Columbia College Chicago is the largest arts and media school in the country, and it shows. With over 12,000 students and an extensive campus spread out in the heart of downtown Chicago, it can be hard for one person to get around and find somewhere to fit. Columbia is a school for self-starters; unlike many other private universities, the college will not hold your hand and push you to do anything. There are plenty of opportunities for success and growth, but you must push yourself.
First, however, you must master the basics.
Campus. Columbia’s campus is located in the south Loop in downtown Chicago. The loop, for those of you new to Chicago, is the geographical area denoted by the loop created by CTA train routes. The borders are generally accepted as Adams to the north, Wabash to the east, Roosevelt to the south and Wells to the west. Back in the day, the south Loop was much more sketchy and underdeveloped, but since Columbia’s had its hands on it, it’s very college-d out. A lot of food, bookstores, coffee shops, and convenience stores. And 3 Starbucks within several blocks of one another. Hooray! There are nine main buildings on campus, all within about a mile of one another. Unless you’re a dance or theater major (those lucky suckers get to walk up to 8 blocks back and forth), you won’t have to walk too far.
Food. There is a lot of variety in the south Loop and the Loop in general, so you will rarely be lacking in choices. Fast food includes Panera Bread, Chutney Joe’s, Dairy Queen, Cafécito, Subway, Dunkin Donuts—the list goes on. I’ve tried them all, and my favorite by far is Cafécito (Congress and Wabash)—they have Cuban sandwiches to die for and make a mean café de leche. There are a handful of nicer restaurants, mostly Asian fusion. Personally I think they all taste the same and are too expensive, with the possible exception of Thai Spoon (Harrison and Wabash), where they serve great maki. As far as coffee goes, you can take your pick between Dunkin, Cafécito, Starbucks, Panera or Caribou.
Hotspots. One of the downfalls of Columbia is its lack of a decided central area for students to hang out, meet and study. However, most dorms on campus have main lobbies or areas suitable for congregating, and 600 S. Michigan has a great café and big study/meeting space in the basement. Many students choose to bring their laptops and take advantage of Panera’s free wifi (Congress and State).
A disappointment about the whole of downtown is that 90% of businesses close around 8 or 9 p.m. What’s a wired college student to do? Unfortunately, the only 24-hour businesses near campus are Dunkin Donuts (Harrison and Wabash) and 7-Eleven (Harrison and Dearborn). So you’ll just have to raise late-night hell in your residence hall.
As for leisure time downtown, the shopping is amazing, especially along State Street. Roosevelt’s Auditorium Theater (Congress and Wabash) is also located on campus, which hosts the Joffrey Ballet and a lot of awesome concerts. If you’re broke (wait, who’re we kidding…you’re broke), free stuff to do includes exploring the mammoth Harold Washington Library (Congress and State), visiting the Art Institute (Adams and Michigan) which often has free days, frolicking in nearby Grant and Millennium Parks (when is it not fun to look at your own face in The Bean? all along Michigan Avenue), and attending Columbia-sponsored events which include everything from LGBT balls to plays and concerts to literary readings.
Columbia’s Best Of Roundup. Best:
Place to study: Campus library or Harold Washington Library
Place to get textbooks: Books in the City (Harrison and State)
Place to relax: The Loft (916 S. Wabash, 4th floor)
Classroom building: 618 S. Michigan
Event: Manifest (end of year event) or the annual Blood Ball (masquerade party)
Sport: Hipster-watching (...yeah, we're an art school. We don't have sports.)
Be safe. There aren’t a lot of places that are off-limits to Columbia students, which is a great thing. However, Columbia is an urban campus, and since it’s downtown it’s like a super-urban campus. This doesn’t necessarily make it unsafe, especially since we have a stellar security team, but it does mean that it’s smart to keep both eyes open. Always travel in pairs after dark and keep a close eye on your valuables. Now repeat after me: OKAY, MOM.
An abundance of uniqueness. Columbia is an art school. If you’re enrolled, you already know this. It can be hard to stand out, especially with so many students. For every color your hair is dyed, there will be someone with a rainbow on their head. For every tattoo you have, there will be a person with ten more. People will have things pierced that you didn’t even know possible. It’s up to you to find out where you fit. There are countless opportunities to get involved on campus. We have a club for everything from arty Christians to black musicians to Muggles. The best advice I can give is to choose one of these clubs and show up to Columbia-sponsored events. This is the easiest way to meet people like you. Plus, there’s usually free food. Need an event to attend? Columbia’s Silvertongue Reading Series is hosting a screening of the film Bad Writing at Film Row (1104 S. Wabash, 8th floor) at 5 p.m. on Monday, September 19th. Cookies and coffee will be served at 4 p.m. I said cookies, get excited!
My second best piece of advice is to work hard at your chosen discipline. Columbia teachers are all professors who also actively practice and produce the art that they teach. No one’s going to force you to push your limits and grow in your art if you don’t want to. It can be easy to slide by doing minimal work, though it will be obvious in class that you don’t care and you won’t get any better. I'm serious, if you came to Columbia to slack, transfer out to a state school immediately where you can slack for a lot cheaper. It sounds harsh but it's true--you have to want it and you have to choose to succeed. If that’s what you decide, Columbia can be your greatest aid in making a name for yourself in your field.