Category: Current Parent Blogs

Our empty nest

Name:  Karen Schmauss

Parent of: Travis Schmauss – JHU Class of 2016

Hometown: Rancho Cucamonga, California (suburb, 50 miles east of Los Angeles)

It has been ten days since we left our son Travis at JHU.   He is our youngest; his sister already flew the nest and lives in Illinois.   The reality sinks in when I walk by his unoccupied bedroom and bathroom (which is CLEAN, which never was true when he was here).  I try to keep in touch with him by texting him. Sometimes he answers, often he doesn’t.  He has adopted a study system called “pomodoros” which means for each completed 25-minute study session or “pomodoro” he gets a 5 minute break, and after 4 pomodoros he gets a 20-minute break.   So if I don’t catch him during a break, oh well!

Travis and JHU move-in sign

Travis’ road to JHU was not a direct one.  We live in Southern California, far, far away (2,617 miles to be exact; I Google-mapped it).  With engineering as his goal, he applied to 13 colleges and universities.  I am SO glad the college application process is over!  With my Type A personality, I really threw myself into it, and bought a ridiculous number of books (I think about 30) on the college admission/financial aid process.  I read incessantly on the Internet everything I could find – which included Admission_Daniel’s wonderful postings both on Hopkins Insider and College Confidential.

Travis with Daniel Creasy at SOHOP in April - Daniel said nobody had ever asked to pose for a photo with him before!

Sometimes with us, and sometimes with his girlfriend, Travis toured college campuses within driving distance.  During his spring break in mid-March, we flew to Boston and visited schools in that area.  We never did visit JHU.

Travis worked laboriously on his admission essays, with a bit of prodding and nagging on our part. He penned his final essay while riding in the back of his then-girlfriend’s family’s RV on New Year’s Eve.  Then came the interminable waiting – until finally, it was time:  the acceptances and rejections came in, one by one.

On the day that JHU announced its decision, Travis was rejected by a school that had been his first choice.  That rejection barely registered because of the sheer joy of the email from Hopkins.  I was at work when he got word.  He called me:  “MOM, MOM, I got into JHU!!!!!!”

JHU??  JHU???  The Baltimore university?  I was in a panic.  My son was going all the way to Baltimore?

The 3 of us at big JHU sign

I remember when he decided to add JHU to his Common App list.  “But it’s in Baltimore,” I pointed out.  “That’s so far away!!”   “Yeah, but it’s a top engineering school!” he explained.  He chose BME and Engineering Undecided as his major choices.

He didn’t get into BME, but that didn’t faze him at all.  He immediately changed his computer screensaver to Gilman Hall and read everything he could on JHU.  A few days later the long awaited ‘big envelope’ from JHU came, stuffed with brochures and flyers.

He and his dad went to SOHOP, leaving me behind because I had to work.  I was so jealous.  But they took photos, and my husband even filmed the tour they took with a Blue Key member.  I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful campus that I had only seen in pictures.

Travis with his "big envelope" that arrived after his acceptance in March

SOHOP sealed the deal for Travis, who was already 99 percent sure that Hopkins was the one.  The only wrinkle came in early May, when a very exclusive local Liberal Arts College offered him a place from their waitlist.  After a couple days of thinking, Travis wrote them a long letter explaining why he was rejecting them.  Analogizing the college admissions process to asking a girl to a high school dance, he said that he had fallen in love with “Miss Hopkins” who had accepted his invitation, and the girl he had thought he would go with (the LAC) had lost out.

On the morning of August 27, we drove to the Ontario, California airport with six suitcases and duffels.  Four of the six contained Travis’ clothes and possessions.  Awaiting pickup at Towson Bed, Bath & Beyond was his order, which included bedding, fans, lamps, etc.  We arrived in Baltimore late in the evening.  Our hotel was directly across the street from JHU’s athletic fields, and I caught my very first glimpse of the campus.  “I can’t wait for you to see it in the daytime,” said Travis.  “I want to see it through your eyes!”

The next day, I *finally* got to see it in the daylight!  I was very impressed at the beauty of the campus, although I was not happy with the weather.  Hot and humid!  For Travis’ sake, I’m glad the heat and humidity will likely disappear by the end of September.

We drove in our rental car to Towson Center and visited both Target and BB & B, gathering the necessities for Travis’ dorm life.  Not having actually seen the dorm room, it was hard to predict what would fit, but we did our best.  I am very glad he ultimately took my advice to buy both a box fan and a small fan, because those ended up being much needed!  His roommate also brought a box fan and thus they have fans in both windows.


