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#3 Overall Influence #6 Desirability Rank

Columbia University

Private Ivy League research university in New York City
By James Barham, PhD

Columbia is the eleventh-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. After New Jersey founded its college (now Princeton University) in 1746, New Yorkers, not wishing to be outdone, established their own college just eight years later. Its original name was King’s College.

However, following the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and George Washington’s final victory at Yorktown in 1781, King George III found himself in bad odor throughout the former colonies. So, in 1784 King’s College was formally rechristened in honor of Christopher Columbus. (With that doughty explorer being in equally bad odor today, a second rebranding sometime soon would not surprise us.)

Over the years, Columbia has flourished at several different sites around Manhattan, moving most recently (in 1896) from a Midtown location at 49th Street and Madison Avenue to its present location at 116th and Broadway in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side.

Under whatever name and wherever situated, with around 100 Nobel laureates Columbia has long been at the forefront of research in both the sciences and the humanities. For example, Thomas Hunt Morgan’s experiments between 1911 and 1928 with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, in his Columbia lab fondly known as “the Fly Room,” laid the foundations for the modern field of population genetics.

In 1938, I.I. Rabi discovery the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) at Columbia. Rabi’s discovery formed the basis for NMR spectroscopy and other techniques for studying the structure and behavior of matter.

In January of 1939, Rabi, Enrico Fermi, and several other physicists produced the first artificial fission reaction—i.e., the first “splitting of the atom”—in the United States. They did this just one month after Lise Meitner and her colleagues in Berlin had achieved this result, in December of 1938.

During World War II, the then – top secret, but now – world famous, Manhattan Project got its name from the fact that much of the early theoretical work on the first atomic bomb took place in Pupin Hall (named after the Serbian-American physicist, M.I. Pupin) and elsewhere on the campus of Columbia University.

In 1953, Charles H. Townes and his Columbia University team created the first working laser device.

In 1966, a team led by Maurice Ewing at Columbia’s Lamont Earth Observatory successfully interpreted magnetic field – readings of the ocean floor at the mid-ocean ridges as evidence of ocean-floor spreading. By implication, these findings also provided the first experimental evidence in support of the global plate tectonics, or “continental drift,” hypothesis advanced by Alfred Wegener in 1910 to explain the apparent mobility of the continents over geological time.

Most recently, in 2019, neuroscientists working at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute for research on mind, brain, and behavior achieved an astonishing breakthrough. For the first time, scientists have been able to produce clear, intelligible, synthetic speech by means of real-time computer processing of human brain activity.

Another history-making scientist who graduated from Columbia, but did his important work elsewhere, is Arno Penzias, co-discoverer in 1964 (with Robert Woodrow Wilson) of the 3° K cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.

As for the humanities and social sciences, Columbia is almost as distinguished in these fields as it is in the natural sciences. A full list of famous alumni would be much too long to reproduce here, but some of the highlights would include:

  • Aviator, Amelia Earhart
  • Philosophers, Robert Nozick & Jerry Fodor
  • Anthropologist, Margaret Mead
  • Economist, Simon Kuznetz
  • Urbanologist, Jane Jacobs
  • Film producer, David O. Selznick
  • Lyricist, Ira Gershwin
  • Violinist, Gil Shaham
  • Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca
  • Writers, Isaac Asimov, J.D. Salinger, & Hunter S. Thompson
  • Actors, Ossie Davis & Anthony Perkins
  • Creator of the original Star Trek television series, Gene Roddenberry

From Wikipedia

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. Established in 1754 as King's College on the grounds of Trinity Church in Manhattan, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. Columbia is ranked among the top universities in the world by major education publications.

Source: Wikipedia


What does this school look for?

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How much does it cost to attend?

Tuition (in-state)


Fees (in-state)


IncomeAverage Net Cost
0 - 30K$8,916
30K - 48K$4,287
48K - 75K$5,887
75K - 110K$18,637

After Graduation

Averages for 10 years after enrolling

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Campus Life

What's it like to attend this school?

The People

Full time on-campus stats

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The Campus

Where will you be attending?


West 116 St and Broadway, New York NY 10027

What is Columbia University known for?

Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.

Top areas of influence with degrees offered

#3 World Rank
#6 World Rank
#3 World Rank
#13 World Rank
#11 World Rank
#5 World Rank
#3 World Rank
Political Science
#3 World Rank
#6 World Rank
#2 World Rank
#6 World Rank
#3 World Rank
#3 World Rank
#8 World Rank
#9 World Rank
#10 World Rank
Computer Science
#4 World Rank
#8 World Rank
#4 World Rank
#10 World Rank
Religious Studies
#4 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#1 World Rank
Social Work
#2 World Rank

Other areas of influence

#8 World Rank
Criminal Justice

Influential People

Who are Columbia University's Most influential alumni?

Columbia University 's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Social Work, Communications, and Nursing

Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling

American academic

Max Eastman

Max Eastman

American writer

Jacob M. Appel

Jacob M. Appel

American author, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic

Arthur Danto

Arthur Danto

American art critic and philosopher

James McClelland

James McClelland

American psychologist

Solomon Asch

Solomon Asch

Polish-American psychologist

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism

Niles Eldredge

Niles Eldredge

American biologist

Henry Steel Olcott

Henry Steel Olcott

Union United States Army officer

Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny

American speculative fiction writer

Ashley Montagu

Ashley Montagu

British-American anthropologist

Charles A. Beard

Charles A. Beard

American historian