A Day in the Life at Johns Hopkins University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Caroline received her Bachelor’s degree in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University. She is currently a tutor in Washington, D.C. specializing in AP English Language and Composition tutoring, History tutoring, Reading tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at Johns Hopkins University:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Caroline: The campus is located on the north edge of Baltimore. It provides a traditional campus experience – quads, lots of trees, and stately brick buildings. Plenty of spots in the city are very accessible by public or university transit, and there is a campus shuttle that stops in Station North, a small arts district; Mt. Vernon, the historic district with museums, restaurants, and shops; and several other areas. There is also the Collegetown shuttle, which will stop at other colleges in the area, including Maryland Institute College of Art and Towson University. This, by default, gets you to various areas of Baltimore. The Baltimore public bus system is far-reaching and helpful, but it is not the most reliable if you are running on a schedule. The Charm City Circulator is a free public bus which you can access from Penn Station, and it is great for getting around the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, etc. Walking is also a great option. People sometimes like to reduce Baltimore to the dangers shown on The Wire, and while the city definitely does have its problems, walking is pretty safe in many areas, especially during the daytime. And in the immediate campus area, there is an abundance of security.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Caroline: I mainly took small humanities classes, and I found the professors to be very available and helpful. As long as you make an appointment, professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants are all very accessible. However, in the larger lecture classes, teaching assistants tend to be much more available than professors.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Caroline: All of the dorms are comfortable. Each room is a decent size and well-heated, and there are a wealth of opportunities for meeting people on your floor (depending on your Resident Assistant/your own initiative). The AMRs (buildings with traditional-style living) are known for being more social, but I lived in Wolman Hall (suite-style) and found that living with three suitemates (in two bedrooms) was a great way to get to know people in-depth right from the beginning. None of the dorms are more than a 10-minute walk from most academic buildings, and all have strong security. After sophomore year, though, most students live in apartments or rowhouses – a much cheaper option in Baltimore than the upperclassmen dorms. As for the dining options, they are probably average for campus food. The freshman dining hall is great for socializing, as it is mostly only utilized by freshmen. There is also a kosher meal plan and a vegetarian station at every meal.

In regard to socialization outside of the dorms, there are plenty of teams (ranging from competitive lacrosse, to club soccer, to ultimate frisbee, to Quidditch) and clubs (improvisational club, a cappella groups, theatre groups) to join. Some of the clubs outside of sports and entertainment can be somewhat haphazard/under-developed, but participation in and viewing of the aforementioned teams and clubs can be really rewarding.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Caroline: There is definitely a strong focus on STEM fields at Johns Hopkins University. These majors attract the most students, the programs are top-notch, and there are speakers and honor societies for various majors. The most popular humanities majors include International Relations and Writing Seminars, though some of these students have a second major in a STEM field. I studied Writing Seminars, which is the creative writing program. I have always had a passion for reading and writing fiction, poetry, and drama, and I am also interested in teaching.

I did not have the sense that the university was very invested in supporting the literary community. At one point, I tried to start a literary society, but I could not gain university authorization, let alone funding, on the basis that literary magazines already existed, making a club for a community of writers redundant. However, these literary magazines do exist, and there are certainly resources on campus (and in Baltimore) for aspiring writers and artists. This is especially true if you keep abreast of the events going on in the MFA program for creative writing, which include weekly readings of graduate work and periodic readings from professional writers. Furthermore, there are some very dedicated professors who are deeply invested in developing student talent. One of my best academic experiences was doing an independent study to further a writing project.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Caroline: I had a fairly easy time meeting people and making friends as a freshman. I was very lucky with the roommates I was placed with, I met people in classes, and I went to as many university events as I could in the first few weeks, when most people are very open to meeting others. I also auditioned for a short play, and participating in that helped me meet both freshmen and students in other years. Only about 25% of Johns Hopkins University students are involved in Greek life. While most freshmen attend Greek social events at least a couple of times, I would not say that Greek life is the dominant form of socializing on campus. I did not participate in Greek life, and I have no regrets.  

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Caroline: I have not found the Career Center to be exceedingly helpful in pointing me toward opportunities for internship and employment, though their services in helping with resumes and offering interview preparation are a great resource for many. They also have a strong alumni network, and websites with internship/job opportunities are accessible even after graduation. Career fairs at Johns Hopkins University are generally geared toward people in STEM fields, but there are certainly a number of companies in these fields that recruit on campus.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Caroline: Dorm lounges are very comfortable, and the library is quite big, with a variety of options. Each of the five floors has a different atmosphere and a different expectation for quiet – so the lowest level is great for people who need total silence for concentration, and the highest level is great for people working in groups. While the library becomes quite crowded around final exams, there is generally room for everyone, and it is accessible and spacious. The same goes for Brody Learning Commons, which is attached to the library but has more technological options, different seating choices, private rooms, and a café.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Caroline: Baltimore is a very dynamic city. There are daily musical performances, many small theatres, tons of restaurants and bars, various professional sports teams, and some inspired, powerful community initiatives. One of my best experiences at Johns Hopkins University was volunteering and engaging on a personal level with city residents and fellow students. Most students go further downtown than the “Hopkins Bubble” of Charles Village at least a few times a month. Baltimore has a lot to offer, and it is not too hard to find out about events going on in the city.      

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Caroline: The undergraduate student body is around 6,000 people. I was generally pleased with class sizes – the majority of my classes were humanities seminars, with the smallest having four people and the largest having 19. The biggest class I took was a 400-person Psychology lecture. However, even class sizes in these subjects tend to dramatically decrease after the introductory level, and there are smaller lectures, as well. One History class that I took was a 40-person lecture.  

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Caroline: Probably the best class I took at Johns Hopkins University was a class on lyrical poetry with Professor Steve Scafidi. He wrote page-long letters of feedback for each poem we wrote. I definitely learned the most from that class about how to approach and enjoy revision of any kind of writing, and how to be both generous and incisive in my feedback of others’ work.

Check out Caroline’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.