Trying to familiarize yourself with Columbia, but finding yourself overwhelmed by a barrage of new terms? Not to worry! Bwog is here to break down the essential vocabulary you should know before starting your first semester.

Table of Contents

Schools, Buildings, & Organizations

Barnumbia: The portmanteau that leaves Bwog’s comments section in shambles every time it appears in an article, “Barnumbia” is a convenient way to refer to both (and even all four!) colleges at once. 

Butler: The Columbia library, located in the heart of Columbia’s campus. I would describe the vibe as “Manderley-chic,” meaning both that it is intimidatingly fancy and that it’s a great spot to be a 21-year-old woman slowly losing her grip on reality. That being said, everyone should try studying there at least once.

CC: Acronym for Columbia College, but also for Columbia Core, for the class within the core, Contemporary Civilizations, and for “Camp Columbia,” a state park in Connecticut once used as a second campus for Columbia’s Engineering department.

“The College”: The worst way to refer to Columbia College when differentiating it from the other three schools. Remove it from your vocabulary now; avoid the chance to use it in public.

Diana: Barnard’s student life hub, the Diana Center houses just about everything you can think of—classrooms, multiple popular study spaces, two dining halls, the Barnard Bookstore—among others, and serves as the meeting space of several campus organizations, including SGA (Student Government Association) and BOSS (Barnard Organization of Soul & Solidarity).

“The Four Colleges”: While Columbia is one big university that includes a myriad of undergraduate and graduate programs, you’ll often hear it referred to as being made up of four colleges. Those four colleges are Barnard, Columbia College, the School of General Studies (GS), and the School for Applied Science and Technology (SEAS).   

GS: The School of General Studies at Columbia. While the name may sound vague, this college is specifically designed for “non-traditional students,” mostly those who are pursuing dual-degree programs or who have taken some time off between receiving their high school diploma and starting college.

HWC: An acronym for “Historically Women’s College.” While Barnard is sometimes referred to as just a “women’s college,” the “HWC” moniker is often used to recognize that Barnard’s student body no longer identifies exclusively as women, and includes many trans and non-binary students.

JTS: The Jewish Theological Seminary. While not officially a college of the University, JTS’s List College of Jewish Studies is closely affiliated, offering joint degree programs with both GS and Barnard. 

Lerner: The Columbia equivalent of the Diana Center, Lerner is the center of CC student life, housing—among other things—several performance spaces, the meeting spaces of several campus organizations (including Bwog!!), and multiple dining options. Lerner is also the home of several annual performances, such as the Varsity Show and Glass House Rocks. You’ll recognize it as the building made almost entirely of ramps, which you’ll either hate with a fiery passion or not really think about at all.

Milstein: Barnard’s only library, which doubles as arguably its nicest building and for many, the best library on campus. Related terms include “Milstein Green Chairs,” the coveted and (admittedly delightful) green armchairs situated along the floor-to-ceiling windows of the library’s second, third, and fourth floors. It’s also home to student-favorite Peet’s coffee, which accepts both Dining Dollars and Barnard Meal Points.

NoCo: Home of the Science & Engineering Library, which, contrary to its name, is open to all students, and has great study nooks and an excellent early-2010s college campus aesthetic that really gives it a great studying vibe. If you’ve never heard of this library, don’t worry—this author was finishing her sophomore spring before she even entered the building.

NSOP: New Student Orientation Programming, which all of you will go through during your first days at school! This typically consists of meetings with your group leader, information sessions, and fun activities to get to know the Barnumbia community and the city of New York.

SEAS: The School of Engineering and Applied Science. If we had to describe it in one sentence, it would be “a school of Engineering and Applied Science.” 

Student Government: Each of Columbia’s four undergraduate colleges has its own student governing boards, which advocate on behalf of the student body to their respective college’s administration. These organizations—the Student Government Association at Barnard (SGA), the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC), the General Studies Student Council (GSSC), and the Engineering Student Council (ESC)—meet weekly and oversee a myriad of elements of student life. Lucky for you, Bwog covers all of their weekly meetings!

