I didn't go to the admitted students weekends, but I visited on my own and went on student-led tours. After that visit, I was SURE Columbia > NYU. I then got the Dean's Scholarship offer from NYU for total $25K, but I'm pretty sure that the difference is still too big for me to turn it down:
1. The study space in general felt more comfortable at CLS. This is debatable (as every other opinion I have), but my personal feeling was that I would be happy sitting around in the law buildings and working in study groups. Also, it was really nice having the undergraduate campus right across the street...it seems like there are a lot of great libraries there (my tour guide said that since she went to undergrad there and was used to the library, she continues to use it now in law school).
2. I didn't look at the housing in NYU...I saw Lenfest at CLS which was very nice but far too expensive. Judging from others' posts though, it seems like CLS wins with housing. Also, the gyms are apparently really far....not that I'm opposed to exercising on the way to working out, but being from the south I think I would rather a quick commute to a warmer exercise climate.
3. Ok I know that this is purely by chance and should not be a reflection of the entire student body, BUT my tour guide at NYU seemed pretty....spacey? Granted, it could have been that he was having a rough week or something, but he just didn't seem as happy or passionate or interested in selling the schools as my Columbia tour guide did.
4. Not a fan of how crowded the Village felt...especially with all the construction that seemed to be going on around the school.
5. In general, the recruiting and career guidance at Columbia seemed better. I don't have any stats or facts to support that, but student guides that I talked to made it sound like Columbia did a much better job helping its students network.
6. While Columbia is going to be more expensive that going to NYU, I figure that the career prospects will allow me to pay off my debt in relatively the same amount of time (since it's only like a 25K difference in debt and Columbia's name might potentially give me better options), or, if I decide to go into PI immediately, I will have it paid off for me relatively quickly. Hopefully this doesn't backfire.
Again, this is all a lot of speculation based on single day experiences, but looks like I'll be going to Columbia in the fall...at sticker. Blech
As a 1L at NYU, there are just a couple of things here that I think you might have gotten the wrong impression of during your visit:
1) The hub of the undergrad campus is right around the law school. I walk by the undergrad library every day on my way to school from one of the law school dorms; it's just a couple of blocks from the law buildings. If for some reason the law library didn't strike you right, you would have no problem studying there.
2) I don't think the gyms are really that far away. Looking them up online, there is one just a couple blocks from my dorm, and there are others scattered around that might be more convenient depending on where you live. Either way, there are several within easy walking distance of campus. I have heard they are nice quality, but I haven't been in any so I can't say for sure. I also haven't had any problems with housing. Granted, it's more expensive than at Columbia, but you're living in the Village. I think the proximity to restaurants/fun things to do outweighs the cost, but if you don't, it's easy to commute in from cheaper places like Brooklyn or even New Jersey.
3) Sorry you got a bad tour guide! But I promise, most NYU students really are happy.
4) Fair enough, if you don't like crowded spaces, the Village is probably not going to be your idea of heaven.
5) This is hard to address without any specifics. But I have never heard anyone here complaining that the administration didn't help them get jobs. NYU has a concrete advantage if you're interested in public interest, because the annual New York Public Interest Job Fair is held here, and there are some home court advantages built into the rules. There are also lots of panels and networking events where you can learn about different fields and get to meet practitioners. And there have been several different chances for even 1Ls to meet BigLaw folks this year, from large Meet and Greets to intimate dinners at tables with representatives.
Of course, if you really got a better vibe from Columbia, follow your heart! They're both great schools and I know you'll be happy at either. Good luck in making your decision!