Our Journey to Hopkins — A Parent’s Perspective

Name: Elsa Johnson

Parent of: Jessie Koljonen – Class of 2013

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ


It has been a little over a week since we returned from Baltimore after helping Jessie move into her dorm.  What a difference a year has made.  This time last year after my husband and I returned home from freshmen orientation, I sat in her room and cried all day, and for many days thereafter.  Even though I miss her just the same, or perhaps even more, I didn’t cry as much this time. :)  Well, since I didn’t spend all day crying, I have a lot more time to do something more productive this time around.  As the new application cycle just started, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and our journey from a parent’s perspective.

Our journey to Hopkins started 2.5 years ago during Jessie’s junior year in high school.  It was part of the second of her three college trips that spanned 14 schools from both coasts.  As I am sure many prospective parents can attest to, most colleges look about the same after a while.  This is especially true after you go on a few tours and sit through a couple information sessions.  But somehow, Hopkins was different right from the start.  We were walking on Charles Street, not even on campus yet, and out of nowhere, Jessie said “I REALLY like it here”.  Even though she was happy with all the other schools that we visited, she only managed to give out one other “I really like it here” comment in all of her campus visits.  As it turned out, however, she didn’t even apply early to Hopkins.  For a student who fell so head-over-heels in love with the school even before she stepped foot on campus, you would surely wonder why.  Truth be told, she would have indeed if it were not because of mom “meddling” with her business.

For one, we were not quite sure about how the finances would pan out, and were hesitant to make the ED commitment. But more importantly, there was this nagging thought in the back of my mind that kept telling me Hopkins was not right for her. Before the early application deadline, we did all the due diligence to make sure her professed love for Hopkins was not a one-time infatuation.  We went back to visit the campus for a second time.  She stayed overnight, talked to students, ate at FFC, attended a class, met with a professor, etc.  She took it all in, loved everything, and wanted desperately to move forward.  My husband and I felt good about it, too.  As a matter of fact, my husband fell in love with Hopkins as much and as early as Jessie did.  Being an engineering geek, he was sold the moment he stepped foot on campus and saw the surgical robot (I think it is called The Da Vinci machine) displayed in front of Hackerman Hall.  Even though everything felt right, the data-driven side of me won somehow and I refused to let “feelings” make the decision for something as important as her education.

Making data-driven decisions is something that is ingrained in me in my job.  As a case in point, I even put together a spreadsheet to evaluate her different meal plan options!  When I looked at college choices for her, I was looking for something tangible, something quantifiable that I could put my hands on, something that I can pinpoint and say “yes, this is why it is good for her”.  Feelings didn’t do the job -I needed data.  And with that, the something tangible that I turned to was everything and anything about Hopkins that I could find researching online through the various college discussions and review forums.  If you are a “helicopter” parent like me, I am sure you know what online forums I am talking about.  I am also sure you know why I was concerned.  I didn’t want her to be in a “competitive, cut-throat environment with socially-awkward students who are mostly miserable and who do nothing other than spending their time in the library studying 24/7”.  Yes, Jessie is a serious student, but she is in no way, shape, or form, a science nerd.  More importantly, she is a very involved and fun-loving kid.  She could not and would not survive in an environment like this for more than a day.  With that, I concluded, Hopkins was not right for her – at least not right enough for her to spend her early application chances on.  Boy, was I wrong!

Looking back at last year, I can say without a doubt that Hopkins is very challenging academically.  There were long hours that she spent in the library just to keep up with her work.  There were times when she had to forgo hanging out with friends and needed to stay in to study for an upcoming test.  There were also times that she was stressed and I was worried when she and I spoke on the phone.  There were even moments when I second guessed my decision to let her attend Hopkins.  But in all honesty, I can also tell you that she had a lot of fun.  Did she have time to go to parties on the weekends?  Yes, absolutely – perhaps more often than mom would like to know. :) Did she have time to join her sorority socials and dances?  Yes, and for quite a few of those as a matter of fact.  Did she have time to make friends?  Yes, and we met a number of them through our various visits last year.  They are just like her – articulate, engaged, involved, fun-loving, full of life, and just plain good kids!  Did she have time to participate in extra-curricular activities that mean so much to her?  Yes, no doubt.  All in all, she had a lot of fun, despite being a pre-med.  Well, maybe even too much fun – for being a pre-med!

