How to Write the Johns Hopkins Supplemental Essay (With Examples!): The Outstanding Guide

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Johns Hopkins University has an acceptance rate of 12% and is a world-renowned school that sits prominently on the “dream list” for many high school seniors and college transfer students.

The university takes advantage of the Common App as one way to apply for admissions.

In addition to the regular application on the Common App, Johns Hopkins asks students to provide one writing supplement.

According to their page called, “Essays That Worked,” the university believes that “Test scores only tell part of your story, and [they] want to know more than just how well you work. [They] want to see how you actually think.”

In fact, the admissions officers believe that the essay is one of the most important parts of your application.

Follow these tips to write a strong Johns Hopkins supplemental essay.

The Johns Hopkins University Writing Supplement:

Write a brief essay (300-400 words) in which you respond to the following question.

“Successful students at Johns Hopkins make the biggest impact by collaborating with others, including peers, mentors, and professors. Talk about a time, in or outside the classroom, when you worked with others and what you learned from the experience.”

Once again, we get a glimpse at the university’s philosophy through the expectations they have for their future students (that’s you!).

In this prompt, your collaboration with others is the highlight of the essay.

Here are some ideas of what you should reflect on:

  • Did you pick the people you worked with or was the group assigned?
  • How did you feel about working with the members of your group?
  • What was your role in the group?
  • Were the responsibilities fair?
  • Did you have an opportunity to use your strengths when completing your work?
  • What did you feel about the overall result?

After you mention the situation, be sure to comment on what insight came out of the situation. This will answer the portion of the prompt that asks what you learned from the experience.

  • Did you have a better understanding of how you work with others?
  • What changes did this cause you to make for your next collaborative effort?
  • Did you learn the types of people make the best partners for you when working in a group?
  • What role is best for you in a group?

Even if that is not your natural talent (for example, you might be shy and reserved in class), the essay gives you greater opportunity to expand outside of the classroom. This opportunity allows you to pick from a greater range of situations.

  • Consider a class project during which you worked with people you wouldn’t have picked but the outcome was positive.
  • If you’ve served as a teacher’s aide, write about that experience.
  • Explain how you put together a food or donation drive with peers.
  • You might decide to write about a community organization that you work with
  • Or your job or planning an important family event

Working With Others: A Brainstorm for Johns Hopkins

When preparing to write the supplemental essay for Johns Hopkins, you have a few choices to make.

First, you need to brainstorm which instance of collaboration from your life you would like to discuss. The prompt is open to both experiences in and outside a school setting.

Even if an idea immediately jumps out to you, consider brainstorming a list of collaborative situations you have experienced in both school and non-school settings. Use the questions provided above to help with creating this list.

The practice of writing down as many thoughts as you can on paper might persuade you to remember an example that would make for an even stronger essay than your original choice.

When you are looking at your list of experiences, use the following questions to narrow down your choice:

Which of these experiences…

  • …could I write the most about?
  • …had the greatest impact on my life?
  • …is most relevant to my passions and/or personality?
  • …is unique?
  • …exhibits true collaboration?

After answering these questions, you might still be torn between two different experiences.

  • You might consider drafting two different essays, one that addresses each experience. It’s likely that while you are writing, you will quickly realize which is the stronger example for the admissions committee.

Keep in mind that even if one experience may have yielded the best results overall and shows how well your grouped worked together, another experience may show more personal growth regardless of the final result.

  • Johns Hopkins wants to know which experience made the “biggest impact,” not had the best outcome. You want to impress the admissions counselor with your personal learning experience rather than how well your group did well. Keep the focus on you!

Another strategy to try if you are stuck between ideas is to pitch both to a friend or family member. Outside opinions are key to success in life, so it’s fine to seek advice for your essay.

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How to Describe Lessons Learned through Collaboration

While this essay is about you, remember that it is also focused on collaboration.

Be cautious not to overdo it when describing your leadership skills and what you learned from an experience – you don’t want to forget to describe the actual process of collaboration.

  • If you worked in collaboration with a class or group of any kind, make sure to provide enough context for your readers to understand the setting in which you worked together.
  • If you worked for an organization, you might briefly describe their mission. However, “briefly” is the key term here.

The word count for your essay is 300-400 words and it is important to make the most of it.

