Joint Program Student Creates Application Resource for Incoming and Prospective Students
Joey Hou ‘22GS/CityU is a computational finance major in Columbia’s Joint Bachelor’s Degree program with City University of Hong Kong. During his time at Columbia, Hou has gathered information about the program and interviewed his peers to create an online resource for prospective and incoming Columbia-CityU students. Aiming to clarify the application process and provide key insights to the nontraditional program from a student perspective, the online resource includes video tours of campus, question and answer sessions with students, and a detailed application handbook. “Admission-pedia”, the application handbook, walks the reader through each step of the application process—from the required GPA and test scores for a successful application to common questions during the final interview with Columbia. Available in three languages, Hou’s website is a unique and helpful resource for students interested in learning more about the life of a Columbia-CityU student. Hou discusses the creation process and inspiration for his online resource and why he chose the Columbia-CityU program.
What inspired you to build the website and what need did you see, as a student in the program, that was fulfilled by a resource like this?
At CityU, the Student Association of Mainland China prepares two volumes of an encyclopedia booklet for newly admitted students every year. Once we are admitted, they send out the first booklet which is about the application process for our majors, required forms for us to fill out, and the necessary Hong Kong transportation guides. After we are settled in Hong Kong, they send us the second volume which has tips about student life at CityU: shopping, eating, sports at the university and in Hong Kong. It was really useful to have a guide to refer to and, most importantly, it helped us settle in because we knew that someone was helping us and that there was a resource where we could quickly find out more about the school. Even as sophomores we would still refer to the booklets for things like finding the printers on campus. After I was accepted by Columbia, I also received a similar booklet from the Chinese Students’ Association here, discussing housing and transportation in NYC and Columbia.
These two booklets really inspired me because, when we were preparing for the program, there were no previous guides from a student’s perspective for us to reference. Knowing this, we were thinking about writing down the program and application process, with our personal experience and some advice for those looking to apply. So, over the summer of 2019, I began writing down my thoughts and planning a two volume guide to mimic the CityU encyclopedia booklet.
Specifically, I really wanted to share how I prepared for the interview portion of the application because I struggled at first when I was doing the mock interviews at CityU—I was kind of unprepared and I panicked. Although the faculty was super nice to me and provided a lot of useful advice, I thought that it would be valuable and helpful for those coming after me if I write down my own thoughts about it.
How did you create the booklets?
After arriving at Columbia, I talked to other students in the program and they all agreed that this would be a good project to work on. Together, we initiated the project and spent maybe a month talking it over. My peers were very helpful in the creation and brainstorming process. I was the first student in my major, but my peers weren’t. So, they had past experiences that they could speak to and had a better idea about which course to choose, what semester to take a class, and what topics to include in our booklet.
During late November, the booklet was about ready and I sent it to my peers for proofreading. After they had looked it over, I contacted my CityU advisor for more advice. In January of 2020, when everything was finished for the first volume, she put me in contact with the [CityU] Global Engagement Office and other students to help me translate it from simplified Chinese to traditional Chinese and English.
When it was officially finished, the Global Engagement office said that they appreciated our work but because it was a student-initiated project that they would not be able to support its publication officially. However, my advisor told me that the College of Business at CityU would support its publication and advised me to contact the Mainland Chinese Association. The guide booklet was finally published in the summer of 2020.
At what point in this process did you begin coding and building the website?
The website creation came way after the original publication of the booklet; I was trying to narrow down [my major] to a specific perspective of computer science and I chose website development. So, I’ve been learning how to build up a website over this past summer.
Instead of having multiple resources across multiple platforms—especially since I had the booklet and two Q&A videos prepared—I thought that it would be good if there was one accessible platform for students to view the resources. I wanted to make it approachable and informative for students, so that they knew exactly where to find the resources they wanted. So, the website really came to life within the last few months.
When did you start doing the Q&A videos?
Because of the pandemic, my roommate and I were kind of trapped in our apartment. The Columbia campus was so quiet as we were beginning to prepare the next volume of the booklet, so I thought that it would be fun for us to answer some questions and record something interesting for students. Actually, I was inspired by a student who reached out to me personally via WhatsApp about some specific questions she had about life in New York City. She asked things like how much should we expect to spend for our lunch and dinners every day at Columbia? So, my roommate and I collected five of the most common questions for us to answer in a video. It was also nice to be able to show new students what the Columbia campus looked like. The video included a tour around the libraries and the Columbia neighborhood. I also asked people about how to deal with the pressure at Columbia, because I think that’s really crucial after coming to NYC and starting at a new school. I know a lot of students worry about the academic shift when starting at Columbia.
Why did you choose to apply to this Joint Bachelor’s Degree program?
I’ve been thinking about this question recently, reflecting on my interview with Dean Rodgers and my original application to Columbia. At the very beginning, I was unsure about the Joint Degree program because I knew that there would be a change in my major, a change in campus and school, and I was the first student in my major to apply. Everything was new and it was a lot of pressure to be one of the first students to come through the program. Changing my major from a strictly science degree at CityU to business at Columbia was a big step and at first I wasn’t sure why I would even take that step. It was actually over the past two years that this program and Columbia as a whole that helped me discover why I applied in the first place.
I really wanted to try something new and I wanted to know more about myself. With this in mind, the process of finding my own interests was very important because I was so focused on getting out of my comfort zone and interacting with other people when I was choosing to major in computational finance. It was in talking with my fellow students that I became inspired to explore the Columbia-CityU Joint Degree program more. One of my good friends actually set me on this path of exploration when he pointed out that I really loved languages and there was a major here at Columbia for computational linguistics. Academically, it became more about making my interests into my field of study, so that is why in early 2020 I chose to apply for a concentration in linguistics. I hadn’t thought about that at CityU, so it was really this program that encouraged me to explore my own interests more.
The Columbia-CityU program provided a very broad and nice platform for me to look into new fields of study and meet people with all kinds of backgrounds. It also helped me to discover more about myself. When I was asked where I saw myself after Columbia, I panicked because I had never thought about it. Now, however, I am much more interested in looking long-term and have a better idea of who I am and what I want to do after college.