Travis got his first choice of dorms:  AMR II.  Despite the lack of air conditioning, what attracted him was the social aspect of the AMRs and the fact that he doesn’t have to clean his own bathroom.

Travis in front of AMR II on day before move-in

On move-in day, we finally got to see the dorm room.  It was small, but not as small as I feared.  He is in Gildersleeve House (love that name) on the 2nd floor.   The boys’ bathroom is conveniently right across from his room.   The student orientation moving crew was amazing.  There were so many of them!  When we drove up in the rental, they had it unloaded within seconds.  We did it in two trips:  first the stuff from BB&B and Target, and then all of Travis’ suitcases and duffels.  The student helpers carried everything upstairs for us.

Several hours later, Travis’ side of the room was set up.  Everything fit perfectly.  His microfridge unit had already been delivered, and it doubled as his nightstand.  Just as we were leaving, we met his roommate and family.   The roommate fit was perfect – they get along well.

Student volunteers unload our rental car

Orientation was excellent – so many activities and programs – both for him and us.  I was frazzled by the end of Day 2 with so many programs and events!   Everything about JHU is a class act.

All too soon, August 30th arrived and it was time for the “farewell dinner”.  We took Travis to dinner at the restaurant in our hotel, and noticed that his next-door neighbor and her parents were also there.  Then it was time to say goodbye.  He gave us hugs and we watched him walk across the street to school.  He did not look back.

Mom and Travis at restaurant near Hopkins on our first night

Back in our room, I cried.

The next morning, we packed our stuff and took off for Washington, D.C. where we spent the next 3 days.  On Sept. 4, we flew home, and the 38 miles that had been between us in D.C. became 2, 617.

Thank goodness for Facebook – he doesn’t post often, but occasionally a photo tagging him turns up and I get a glimpse into his school life.  I even ‘friended’ one of his housemates who takes lots of photos (the series on Dorm Wars was excellent!).  I am an avid reader/poster on the JHU Parents Facebook page, where we parents can commiserate and trade information.  Happily JHU has lots of publications and updates that let us keep up from afar.

Travis and his roommate Jonah in their room

I have no illusions that my son will often communicate with us.  I know that he is busy with 16 units this semester: Chemistry I, Chem Lab, Calculus III, Materials Science and Engineering for the 21st Century, Intro Environmental Engineering, Chemical Engineering Today, and Great Books at Hopkins.   He plans to join several clubs and wants to join Blue Key.  Hopefully he will also find a work-study job.

So far, it appears that he loves JHU.  It really is the “right fit” – that elusive quality that matches a school with a student.  It really helps that JHU has a house system that provides a ready-made group of friends for freshmen, most of whom know absolutely no one when they arrive on campus.

It’s hard to go from “18 to Zero” – spend 18 years with your child and then, nothing.  But we have done our jobs as parents.  We have nurtured, encouraged and advised our child, and he has matriculated at one of the top universities in the country.  Of course we will always be his parents.  But I suspect that we miss him way more than he misses us.

“Mom and Dad, you’re going to have to find something to talk about once I leave,” he told us this summer.

We do.  We talk about him!  :)

We took the "parents parking" sign literally!

Peak Performance

Name: George Dittmar

Parent of: Allysa Dittmar ’14

Hometown: Cream Ridge, NJ

I think we all have had some experience of peak performance. It may last a moment or a few hours. It could be a medical person saving someone from a grave illness, an artist spilling creativity over his painting, or maybe even a student simply being inspired by a professor. The experience usually takes us out of the day to day routine and gives a glimpse of “other worldliness.” A glimpse of how special life can be. Someone said life is a metaphor and I tend to agree. The best metaphor for peak performance in my opinion is sports, especially lacrosse (…you know where this is
going, right?)

Allysa '14 and son Dan at lacrosse game

When I first set foot on the campus at Johns Hopkins I felt that this is a place where peak performance is possible. For my daughter, it was love at first sight as well. I suspect for some of the same reasons I had. I saw a student body that exudes goodwill, concern, and brilliance – peak performance. A Dean of Students that treats my daughter as if she were the only person she had to worry about and not thousands – peak performance (thank you, Dean Boswell). Professors that truly care for their students – peak performance. And watching my daughter thrive and excel at Johns Hopkins – peak performance.