You do not want to spend too much time describing an organization or cause and lose out on addressing the heart of the prompt, which is your collaborative effort.

While writing your essay, consider the dynamics of your collaborative group.

  • How did you work together? Physically? Digitally?
  • How did you communicate?
  • Were you a part of a leadership team?
  • How were deadlines decided and enforced?
  • Did roles change throughout the process? Why?

Next, think about the goals of your collaboration:

  • What was it that you were working toward?
  • Were you able to accomplish (or begin to accomplish) those goals?
  • What effect did your work have on those around you?

For example, you might have attended an entrepreneurship summit and decided to work toward launching a company together with some of the people you met. Some of your teammates might have been working together in person while others worked remotely from different states, or even countries.

You could describe how you made that work because there were issues to deal with in the beginning, such as reconciling communication styles and time zone differences.

  • Perhaps you were the point person for the team and handled the marketing and sales aspect of the company.
  • Maybe you were the designer for the company’s logo and website.
  • You might have been in charge of internal purchases and making sure you stayed within budget.

Whatever your role might have been, your essay would focus on the importance of interpersonal relationships and how critical they were to achieving not only your goals but the company’s goals as well.

Applying Growth and Lessons Learned to the Essay

In order to fully address the writing supplement, you should also discuss what you learned from the experience.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the elements that were both beneficial and challenging for you.

  • Growth is a part of learning and schools appreciate when you can recognize this and reflect upon your experiences.
  • Be authentic in your reflection process. Don’t write something just because you think that’s what the admissions officer will want to read.
  • Writing about realizing that you had a valuable voice and could be a positive agent for change is very different than stating you learned everybody thinks you are smart and a leader.

Context and language are important. You should be careful to present your true learning experience rather than list compliments.

Remember to go back to the prompt while you are writing to maintain focus. Staying on topic will ensure you don’t waste a single word in your limit.

Even if you are beyond excited to be applying to Johns Hopkins, this is not the place to write about it. You want to be able to show the university that you are clear, focused, and specific in your writing.

According to Johns Hopkins: Essays That Worked

One of the richest resources for writing your supplement for Johns Hopkins comes from the university itself.

Within their admissions information section, the “Essays That Worked” page has numerous examples of essays written by the class of 2021 that captured the admissions committee’s attention.

  • Do yourself a favor and read these essays.
  • Not only does the university provide these powerful essays, but if you click the “+” underneath each essay, you will be able to read admissions committee comments that describe exactly what about the essay resonated with them.

While the students’ essays are not related to the prompt you will be writing, reading them is still important. You can analyze the tone, style, and structure of these essays and apply your knowledge to your own writing.

In reading the admissions committee comments, you will notice that there are several key terms that frequently occur, such as “creative,” “personality,” and “passion.” These are clues to what you should be including in your essay.

  • Johns Hopkins clearly values creative and inventive structures in an essay.
  • If you feel comfortable writing in that style, it may be the right avenue to take. As stated above, be sure to include your personality and to highlight your passions in your essay.

If you don’t feel comfortable with advanced structures and narratives, that’s OK. A simple, well-told story is more effective than a convoluted, badly paced one.

The Gritty Details: Check Your Work

As with any essay, it’s very important that you have meticulously edited your work.

The spell check tool is a staple, but other tools, like Grammarly, are great resources as well. This website has a grammar check feature that can help you to catch common mistakes, like overused words and subject-verb tense.

  • However, with any tool, you should use your judgment and not blindly accept suggestions unless you understand the reasons behind making them.
  • Other strategies for checking your work include sharing it with another person.

Many times, students focus on line item grammar and spelling errors without thinking about their writing holistically. Have a friend or family member read your work for clarity and structure. Ask them:

  • Have I represented myself well as a collaborator?
  • Do my thoughts transition smoothly or do you I bounce around ideas?
  • Can you hear my voice through my writing?
  • Am I clear in what I learned from this experience?

This last question sounds tricky, but it is simply asking whether your reader gets a sense of your personality and outlook on life through your writing. Your work should never read like a monotonous robot providing the answers you think Johns Hopkins wants to hear.

