Great Essays Excite Johns Hopkins Admissions Officer

Johns Hopkins University Assistant Director of Admissions Calvin Wise isn’t fazed when he sees impressive grades and test scores on applications for admission. But his adrenaline gets pumping when he reads a great essay.

“I never run into a colleague’s office and say ‘look at this 4.0 GPA,'” Wise told Wow’s Kim Lifton during a phone interview.  “I will run into an office with a good essay to share; that excites me.”

This time of year, we hear countless myths about college admissions. Lifton contacted Wise last week to set the record straight. His responses to our questions should help clarify a few things.

What are you looking for in an essay?

We are looking for your story. We want to know what makes you different, unique.  We want to know who you are. Academically, we are glad you’ve done well. What did an experience mean to you? How did it shape you?”

What makes an application essay stand out for you?

“Essays that really show an applicant’s character and personality stand out the most to me.  The goal is to read the application and feel like I know the student without having met them. The essay is the  only place a student has an opportunity to talk to a college. Teens look forward and into the future, and they don’t spend much time looking backward. Having that type of reflection means the most to us in the admissions office.”

What if a student doesn’t have an aha moment? Does it matter?

“The essay does not have to be about something huge, some life-changing event.  You can write about an aha moment, what defines you as a person. But it doesn’t have to be really extensive. Students think they need a monumental experience, but the essay can be about something small.”

Are there taboo subjects? Is it okay to write about sports?

“You can write about sports, but we want you to draw life lessons out of that sport. Don’t be so cliche and write something that states ‘I learned how to work as a team.’ What does it mean to you? That is what we want to know.”

What should a student do if he/she loves an essay topic and someone says it is a bad subject?

“Stop talking to people who are not reading the essays, and call the admissions office and ask.”

How do you select a freshmen class?

“It is a holistic process. The essay is an important part of the application. We pace through the whole application, and we read every letter, essay, resume. People have this preconceived notion that we are mean people who like to deny students admission. We are not. We are looking to create a class. We are trying to admit students, and we only have  a 17 percent admission rate. There is no checklist;  it is not that cut and dry. The bottom line is that we are looking at your whole package – it is not just about grades and test (SAT/ACT) scores.”

How important are test scores? Grades?

“Tests (SAT/ACT) count for more than students want them to count for but for less than they think they count for. No one score will get you admitted, and no one score will get you denied. We  look at the test, and we look at it in context. What is more important is what a student does on a day-to-day basis.”

Are you trying to get your essays done before Labor Day? Contact us, and we’ll fit you in!

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Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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