What is a college looking for? Part 2

Exercise 1. Day 2. Reading for a College’s Values

These are examples of successful admissions essays that Johns Hopkins shows on its website.

Mark where each of these three essays reflects the values that you described in your one-sentence summary of the pop-out quotes that we studied in Day 1 of  this exercise.


(Full text from the Johns Hopkins website)

Essays That Worked
What does the Admissions Committee look for in a successful essay? It’s one of our most commonly asked questions.

Since the essay is an important part of the application process, the Admissions Committee has selected examples of essays that worked, written by members of the Johns Hopkins Class of 2016. These essays represent just a few examples of essays we found impressive and helpful during the past admissions cycle.

These “essays that worked” are distinct and unique to the individual writer; however, each of them assisted the admissions reader in learning more about the student beyond the transcripts and activity sheets. We hope these essays inspire you as you prepare to compose your own personal statements. The most important thing to remember is to be original and creative as you share your own story with us.


(Full text from the Johns Hopkins website)

Nina Y.

Hometown: Dallas, Texas
 / Intended major: Biology

A Home Destroyed

I was seven years old when I saw the ocean for the first time. My grandmother had invited me to visit her near Okinawa, Japan. I will never forget that encounter—the intense sun, the endless horizon, the infinite shades of blue that dissolved any boundary between sky and waves. And most of all, the secret of the water. Swimming in those waters was like diving into a kaleidoscope, deceptively plain on the outside, but a show of colors on the inside, waiting to dazzle me, mesmerize me. Those colors! Coral reefs—pink, green, red, purple—covered the seafloor; streaks of sunlight illuminated them, the swaying water creating a dance of hues. And weaving in and out of the contours of coral swam brilliant fish that synchronized every movement with the water, creating one body, one living entity. I longed to join and flow with them to the music of the waves; that’s where I felt I belonged. And leaving was like parting home, not going home.

Five years later, I returned. At first, all seemed to match my memory: the crystalline waters and that open horizon with the sun daring to come closer to Earth. But the second I dove in, I knew my home had vanished…white. That’s all I could see around me: bone-white death. I couldn’t accept it. I kept swimming farther out, hoping to catch even the smallest hint of color. But there was no sign of that brilliant garden I remembered, just fragments of bleached coral. It was like looking down onto the aftermath of a war: a bombed city, with only the crumbles of cement to testify for the great buildings that once stood. But who was the culprit behind this egregious attack?
Though at the age of twelve, I couldn’t even begin to guess, I now know the answer is us. Humans are an impressive species: we have traveled to every continent, adapted to countless environments, and innovated to create comfortable means of living. But in the process, we have stolen the colors from nature all around the globe, just as we did that coral reef. Our trail of white has penetrated the forests, the oceans, the grasslands, and spread like a wild disease. I, too, have left a white footprint, so I have a responsibility to right these wrongs, to repaint those colors, and to preserve the ones that remain. Some question why I should care. The answer is simple: this planet is my home, my birthplace. And that, in and of itself, is an inseparable bond and a timeless connection. Nature has allowed me my life, so I have no right to deny its life. As Jane Goodall once said, “If we kill off the wild, then we are killing a part of our souls.” This is my soul—our soul. I know that I alone cannot protect this soul, so I will not make a promise that I cannot fulfill. But this promise I will make: I will do what I can do.

John D.

