Johns Hopkins University Admissions Officer: I Hope That Chinese Applicants Could Form Their Own Opinions and Make Their Voices Heard

By Yilin Wang
This interview was conducted in 2015.
It was subsequently published by the Blue Net China magazine, Vol.1.

At the end of 2015, Blue Net China, the student media group I co-founded with my friends, got into contact with the undergraduate admissions office at the Johns Hopkins University. We collected questions and concerns from applicants in China, delivered them to the admissions officers, and sent their feedback to China. Below is a summary of the dialogue between me and Jesse Tomczak, the admissions officer in charge of admissions work related to the East Asian region.

How has the quantity of Chinese candidates, as well as the quality of their applications, changed within the past few years?

A:   As more and more Chinese students get interested in applying to the universities in the U.S., our number of Chinese applicants has increased by 70% in the past three years. One of the most prominent changes that we noticed is the rising popularity of Hopkins among the medium and small-sized Chinese cities, thanks to the good word of mouth. Our admission office is looking forward to further enhance Hopkins’ reputation in these medium cities. We have recently visited seven Chinese cities, including Kunming, Xi’an and etc., with several other schools such as Stanford and Dartmouth. We are happy to welcome students with different cultural backgrounds, and to further diversify our student body. However, while diversity is an important factor, it is surely not the sole factor.

Have you noticed any common characteristics of Chinese applicants?

A:   They tend to put great emphasis on their test scores, and indeed, most of them have strong academic record. We found out lately that Chinese candidates are prone to get exam help from test preparation classes, even during their senior year of high school.

More and more Chinese high schools start to offer IB and AP courses to students who plan to study abroad. How do you evaluate these international course centers?

A:   We do not differentiate these international course centers from traditional Chinese high school classes, and thus have no preference for one over another. Moreover, we have never set down a quota of admissions upon either educational system. What we truly care, which has nothing to do with the course structure, is whether the applicants are able to step out of their comfort zone and to do well in relatively challenging courses. Taking no chances, we are willing to spend more time getting to know these international courses centers better through constant school visits. Whichever course system the students are enrolled in, we hope that they would “approach in the right way.”

I observed that most of the Chinese students at Hopkins have had some sort of cultural exchange experiences. Some have been studying in the U.S. or Canada since high school, while some enjoyed study abroad opportunities in other countries. In selecting the applicants, how would you value these students with extended cultural exchange backgrounds?

A:   I think these students, for example the ones who are from American high schools, would have advantage in knowing more about the application process. However, that does guarantee a higher chance of admission. Our principal is to evaluate whether a student stands out as a good fit for Hopkins.

How would you choose between the students who have similar portfolios, but are from different educational systems of the same school (i.e. IB versus Gaokao)? Or perhaps, from different cultural backgrounds?

A: We always compare students from the same educational system. However, when we have to make a choice between students from different educational systems, or geographical and cultural backgrounds, we will do our best to find a balance. For example, if this student is to be placed in a totally different system or background, will he or she manage to attain the same achievements as shown in the portfolio now? Nevertheless, we have not faced many cases like this up till now, because each application that we received has been unique and characteristic.

Around the end of year 2014, the College Broad delayed SAT scores of Chinese test takers, and concerns over SAT test continue to beleaguer Chinese applicants. How do you approach these problems?

A:   We will ensure that such insitances do not affect the chance of admission for the students. However, if such problems continue to happen, we would have to doubt the test results of these students.

Although every student is unique and has his or her own story, we are still curious if there is anything in common among the students of Hopkins?

A:   With strong emphasis on liberal arts, Hopkins embraces academic freedom and grants our students an open curriculum (with no fixed core curriculum). Our students are all very focused, dedicated, and passionate in what they study. But once again, every Hopkins student has his or her own character.

Would you please give some suggestions or comments to our potential or current Chinese applicants?

A:   Firstly, I hope that they all form their own opinion and can make their voice heard, instead of following what their parents or consultant say. The college application process is not designed for, and thus should not be dominated by, these “adults.” We expect the high school students to be responsible of themselves and to finish the whole process individually. Secondly, I hope that they can devote more time and energy to research and to get to know the universities that they are applying to. I understand that it would not be easy for foreign students; however, it is crucial. Simple numbers like ranking can never provide a holistic view of a school. Last but not least, I’d love to ask all applicants to enjoy this process, to free themselves from all exterior pressure, and to truly follow their own hearts.

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