Campus Visit Debriefing: Johns Hopkins University

We have a Johns Hopkins University alum in my family: my husband earned his Masters of Science degree from there back in 2011...without setting foot on the Homewood campus in Baltimore until graduation day.  Thanks, remote JHU locations!  It was time I took a good look at the school whose name is on a paper framed in our sitting room.  I visited JHU on Saturday, July 25, 2015.

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

Fun fact: Johns Hopkins has a very competitive wading team.  See a promo video here, a news article here, and its facebook page here.

Ease of application: Hopkins accepts the Common App or the Universal College Application.  It requires two essays: a personal statement essay and a "Why JHU?" type essay.  JHU offers early decision (not early action), which is binding.  The deadline for early decision is November 2 and for regular decision is January 4.  Acceptance rates for early decision applicants is typically higher than for regular decision applicants, with last year's numbers coming in around 30% vs. 13%, respectively.  The counselors running the info session attributed the higher acceptance rate of early applicants to the fact that these applicants, as a rule, tend to be better matches for Hopkins because they have already determined that they would forsake all other schools for the chance to attend.  Test scores are required, and JHU will superscore within each test (ACT, current SAT, redesigned SAT).  As a school with competitive admissions, the counselors stated that they always have more academically qualified applicants than they have space in the freshman class.  What will help you stand out?  Showing what you're interested in, why you're interested in it, and how JHU is the best place for you to pursue that interest.  The counselors said that, when the admissions committee meets, the first question about those on-the-fence students is, "What's the student's case for Hopkins?"  Or, why does this student think that Johns Hopkins is better for him than all the other schools out there?  The bulk of this answer will come from that second essay, mentioned above. As with many schools, merit scholarships are given based on the admissions application.  JHU will meet 100% of demonstrated need.

Overall impression:  As the first research college in the United States and as the school that receives twice the amount of federal research funding as any other American school (roughly $2.2 billion last year, I think they said), Johns Hopkins is really all about research. About 70% of undergraduates participate in some kind of research, even those students not involved in the traditional sciences.  The admissions counselors were particularly excited about the research aspect in light of the recent feat celebrated at JHU's Applied Physics Lab: New Horizon's passing of Pluto.  There are so many opportunities for research at this school.  What if you've never done research before and are intimated by the prospect?  No worries!  The faculty is there to help you get set up.  What you need to bring is a spirit of exploration and curiosity.  If you have those things, chances are that you will like the academic environment at Hopkins.

So, with all of this research going on, does that mean that students are holed up in dark labs, never seeing the light of day?  By no means!  The campus tour highlighted the abundance of windows and natural light in the buildings.  Here's one of many indoor common spaces that invites natural light:

A common area in Gilman Hall, home to many humanities departments and the  Archaeological Museum  (hence the artifact-shaped lights).

A common area in Gilman Hall, home to many humanities departments and the Archaeological Museum (hence the artifact-shaped lights).

There is even a building with about 20 labs that are dedicated solely to the use of undergraduate students.  Right.  No faculty, no grad students.  These labs are for undergrad research and lab work!  How awesome is that, if you're into that sort of thing?  This building is the one in the thumbnail image for this post.  In each lab, one wall is completely glass, again allowing for lots of natural light and views of nature.

If research was the primary emphasis, collaboration was a close second.  Apparently JHU has some sort of reputation for being cut-throat.  Not so, claimed the student panel and my tour guide.  Two tour tidbits backed up these claims of collaboration.  First, Hopkins offers free tutoring in various formats for any student who needs it.  One program, called the Pilot Program, specifically encourages collaboration among students: students from the same class can get together in groups of 10 with 1 upperclassman who already earned an A in the course and who has a strong faculty recommendation.  This group then works through problems and concepts from the class, sort of like group tutoring.  There seems to be plenty of support like this program throughout the school.  Secondly, buildings like the Brody Learning Commons speak to the spirit of collaboration: there are plenty of group meeting spaces for students to work and research together.  One of the student panelists said that everyone at Hopkins wants to do his best, so there is a level of competitiveness, but that JHU fosters a sense of community among its students.  So, being driven is a good thing here, but don't crush anyone in your quest for world domination.

It was another excellent, well-presented campus visit.  If JHU is on your list, whether it's a "maybe," a "definitely," or a "why not?" school, go for a visit and speak with students there to get a full sense of the Johns Hopkins culture.  The admissions office wants to know that you fit at JHU, so you should find out what it's all about by visiting!