Barnard academics are managable, but most students spend about 75% of their time studying. All first-years have to take 2 seminars with no more than 13 or 14 students to a class, so even if the rest of your classes are huge lectures, you have the chance to get to know a few professors. Also, the Barnard advising system is pretty bitchin'. Most professors take on 4 or 5 students to advise for 2 years, then you pick an advisior in your field of study to help you as a junior and senior. All students have to complete the 9 Ways of Knowing - it covers a wide range of topics like quantitative reasoning and literature, but you have flexibility in picking your classes. For example, for the Historical Studies requirement, you have to take a history class, but it can be an art history course or a US history lecture or almost anything else. You also have to do 2 semesters of a science with a laboratory and 4 semesters of one language. The 2 semesters of Phys Ed also kind of suck, but you can fill that requirement with dance classes.
In big lecture classes, sometimes it is hard to get the professor to remember your name, however, if you talk to them after class and attend office hours they will certainly remember you. My least favorite class was Organic Chemistry because I studies a lot for it and it was still very hard. My favorite class was Molecular Biology, the professor was very clear, fun, and straight to the point. Class participation is pretty common and intellectual conversations definitely happen outside of class, students are often invited to Faculty House or to Professor's houses to get to know each other better and deepen their class discussions. Students are very competitive, and that might be overwhelming at times, but you just have to try to do your best and be yourself. I think that Barnard's academic requirements help students to become very well rounded individuals and open new opportunities. Education at Barnard is everything you would ask for-getting ready toward finding a jop as well as intellectual development.
If you want your professor to know your name, he or she will. Our largest lectures are for the intro to sciences, and those are only 160 or so people, a lot of them Columbia students. If you walk up to your professor and tell them your name in the course of a conversation, chances are they will know it the next time you see them. My least favorite class was a statistics class. The professor was new and not very good at explaining things. I had to drop out. It was terrible. I love my history classes, though. I took one called Merchants, Pirates, Slaves and the Making of Atlantic Capitalism--the class was so popular that the late students always sat on the floor. The readings were interesting and the professor was knowledgeable about his subject. It was a fun class. The students at Barnard are competitive, but not in the backstabbing sort of way. We might ask how you did on a paper to see how we measure up, but we will also answer "all right" and "really well" instead of discussing actual grades.
students at barnard work really, really hard. REALLY hard. academics are probably 70-90% of any students life during the duration of their time here. most of the classes are really rewarding, especially after you get into the higher up classes within your major, and even the largest lectures are around 60-70 people. there is also the option to take any columbia classes, although i never even attempted to because many think the classes and professors are better on this side of the street. i have a few favorite professors that i love to go in and talk to in my free time - they are really good about being there for their students. the typical barnard professor really cares about their students. there are 9 "ways of knowing" which are our general education requirements, most of which are not hard to get out of the way. my advice is to take an AP math class in high school so you can skip the quantitative reasoning requirement, and get your full year of lab credit out of the way early.
My classes at Barnard have mostly been small-ish seminar classes with about 30 people. On the whole my courses have been challenging and very rewarding, but one thing I've noticed about Barnard students is that they're sometimes shy about speaking up in class. This varies hugely, of course, but I have been disappointed sometimes with the lack of class discussion. On the other hand, this means that very few Barnard students are the kind of pretentious know-it-alls who just like to hear themselves speak and quote Foucault five times in one sentence (there are a fair number of these across the street). But just because Barnard students aren't jumping out of their seats to participate in discussion doesn't mean they're not paying attention: on the whole students here study A LOT. We take academics seriously, because believe it or not most of us aren't here to find a husband at Columbia. We're here to learn from some of the most brilliant and accomplished scholars in the world.
All of my classes this semester are small seminars; the biggest is 25 students and the smallest is 6. Some students study a lot, but I don't study that much. If I studied more, I would be much less stressed out though. It's definitely a very, very intense academic environment. More reading than you could ever imagine. Barnard students definitely have intellectual conversations outside of class- that's one big thing I notice whenever I hang out with my friends from home, the complete lack of intellectual stimulation compared to the conversations here at school. The best class I've taken is Women and Leadership, taught by Liz Abzug (whose mother was a famous feminist). The professors here are all very distinguished and accomplished and most of them are great teachers. Don't worry about picking up any actual skills... this is a liberal arts college, we're here to learn and read, not to figure out anything practical.
All of my professors this year know who I am and what kind of student I am. The classes that I've chosen to be in are generally 15 people or below, and I might have one class with about 40 students every semester. Because the professors at Barnard are not focused on graduate students, the undergraduates at Barnard are their main focus and professors are generally very available and more than happy to have a conversation with a student outside of class. I'm currently majoring in architecture, and am very happy with the department so far. The program is very intense, but it's a major that is incredibly rewarding and in which you form very close relationships with your classmates. There is also plenty of cross-over between the undergraduate school at Barnard and the graduate school at Columbia, and I am currently taking a graduate seminar at Columbia's architecture school.
Oh I have so much to say about this... Okay first off, all my professors know my name, except in my lecture classes (1 out of 4 of my classes is a lecture). The relationships among professors and students are very close here, and I've learned so much from one on one meetings and discussions with my teachers. My favorite class would have to be "Spain through its art," which is an upper level spanish course over at Columbia. However, what I found most incredible about Barnard (especially its art history department) is how academics are incorporated into the city. I'll read about a piece in my textbook, take the subway to the Guggenheim and study it in person. For my spanish class, I've been to 4 museums in Manhattan that feature Spanish art. If you want to study art history, this is definitely the place to do it.
Professors know your name, I had a professor even call me when I had mono freshman year, professors take a real interest in your personal, academic and professional development. Barnard education is based on the system called "9 Ways of Knowing" - we are based on a liberal arts education, but ultimately Barnard wants you to put your education to good use, to take what you have learned in the classroom and apply it in the real world. I'm in the Political Science department, I think that Political Science is among the top departments at this whole university, I'm perpetually impressed by my professors, an excellent set of course offerings each semester and all sorts of relevant internship opportunities offered to students each year. Students are competitive and clearly driven to do well, but not cutthroat.
Academics are rigorous, challenging, and wonderful. There are amazing and interesting classes offered, and more than 70% of classes have 20 people or less- meaning that students develop close relationships with professors, and participation in class is incredibly common. Barnard students bring their studies out of class and have intellectual conversations at all hours of the day. There are some students who are majorly competitive, however this is not the general feel. The most unique class I have taken here is Childhood in Wonderland. I really like the general education requirements as they allow students to truly get the "liberal arts" experience, getting a taste for a broad range of fields. Education at Barnard is definitely learning for its own sake as there are no pre-professional programs here.