To read our list of the best first-year courses for engineering students, click here.
There’s a lot to consider when picking a class for the first time. Will it be easy? (No.) Will it be relevant to my work after college? (No.) Will it be small enough for me to make friends in? (Almost certainly no. That’s why you have the Core, CC kids.) Anyway, this article will consider none of those factors. It’s purely a greatest hits list in terms of what you learn, how fun it is to learn said knowledge, and whether or not you leave the class feeling like a better human being or at least not like you just spent your first semester reading Sparknotes and playing Doodle Jump in class. Make sure to look at CULPA, Columbia’s teacher review database, whichever class you pick. There are plenty of horror stories.
Principles of Economics with Sunil Gulati
This class, a.k.a., "Principles," has become part of Columbia’s vocabulary, and not just since Gulati, also president of US Soccer, emceed that party with Will Ferrell and Teddy Goalsavelt. Whether you find him overhyped (or as one CULPA reviewer put it “OH MY GOD, I CAN FINALLY DIE HAPPILY, HIS HOLY PRESENCE HAS LET ME LICK HIS ARSE”), or you are currently waiting in said line, you’ll probably agree that he’s a talented lecturer. Gulati regularly brings in a dose of the newspapers (lol we did away with papers last year, get with the program) and holds punishing surprise quizzes to keep students on their toes. Principles can be a trial of souls where the non-majors quickly find out that they’re destined for elsewhere, but those who power through will feel ready for anything—even *shudder* microeconomics.
Introduction to International Politics with Kimberly Marten
A young Barry Obama, on the road to a concentration in international politics, probably walked into this class during his first days at Columbia. Marten is a bit of a rock star herself, with A-plus lecturing talent that makes her classes quick to fill up. In one of the more international schools in the country, there’s no better place for a young politico to start.
Intro to Computer Science – Programming in Java with Adam Cannon
Like Gulati’s class, this is the sort of punishing journey that holds huge rewards for those willing to keep the rest of their schedule light and, like the scholars in Love’s Labour’s Lost, devote their lives to the gods of knowledge. You also can satisfy half of your science requirement along the way. Cannon recommends that you’ve programmed at least a little before, so some last minute practice wouldn’t hurt, but the class is still an intro, and doable with a bit of hair pulling if you’re new to it.
The Digital Information Age with David Vallancourt
If you’d rather satisfy your science requirement by just working on understanding computers in the world today, this course, designed for non-SEAS students, might be better for you. The well-reviewed course allows students to get hands on experience with circuits, switches, and encoding, while discussing digital communication as it shows up in timely stories.
Intro to East Asian Buddhism with Michael Como
A great class to satisfy your Global Core requirement with, East Asian Buddhism is also a great foundation for anyone in CC. Everyone from the transcendentalists to Nietzsche and Kant intersect with Buddhist philosophy. Take this class early and it will pay dividends in Lit Hum and especially Contemporary Civ. If nothing else, you could use a bit of meditation with the pace of life at Columbia.
The Social World with Peter Bearman
The Social World is a class that fosters a critical eye just about everywhere you go. It will push you to look deeply at your music tastes, find profound societal meaning in cockfights, and notice the way that many ideas you took for granted as spontaneous are actually deeply ingrained in the people around you. The readings are heavy, but the material is consistently engaging and very much embedded in the world around us. This class has turned many a curious student into sociology majors.
Whichever classes you do take, the best thing you can do is go to office hours. I cannot stress that enough—the waves of class lectures will wash over you like the incoming tide if you don’t make sure to check with professors on what you didn’t get, or just take advantage of their expertise for those questions that you’ve always been wondering about. It can make intro classes, the biggest and most intimidating, just a little bit less so. Bon voyage, freshpeople!