Note: This final question differs slightly between applicants to Columbia College or to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. For applicants to SEAS, there is no option to apply as undecided, so the second sentence is omitted from this prompt.
The admissions committee is interested in knowing what you find fascinating about your field and what you have done to broaden that interest. They are trying to weed out people who are applying for a given major just because it sounds fancy. But, more than that, they also want to see what makes you tick, how your passion for learning carries you beyond your high school classes, and what keeps you up at night in a fever pitch of wonder and excitement. You want to find the best, and most concise, way to showcase your passion. 300 words are a lot fewer than you would think!
At CollegeVine, we have broken down the “Why Major?” essay into two main questions:
- Why do you want to study this subject?
- Why are you qualified to study this subject?
Your essay should seek to address both of these questions with as high a degree of specificity as possible. Because this essay is so short, it is difficult to address a general field. You cannot fully explain your love of a subject with a mere 300 words. “I love astronomy” is not sufficient. Instead, you could write more specifically about your interest in exoplanets and astrobiology. Include a personal story about stargazing as a child that sparked your love of the field and mention scientific research completed in high school that further cultivated your interest in the stars.
It’s also possible that you are still figuring out what you want to study. No intellectually curious seventeen-year-old is ever certain about the topics and disciplines that will drive their future studies.
One way to communicate your interest and your desire to continue exploring a given topic is to talk about a recent conversation you had with someone who is already immersed in a field that you are curious about. An essay might begin: “Ever since my high school teacher combined potassium permanganate and glycerol and set his lab coat on fire, I’ve been fascinated with the chemical property of flammability. In order to learn more, I reached out to John McJohnson, a graduate student studying autoignition temperatures at the University of California, Davis. What most excited me about our conversation was…”
Of course, in order to write this essay, you need to actually have a conversation with someone who is working in that field. If you live in a town that has a research university, and if you are considering majoring in chemistry, you can actually go to the chemistry department’s university website, find a professor or graduate student whose work looks interesting to you, and send them an email asking to meet for coffee.
This may seem intimidating, but we can assure you that there are lots of researchers who might be willing to take 30 minutes out of their day to talk with a young person about their work. You might not get a response (most of these people are very busy), but the sooner you get used to reaching out to potential future colleagues and making connections, the better off you’ll be.
No matter what approach you take to this question, you’ll want to be sure to avoid cramming in too much jargon in an effort to communicate your technical mastery. You only have 300 words, and the point of this essay is not to dazzle your reader but rather to show what practical steps you’ve taken to explore and develop your intellectual interests.
However, you choose to write your essays, dare to be a little creative. Don’t just describe the university that the Columbia admissions officers already know. Ideally, they will see their campus a little bit differently after having read what you imagine it might be to you. As Columbia’s website says, they are looking for students who “will take greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.”
Climate, Earth Sciences, Press Release
Humidity May Prove Breaking Point for Some Areas as Temperatures Rise, Says Study
From U.S. South to China, Heat Stress Could Exceed Human Endurance
Climate scientists say that killer heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in many regions as climate warms. However, most projections leave out a major factor that could worsen things: humidity, which can greatly magnify the effects of heat alone. Now, a new global study projects that in coming decades the effects of high humidity in many areas will dramatically increase. At times, they may surpass humans’ ability to work or, in some cases, even survive. Health and economies would suffer, especially in regions where people work outside and have little access to air conditioning. Potentially affected regions include large swaths of the already muggy southeastern United States, the Amazon, western and central Africa, southern areas of the Mideast and Arabian peninsula, northern India and eastern China.
“The conditions we’re talking about basically never occur now—people in most places have never experienced them,” said lead author Ethan Coffel, a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But they’re projected to occur close to the end of the century.” The study will appears this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
A new study projects that drastic combinations of heat and humidity may hit large areas of the world later this century. (Map: Ethan Coffel)
Warming climate is projected to make many now-dry areas dryer, in part by changing precipitation patterns. But by the same token, as global temperatures rise, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor. That means chronically humid areas located along coasts or otherwise hooked into humid-weather patterns may only get more so. And, as many people know, muggy heat is more oppressive than the “dry” kind. That is because humans and other mammals cool their bodies by sweating; sweat evaporates off the skin into the air, taking the excess heat with it. It works nicely in the desert. But when the air is already crowded with moisture—think muggiest days of summer in the city–evaporation off the skin slows down, and eventually becomes impossible. When this cooling process halts, one’s core body temperature rises beyond the narrow tolerable range. Absent air conditioning, organs strain and then start to fail. The results are lethargy, sickness and, in the worst conditions, death.