Did I mention the lacrosse team? Excellent. Extraordinary. Often and for sure capable of peak performance. I know because I saw it. I drove all the way down from New Jersey and I had the good fortune to witness the UVa game (the Blue Jays won in OT, becoming 8 – 0). Peak performance. Coach Pietramala has created a team and attitude where the “other worldly” can take place. It was such an intense game. I have never seen such defensive focus and patience – peak performance. Those lacrosse games are the kind of experiences that can stay with those players all their lives and perhaps help them through the difficulties life invariably presents. Experiences that we all can carry with us.

At the Navy game last year

I’ve experienced it myself. After I graduated from college, I played on an unknown rugby club. We played a great team from Washington D.C. Their team was filled with New Zealanders, Englishmen, South Africans, and Australians. My counterpart at scrum half was purported the best in the world. We played on the National Mall at cherry blossom time in the spring. From the time I set foot on the pitch, I knew I would best my man and that we would win. And we did – peak performance. That experience still stays with me today. I love to watch my daughter’s friend play rugby at Hopkins; it brings back great memories and I see the peak performance in him too. At Hopkins, be it rugby players, artists, or students, will all experience such extraordinary peak performance. Much more than what I’ve experienced. And it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.


I love Johns Hopkins University for the harmony, kinship, and brilliance that it has helped create in my daughter’s life at a time when one would have believed these experiences would be impossible.

Johns Hopkins: peak performance.

George, Allysa and Aaron '14




A Magical Place Called Hopkins

Name: Ann Gordon

Parent of: Drew Lefkof – JHU Class of 2009; Katy Lefkof – JHU Class of 2011; Teddy Lefkof – JHU Class of 2014

Hometown: Tiburon, CA (suburban San Francisco)

While starting to write a sequel to my February ’09 blog, “The Perfect Fit”, I got caught up in the emotion and excitement of April with the Johns Hopkins Class of 2015 admits.  First of all, CONGRATULATIONS!  You are the best of the best and bring more than stellar test scores and transcripts to the table…and that is what Johns Hopkins University is all about.

As a Hopkins Hat Trick mom (parent of three Hopkins students), I obviously am a booster for Johns Hopkins. What’s my motivation? The end results.

Each of my three children (Drew ’09, Katy ’11, Teddy ’14) entered Johns Hopkins for different reasons and I am awestruck how each of them has made the university their own. “The Perfect Fit” blog detailed Drew and Katy’s path to Hopkins, so I will focus on the new stuff.

Drew ’09, Katy ’11, Teddy ’14

Drew ’09, Katy ’11, Teddy ’14

Drew, now almost two years out, has excelled as a foreign affairs analyst in Washington, D.C.  He continues to draw on his Hopkins education, which sets him apart from many of his peers.  Drew may return to Johns Hopkins next year for a graduate degree in government while continuing his work.

Katy attended The London School of Economics the summer after sophomore year and in the fall of junior year, resided in Washington, D.C. as an Aitchison Scholar. The Hopkins graduate school classes in D.C. were invigorating, as was the internship she had at an economics think tank. Last summer, Katy held a finance internship in New York City and will return to Wall Street after graduation in May 2011.

Which brings us to Teddy and why I write this blog for the incoming class of 2015. One short and exhilarating year ago, Teddy received his acceptance to Johns Hopkins and we happily made plans to attend an admit day in mid-April 2010.  At the open house, Teddy sampled several department presentations, the pre-professional advising session, and the activities fair. The academic and extra-curricular opportunities showcased were amazing and by the end of the day, Teddy knew that he would find a great fit at Hopkins, like his siblings before him. 

Teddy’s first semester at Johns Hopkins had its rewards and challenges. Trying different disciplines, he has settled in on his major, which is different from what he originally thought it would be. Music remains a salve through weekly lessons at Peabody and as the drummer for one of Homewood’s jazz ensembles. Throughout the year, Teddy has learned about himself, made new friends, and strengthened his ability to dig deep and reap positive results in the upward climb towards adulthood.

Move-in for Teddy

Move-in for Teddy

Teddy is proud that his Hopkins education has made him an academic warrior and that his pursuit of outside interests keeps him confident, efficient, and happy.  Although freshman year is drawing to a close, Teddy looks back with satisfaction and is fortified for the opportunities that lie ahead at Hopkins.

Drew, Katy, and Teddy each would tell a different tale about what Johns Hopkins means to them. The breadth and strength of the university is unique and we know first hand that The Johns Hopkins University is a springboard for remarkable, inspired lives. Best wishes to the incoming Class of 2015. May this magical place called Hopkins also be your springboard to a future filled with happiness and success.

