The 4 most common questions we receive

1. What is Urban Studies?

Urban Studies is an interdisciplinary major for undergraduate students at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the School of General Studies.

We study the complex problems, institutions, and achievements of city life.

By integrating concepts and methodologies from numerous academic disciplines — including Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, Sociology, and more — we develop a deep and nuanced understandings of modern cities, as well as the social, historical, political, economic, and cultural forces shaping urban areas today.

This major is ideal for students with a strong interest in cities and urban living, and is especially suited to those with broad intellectual interests and a desire to effect real change in the world.

2. What's the major like? What kinds of classes will I take?

First, you will take Introduction to Urban Studies.  Followed by three urban-focused courses in either Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, or Sociology and Demography, Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Public Health and Africana Studies (pick three, take one from each.) These are called the 'A' courses, and they form the introductory foundation of the Urban Studies curriculum. Choose any 'A' course that sparks your interest, but you need to take at least two 'A' courses before your junior year.

You will also take at least one humanities course with an urban-focus outside of those five disciplines (we call that a 'B' course), as well as one course in a methods of analysis (a 'C' course), at some point during your college career. We make lists of approved A/B/C courses and post them on our website at the top of each semester.

Each Urban Studies major chooses a "specialization" in a specific academic discipline, such as Anthropology, Architecture, Economics, History, Political Science, Psychology, or Sociology, to name a few. You will take five courses in your chosen academic concentration, over the course of your college career, in order to graduate with a depth of knowledge in the methodologies and disciplinary concerns of a specific field.

In your junior year, you will take one small seminar (only 16 majors per section) called, 'Shaping the Modern City.' This is a historical course focusing on the rise of the modern American city over the past two centuries. 

In your senior year, you will take a year-long Senior Seminar course in which you will devise and develop a substantial "capstone" project featuring your own original research.

Just so you know, regarding study abroad: majors are able, and indeed encouraged (though not required), to study abroad their junior year. Whichever Seminar you miss during your semester abroad, you can make up during your senior year.


3. What will my job prospects be as an Urban Studies graduate?

While "Urban Studies" is not the most common major listed on job applicants' résumés, the critical, analytic, and problem-solving skills you will acquire in this program are substantial, highly marketable, and widely applicable. As an Urban Studies major, you will conduct your own independent research. You will learn how to analyze real-world issues using multiple perspectives and methodologies. You will be familiar with a wide range of academic approaches — while still being a master of one. You will organize and present group projects, learn how to apply empirical reasoning to complex situations, and be constantly challenged to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively.

Our majors have a wide range of interests as well as professional opportunities. In our most recent departmental assessment, we surveyed dozens of past graduates, and these were some of the paths they took:

  • Graduate school (e.g. Masters of Urban Planning, Masters in Architecture, Masters of Social Work, law school)
  • Development and real estate
  • Urban education
  • Clinical research
  • Market research
  • Publishing
  • Consulting
  • Political campaigns
  • Community organizing
  • Youth development programs
  • Environmental non-profits
  • Social justice non-profits
  • Finance and private equity (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs)
  • Working for New York City
  • Entrepreneurship

4. Where do I begin?

  • Take an 'A' course. These introductory courses to urbanism and the social sciences are the "gateway" courses to becoming an Urban Studies major. They're also the most important prerequisite: you have to take at least two 'A' courses before taking the Junior Seminar sequence. Take any 'A' course that interests you — they're all weighted equally. We post lists of all 'A' courses that we know about each semester on our website.
  • Attend one of our "Program Planning Meetings," held once in the fall and once in the spring. These are open houses for the major where we unveil the Urban Studies courses being offered in the following semester. You should also consider attending one of our other events, like the Urban Studies Film Series screenings. Days/times for all of the program's events are posted on the events page.
  • Sign up for urban-list, the program's official listserv for course information, event announcements, internship opportunities, and more. Just send an email to with the subject line "Subscribe." You can leave urban-list at any point (although Urban Studies majors must remain on the list while matriculating at the College).
  • Any more questions? Drop by our office hours to talk to someone face-to-face. Email Prof. Aaron Passell any time at