Depending on the class, professors will know your name (usually once you enter more advanced classes as juniors and seniors). Students seem to be studying a lot, but around midterms and finals time, naturally, the most. Most students are competitive, but usually not in a cut-throat way. One can schedule their classes so work takes a back seat to partying, or one can punish themselves with an impossible workload. Professors want you to do well. Class participation is very common. The academic requirements are easy to fulfill. I'd say the education at Barnard is geared for learning for it's own sake and not for getting a job (unless you want to become a teacher and do the education program). Many unique classes are offered, and one can always take advantage of the classes offered at Columbia.
The classes are great, hands down. You have both small intimate seminars for, let's say English, where participation is not a chore but comes naturally because of the interesting topics. The lecture classes are usually not larger than 200, simply because the lecture halls are Barnard are small. If you want a big lecture, or simply a different class that isn't offered at Barnard, you can take anything except Core Classes at Columbia. Half my classes are there. Barnard classes are harder/easier than Columbia classes, just different. Perhaps Barnard inspires more creativity and Columbia is more strictly prescribed. But either way, the small intimate classes want more out of you in terms of a personal level, and the large lectures want to see you absorb information as efficiently as possible.
I found the professors at Barnard to be very accessible, supportive, and always willing to talk outside of class. Academics at Barnard are quite competitive, especially within the sciences, and there is a tendency among students to make the workload seem harder than it really is. After freshman year, and adjusting to the academic standards of college, the workload for most of my classes was rigorous but definitely manageable. I would recommend taking a combination of Barnard and Columbia courses. I absolutely loved my major, American Studies, but some of the key courses I took for it were offered at Columbia, and I don't think my experience would have been as fulfilling if I had stayed solely within the American Studies department at Barnard.
I was really lucky this year. I loved all my classes and professors (except for one crazy French professor...what are you going to do). Most of my classes were pretty small, and the profs knew everyone's name and were extremely approachable. I took one class that had 200+ people in it, which was a little scary at first - but on the first day, the prof gave us his home number and told us to call him anytime. He was an amazing lecturer and it ended up being my favorite course. Students do study a lot. Though there's some grade inflation, academics at Barnard and Columbia tend to be difficult and by and large, students take their studies seriously. That said, we still know how to have fun.
At Barnard you will never be taught by a TA and that's huge. I have found the teachers to be very accessible and true scholars in their work. When I was sick and was working on a paper, my teacher actually called me and we talked about my paper because we couldn't meet up. Also, at Barnard, the education is about learning and not necessarily about grades. Your teachers want you to come out of class having learned something and not fretting about your grades. As much as the academic requirements can be a bit much, it's flexible enough so you can explore different areas of study, which is essentially about making you a well-rounded person and the core of the Barnard education.
At Barnard, almost all classes are taught by professors, rather than TAs, who really love teaching. Most classes are small, and participation is huge. The typical seminar has 15 students, and not only do the professors encourage participation, but they even arrange individual meetings with students to discuss papers and the class overall. They really care about their students. Even in lecture classes, which tend to be a lot bigger, if the professor doesn't know your name, they know your face, and will recognize you if you run into them on campus. They are all extremely available, encouraging, and it's obvious that they love what they do.
Classes are usually between 10 to 20 students, and professors can easily be reached. There is one required class, First Year English, which everyone has to get through, but don't judge Barnard's english department based on it! It's the one downside to freshman year. Barnard has very good french and pre-med courses, but as a comparative literature major, I found Columbia offered more variety and depth, especially courses like Prague Spring (an examination of Czech film and literature in the 1960s). Barnard has the Nine Wasy of Knowing, which in contrast to CU's Core Requirements is a flexible program geared towards working with your interests.
Barnard has this 9 Ways of Knowing curriculum. In that way, it's learning philosophy is distinct from Columbia's, where they have a strict Core Curriculum. Bnard basically has subject requirements. They've been fairly painless except for the lab science requirement: it is way too much for non-science people. Most people say that and I think it's something the student govt is working on changing. I've liked classes and not liked others - it really depends. I like my major, urban studies, but it's seen some neglect in the past year. There couldn't be a better place to study cities than NYC, though.
I love my friends from high school. They are fun and great and always ready for a good time, but I have never had a conversation with them about my favorite book or the merits of Shakespeare's tragedies over his comedies. That was by far the most refreshing change of coming to Barnard, that students were not only well-read, but well versed in talking about literature or current events or history or anything really, and had opinions and thoughts that they wanted other people to share. Barnard really fosters this sense of the importance of sharing your opinions.
The academic experience at Barnard is wonderful. In smaller classes, professors make an effort to know your name and to get to know you as a person. Participation is a huge part of most classes. I had the opportunity to form friendships with a few professors and advisors. Barnard's academic requirements make is imperative that you have a well rounded liberal arts education. You are required to take a certain number of classes in each of nine different discipline, but there are no "required" courses as there often are at larger universities such as Columbia.