A Magical Place Called Hopkins

A Magical Place Called Hopkins

The Long Distance Travelled on a Short Walk

Name: Sam Guiberson

Parent of: Noah Guiberson, Class of 2014

Hometown: Houston, TX

As I took my first steps on campus at Johns Hopkins University, I held back to watch my son Noah walk excitedly ahead of me.  I saw him travel up the sidewalk toward the buildings and the people that would surround him for years to come. I was at once both proud and petrified.

In that moment, I realized that what I had been to him and he to me for eighteen years would not survive the summer. Come fall, it would be those who shared Homewood campus with him who would inspire him, sustain him and make demands of him for his best efforts in whatever he undertook.  Noah’s work at Johns Hopkins – and Johns Hopkins’ work with Noah – was just beginning.

Walking a few steps behind

I had never understood so well as I did in that moment that the college selection process is not a micro-balancing of scales and measures where we weigh colleges and universities as if they were precious metals to be assayed for their current and future market value. Good matches aren’t made building a spreadsheet of schemes to achieve the perfect formula of admissions friendly accolades and extracurricular activities. It isn’t about SATs and GPA’s matching a college’s incoming class average, or climbing to the highest college rankings perch in US News and World Report.

Choosing a college is like a romance between a student and an institution that no parent can predict. We can raise a bird from the egg to adulthood and then launch it from our hands, but to where that bird then flies, we cannot choose. Noah’s soccer coaches used to call him “big bird” alluding to his imposing size in goal. My big bird flew all the way from Texas to land at Johns Hopkins.

Big Bird before Take-Off

We have all put in our time as parents wanting to provide everything we can of what’s best for each of our children and much of what we understand as best for us gets translated into what we think is best for them. That is the human nature in the nature of parents. I learned as Noah walked through Hopkins’ gate that the best college choice for my son was one matched to his nature and not my own.

Now I would never have told Noah what college he was going to attend. I may be a ‘helicopter parent’ but I’m not a Kamikaze.  Together we undertook a reasoned process of comparative analysis and rational deliberation over any number of choices, made more college visits than there are quills on a porcupine and calculated college varsity soccer recruiting probabilities to the fifth decimal place. Don’t think I didn’t try to fulfill my dreams through his choice, because I confess I did. Ultimately, I knew my dreams counted for nothing, either to him or to me, when I saw him walk across Homewood campus, the place he calls “nerdvana.” Hopkins was exactly right for him and my own Ivy League ambitions would have been exactly wrong.

Why is it so important for a student to be in love with the college he or she chooses to attend? I believe a student’s success as an undergraduate is in large part driven by the motivations and expectations that the student brings to college. It is more likely that an exceptionally inspired student will achieve more at a university of moderate reputation than will a moderately inspired student at a university of exceptional reputation.  Even at an academic institution of Johns Hopkins’ stature, it is rarely what the university offers the student that yields success as much as it is what the student gives back.

At Johns Hopkins, I sensed that students and faculty share the same heartbeat in their intellectual ambitions and transformative learning experiences. My son understood long before I did that it is neither a student’s or a university’s academic reputation, but the pulse of their shared passion for new ideas that gives rise to the greatest achievements. (Noah will be happy to share the story of Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas with you, probably several times over, if you should ask.)

Through all the winding turns of parenting from cradle to college campus, we mothers and fathers second-guess whether we have successfully supported and strengthened our children to make good decisions on their own. At the beginning of this story, I explained that sending Noah off to college left me both proud and petrified.  The more I have learned about Johns Hopkins, the more proud I have become of his wise knowledge of his own needs. The more I have learned about Johns Hopkins, the more I recognize that I have nothing to fear from the choices he now makes for himself as his life in the home of his parents slips away.

At Johns Hopkins, I once saw a gifted young man fall in love with a gifted old place.  So may you see your son or daughter in this place. Once they find each other, there is no limit to what Johns Hopkins University and our kids can do for each other.

Nicky’s Journey to Hopkins

Name: Kenneth Ginsberg

Parent of: Nick Ginsberg, Class of 2014

Hometown: Woodbridge, CT


When my son Nicky, (that’s what I call him, but I believe he goes by Nick now) asked me to write a blog for the Student Admissions website, I was thrilled that he asked me to be a guest blogger and immediately knew what I wanted to say.

I had to write about the fact that Nicky chose to go to the only school that we did not visit together…and for that matter, the only school that I never saw until after he accepted his early admissions, his deposit was paid, his tuition sent in, and there was no turning back.

Nicky and I visited twenty odd schools together, spending hours on the road, waiting in admissions offices for the tours to begin, taking countless tours and listening to the inevitable question about how safe the campus is with a response by one of the student guides about the reliability of the blue light system.

