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Johns Hopkins University

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Date: Jul 13 2004
Major: History/Histories (art history/etc.) (This Major's Salary over time)
Hopkins is an unusual place. For the right kind of student, it can open many doors and foster real intellectual devlopment. For the wrong kind of student, it will be a hellish experience. The right kind of student is bright, highly motivated, able to work independently and even prefers it that way. The right kind of student wants to be challenged. The wrong kind of student is someone who wants to cruise through college, who expects an MTV-beach-house college experience, and who is, frankly, your typical seventeen year old.

To be specific, Hopkins is an intensely intellectual place. Undergraduates who want to do well have to work hard. You cannot just walk into a class and expect an A Minus for showing up, as is the case (to a large extent, but not in every class) at places such as Stanford and Harvard (among many others.) Students have to work on their own, taking on and completing projects of their own devising under a professor's supervision rather than just regurgitating lectures. To that extent, the Hopkins undergraduate experience is similar to a graduate-school experience. In fact, Hopkins is almost uniquely good at preparing you for professional or graduate school. In my experience, the amount of professor-undergraduate contact was greater than what you would expect to find at a high-powered research institution, and those contacts made my career. However, Hopkins profs will invest time and effort in you only if you take the initiative, make yourself known, distinguish yourself from the crowd, and prove to them that you are worth it.

Many students complain (and complained in my time) about the Hopkins social scene. Many of these complaints are rooted in wholly unrealistic, media-driven expectations of what college life should be like, i.e., non-stop debauchery. As with academic life, the Hopkins social life is what you make of it. There are always some frat parties on the weekends if that is your thing. If you have some extra-curricular interests such as sports or music, you'll have a decent social network. Better yet, find a place to crash in Washington, DC, and spend as many weekends as you can down there.

Lest you think that I am nothing but a Hopkins fanboy, I'll note some of the criticisms that do, I think, have some merit.

Hopkins has a weak sense of student community, in part because so many (most?) undergraduates must live off campus and therefore are dispersed. Pay close attention to the housing situation. I could not wait to get off campus and to live in an apartment with a kitchen and a living room, but I know that many people feel differently.

Living off campus is complicated by the fact that Baltimore is a rough city, a really rough city—and that is coming from someone who grew up in a tough New York neighborhood where many of the houses were boarded up. The Homewood area around campus is OK, but go a few blocks in any direction and it gets skeevy fast. Very bad things happen to students sometimes.

Politics: Hopkins is a fairly apolitical place, which you might like or you might hate. If you are apolitical or like your politics in small doses, then you will like that aspect of Hopkins. Nearly every undergraduate I knew was moderate right or moderate left, when you could tell at all, and nearly everyone was working too hard to be politically involved. If you are an activist of any political stripe, then you will find Hopkins boring.

The Hopkins student body contains a cross-section of humanity, and the school has an international feel (largely thanks to the graduate program) that I liked. However, whether as a result of self-selection or of the admissions office, Hopkins attracts an unusually large number of very odd students who have wandered so far off the beaten path that you'll need a search-and-rescue squad to find them.

No doubt, Hopkins values its graduate programs more highly than its undergraduate programs, and you will find some inept professors and some professors who regard you as a nuisance. You can also find incompetent and indifferent professors at every college and university, and I do not think that Hopkins has more or fewer incompetent teachers and workers than any other university (or high school, grade school, or corporation for that matter.) Find out who the bad professors are and avoid them.

Professors whose English is non-existent: I had some great teachers whose native language was not English, but I also had some teachers who were utterly incomprehensible to every student in their classes. Avoid the ones that you cannot understand at all costs, although when they teach intro courses that everyone must take, sometimes you cannot avoid them.

questionHi, my name is Millie Shah and I am a senior at Sunny Hills High School in southern California and currently looking at applying early to JHU. You seem like an honest person and I was really curious about what life is like at Johns Hopkins. I am interested in the BME major and I have been to Johns Hopkins for a summer program but I am scared that as an undergrad, college at JHU will be too competitive and no fun at all. i would really appreciate your objective and honest opinion on Johns Hopkins social scene because I am sure we all agree that this school excels in academics(so that is not really a deciding factor for me—but i have heard college is the best time of your life and i dont want to waste mine being miserable). Thank you so much for your time. -Millie
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