Questions from a Fair, Answers from a Barnard Woman

I spent last Wednesday evening representing Barnard at a college fair at my former high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a Barnard Alumna Admissions Representative, I am privileged to occasionally represent Barnard at events like college fairs that happen in my region. This was my first college fair, and it was a great experience. Sandwiched between Brandeis and Rutgers, I met many impressive young women (and a few eager, if uninformed, young men) who wanted to know about Barnard. Unsurprisingly, many of the people who approached the table had stories to tell about their Barnard connections. “I have a friend who got into Barnard, and she won’t stop talking about it!” “My cousin went to Barnard and loved it so much.” “I know someone who is at Barnard, and she is so smart it’s intimidating.” And my favorite, a mom to her son as they walked past: “Oh, that’s a great school. See that, Barnard? Great school.” “Mom, didn’t you go there?” “What? Oh, yes.”

I got several questions over and over throughout the night, and I thought I’d share my answers here with you, since I bet some of you are wondering the same things.

1. Is Barnard especially competitive or catty because it’s an all-girls’ school?

I got several variations on this question throughout the night. People find it hard to believe that the presence of hundreds of young women within a relatively small area doesn’t immediately result in the plot of Mean Girls. But the answer to this question is a resounding “no.”

First, as you’ll quickly learn if you decide to attend Barnard, we are not an all-girls’ school. We are an all-women’s college (we’re also first-years, not freshmen – the men are across the street!). And one of the great things about attending college at a single-sex institution like Barnard is the incredibly supportive setting it provides. Barnard’s students, faculty, and staff work to create a collaborative environment: one where ideas and experiences are shared and encouraged. I recently learned that about 64% of Barnard’s faculty is female, over one and a half times the national average. Students learn from professors who know what it’s like to be a woman in science or math (or literature or film or history or any of the myriad of subjects Barnard offers). Classes at Barnard are generally small: the student-faculty ratio is 7 to 1. Students are required to take several small seminars during their time at Barnard, ensuring that they’ll get to know their professors and fellow students in an intimate, encouraging setting. And while you’ll probably have a certain group of friends, friendship spans majors, years, similarities, and differences.

2. What makes Barnard unique?

The traditional spiel about Barnard is that it’s an all-women’s liberal arts college in New York City that’s partnered with Columbia University. And that’s absolutely it: that is, in many ways, what makes Barnard great. While there are many things to say about how that works, here are some limited, specific examples to help you put it in context.

All-women: One of my friends at a co-ed college mentioned a “Great Books” class she was taking during her first year. I asked about the authors she was reading. Not one of them was female. Not one! This would never, ever happen at Barnard, because women write great books too, and Barnard will make sure you know it.

Liberal arts: To fulfill the occasionally-dreaded science requirement, I took classes in psychology, including neuroscience and personality psychology. This is something I never would’ve done had I not been required to, and it helped me discover that I absolutely love learning about things like motivation and organizational psychology, a passion that I hope to carry over into my career.

In New York City: My current collection of Playbills numbers at over 150. I’d like to thank City Center, the Joyce Theater, various Broadway venues, and Lincoln Center.

Partnered with Columbia University: I took four Columbia classes during my time at Barnard, including one that was taught by a Columbia law professor. Also, Butler Library, the largest of the more than twenty libraries at Columbia, has two million books. Two million! Not bad.

There were many, many other questions that people asked at the fair, and I’m sorry I can’t answer all of them here. But I hope this helped inform your college choice (in a way that leans you toward Barnard, of course)!