The Application Essay

We know many of you are anxiously awaiting the launch of the Johns Hopkins Supplement so you can get started on your applications. We expect it to be available soon—please keep checking this space and also the Common Application website or the Universal College Application website for an update. (Check out for a checklist of requirements for Johns Hopkins, or to learn more about our admissions process and what we’re looking for in an application.) In the meantime, we thought we’d give you a sneak peek at this year’s essay, along with some helpful hints on tackling it! Whether you’re ready to start filling out your application or just starting to think about the whole thing, one important piece of your application that you should spend some time thinking about is the essay.

This year’s question:

Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 on a spirit of exploration and discovery. As a result, students can pursue a multi-dimensional undergraduate experience both in and outside of the classroom. Given the opportunities at Hopkins, please discuss your current interests—academic or extracurricular pursuits, personal passions, summer experiences, etc.—and how you will build upon them here. (300-500 Word limit).

So how do you start formulating your answer to this question? Here are some tips as you organize your thoughts:

  • Think about fit. Fit, fit, fit. You’ll hear that word a lot during your college search. One important way the admissions team at Johns Hopkins uses your essay is to evaluate fit—yours for us, and ours for you. The essay question specifically asks about your current interests (what you’ve done so far) and how you will build on them here. We’re asking you to connect your current interest to why you feel this is the right place for you. To do that, you need to take some time to get to know us before you can dive into the essay.
  • Think broadly. One thing that makes a Johns Hopkins education unique? Academic and extracurricular boundaries are fluid here, meaning you’re given the freedom to connect and combine interests to build the experience that’s right for you. Here, we’re asking you to talk about your experiences and future goals both in and outside the classroom, so think about your fit with Hopkins from a holistic angle.
    Even the best college essay started with a blank page. Relax, and give some thought to what you want to say before you jump in.
    Even the best college essay started with a blank page. Relax, and give some thought to what you want to say before you jump in.


  • What are your interests? What are the experiences (internships, research projects, classes and teachers, new stories you’ve followed, etc.) that have shaped your interests? Your essays are really how the admissions committee gets to know you on a more personal level. So, tell us what you care about, and why. Then, talk about how your education will build on that at Hopkins.
  • Go back to (our) basics. We’re all about exploration and discovery. You should address the essay question the same way. Take time to learn about our departments and programs—a great place to start is this listing of our majors and special programs: But don’t just recite your findings; use the information to really think about why you think this is a great mutual fit. The most important step in writing any college essay is reflection—and that takes time, so another often-heard tip: don’t procrastinate!
  • Know your limit. Word limit, that is. The essay calls for 300-500 words. You don’t have to use all 500, and sometimes less is more. The 500 word limit is there if you need it to fully explore your ideas, but don’t feel like you have to fill it up just because there’s space left in the text box. Most importantly? Make sure you answer the question, whether you’re using 301 words or 499.
  • Think about community. We take a lot of things into consideration when we’re reading applications, and one of the most important is evaluating how applicants would become a part of our community. This essay should help us understand how you plan to engage with the campus and how you might become a contributing member of our academic and social communities. Help us understand who you are in class, at the library, at a game, in the residence halls, as a member of an organization, etc.
  • Who are you? While you’re writing an application essay, of course you have to keep your audience in mind. But, we also want to see your personality shining through. The best and most memorable essays are thoughtful, genuine, and really give us a feel for the person writing it.

The most important piece of advice, not just for our essay but for all of the ones you’ll be tackling? Relax. Think about what you want to say and experiment with different ways of saying it without worrying so much about grammar and word counts at first. Once you know what you want to say, and the best way to say it, then you can focus on rewriting, editing, and polishing. (And, it never hurts to have someone else take a look and give you some pointers.)

We look forward to reading what you have to say, and getting to know all of our applicants!

27 thoughts on “The Application Essay

  1. Hi Lara,
    We’ll be updating the Essays that Worked by the fall. We’re working with Common App to get our Supplement available; check back here or look for an e-mail letting you know when it’s ready!

  2. Lord i love jhu..i hope my application goes financial mathematics similar to financial economics?

  3. Is ‘This Year’s question’ you posted Johns Hopkins’ only supplemental question for 2013-2014? Will the common application show the exactly same question for Johns Hopkins’ supplemental writing?

  4. @patricia: You can learn all about our financial economics minor here:

    @nicole and @Krisen: The question above will be the only supplemental essay question for JHU; however, we will have several other questions (yes/no) on our supplement. We’ll keep everyone updated when the supplement is up and ready to go. The question will appear on the Common App exactly as listed above.

    @Matt: It won’t, but we appreciate the interest!