Study Rooms: These are exactly what they sound like—private rooms in Columbia’s libraries (most notably in Butler, Milstein, Uris, and NoCo) that students can reserve for individual or group study sessions. If you’re someone who prefers to study alone, they’re a great way to guarantee a seat in the library of your choice without interruptions. If you prefer to study in a group, they’re a great way to do so without disturbing the people around you. Just beware: since these rooms are open to anyone when they’re not reserved, at some point, you will inevitably have to kick someone out of yours, and—if you’re this author—that person might pretend to have a reservation of their own, feel bad and admit to their lie, then try to turn the whole situation into an ultimately ill-fated meet-cute. The room isn’t worth it.

Bonus: Libraries on Columbia’s Campus: Looking for a change after spending 12 consecutive hours in Butler and/or Milstein? Columbia has a lot. While not all Columbia libraries are open to undergrads, Bwog loves NoCo’s Science & Engineering Library and Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library (when they have seats available). Find a full list of Columbia’s libraries here!

Registration & Academics

Credits: Each class is worth a certain number of credit hours, usually three to four (although some courses, like PE and STEM labs, are worth only one or 1.5 credits). To be considered a full-time student, you need to be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester, or three to four classes, However, students are usually recommended to take somewhere between 12-16 credits per semester, or three to five classes. 

Corequisite: A corequisite is a class meant to be taken at the same time as another class! While a corequisite can be a second class that directly relates to the original class (such as in many STEM courses, where the corequisite is usually a lab course), it can also be an entirely different class altogether. If you are adding a course to your schedule in Student Planning (or viewing it on Vergil) and it has a corequisite course, the corequisite should appear in the course description.

Courseworks: Also known as Canvas, Courseworks is the online platform for Barnard and Columbia classes. Here, you can access everything from course syllabi to class readings and assignments, all in one handy location. While not every professor has an equal level of expertise in creating a student-friendly Courseworks page, each of your classes should, at the very least, have a page including some important information. Once you’re enrolled in a class, you should automatically be added to its Courseworks page. 

Discussion Section (aka Recitation): A discussion section, sometimes known as a recitation, is a shorter, corequisite class period—usually meeting once a week for about 50 minutes—that you’ll take alongside a larger lecture course. While not all lecture courses have attached discussion sections, those that do usually offer multiple sections to accommodate your schedule. In a typical discussion section, you’ll meet in a smaller group of students, usually with a TA instead of a professor, and discuss course readings, lectures, and upcoming assignments. It’s an excellent opportunity to ask questions! 

Dropping a Class: “Dropping” a class just refers to un-enrolling yourself from any course before the drop deadline, which is typically two weeks into the semester. If you begin a course and decide it’s not for you, you have the freedom to remove yourself from the course without penalty, as long as you do it before the deadline. 

FDOC (and, alternatively, LDOC): First Day of Classes! Alternatively, Last Day of Classes! 

First-Year Experience: For Barnard students, the First-Year Experience is the set of three required courses that everyone must complete by the end of their first year: First-Year Seminar, First-Year Writing, and a PE course. Before your first registration period, you should receive an email letting you know whether to take Seminar or Writing during your fall semester and will take the other course in the spring. After that, you can choose from any of Barnard’s many, many offerings in the department. You’ll have the entire year to fulfill your PE requirement.

Office Hours: Office hours are a specific time that professors—and often TAs—will reserve on their schedules for meeting with students. This is a great opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the course content, get advice about your assignments before you submit them, and build relationships with faculty. Professors will often post their office hours on Courseworks, but sometimes hold them only by appointment. 