I digress. I genuinely enjoyed our trips together…father and son time. After each tour of campus, I would ask all of the fatherly questions. Did you like the school? Did you like the campus? Did you like the programs? Each question was answered with one word answers which necessitated the more cross examination-like questions like what about the campus did you like? Did you like the sidewalks? How about the trees? The dorms? I walked a very thin line between the asking too many questions, pain in the neck getting on his nerves father, and the concerned father who just wanted to offer guidance and get some feedback.

It was Sunday night when Nick came into my office to ask if we could visit Johns Hopkins in the morning. I couldn’t rearrange my schedule at the last minute. He asked if he could drive down for the day by himself. Why not I thought? He’s going to college next year. Time to let the string out a little longer.

I called him after the interview when he was driving home. (Don’t worry he was on hands free). I asked him how he liked Johns Hopkins, and he started talking to me. He was talking to me!!! With more than one word answers! He went on and on about his first day at JHU.

After he told me about the school, I asked him if this is the one. He hesitated. I sensed not because he was unsure, but because he didn’t want to tell me this was the one because we weren’t together and I didn’t see it with him. But I was so happy he found…the one.

Nick had some terrific school options available to him. I had my opinion but it was his choice. I realized that it is all about the fit. And Nicky knew that JHU was the perfect fit for him. I knew he would… when left to his own devices. I will always wonder though, whether he would have chosen JHU if I had gone with him. I guess I will never know.

I Love The Hop!

Name: Jimmy Fink

Parent of: (twins) Lucinda and Allison Fink (Lucie and Allie)- 2014

Hometown: Scarsdale, NY


The year of the college application—what a daunting process and anyone with a child going through it has my sympathies.  Like picking out a melon–you squeeze it, smell it, feel it with your fingertips and still when you cut it open to taste it, it may or may not be quite as sweet as you had hoped.  I recall the process of selecting a summer camp for my kids.  While most of my contemporaries visited several camps, going to more than three nearby states, up and down the east coast trying to find that perfect summer spot, I, on the other hand, took my kids to one camp, one that I had known since I was a little boy.  I told them, “Check it out, if you don’t like it, then you probably don’t like camp!”  They did like it and eventually spent eight consecutive summers there, having that experience of a lifetime that can only accompany youth, rising up from camper to counselor before taking that summer off to visit colleges.  Oh, if only the college selection process were that simple.

Though, like camps, colleges and universities all have their physical differences: this one’s flat, that one’s hilly—this one’s big, that one’s small—this one’s far, that one’s close, and every subtle combination of all of the above.  There are several layers of pertinent information that go beyond the physical layout of a campus: does the school have the appropriate educational programs that fit one’s possible interests and does that underlying, unstated feel you get walking around on campus match what you think it should be?  In short…will I fit in and will it fit me?  After going through this process, years ago with my older son, we started once again with his younger twin sisters.  Just when they thought they had it nailed down early in their senior year of high school, they paid a last minute, autumn visit to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  Those 24 hours pretty much turned their world upside down.

So many people, from their high school advisors, to random friends and acquaintances offered an opinion: “Johns Hopkins?  What, are you going to be a doctor?”  Or, “Isn’t that for nerds and geeks?” or “I thought you also wanted to have fun at college.”  The problem is no one who said these things really knew anything about Hopkins beyond hearing an old wives tale of reputation and rumor left over from the previous century.  Most have never even been to Baltimore and certainly none have any personal experience with Johns Hopkins.

That late September visit showed my twin girls an absolutely gorgeous, pristine, finely manicured, immaculate campus with a student population that was not only warm and friendly, (and very social), but also academically engaged while never forsaking the fun or camaraderie of the college experience. In fact, they found a school which was virtually the opposite of its ancient and outmoded reputation. Kids were sprawled out on a grassy knoll section of campus known as “The Beach.”  The main activity on the Freshman Quad was Frisbee and football tossing.  Certainly, no one looked overly stressed out or socially dysfunctional and an atmosphere where kids were living life to its fullest pervaded the campus.