  5. Hi admissions Shelly! I was just wondering how do you decide on the essays that worked for each class? I mean do you guys make your selection from the admitted persons, and then of those who actually enroll, do you then narrow down your selection? Or do you actually read everyone’s essays again and decide? Also what is the criteria for essays that worked? Unconventional question..yes? But I am curious about what it takes to have your essay published on the website.

  6. Hi Serain! Good question. We do choose the Essays that Worked from enrolling students. We ask each admissions counselor to submit a few of their favorite essays from the past application cycle (from among those students who enrolled), along with a short write-up of why they liked the essay and why it was memorable to them, then a team of us will read the submissions and decide which ones we would like to post. Finally, we contact the writers to make sure it’s okay to post their essays online for all to see. Since we’ve been doing this a few years now, the admissions committee knows that it’s something to keep an eye out for so they’ll keep track of their favorite essays while they’re reading.

  7. Hi, I’d like to ask whether applicants are admitted to the School of Engineering/ School of Arts and Sciences or whether they can still change their minds after they are admitted.
    Thank you!

  8. I can’t wait to apply to JHU this fall. It’s been one of my dream schools for years.
    I also have a question about the essay itself: how does jhu feel about essays that don’t fall within the standard format of an “essay”? For example what if a student wrote a play or drew a picture to depict his/her message?
    Just curious!

  9. @ Cindy: Applicants are admitted to the university, not to an individual school, and can wait to declare their official major, so they are able to change their minds after they are admitted. All students can (and do) take classes or double major across schools, combining Engineering and Arts & Sciences programs as they wish. (The only caveat to this is the Biomedical Engineering major, which students must indicate as their first choice major on their application.)

    @Andrea: looking forward to reading your essay! We will accept “non-traditional” essay formats and see some very creative entries–including artwork, sculptures, videos, and even an essay attached to an oar–every year. Just be sure that whatever platform you are using is answering the question to the best of your ability and really getting your point across. Also, on a logistical note, if your essay comes separately, make sure we’ll be able to match it up with your application and allow time for it to arrive and be processed so that your application isn’t marked as incomplete. And, unfortunately, due to the volume of mail we receive, we’re not able to return any items so please don’t send any original pieces!

  10. I so excited to start applying to JHU. My mom went there and I hope to go there as well!

  11. JHU is not worth the cash. I went in debt up to my eyeballs to get taught by foreign grad students. Then, I paid for med school too. Kids, think hard about the money you want to waste on undergrad.

  12. I’m really excited to apply to JHU this fall. I was wondering… are non-conventional essays common? I wouldn’t want to seem plain by submitting my essay electronically.

  13. Hi Elise, No, non-conventional essays are not super common. The vast majority of applicants will submit their essay via the Common App or Universal College App, so doing so will not make you seem plain. Our “Essays that Worked” page all feature traditional essays, for instance. As referenced above, we do accept non-traditional essays, but we caution people to only submit those if it really adds something to their application or they truly feel it is the best way to answer the essay question. We don’t recommend doing anything out of your comfort zone just to appear different or to stand out–focus on the quality of your writing and the message you’re conveying, and a solid, well-written essay will make you stand out for your application reviewer!

  14. For me, getting started is the hardest part of writing any type of essay – let alone a college essay that could potentially affect my chances of admission into my dream college! But your advice was extremely helpful and eased the stress level a ton. Thanks! :)

  15. Hi, I just want to know that what is the difference between Biology and Biomedical Engineering? It seems that Biology is broader and BME concerns a specific point… Is it?

  16. Hi Hanyu,
    There are many differences between our biology and biomedical engineering programs. I would recommend going to the department site for each major and reading about the specifics for each program:
    Biomedical engineering:

    Please note that students interested in BME must apply to the major during the application process.

    Hope this is helpful!

  17. Hi JHU,
    I really enjoy this blog as it makes writing the supplement much easier! I was just wondering would you rather an essay where the student focuses upon a passion and extracurricular activity and how Hopkins specifically supports their interests through certain programs and clubs, or are “The Essays that Worked” essays that would answer the supplement question?


  18. Fedor: Name it whatever you think is best!

    Stephen: The best thing to do for the essay is to show us about you, what you are all about, and what makes you unique. Choose a topic that will give the most insight into you is the best advice anyone can give you–just because someone wrote about something doesn’t mean you have to write about the same topic.

  19. Thank You! Should we include certain aspects that attract us to Hopkins and how the university will support our interests??

  20. Although the prompt lists several subjects to write about, is it encouraged to focus on one in the essay? I’m worried that by touching on several of them, the statement will seem random.

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