P/D/F: This acronym—which stands for Pass, D, Fail—refers to an alternate way to receive grades in your classes. Essentially, if you choose to take a class P/D/F, rather than receiving a typical letter grade, you’ll receive one of these three designations on your transcript. This can be especially helpful if you aren’t failing a class but still aren’t happy with your grade because classes with a “P” designation won’t count towards your overall GPA. Just be careful: there are several limitations to the P/D/F option—including that you can only use the P/D/F option on a limited number of courses, CC students cannot P/D/F Core classes, and no one can P/D/F most of the courses required for their major—so it’s best to be very conscious of which courses you choose.

Prerequisite: A prerequisite is a class meant to be taken before another class. Typically, prerequisites are introductory-level courses in a certain department that students are required to complete before they can enroll in upper-level courses. For example, many upper-level Psychology courses are only available to students who have already taken Introduction to Psychology. If you’re viewing a course on Vergil and it has a prerequisite course, the prerequisite should appear in the course description.

Registration Period: A registration period is the period of time in which you can freely add and drop classes. As an incoming first-year, you’ll typically have a brief registration period during the summer, followed by a longer period once school starts. Your registration period is unique to you, but you should be able to see the days and times of your period on both Student Planning and SSOL.

Slate for Students: The online home for any form a Barnard student may need, from transcripts to major declarations, with convenient links to further organizational resources, like the 2022-23 Academic Calendar.

Shopping Period: The shopping period is the two-week period at the beginning of the semester in which you can add or drop any available course. This is a great time to decide whether you like a class enough to stay in it the whole semester, and leave it if not!

SSOL: An acronym for Student Services Online, a resource library that contains everything from your grades, to your semester bill, to the resources to replace lost IDs.

Vergil: Columbia’s online platform for finding course descriptions and offerings from a variety of departments. 

Waitlist: Want to register for a class, but find it’s already full? This will probably happen a lot during your first year, so don’t fret—you can join the waitlist. Since many students drop classes before the end of the shopping period, many end up being accepted off the waitlist. Just look out: you can only be on three waitlists at a time, so make sure you are only joining the list for classes you really want or need to take! You can check your position on the waitlist on SSOL, and you can even check to see how long a course’s waitlist is before you add yourself to the waitlist.

Withdrawal: A withdrawal refers to dropping a class after the drop deadline, which is the end of the shopping period. If you withdraw from a class, that will be noted on your transcript, while a drop will not.

Writing Center: Writing a paper and looking for something in between asking a TA to read it and asking one of your friends? Writing Centers are staffed by student workers specially trained to provide feedback on writing assignments before you submit them. Both Barnard and Columbia have Writing Centers, so no matter where you start this semester, they’re a great resource to know about!

Zine: A self-published mini-magazine, usually discussing one specific topic. It’s not that the word “zine” means something different here, it’s just that once you step foot in a humanities class, you will never stop hearing it. I am not being hyperbolic when I say Barnumbia processors love zines. Take from this what you will, but on two separate occasions, I’ve submitted a zine as a final project in a class where I thought I’d score a B at best and found an A in its place. Milstein is even home to the Barnard Zine Library, featuring plenty of submissions from students and alumni!

Dorm Life

Corridor-Style: Corridor-style refers to rooms—like those in all first-year dorms—that are arranged along a hallway and share a bathroom and kitchen with the rest of their floor.

Dingle: This one is controversial. According to our editorial staff, there are two—possibly college-specific—definitions. To some, a “dingle,” is a walk-through double, meaning two mostly-separate rooms that are connected to each other. However, others use “dingle” to refer to a double room in which only one person currently lives.

LaundryView: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the resident-to-washing-machine ratio in any given dorm is… not the best. Don’t fret! LaundryView is an amazing resource that allows you to plan your trips to the machines in advance by letting you know how many machines are occupied in real-time. Disclaimer: this may currently only be available at Barnard dorms.

Suitemate: For students living in suite-style, a suitemate is someone who lives in the same suite as you, but in a different room. 