Using global climate models, the researchers in the new study mapped current and projected future “wet bulb” temperatures, which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity. (The measurement is made by draping a water-saturated cloth over the bulb of a conventional thermometer; it does not correspond directly to air temperature alone.) The study found that by the 2070s, high wet-bulb readings that now occur maybe only once a year could prevail 100 to 250 days of the year in some parts of the tropics. In the southeast United States, wet-bulb temperatures now sometimes reach an already oppressive 29 or 30 degrees Celsius; by the 2070s or 2080s, such weather could occur 25 to 40 days each year, say the researchers.
Lab experiments have shown wet-bulb readings of 32 degrees Celsius are the threshold beyond which many people would have trouble carrying out normal activities outside. This level is rarely reached anywhere today. But the study projects that by the 2070s or 2080s the mark could be reached one or two days a year in the U.S. southeast, and three to five days in parts of South America, Africa, India and China. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people would suffer. The hardest-hit area in terms of human impact, the researchers say, will probably be densely populated northeastern India.
“Lots of people would crumble well before you reach wet-bulb temperatures of 32 C, or anything close,” said coauthor Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty. “They’d run into terrible problems.” Horton said the results could be “transformative” for all areas of human endeavor—“economy, agriculture, military, recreation.”
The study projects that some parts of the southern Mideast and northern India may even sometimes hit 35 wet-bulb degrees Celsius by late century—equal to the human skin temperature, and the theoretical limit at which people will die within hours without artificial cooling. Using a related combined heat/humidity measure, the so-called heat index, this would be the equivalent of nearly 170 degrees Fahrenheit of “dry” heat. But the heat index, invented in the 1970s to measure the “real feel” of moist summer weather, actually ends at 136; anything above that is literally off the chart. On the bright side, the paper says that if nations can substantially cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the next few decades, the worst effects could be avoided.
Only a few weather events like those projected have ever been recorded. Most recent was in Iran’s Bandar Mahshahr, on July 31, 2015. The city of more than 100,000 sits along the Persian Gulf, where seawater can warm into the 90s Fahrenheit, and offshore winds blow moisture onto land. On that day, the “dry” air temperature alone was 115 degrees Fahrenheit; saturated with moisture, the air’s wet bulb reading neared the 35 C fatal limit, translating to a heat index of 165 Fahrenheit.
Bandar Mahshahr’s infrastructure is good and electricity cheap, so residents reported adapting by staying in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles, and showering after brief ventures outside. But this may not be an option in other vulnerable places, where many people don’t have middle-class luxuries.
“It’s not just about the heat, or the number of people. It’s about how many people are poor, how many are old, who has to go outside to work, who has air conditioning,” said study coauthor Alex de Sherbinin of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network. De Sherbinin said that even if the weather does not kill people outright or stop all activity, the necessity of working on farms or in other outdoor pursuits in such conditions can bring chronic kidney problems and other damaging health effects. “Obviously, the tropics will suffer the greatest,” he said. Questions of how human infrastructure or natural ecosystems might be affected are almost completely unexplored, he said.
Only a handful of previous studies have looked at the humidity issue in relation to climate change. It was in 2010 that a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposed the 35-degree survivability limit. In 2015, researchers published a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change that mapped areas in the southern Mideast and Persian Gulf regions as vulnerable to extreme conditions. There was another this year in the journal Science Advances, zeroing in on the densely populated, low-lying Ganges and Indus river basins. The new study builds on this earlier research, extending the projections globally using a variety of climate models and taking into account future population growth.
Elfatih Eltahir, a professor of hydrology and climate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the issue in the Mideast and Asia, said the new study “is an important paper which emphasizes the need to consider both temperature and humidity in defining heat stress.”
Climate scientist Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who proposed the 35-degree survivability limit, said he was skeptical that this threshold could be reached as soon as the researchers say. Regardless, he said, “the basic point stands.” Unless greenhouse emissions are cut, “we move toward a world where heat stress is a vastly greater problem than it has been in the rest of human history. The effects will fall hardest on hot and humid regions.”
Tags:AfricaAsiaClimateclimate changeClimate ScienceDeveloping CountriesEnvironmentextreme weatherfeatured storyGlobal WarmingLamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryresearchResearch News
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