If one were to poll the 1,200 students in Johns Hopkins University’s most recently admitted class, virtually every individual would name a different reason for selecting Hopkins. Some would doubtlessly cite top-ranked programs and world-class faculty, while others might offer up the lush campus grounds, the startling variety of activities, or simply the “feel” of the place. Contrary to popular opinion, there isn’t only one select type of student who finds Hopkins fascinating. Similarly, there isn’t only one select type of student for whom Hopkins is an excellent fit. While the university continues to conduct leading work in the field of medicine, budding scientists and future physicians are not the only intellectuals best served by the undergraduate experience; in fact, prospective students do themselves an injustice by stopping there! With numerous well-respected (and highly ranked) programs in the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and Engineering, a Johns Hopkins education promises excellence in every discipline.
Hopkins was the last stop on my long list of senior year college visits. New Haven, New York, New Jersey—up and down the Turnpike, these cities and the institutions within them each bore witness to the team of my mother’s and my, ‘positive attitude,’ and Polaroid camera respectively in tow. Although a large part of my visit to JHU was given over to an Admissions Office open house program, my decision ultimately hinged on the most quintessential of campus visit options: the overnight stay. Shepherded from a cappella concerts and improv comedy to an evening game under the lights and several late-night parties, I found myself mentally bumping Hopkins to unforeseen heights on my college hierarchy. Blame it on the eclectic energy and powerful voices of the Mental Notes, clad in their signature Hawaiian shirts; blame it on the oversized Blue Jay mascot stalking the sidelines. From the words of a winning departmental chair (who sold my mom) to the welcoming wisecracks of upperclassmen (who sold me), conversations with campus personalities radiated a warmth and sincerity far beyond what I expected from one of the nation’s preeminent research universities. I believed it then and I believe it now, nearly six years later: While a Hopkins education may be considered a rarefied experience, the people are what make the place so extraordinary.
Founded in 1876 by railroad magnate and philanthropist Johns Hopkins, the institution was the first of its kind in the United States. Curiosity and independence were the watchwords for this new establishment, headlining a tradition of exploration and inquiry that continues even more strongly today. Material examples of this educational philosophy are evident in the university’s open curriculum, the availability of undergraduate research opportunity, and the amalgam of student organizations, ever in flux. This philosophy encourages students to take responsibility for their own education in a uniquely powerful way—those who are willing to ask questions and to dig deeply make the most of the Hopkins legacy.
Hopkins undergraduates spend the majority of their four years on the Homewood Campus, a 140-acre swath of green in northern Baltimore City. Only three miles from the city center and tourist district, bordered by two busy thoroughfares, Homewood is an accessible, urban campus with a surprisingly rural feel. Georgian structures and fleets of sweeping marble stairs lend a collegial uniformity to the extensive, pedestrian grounds. Dotted with lampposts and a variety of flowering trees, the campus is an aesthetic triumph (and as such, is often a surprise to visitors expecting the raw, the gritty, or the hectic). Boasting a modest population of approximately 4,700 undergraduates, Homewood houses both the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering. Relatively compact departments and their corresponding faculty cohorts create an intimate learning environment, lending courses the air of a much smaller liberal arts college.
The Hopkins Umbrella
Still, don’t be fooled! New arrivals to Homewood will soon discover what locals have learned long ago: the “Hopkins umbrella” stretches far and wide, encompassing a good deal of Baltimore and the world beyond. Free shuttles run from Homewood to the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health in East Baltimore, after making a stop at the Peabody Institute Conservatory of Music just south of campus. The Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (also known as SAIS) is based in Washington, D.C., and maintains campuses abroad in China and Italy. Students also have access to the School of Education, The Carey Business School, and finally, the Applied Physics Laboratory. Some of these divisions offer specific undergraduate programs, while the remainder provides opportunities for post-graduate studies, independent research, or employment. Ultimately, no interdivisional work is mandatory; however, if a student seeks adventure away from the Homewood quads, the rest of the university and all of its resources are waiting. At Hopkins, students need not choose between the rural or urban, the small or expansive; the university somehow manages to provide and to be something slightly different for everyone. With that said, be forewarned: Hopkins students don’t view these, or any other defining features, as “compromises.” They fully feel as though the best of all worlds is accessible.
While most alumni would probably agree that Hopkins provided well for them both academically and socially, the university isn’t resting on its laurels. Within the past several years, eight new buildings have been added to campus and several additional initiatives are well underway. From Clark and Hodson Halls to state-of-the-art new chemistry and computational sciences buildings, facilities for research and teaching have grown larger and glossier. Through the construction of the new arts and recreation centers, the rich extracurricular lives of Hopkins students have been not simply acknowledged, but commended and encouraged; their existence makes good on the notion that a Hopkins experience isn’t solely academic. Mason Hall, a new quad area, complete with academic facilities and the university’s visitor center, and Admissions Office fleshes out the south end of campus.
All told, these additions are indicative of a reflective, self-evaluative university that doesn’t feel immune to critique. Hopkins embraces change per se, but perhaps more importantly, recognizes the need for an evolution that builds upon distinctive features and existing traditions. As noted by the second president of the university, Ira Remsen, in regard to campus construction, “[o]ur general plan should determine the style of architecture and arrangement of buildings appropriate to the gradual development of the campus so that in years to come the groups…will form a symmetrical whole.” This passage is easily applied to the university at large; in reinventing its various parts, attention to the greater whole— the bigger picture—isn’t just a priority, but a consistent practice.