Suite-Style: Suite-style refers to smaller groupings of bedrooms—usually around 6 bedrooms and housing fewer than 10 people—that share a kitchen and at least one bathroom so that their setup is closer to an apartment than corridor-style dorms.

Walk-Through Double: In the immortal words of Hannah Montana, walk-through doubles offer the “best of both worlds…” or at least they try. In some ways, a walk-through double is actually a pair of singles, in that the two rooms are mostly separated from each other. In other ways—in that you can only access one room from the outside, and have to walk through it to access the second room—it’s a double. Want the privacy of a single, but worried living entirely alone will spur a Yellow Wallpaper moment? A walk-through double might be the room for you. Just beware: walk-through doubles often don’t have a door separating the two rooms, and sometimes, the floorplan gods like to play a cruel trick on unsuspecting student residents by putting both desks in one room, and both beds in another without a way to change the layout.

Meal Plans & Dining 

Café East: Want the Fun Little Drink™ experience without having to leave campus? Alternatively, want to spend all of your dining dollars without feeling like you’re spending real money? Café East is the place for you. Featuring boba, smoothies, and even sushi, this is the snack spot Rina Sawayama was thinking about when she wrote “XS.” 

Coffee Shops on Campus: Not in the mood for luxury and opulence? Not to worry! Barnumbia is full of coffee shops that accept meal swipes, points, and dining dollars. At Columbia, both Blue Java and Joe Coffee have multiple locations across campus. At Barnard, you can find Peet’s Coffee on the first floor of Milstein, and fan favorite Liz’s Place on the first floor of Diana. Off-campus (and outside of the meal plan), among many others, you can find Dunkin Donuts (on Amsterdam between 121st and 122nd), Pret à Manger (on Broadway between 115th and 116th), Starbucks (on Broadway between 114th and 115th), Blue Bottle Coffee (at Broadway and 113th), Oren’s Coffee (at Broadway and 112th, right before Tom’s), and, of course, the beloved Hungarian Pastry Shop (at Amsterdam and 111th).

Chef Mike’s: Columbia’s sexy newest addition, Chef Mike’s is everything you’ve ever wanted out of a college campus sub shop. Featuring a variety of soups and sandwiches, when it comes to conveniently-located lunch spots, Chef Mike’s is That Bitch.

Diana Café: The Diana Café, located on the second floor of the Diana Center, is Barnard’s go-to lunch spot, featuring a consistent lineup of build-your-own pizza, ramen, and bowls, alongside premade sushi and salads. While some of the premade food leaves something to be desired, overall, the Diana Café is still a favorite for its convenience and variety.

Dining Dollars: Included in many Columbia meal plans, dining dollars act as prepaid “money” you can use to purchase any number of items at Columbia dining halls. While they can be used in place of meal swipes to gain entry into Columbia’s buffet-style dining halls, they can also be used to purchase individual items not available using regular meal swipes.

Faculty House: The Mr. Darcy of Columbia dining halls, Faculty House can seem cold, unfeeling, and a little snobby, but the combination of the view, the “daily” salmon, and the immaculate sides makes anyone who visits completely and perfectly and incandescently happy. 

Ferris: Microdose the lines at Disney World by visiting Ferris in the heart of Lerner! Ferris Booth Commons is beloved for its many exciting stations, but it is Always. Crowded. Worth the braving a line so long they may literally be out of food by the time you get to the front? Only you can decide.

Hewitt: Barnard’s largest dining hall, Hewitt is also the college’s only true buffet-style offering, meaning for the cost of one meal swipe, students can fill their plate with as much food as they want, and can keep coming back for seconds. Hewitt features both fan-favorite fixtures—like burgers and an expansive salad bar—and a rotating menu of entrees and sides that have a big portion of the Barnumbia population raving. It’s also notable for being the only dining hall to serve hot Kosher food.

