College Cousins: Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago

Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago are both highly regarded academic and research institutions and, in addition, share many of the same attributes. Students who select these schools aren’t looking for marching bands and Sweet 16 tournaments, but for places of intellectual excitement.

 “The encouragement of research . . . and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pursue, and the society where they dwell.” 

The quote from Johns Hopkins University’s first president perfectly encapsulates this university’s mission then and now—research and the advancement of scholars (teaching). Its global reach is based on its outstanding reputation and international programs that include international relations, health and medicine, and even geological research in the Antarctic. Nonetheless, JHU doesn’t forget its Baltimore base. It is a member of the Baltimore Student Exchange Program, a consortium of twelve colleges and universities in the Baltimore area.

The University of Chicago prides itself on being a community of scholars where conventional thinking is challenged and where big questions are asked in small discussion-based classes. That is how it describes itself, and it believes that debate and collaboration produce the best ideas.

Chicago attracts a special kind of student—one that is both intellectually confident and curious. There is no question too big or too small to be explored, and students chase their intellectual pursuits within the framework of a broad-based curriculum that offers more than 100 majors, minors and areas of specialized study. Chicago students are also expected to complete the university’s famous Core—rigorous interdisciplinary distribution requirements in science, math, humanities and social sciences. These classes are designed to equip students with the tools of inquiry needed in every discipline.

Here is one area where Johns Hopkins parts company with Chicago: JHU has no core curriculum. Students are free to explore whatever they choose within the 260 programs offered through Schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Business, Education, and the Peabody Conservatory (for music).

If you are thinking that these are schools just for science geeks, you would be mistaken. JHU’s academic breadth encompasses the arts, music, education, business, the humanities and international studies in addition to the social and natural sciences, engineering, and the health professions. Some of its notable alumni bear that out. Amongst the most notable are Wolf Blitzer, Michael Bloomberg, Rachel Carson, Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

Chicago has its own impressive list of luminaries— some of them alumni, others professors and/or researchers. The most famous in the science arena include James Watson, Milton Friedman, Katharine Graham, and Carl Sagan, while the arts programs can claim Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award winners.

The campus homes of these budding intellectual powerhouses, however, are also lively places of activity and sources of social interaction. These are college students, after all, so campus activities of all sorts abound. In addition, both of these universities are located in cities with rich and diverse ethnic neighborhoods, so there is nothing sterile about either of these environments.

As you would expect for institutions of past and (perhaps future) Nobel Prize winners, admission is competitive, but both of these urban-based institutions have much to offer the student who is interested in seriously exploring every aspect of college life and who doesn’t mind working hard to enrich that experience in every way possible.