For my daughters to be accepted by one of the best schools in the country, on their own, without parental legacy, a letter from a big donor, or a connection to a trustee of the university was an accomplishment of which they were so very proud!  But, it didn’t end there.  Several times, while still agonizing over that final decision of where to attend the next four years, they called or emailed an admissions officer, or a professor, or a department head.  Every time, without exception, their messages were not only answered and returned, but some resulted in chats that lasted longer than anyone should or could expect.   Once the final decision to attend Hopkins was made by my girls and the final acceptances were mailed out, the faculty and staff’s level of interest only increased.  I will never forget how, after registering for classes, each received an unsolicited email from their advisor on such a personal level that one even suggested eating a big breakfast on days when classes might be scheduled a bit heavier than normal.  After having a previous experience with their older brother at an Ivy League school, where his advisor was a random math professor who barely knew my son, for these two girls to have a dedicated advisor taking a genuine heartfelt interest in every step of their life at Hopkins was incredible.

After they decided to attend Hopkins our house was filled with singing and dancing to the tune and beat of an old song from the 1960’s: “At The Hop,” the chorus of which repeats over and over again: “Let’s go to the hop, let’s go to the hop (oh, baby), let’s go to the hop…”  Now after their first semester of freshman year is nearly over, we have an expression that sums up this whole experience: “I love The Hop!”  It’s because, every step of the way they have only been impressed by the positive and encouraging tone set by friends, classes, dorms, facilities, advisors, faculty and staff, all on a level that far surpasses anyone’s expectation.  Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant, sometimes stressful events have turned in to an unbelievably positive experience with support every step of the way.  From move-in, to wireless computer set-up, to health services, to gym and athletic sign-up, everything has exceeded what my daughters had hoped for.

In just two short months at Johns Hopkins University, they now see themselves ingrained as an integral part of a community that will not only carry them through the next four years, but will forever be a part of who they are as adults.  Their experience is far in excess of their original expectation.  To this day I still hear that very early exultation and it rings true each time: “I love The Hop!”

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!

A Family Affair

Name: Stephanie Cascio

Year: Class of 1977

Major: Biology

Parent of: Esther B. (’09), Zoe B. (’09) and Eliza B. (’13)

Current Town: Cranston, RI


Abuela and me 77It has taken several years of dogged and unrelenting persistence from my daughter Esther to finally get me to write a blog entry for the JHU Admissions website.  The great motivator at this point in time is the enormous significance of the year 2009 in our family.  All three daughters are graduating. Not only are the twins, Esther and Zoe, incredibly, unbelievably, close to completing four fantastic years at Hopkins, but their younger sister, Eliza, will be graduating from high school, and entering Hopkins with the Class of 2013 in September.  We are still wrapping our minds around these multiple lines of connectivity for our entire family to Hopkins, and Eliza’s college choice continues to be a source of continual amazement and bemusement for us all.  Full disclosure is necessary before this blog advances too far: the girls’ dad, Jonathan Bell, and I graduated from Hopkins with the Class of 1977.  The first photo shows me at age 20 with my maternal grandmother on Commencement Day 1977, under the magnificent elms that still shaded the Upper Quad.

Over the past four years, visiting Baltimore several times per year has gradually moderated my initial response to being on the Homewood campus, although I am always aware of how happy I am to be there, indeed, how instinctively blissed out I am to be there.  This may seem a strange reaction to “Charm City”, such a gritty and real place.  But I understand it as the place where I first made my own life, acquired my seminar groupie habits at the Eisenhower Symposium, fell in love with organic chemistry and developmental biology, and appreciated the season of Spring, that Baltimore does so well, like never before.  Is there anything as life affirming as Spring Fair (when the weather cooperates)?  There is also an identification with Hopkins values, which I feel persist today, Hopkins students were serious students who care about ideas, learning, accomplishment much more than physical appearance or material possessions. The graduate student: undergraduate ratio tipped slightly more towards graduate in the mid 1970s, there was no School of Engineering and undergraduates numbered about 2500.  In consequence, research was emphasized even more, and most undergraduates took several graduate level courses in their major subject. Male undergraduates outnumbered females four to one in 1973, and the mid 1970s was a time of fierce feminism on campus, as well as a remarkable feeling (at least in my experience) of being special, cherished, supported by the entire University, as the pioneer women undergraduates welcomed into Hopkins.