JJ’s Place: Allegedly once a 24-hour establishment, JJ’s Place, located in the basement of John Jay, is the spot to get a late night (meaning, like, 9:30 pm) milkshake or veggie burger. With an energy that blends Euphoria with Teen Beach Movie, there truly is no better place to wait 30 minutes in line for fries. Come here if you want “Yeah!” by Usher to be blasted in your ears.

John Jay: Perhaps the most conveniently-located dining hall, John Jay, like Hewitt, is a buffet-style dining hall on the first floor of John Jay Hall. A Bwog favorite for its breakfast offerings and a multitude of stations, John Jay is a staple for Columbia first-years.

Meal Points: The equivalent of Columbia’s dining dollars, but for Barnard students. To honor Barnard’s legacy as an HWC, meal points are also less effective than dining dollars, since they aren’t applicable at many Columbia dining halls that accept dining dollars.

Meal Swipes: A feature of nearly every meal plan, meal swipes are the most common dining hall currency. One meal swipe = one entry into any dining hall, which for many, means all you can eat, making them a fan favorite as well as a dining hall staple. Unlike meal points, meal swipes are usable across college lines, meaning Barnard can use their meal swipes at Columbia dining halls and vice versa. Just be careful—while every Barnumbia dining hall accepts meal swipes, not every food item is available using them.


Millie the Dancing Bear: A beloved Barnard mascot, a dancer, and a one-time lover of Roar-ee, Millie (named for Barnard’s first president Millicent Mary McIntosh) Millie is many things, among them a keeper of secrets, the most important being which student is donning the costume.

OL: Your Orientation Leader, will typically hold regular meetings with your orientation group during NSOP to help you get acclimated to the community and day-to-day life at the University.

Preceptor: Never heard of this? We don’t blame you. Here, a preceptor is a student worker who assists the professor in the day-to-day functions of their classroom, such as taking attendance and using technology. Unlike TAs, preceptors don’t need to have specialized knowledge of the course’s content, as their role is generally more oriented towards assisting the professor than assisting students.

PrezBei: Barnumbia’s affectionate nickname for Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock. Are you an incoming Barnard first-year who was sucked in by the allure of the Year of Science? If so, you have PrezBei to thank. 

PrezBo: The student body’s affectionate nickname for part-time professor and full-time millionaire Lee C. Bollinger, who also happens to be University President—at least for this year. How can one even begin to define PrezBo? He is a stolen cardboard cutout in the first days of May. He is, perhaps, partially responsible for the lion’s share of Manhattan’s ongoing gentrification. He is… Harry Styles’s step-dad

Provost: The “chief academic offer,” a provost oversees the academic and budgetary needs of the university, and sends out a lot of emails to the student body. Columbia’s is Mary C. Boyce, and Barnard’s is Linda Bell.

TA: A TA, or Teacher’s Assistant, is literally that—an assistant for your professor who aids in teaching a course. You’ll most often find TAs, who are typically Columbia graduate students, in large lecture courses. They often run discussion sections, grade assignments, send out communications to students from professors, and hold office hours to answer student questions.

RA: Resident Advisor, a student worker who works and lives in the dorms, helping to facilitate a functional and welcoming residential community. As a first-year, your RA will likely host lots of great programming to help introduce you to fellow first-years and the larger Barnumbia community.

Roar-ee: Once known as “Leo Columbiae,” Columbia’s lion mascot, interestingly chosen for the extensive existing lion imagery on campus, has been known as “Roar-ee” since 2005. Fun fact: the first costumed Roar-ee mascot, who debuted in 1925, was not a student, but a German Shepherd named Chief.

Events, Social Life, & Lore

Big Sub: One of Barnard’s biggest annual student life traditions, Big Sub is, really, exactly what it sounds like. Every year, students gather to feast on a 750-foot sub sandwich, featuring cold cuts alongside gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options.

The Bulletin: A helpful resource for staying up-to-date with all of the events happening around campus during any given week! Pretty much every student organization uploads their upcoming events to the Bulletin, so it’s a great way to learn about new organizations or just new events from your existing favorites.

