Boom! Here’s an admissions essay example by Katie*, who was accepted to Johns Hopkins.

*Katie is not a student of Winning Ivy Prep

Johns Hopkins Common App Essay Example

Hardly a day went by in Japan when I wasn’t asked by a curious and wide-eyed Japanese person, “How many guns do you own?” This was almost never preceded by the question “Do you own a gun?” Being from Texas, it was simply assumed that I was an experienced gunslinger.

Of course, I was guilty of false assumptions as well. After 4 years of Japanese, I thought I knew something about Japan. My Japanese teacher praised me for my control of the Japanese language, I had memorized the words to songs by popular Japanese bands, and I could recite the crime rates of the 10 most populated cities in Japan. When I found out I would be spending 6 weeks going to Japanese school and living with a Japanese family in Japan on a full scholarship through Youth for Understanding, my head instantly filled with images of what I had assumed life in Japan to be like. I imagined myself walking the streets of a shiny, Tokyo-esque metropolis in my adorable sailor-style school uniform with my new Japanese friends who did nothing but sing karaoke and love Pokemon. But preconceptions often lead to misconceptions. It was not until my plane, occupied by all of nine people (including the flight attendants) landed at one of only two gates at Izumo Airport, a lone building surrounded by nothing but rice paddies, that I realized I could no longer base anything on assumption.

Izumo Airport is just a short drive from Matsue, Shimane, Japan. The capital city of Shimane prefecture, Matsue resides in the second most rural prefecture in Japan, something I discovered when the initial googling of Matsue yielded little more than a nondescript three-paragraph Wikipedia article. I knew I would have to adjust quite a bit to life in rural Matsue, but I welcomed that challenge with open arms. I wanted to experience the real Japan, I wanted to live it as much as I could in my two months there, so I made every effort to accept whatever cultural differences were thrown at me, I made every effort to blend.

This was no easy task. After a few weeks, I had eaten fermented soybeans, bathed in public bathhouses, and tried to comprehend my biology class through the language barrier. I had stopped converting prices into dollars from yen, it no longer felt unnatural to bow, and I had dreams in Japanese. But despite my efforts, it often seemed as if Matsue was acutely aware that a certain foreigner had quietly tried to sneak her way into the city. I was interviewed for television programs, stared at, photographed, and bombarded with questions by nearly every person I met, many of whom had never spoken with an American before, and most of whom were surprised to find out that I hadn’t burst through customs on a cow. Stereotypes were entertaining, even hilarious, until one day, when I asked my host mother, or “okaasan” as I called her, if she would ever let her children come to America.

“America is far too dangerous—I can’t let my kids go there.”

She replied so nonchalantly, as if it was a simple fact of the universe that America was a violent and dangerous place. It felt like a personal insult; as if she, a person I had grown to love, had just told me she hated me. I was making such an effort to learn in Japan, to adapt, to be accepting, yet after having had me in her home for so long, having had a piece of my culture by her side, she still did not understand it. Suddenly, stereotypes were not so laughable.

I was reminded again of this exchange with my okaasan recently when I asked my mother if I could study abroad in China during college.

“China? I don’t know, that’s kind of dangerous, how about South Korea?”

Although I was initially hurt by their comments, I’ve come to understand that it is not their fault that they have this view of the world. We all take comfort in the safety of our own culture . When my okaasan sees Hollywood action movies, she assumes Americans are gun-toting vigilantes with a violent disposition. The news tells my mother of corrupt Chinese government officials kidnapping people and automatically assumes this is a daily occurrence, but she has nothing else to base her knowledge of the country on, so it makes sense to believe it. The only way to combat cultural misunderstandings like this is through knowledge. Not knowledge of facts, like crime rates and boy band lyrics, but through knowledge that comes with experience. There is no way to let every person see the whole world first hand. The only way to facilitate understanding between cultures is to share experiences, to create alliances, and to show people across the globe what it means to be American, Japanese, or Tanzanian. To show people that their perceptions of other cultures may not be as based in reality as they think.

After my okaasan’s comment about the danger of American culture, I never mentioned it to her again. Instead, I tried to show her through my actions that my culture is not something to be feared. It was not until the last day of my stay, after I had boarded another empty plane at Izumo Airport and said goodbye to my tearful host family, that she revisited it. My okaasan sent me off to America with a small packed lunch for the plane ride. As I opened the lunch, I discovered a note tucked between two napkins. It was a letter from my okaasan. My okaasan spoke no English, but at the end of her letter she had made the effort to leave me one English sentence to part with:

“If all Americans are like Katie, I can send my children to America.”

My okaasan often told me it was “enmusubi” that I was placed with her family. Enmusubi is not a term typically found in Japanese to English dictionaries, and when it is, it is seldom defined correctly. Enmusubi is the fact that my Japanese host dad and I have the same birthday; that my Japanese teacher had also been an exchange student in my tiny, rural city in Japan; that the principal of the school I attended in Japan had lived in Austin, and even visited my school here. Enmusubi has inspired me to pursue a degree in International Relations. Enmusubi is why I was placed in Matsue, Shimane, Japan.


Source: JHU.edu


Analysis & Comments

In this essay, the author made me feel:

  • Positive and excited
  • Fascinated

In this essay, the author exhibits these personality traits:

  • Passion for adventure
  • Open-mindedness
  • Introspective nature

College Essay Strengths:

Katie’s essay starts off strong – she pulls us in with a pretty funny introduction of “wide-eyed Japanese” people. In the second paragraph, we get even more of a sense of this funny voice when she mentions karaoke and Pokemon. It’s off to a good start.

Throughout the essay, we see Katie’s passion for travel and thirst for gaining knowledge about different cultures. Clearly, we see Katie’s growth during her time in Japan.

Through her experiences, she highlights the importance of knowledge to combat cultural misunderstandings. This epiphany is truly shows a high level of maturity, and shows that she is adventurous and open-minded.

Doesn’t his essay make you want to meet Katie in person? What kind of 17 year old has the guts to live abroad in rural Japan for a few weeks and is keen to do it again? Lots of people may want to do that, but it’s definitely easier said than done!

Katie’s conclusion is the strongest part of her essay. It’s very powerful that she doesn’t give us a direct definition of enmusubi – her description of it hits home. The notion of enmusubi ties together her entire experience in Japan and her ability to appreciate the similarities and differences between the culture she knows and of her host family.

College Essay Weaknesses:

This essay is pretty exceptional. The only piece of feedback I’d offer is to cut down some of the sentences – her essay could’ve been shortened by a paragraph or so, which would’ve been easier to read for an admissions officer.

Also, take a step back and look at the paragraph blocks of her essay. Paragraph two is a little too long and excessive, isn’t it? The paragraph beginning with: “Although I was initially hurt by their comments…” is also on the long side.

It’s a good idea to sprinkle in paragraphs of varying lengths to break up the flow and keep the writing interesting. Katie’s essay is very well written, but cutting down some lengthy sentences and varying the paragraphs lengths would’ve helped to keep the captivate the reader more, and keep his interests longer.

Check out the link below for more Common App essay examples

Get more college essay examples for Stanford, UPenn, Columbia, NYU… You name it!