, over time this wore off and was never replaced due to protests. Designed in 1901, it preceded the Lincoln Memorial (1920) by almost two decades and probably served as its inspiration, since both figures are portrayed as sitting and looking out over the landscape (below). The statue has since become a symbol of the university.

  • Visited: Oct 2014

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