Hometown: Villanova, Pennsylvania
 / Intended majors: History and Biology


I sat nervously in the plastic chair, my cotton chupa tied a bit too tightly. A few robed monks sat quietly by a water cooler. After a short wait, a guide led my group through the palace gardens into the Karmapa’s office. The room was 1970s inspired: paneled oak walls, Venetian blinds, and a plaid couch atop an Oriental rug. Seemingly out of place, the Karmapa sat gloomily, dressed in a traditional vermillion robe.
My fixation with India began with a paperback copy of Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God. The book depicted India as a blend of modernism and tradition; a country illustrated in Vedic literature as utopian and mystic, yet today a fusion of Hinduism and urban development. My love of India stems from its multifaceted personalities, its ability to function as a center of religious fervor, a backdrop for historical events of great import, and a cosmopolitan nation of both metropolises and pastoral communities. I envisioned glass cities laced with smog, burlap bags of spices, crumbling shrines coughing undulating incense rather than the monochromic lifestyle of the Main Line. Readily submitting to India’s allure, I signed up for a service trip to explore the cultures of India by teaching English in a small village. Travel, especially for service, propels me to journey beyond suburbia and to explore the world, whether it is as a student ambassador in China or an English teacher in Tanzania. However, an itinerary mix-up landed me in the foothills of the Himalayas, far from the India I had read about.
The community was Dharamsala, a Buddhist enclave home to the exiled Tibetan government. With little knowledge regarding Buddhism, I was initially dismayed with the hushed village. I vowed to learn, though. I attended Buddhist lectures at the headquarters of the Tibetan government, received a Tibetan name, Tenzin Thegchog, from the Dalai Lama, and taught English to refugees. Then came the audience with the Karmapa Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s leader. The naturally reserved Tibetans would vivaciously discuss with me his future as Tibet’s leader and enthuse about his looks; the Tibetans agreed that the Karmapa was attractive. However, sitting on the office floor, I felt little inspiration. Then the Karmapa allowed us to ask questions. Spontaneously, I asked, “Have you ever loved someone?”
The Karmapa answered immediately: “No, I never had the chance.”
Where service is, for me, intrinsically personal, it isolates the Karmapa. Required to lead his people, the Karmapa is unable to establish the personal relationships that make service enjoyable and define “normal” life. Whether it is pouring tea at a soup kitchen, creating Valentine’s Day cards with children at the Domestic Abuse Center, or planting oak tree saplings with the Willistown Conservation Trust, I find pleasure in serving others and also in the relationships formed while doing so. I realized the Karmapa’s answer was truthful and inspiring. Through his blunt response, I was able to comprehend both my passion for community service, my independence, and understand what makes the Karmapa so attractive.

Natalie M.

Hometown: Grosse Pointe, Michigan / 
Intended major: Biology

Don’t Be Sorry
It was a raw, blustery March day and I was leading four classmates to my house to hash out the remaining details of our current English presentation. When I opened the door, however, I received a surprise. I had not anticipated my mother still being home and neither had my group members. Their faces turned slightly blank, as if they were trying to hide their confusion and surprise. The previously relaxed atmosphere had become very formal and quiet. I had seen this before.
My group members had only observed my mom for a few seconds, but it was long enough to ignite their curiosity. I casually explained that the woman in the wheelchair they had just seen was my mother and that she has M.S.—multiple sclerosis. This is a fact I have relayed dozens of times throughout my life, and I thought nothing of it as I took my group member’s heavy winter jackets and hung them up.
But one of the girls immediately said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
I was actually speechless. Sorry? Sorry for what? No one has ever said those words to me before regarding my mother, and I did not know how to respond. You say “I’m sorry” when someone’s uncle passes away or when their pet dies; only “bad” situations are deserving of the “I’m sorry” response and I have never viewed my mother’s disease as needing to receive it.
I shrugged off the reply in a polite way, and we got working. But the moment my group members left I was alone with my thoughts, alone with the “I’m sorry” clause.
Our family’s life is completely different than others due to my mom’s disease, but I have known no other way of living. My mother has had M.S. since she was in college, so I was born into a world with motorized scooters and walkers and extra precautions. This is my norm. And while other people may pity my mother and our family, I see no reason to be down. I could spend all my time harping on the drawbacks and my “missed opportunities,” but what fun would that be? I will always find the silver lining.
This seemingly insignificant March day actually made quite a difference for me. I finally realized that you need to appreciate not just what you have had, but what you have not. Because of my mother I had learned independence and responsibility while most kids were still watching Saturday morning cartoons. I could balance a checkbook by fifth grade, thought more consciously about keeping our house clean than most kids ever will, and was always willing to lend a hand. These lessons have stuck with me. I understand that you have to make the best out of what you are given; take what life gives you and run with it.
So why be sorry for me? I know I would not trade my life for the world.

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