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The campus visit cannot be overemphasized. The key to the exercise, however, is not to be too analytical, but to enjoy the place, engage fully in the present and gain a sense of the surroundings, the people and the conversations: absorb the atmosphere.

You can visit Johns Hopkins University (JHU) virtually without flying to Baltimore. But the virtual Georgian red brick buildings can only take you so far in acquiring a true sense of JHU or any school for that matter. You need to meet the most important component of the campus, the people.

The admissions brochure states: “It’s the people — artists, inventors, leaders, scientists, philosophers, humanitarians, and global thinkers—who make this a place you’ll want to call home. To really get to know Hopkins, you have to meet them.” I decided to do just that.

The mechanics of a visit are simple. Go to the campus website three weeks ahead and register for an information session and a tour. Park in the South Garage, and go to Mason Hall to check in. JHU supplies free rain ponchos if it’s stormy. Then walk back to the building right next to where you parked for the information session.

Possibly JHU wants to cast off the preconceptions of its pre-med and engineering orientation: the information session did. Two JHU upper class-persons presented their perspective on going to JHU. Both loved it. One was an art major who had just set up an exhibit in a gallery attended by fellow classmates who fully supported her efforts. The other was an international studies major.

When asked about what course one, regardless of major, should take while at JHU, both mentioned any course taught by Earle Havens, a curator of the rare books editions at the Sheridan Library of JHU, and an adjunct associate professor of the German and Romance Language Department. His current book projects include 16th century illicit printing, book smuggling, and the history of literary forgery: true page-turners indeed.

After the information session a set of five tour guides marched down the aisles, allowing us to select one closely allied with our interests. Most school tours offer student guides who span disciplines and interests. I joined Chris’s group. Chris is a second semester freshman from the Jersey Shore who had been accepted early decision into the bioengineering program, probably one of the most competitive programs in the country. After his first semester, he had changed his major to chemical engineering with a minor in entrepreneurship and business, a minor he had customized along with his advisor.

My group saw the da Vinci robot in the computational science department of Hackerman hall, walked through the Brody Learning Commons, designed for collaborative learning after extensive input from students, watched the students laying in the early afternoon sun on ‘the Beach,' a portion of the extensive green space that supposedly modulates the drone of traffic noise to emulate the sound of the ocean shore (not credible to Chris), the undergraduate teaching laboratories for interdisciplinary science research (UTL), where our stay was cut short by a fire alarm, and the Gilman Atrium, though we missed the mummy.

Chris had an encyclopedic command of the campus and its activities. He knew the dynamics of the drama department, the upcoming Rutgers-JHU Lacrosse game, dormitories, the various neighborhoods of Baltimore, and the best Italian restaurant in the inner harbor.

Concluding the tour, Chris recapped that the academics are stellar, the facilities almost unlimited, and the opportunities for applied learning through internships, research and study abroad abound. Yet, it’s not as if Duke, Stanford or Northwestern lack in these qualities either. The reason he chose JHU is for the little things: the discussions over coffee at the FFC, an art exhibit at the Baltimore Art Museum, which abuts the campus, and the students and faculty, accessible and willing to listen. It’s the people and the feel of the place. Your gut will know once you breathe deeply within its space.

No one is indifferent after a college visit.

Ralph Becker, is founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC ( and a resident of Long Beach. He has been counseling students for 11 years. He has a certificate in college counseling from the UCLA Extension, and has published "SAT* Vocab 800." He can be reached at

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