If I would have known two years ago what I know now, I would have done things very differently.  Since I don’t have another child to go through this college application process again so I can do it right this time around, I am going to share this with prospective parents.  As your student go through the application process in the coming months, consider the following:

  1. Listen to your child: As parents, we would like to think that we know best.  While it is still true for the most part, we have got to give our students more credit for being able to make responsible decisions.  At a minimum, we need to give ourselves credit for having done a great job in parenting thus far.  We have taught them how to make good decisions through all those years, and now, they are making the biggest decision in their life, and we need to trust them.  As Jessie would often say to me (and sometimes in exacerbation): “Mom, I am not stupid!”.  If your students are considering Hopkins, they certainly are not stupid.  If they tell you it is the right fit, whatever that school may be, listen to them.  Trust them and believe in them as they make the first big decision about their future.
  2. Don’t over-analyze it – Just follow your heart: Regardless of what you read or hear (and especially from those anonymous online forums), take it with a grain of salt.  You know your child best.  If your gut tells you it is right, then it is.  Don’t over-analyze it because no matter how much data you can gather, you can’t come up with a mathematically optimal answer with regard to the “best” school – no such thing exists.  College is really what the students make it out to be.  Wherever they may eventually end up, it is going to be fine if they come in with the right mind-set and attitude.
  3. Worry less and hug your child more: Whether you like it or not, senior year of high school is probably the last year (at least in the near term future) when your child will be home full time.  I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize just exactly how much that meant to me until Jessie was gone.  Now, every time we drop her off at the airport to return back to Hopkins, I feel this incredible sadness knowing that our home is now a place for her to visit, and not to stay.   With the pressure from all the college applications and the uncertainties of what the future may hold, senior year of high school will be stressful – don’t let it.  Savor and treasure every moment that you have with your child.  Hopefully, if you follow point #1 and #2 above, this point #3 will come naturally.

This is an exciting time ahead.  Enjoy it!

  • By Lori Smith, September 10, 2010 @ 10:51 AM

    Great blog – It sounded so similar to my experiences with both my sons (the older one at Hopkins) and I am sure it hits home with a lot of parents who have gone through this process.

  • By Victoria, April 1, 2011 @ 12:02 AM

    Thank you for sharing—I just received the “package” today. My first born son was offered an admission to BME program(class of 2015)at JHU. Three days ago, I was not as nervous before getting the decision email from JHU, but I was more nervous after my son got admitted. It just hit me…I mean God has given me this baby boy to love and nurture for 17 years and he means the world to me(I cry as I am typing this) and soon(too soon)I will have to hand this precious gift to the world, he’ll fly from our nest to join other “Blue Jays”. What’s on my mind? WORRY…just about everything, each day something pops in my head, there is a lot of “what if’s” you name it, there are all on my mind…safety,hungry,laundry,competitiveness,illness…etc. I know, I know I am a bit over concerned(okay,may be a lot). But after reading your post, I feel a bit better, thank you again. I also know that he won’t miss me as much as I miss him,especially when being serenaded by his magic hands on piano,and it’s understandable (speaking from my college experience). All in all, I will have to come to term with my “WORRIES” and let go. I just smile,look up and say “Thank you Lord for giving me this amazing boy to raise” and the world is opening up for him now, we need someone like him to make this world a better place for generations to come. I am very lucky and blessed to have a son like him. JHU won’t be disappointed to admit this boy to their community, they’ll realize that soon and know exactly what I mean.

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