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how hopkins happened

Posted by Mandy S. on November 7 2010

For the next couple of weeks, all of the Hopkins Interactive bloggers will be writing on a common theme:  our thoughts and reflections on the college application process.  We’ve all been exactly where you are now and hope that sharing our experiences will help you through this momentous (but challenging!) time in your life.

This and the other photo in this entry are from my first visit to Hopkins!

Just over four years ago, I made my first visit to Johns Hopkins and left knowing that I’d be submitting my early decision application within a few weeks’ time.  I struggled to even finish my application to in-state schools (they were plans B and C); I was so dead-set on coming to Hopkins that I didn’t even want to think about applying to other schools.

Now that I’m going through another application process and preparing for my graduation in about six weeks, I’m becoming strangely nostalgic.  I’ve been thinking back to the last time I did this and what I want to do differently or things I should keep in mind to stay sane.  In other words:  I feel your pain.  I’ve been scouring the web looking for any source of reassurance I can find as I’m considering between 18-23 schools.

So, that said, here are my thoughts on the process you’re going through, unique to applying to college (I’ll do my best to keep my law school experience at a minimum).  I do know, however, that at this point in the process, my interest in what law school life is like at a particular school is minimal – my main concern is “how do I get in?!” and I’ll wait until after hearing back from schools to get super-excited about what my experience might be like.  Chances are, you’re feeling the same way!  My point in telling you all of this?  I feel your pain.

For starters, my high school experience:  I went to a school of about 400 students (slightly fewer; there were about 85 students in my graduating class) where I took a pretty standard curriculum.  I used my electives to take extra science classes or for free periods to get everything done.  I was a cheerleader and the statistician for the baseball team.  I knew from the outset of my college application process that I wanted to go to Hopkins.  I wanted to be a neuroscience major (and would only consider schools with a neuro program) and I wanted to be pre-med.  I loved Baltimore and the idea of moving to a mid-sized city far enough from home that I couldn’t run back.

I applied Early Decision to Hopkins and I applied to two other schools “just in case.”  I had a list of other options (also as a “just in case”), but I didn’t want to fill out the applications unless it was necessary.  My parents were extremely supportive during the entire process, initially struggling with the considerations of financing a private education when a very strong public university was not too far from home.  However, in the end, they wanted me to do what I thought was best.  In retrospect, I should have been more mindful of the practical considerations, but I had tunnel vision and couldn’t think of being anywhere other than Hopkins and I’m extremely grateful to be here.

Obviously, as I’m sitting here just several weeks away from finishing my coursework, I couldn’t be happier with my experiences.  (And I think my parents feel similarly).  Hopkins has opened me up to so many new experiences and opportunities that are simply unparalleled.

Although I was lucky enough to have everything work out perfectly, there are some things I could recommend.  Most importantly, don’t choose your college for just one reason. By this I mean: you’re 16/17/18 years old.  It’s hard to be sure of what you want to do for the rest of your life at this point.  Make sure you end up somewhere with lots of options, just in case.  You could end up like me, going in pre-med neuroscience and graduating public health while applying to law school.  Thankfully I had a lot of good options to back me up when I realized I was completely wrong in my early goals.  A student I met recently put it quite nicely when he said that no single thing will make or break your college experience.  For him, Hopkins merged everything he wanted, but it wasn’t one single stand out factor that was making it his first choice – it was the combination.  I think this is a great approach and a wonderful mindset.

I’ll finish up by sharing another unique perspective I have.  I have worked in the admissions office for over a year and have volunteered here for over three years.  I’ve seen and heard a lot, as you might imagine, both through my paid job and my volunteering as a blogger and interviewer.  I thought I’d close with a few of the biggest admissions pet peeves, in no particular order. DISCLAIMER: these are my own and do not represent the opinions of Johns Hopkins in any way.  (I’m already in a pretend lawyerly mode, apparently).

  1. JOHNS HOPKINS. Not John Hopkins, not John Hopkin, not John’s Hopkins.  JOHNS is a first name, albeit a slightly unfortunate one.  Spell the name correctly and don’t invent apostrophes where they don’t belong.  This applies to other schools, too!  And while we’re on the topic, check all of your application materials to be sure you have the correct school name.  While it’s nice to hear how interested you are in some other school’s English department, we don’t find it particularly relevant.
  2. Big words versus big thoughts. I hate to say it, but anyone can right click in Word and change “important” into “tantamount.”  (Believe me, I was tempted to do things like that in my personal statement, and had a conversation with my mom about that exact set of words).  But do you actually write like that?  If you do, hey, more power to you for your fancy words.   But if it doesn’t sound like you, your essay will reflect that.  I know you want your essay to sound eloquent and reflect great writing, but sometimes eloquence comes from simplicity.  Don’t let big words muddle your thoughts into something incomprehensible.
  3. I wanna major in pre-med! No, you don’t.  At Johns Hopkins, pre-med is not a major; it is an advising program that you follow on top of any major you want.  A great advising program, but again, not a major.  Enough said.
  4. Do your research. If you have a question, ask away!  But think about Googling it first.  We’re happy to help, but I’m always impressed by a student who asks things beyond the basic “Do you have a pre-med major?”  (Sorry, couldn’t resist).  But this applies to point #3 as well – don’t gush to a school about a major they don’t have.

Those are my biggest suggestions, but I’m sure there are countless other things to keep in mind.  My best advice at this point?  Breathe, relax, enjoy yourself.  It’s easy to get so caught up in this process that you fly through a few months without even realizing it.  Don’t forget to enjoy the experience of your senior year and this unique process.

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