Club Fair: A great way to learn about all of Barnumbia’s wonderful campus organizations! At the start of each semester, both Barnard and Columbia host club fairs, where campus organizations are invited to set up tables advertising their club to prospective members. It’s an opportunity to speak to current club members, learn about recruitment and upcoming meetings, and discover clubs you didn’t even know existed. A few disclaimers: while club fairs are held both semesters, the fairs in the fall semester are typically bigger. Additionally, while most campus organizations are open to students from any of the four undergraduate colleges, some clubs limit the number of Barnard and/or Columbia students permitted to their clubs, which is part of the reason that there are two separate club fairs.

Ferris Goo: While it’s most commonly understood as being what Bwog Editors described as a “vat of avocado” served at Ferris, “Ferris goo” can refer to a variety of somewhat suspect toppings at the Ferris taco station, including but not limited to the avocado and the sour cream.

Frat Row: A row of frats. More specifically, a small area of Morningside Heights (along 113th and 114th,  between Broadway and Amsterdam), where many of Columbia’s fraternities and sororities are housed in brownstones. 

Glass House Rocks: An annual university-wide celebration, Glass House Rocks may be the only thing we can all agree Lerner is good for. At the end of every spring semester, all four student councils collaborate to host the event, an all-night party featuring free food and drinks and performances on every floor of the ramps. 

Matilda the Harlem Goat: Sure, this is a bit of a deep cut in Columbia’s lore, but we at Bwog are fierce advocates of bringing Matilda into the mainstream. Here’s the story: in the early 20th century, long before the days of Roar-ee the Lion, Columbia had another mascot: Matilda the Harlem Goat. However, unlike Roar-ee, Matilda wasn’t a costumed mystery student—she was a living, breathing goat who lived in a shack on 120th. According to WikiCU, “When the lion was suggested as a mascot for the school in 1910, some students suggested that Matilda the Goat held a closer place in Columbians’ hearts than some metaphorical and royalist king of the jungle.” Unfortunately, she was defeated in the election for mascot by opponent Leo Columbiae, who later became Roar-ee. When her short life tragically ended in 1914, she was honored with a funeral procession in full academic regalia, and was subsequently taxidermied and displayed in a Morningside Heights drugstore for the next four and a half decades. Interestingly, while she was once promised to the New York Historical Society, since 1960, the location of her remains has been unknown.

Midnight Breakfast: If you’ve ever consumed even a single iota of Barnard College admissions content, you’ve probably already heard of Midnight Breakfast. If there’s one thing Barnard loves to advertise about student life, it is this tradition, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. At the end of every semester, just before finals begin, Barnard students are invited to partake in a breakfast buffet at midnight (with the super healthy presumption that everyone is already up late studying), served by various faculty members. 

Primal Scream: Another one that is exactly what it sounds like! On the last Sunday night of each semester, students from all four colleges gather at midnight to partake in a primal scream that can last for minutes at a time. There isn’t really a single centralized location for Primal Scream—while many students gather on Butler lawn, others participate across campus, some even choosing to scream from their dorm windows.

St. A’s: The number of times “secret” is used to describe this secret society—home of the iconic chandelier on the cover of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album—implies telling you would defeat the purpose. That being said, Bwog is deeply committed to honest journalism.

Varsity Show: Cited as one of Columbia’s oldest traditions, the annual Varsity Show is a can’t-miss event at the end of the spring semester. The show, which gets its name from the fact that it was initially formed to raise money for the University’s athletic programs pokes healthy fun at various aspects of life at Columbia and does so with incredible production value. The show is written, directed, and performed by students, including, at different times, Oscar Hammerstein II (CC 1916), Richard Rogers (CC 1923), Jenny Slate (CC ’04), Greta Gerwig (BC ’06), and Kate McKinnon (CC ’06).

Low Library without her steps via Bwog Archives