EZ and me at jhu 2007The approach to Hopkins from the North, driving south on North Charles Street, continues to have a ritual feeling of building joy for me.  I am grateful that Esther and Zoe were undergraduates at Hopkins and allowed me to renew my connection to the University.  Contemplating their graduation, I feel almost as sad as they do, although the final twin tuition payment was certainly something to celebrate!   They both got so much out of Hopkins—from the stimulating and sophisticated courses that they took in their respective majors of International Relations (Esther) and Writing Seminars (Zoe), their involvement in drama and theater and their work in the Alumni (Z) and Admissions (E) Offices.  They failed to develop into the serious lacrosse fan that I became, and they didn’t discover Chesapeake Bay oysters on the half shell, but they were able to treasure the quirky, historic and un-renovated Gilman Hall, the heart of Hopkins. The second photo shows Esther (left) and Zoe (right) with me behind Gilman Hall, April 2007, celebrating my 30th reunion at Homecoming. They were able to benefit from an elegantly expanded campus so harmoniously integrated with the older buildings in brick in white marble; new classroom buildings, new departmental buildings, the impressive Decker Quad including the elegant Mason Hall.  And Charles Commons seemed like the ultimate, utopian dorm when the twins lived there the year it opened, during their sophomore year, especially after my own pretty basic dorm experiences in Baker and Wolman.

And now Eliza will be at Hopkins!!  How will she build her Hopkins experience, what academic, social, extracurricular choices will she make?  As much as I now realize that I never expected that she would choose Hopkins, just like I never expected Esther and Zoe to both attend, I also realize that I am so very happy with this outcome.  Four more years with a direct connection to Hopkins in real time! Although Jon and I have graduate school connections to Columbia and Harvard, and the girls may ultimately attend various graduate schools, Hopkins will always be the intellectual source and center for both parents and daughters.

Top 10 Things A Parent Loves About Hopkins

Name: Diane Carney

Parent of: Lauren Carney – Class of 2011

Hometown: Westmont, NJ

Previous Parent Blog Entry: February 16, 2008


10.  I-95 And The Rest Stops (not really)!
Okay this is not necessarily one of the top ten reasons, but it’s basically the only way to get to Crab_pretzelBaltimore from the Northeast or Southeast so it has to be included.  No trip is complete without a “pit stop” to buy a latte at Starbucks at either the Maryland House or Chesapeake House.  I made the mistake of trying a crab pretzel at one of the stops.  Now, I’m not sure how many of you have actually tried one of these, but … I’m not a fan.  Its taste is definitely something I’ll never forget.  I won’t mention what I think it tastes like, but it’s not very pleasant.  People rave about them so maybe I just had one that wasn’t the best.

9.  The Restaurants!
This is perhaps one of my favorite things to do.  While it’s easy to pick a restaurant from a previous visit that we know is a good place to eat, I try to make the effort of finding a new place to try each Flamingotime we visit.  My favorite places so far are:

Cafe Hon in Hampden where I feel the cooking is pretty close to homemade.  How can a restaurant not be good with a huge pink flamingo (I’m a fan of flamingos!) hanging on the front of the building? (

Tir Na Nog at the Inner Harbor. I have to admit I didn’t think I would like this type of food (it’s an Irish Pub), but I was pleasantly surprised.  I was also surprised to see that they have locations in Philadelphia and New York City too! (

DSCN2871Shuckers in Fells Point.  I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Shuckers.  The hardest part was sitting through my daughter and husband eating raw oysters.  But Shuckers offers great views and delicious food. (

And perhaps the BEST place to get gelato is at Pitango Gelato about a block away from Shuckers.  They have interesting flavors and it’s definitely worth a visit to indulge in this creamy treat. (

And last, but not least, is the Rusty Scupper…the BEST place to get Maryland Crab Soup in my opinion.  And the views of the harbor are enjoyable to look at while eating dinner.  But be warned, it’s on the pricier side, even for lunch.  It’s a “special occasion” restaurant for us. (

8.  The Inner Harbor!
How can you go wrong with a day spent at the Inner Harbor with your daughter/son?  It’s so much fun to catch up on day to day things while taking a ride on a water taxi.  Water taxis also make it convenient to park in one spot for the day and then you can take the taxi to Fells Point, Little Italy, Rusty Scupper, and other neighborhoods of interest.

Also at the Inner Harbor is the National Aquarium.  Our daughter Lauren is currently doing an internship here.  This is a great place to spend some time exploring and the kids will love it!  You can read Lauren’s blog here:

Camden Yards is also a short walk from the Harbor and a great place to explore on a tour.

7. The Hopkins Wear!DSCN2888
I’ll admit it…we own LOTS of Hopkins wear.  T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants (thank you Lauren for a great Christmas present), sweatshirt jacket, baseball shirts and baseball caps.  And let’s not forget the miscellaneous Hopkins items like JHU stickers for the car, Hopkins pennants, a blanket, a Christmas ornament, coffee mug, pens.  I’m sure I’m forgetting something.  We cannot visit the campus without stopping in at the Barnes and Noble campus bookstore and checking out the new items.  In fact, while I was getting the link for their store, I saw a cute Johns Hopkins Mom mug with a blue daisy on it!  Looks like I’ll be adding that to my list! Check out the campus bookstore’s website.