Johns Hopkins Supplemental Essay Examples

Example 1:

In my experience, High School Musical and Mean Girls are spot-on when it comes to teen conversations; during my first three years of high school, most of the discussions my friends and I had revolved around who was dating whom, criticism of the atrocious basketball coach, and spoilers of the latest Stranger Things season. While I still enjoyed these chats, as my entrepreneurial fervor grew, I found myself feeling disjointed from my peers and looking for a community that would nurture my startup fever. When she noticed my budding interest, the head of a local incubator invited me to apply for their accelerator program. I initially felt unsure, but I gave it a shot, and as time went on, I felt as if I were transported to Ancient Athens during every Monday session.

As a program meant to help individuals jumpstart and accelerate their businesses, the incubator prompted participants to think Socratically. We questioned and debated every preconceived notion regarding startups: how to conduct proper market research, when and why to shut down, and even whether a humanitarian venture could also be a profitable one. Our oratories were not dull, 10-minute long PowerPoints followed by the occasional golf clap; they were action-packed, 60-second elevator pitches accompanied by a barrage of inquiries and suggestions about statistical logos and story-telling pathos. Through numerous congregations within the polis, I gave a fellow participant the conviction to pursue his business of educating students on the college recruiting process, emphasizing how all of my friends loved athletics and wanted to go D1.  In return, he helped me see that the biggest problem with teens wasn’t always finding opportunities; it was being ready and professional enough to capture it.

Despite channeling Alexander the Great’s cutthroat competitiveness at the beginning, our group personified Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates in the end, as we considered each other’s ventures and employed our own ethos to help one another. We didn’t all have to be our own Homers — our Iliad and Odyssey were the cumulative success of all of our companies, forged by the collaborative intertwining of our stories.

Example 2:

Our tenth-grade chemistry teacher decided that the best way for us to learn the chemical bonding unit was through student-led lessons and projects. There were many positions in the structured lessons; I signed up to be leader. As the leader, it was my job to make sure others completed their work, understood the concepts, sought out help if they didn’t, and that we progressed on schedule, altering it as necessary. 

My first obstacle and lesson was getting the students, specifically the boys, to listen to me. At that time it was only my second year at my new school and I hadn’t developed closer relationships with many of my peers yet who had known each other since middle school. The boys in the class were the main problem since they did not like being told what to do by a girl, especially one they did not know very well. The only way I could fix that was by being calm in the face of their stubbornness and continuing to direct them politely but firmly. It was an enlightening experience and gave me insight into how women are perceived in the real world.

Due to poor circumstances, there were two traveling trips occurring at the same time; athletics and Model United Nations. Athletics only took away two people from our class, and while it was important to make sure they were on track, it was a relatively smooth process. On the other hand, MUN took away at least half the class. That was very difficult because it was a logistical nightmare to keep track of so many people in another country and make sure they were still finishing with their work. Furthermore, because they were very busy as MUN members and didn’t want to worry about chemistry. This obstacle required me to be very organized with many people out of the country, including reorganizing our classwide schedule to accommodate the missing people.

Language difference was the third obstacle. As we progressed through the unit and got closer to our final test and project, the language proficiency difference grew more challenging. Many of my classmates were Korean and their first language was not English. As the concepts became more advanced, it was apparent that they needed help with language translation. Even more, some were not able to talk well to others in English due to not having an English-speaking background. I was overwhelmed facing all these unexpected challenges, but I knew it was important that I give my classmates my patience and support.

In the end, we did well. All of us passed the test and successfully created and carried out an experiment to determine our mysterious substance. Getting there, though, was a challenge, but not one that I regret. I can proudly say that I grew from that experience, whether it was dealing with students who didn’t pull their weight, being organized so I can work with sudden changes, or learning what’s it like to lead obstinate classmates. Now in twelfth grade, I feel significantly more comfortable taking charge and speaking in front of larger groups of people. It’s even carried over to my clubs and activities where I can confidently put forth my ideas and lead meetings.

Conclusion: The Johns Hopkins Supplemental Essay

As with any college essay, allow your passion and enthusiasm to show through your writing.

You want the university to know that you value and participate in collaboration. Your essay should reveal that you are thoughtful and reflective about your learning process, even if you prefer working alone.

Finally, ask yourself, “Does my essay reveal that I am a student who is aligned with the values of Johns Hopkins?

If the answer is “yes,” you are ready to send your writing supplement on its way. Good luck!

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions, check out our college essay boot camp.