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How to Write the Johns Hopkins Essay on Collaboration, All by Yourself

Johns Hopkins University, one of the most prestigious and selective research universities in the U.S., requires all applicants to submit an essay on their experiences with collaboration. This Johns Hopkins supplement lets JHU gauge how well you team up with others. It also gives you a chance to show a side of yourself that may not be evident in other parts of your application.

Here’s the Johns Hopkins essay prompt:

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. (Up to 400 words)


The Johns Hopkins essay addresses one of the cornerstones of JHU’s mission: working together and sharing knowledge to improve the world.

So how do you choose which collaborative experience to write about—and how do you show what you’ve learned? Follow these steps to develop focused, compelling material:


Step 1: Brainstorm!

  • As with any college essay, one of the best ways to start is to make a list (or scribble all over the page! Whatever works for you!) of everything you can think of related to the prompt. So write down lots of experiences when you worked with others towards some goal. Come up with 4-6, if possible; maybe 2-3 examples from the classroom, and 2-3 from outside the hallowed halls of academia.
  • An experience doesn’t have to be super intellectual or earth-shaking to make a good essay topic—it just has to be meaningful to you. That said, you might be able to draw more material from a project that lasted a week or a month than from something that only took a minute or an hour. But it really all depends on what you did in that minute or hour!


Step 2: “Weigh” your experiences

  • For each experience from step 1, make some notes answering the following questions:
    • What was the goal you and others were striving for?
    • Why was working together more effective than working alone to reach that goal?
    • What was your role in the group effort? What did you contribute towards its success? (Be honest—and humble—here!)
    • How did others’ skills, knowledge, and collaborative abilities help you?
    • How did the experience affect your ability to work with others going forward, or your thinking about collaboration vs “going it alone”?


Now it’s time to choose which of your collaborative experiences to write about. Look over your answers from step 2; for which experience did you have the easiest time answering the questions, and have the most to say? Which one taught you the most? Try to narrow it down to one or two experiences, and see which of those two “finalists” gives you the most to say about future collaborations in college and beyond.

400 words isn’t all that much, so when you go to write your essay, mainly address the questions from step 2 above. This will keep your essay focused on how you fit into the team or group, why collaboration was effective, and how the experience will impact you in the future.

JHU offers some excellent examples of “Essays That Worked” here, including a few that respond to the “Collaboration” prompt.

Under each example, you can click for an explanation from the admissions committee on why the essay is effective. Spend some time on this page before deciding on your final essay topic. It’s full of guidance on what John Hopkins admissions readers want to know about potential new Blue Jays.


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