6. The letter “S”!


Yes it is JOHNS…with an S!  Mr. Hopkins first name was a last name.  He was named after his great-grandmother, Margaret Johns.  Click here for some details on the great Johns Hopkins.

5. Hopkins Interactive!
I remember during my daughter’s college search discovering the blogs of the students at Hopkins.  They were informative and gave a parent an insight as to what their child can expect academically as well as socially.  It was interesting to see what the students wrote and it was reassuring knowing that they seemed very happy with Hopkins being their choice.  I feel that this type of information being available to prospective students is so important for them in their college search and everyone involved with Hopkins Interactive deserves a big pat on the back for all the work they do!

4. Student Organizations!
A parent can relax knowing that there are many activities for their child at Hopkins.  From academic organizations, community service, cultural organizations, Greek life, performing arts, and many more, there is so much to be involved in that they’ll need more than 24 hours in a day!  There is something for everyone:

3. The Campus!
One word can describe the campus – GORGEOUS!  From the architecture of the buildings to the beautiful landscaping, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Gilman Hall is currently undergoing renovations.  Click here for a video blog about it you can check out: You can take a “tour” of the Homewood Campus here:

2. The Amazing Professors!
Johns Hopkins professors are without a doubt some of the finest educators in the world.  These talented individuals are providing our sons and daughters with an education that will give them the opportunity to do amazing things. Click here for a list of notable Hopkins graduates.

1. It’s Hopkins!

Need I say more?

The Perfect Fit

Name: Ann Gordon

Parent of: Drew Lefkof – JHU Class of 2009 &
Katharine Lefkof – JHU Class of 2011

Hometown: Tiburon, CA (suburban San Francisco)


Drew and Katy are polar opposites. How they both decided to attend Johns Hopkins University and thrive there remains a marvel, if not a miracle, to my husband and me.



Of course this story begins with Drew. Johns Hopkins was the first college that Drew ever visited.  It was the summer after tenth grade and the start of a weeklong tour of east coast schools.  Drew was smitten with Hopkins at first sight – an evening ball game at Camden Yards clinched the deal. Surprisingly, no other college that week even came close. By the following summer and another campus visit, Drew knew that Johns Hopkins was his first choice school and that he would apply early decision.

How did he know? Drew had a few years of familiarity with Hopkins through web-based CTY classes. Initially, he dismissed Hopkins as a college choice because he thought it was primarily for pre-med students. I remember his excitement when he discovered online that Johns Hopkins offers majors in Writing Seminars and International Studies, plus its French program is one of three American schools recognized by the French government. We promptly added Hopkins to our list of colleges to visit that first summer. Now Drew will graduate from Johns Hopkins in May as a double major in International Studies and History with proficiency in French and Arabic.

 Throughout his four years at Hopkins, Drew was a varsity distance runner (XC and Track) and a writer for the august News-Letter and tasteless Black and Blue Jay. He also played ice hockey freshman year and was an Aitchison Fellow in Washington, D.C. last spring. Oh, did I mention that Drew has a full time job waiting for him where he interned last summer? YAY!!!!


Now let’s talk about Katy. Little Miss Math and Science AND little Miss Social. Katy recognized the good fit she would have with Hopkins early on and fought it every step of the college process way. Yet, when Katy had the good fortune to decide between her top choice schools, she surprised us and selected Johns Hopkins.

Why Hopkins? Katy saw the opportunities that Drew had at Hopkins and knew she could make it her own, too. Johns Hopkins is big enough / small enough – big enough to choose from a myriad of programs and activities (plus ignore a brother on campus), but small enough to make your mark and be on the radar screen, both academically and socially.

Some of you may remember Katy from a campus tour. In addition to being a member of the Blue Key Society, Katy is a JHU Student Ambassador and active in her sorority. As an economics major, with a possible minor in applied math, Katy has her eye on a semester at the London School of Economics or in D.C., like her brother. Although this is a student who took Biology for fun, Katy also studies Italian and sips lattes late into the night (well, that’s what she said).


Katy and Drew may be polar opposites, but they certainly have one thing in common: they both love Johns Hopkins University. Now high schooler Teddy (the musician in our family) is cautiously noting the college experiences of his siblings and sees how Hopkins could be a unique opportunity for him, too. Hey – no pressure of course, Teddy – but given our family track record with “the perfect fit”, a Johns Hopkins hat trick just may be on the horizon for us.