We need to talk about our competitiveness

By PHILLIP YOON | November 7, 2019

a11-phillip-library

COURTESY OF ELAN MEDOFF

Students are known to study day and night in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and in Brody Learning Commons.

I remember asking the student tour guide when I visited Hopkins as an accepted student: “Is Hopkins a competitive school?” The tour guide answered: “It is a common myth that Hopkins is competitive, but that’s not true! I know that a lot of people collaborate and cooperate....” After this, I started to wonder whether the University’s competitiveness is a myth or a reality. 

After being here for two years, I’ve observed that this competitiveness is not a mere myth. I have seen so many students lament their grades and joke about just how competitive a place Hopkins is. 

At this point, it is impossible to go a day without overhearing a conversation about these topics. Why is this the case? Why do we perpetuate this competitiveness and constantly make jokes about it without thinking to change it? 

I identified three potential sources that may contribute to the competitiveness of Hopkins students. 

First, Hopkins is a difficult school. Its average GPA is lower than that of fellow prestigious universities. According to an article on the website Ripplematch, Hopkins has an average GPA of 3.52. This is lower than or equal to 15 other prestigious peer institutions.

That may look like a high average GPA, but we need to take into account that while some of the relatively easier majors at Hopkins raise the average GPA, most majors are demanding and difficult.

Hopkins has been known as a difficult school for a long time. Last semester I was getting lunch with my scholarship donor, who is a Hopkins alum, along with other scholarship recipients. She talked about how Hopkins was very demanding. She said she knew this even before applying to colleges. Keep in mind that she was attended Hopkins over 40 years ago!

The University’s high standards are placed on its undergraduates. Hopkins started out as a research institution. It emphasized training graduate students to become excellent researchers and scholars.

Such traditions remain. Inadvertently such standards directly carry over to the undergraduates, which makes the coursework demanding.

When the coursework is difficult and challenging, there is no time to help out or care for others, because everyone is busy catching up with their own work. The students may not try to be competitive, but inadvertently they make it seem like they are.

Second, Hopkins has too many pre-med students. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Hopkins is one of the top undergraduate private schools with students who apply to U.S. medical schools.

In 2019, there were 428 applicants from Hopkins. Calculating from the AAMC data, approximately 33 percent of undergraduate students at Hopkins are pre-med.

Based on personal observations with my pre-med peers, it seems like a lot of pre-meds give up midway and never apply to medical schools. Therefore, the percentage of pre-meds upon entry to Hopkins undergrad is most likely higher than 33 percent. 

This high percentage contributes to competitiveness because pre-meds themselves need to be competitive in order to gain admission to medical schools.

According to my pre-med friends, they need a high GPA, excellent extracurricular activities, excellent research records and excellent volunteer experiences. As a result, they inevitably need to compete with each other. Medical schools cannot just admit students from Hopkins; medical schools want some degree of diversity.

This kind of competitiveness permeates through the general Hopkins population. If you are surrounded by competitive people, you are bound to unknowingly incline towards a competitive mindset. 

Third, according to my personal experience, Hopkins students love to compare. They love to compare themselves to the students of other institutions, they love to compare among themselves and so forth.

According to the same Ripplematch article, Brown University has the highest average GPA of colleges. At Brown, a perfect GPA might not be too surprising or mind-blowing, given that there’s grade inflation.

However, at Hopkins, a school where earning a perfect GPA is extremely difficult, such accomplishments are rare. Nonetheless, some students achieve this.

Surely some degree of comparison is necessary for the purpose of college evaluation and calculating GPAs, but we don’t need to go out of our way to make comparisons to other people.

Nevertheless, this kind of habit is perpetuated throughout Hopkins. To combat this kind of insecurity, students become more competitive to be ahead of the game.

Once I realized what the sources are, I wanted to find ways to change the competitive ambience which is present on our campus.

First, we need to stop comparing ourselves to other undergraduate institutions. The comparison amounts to nothing. Sure, the students from other institutions may have an easier time getting good grades compared to us. But what does that have to do with us? 

Students usually complain about how other college students have it easier and think that Hopkins is absurd in requiring such high standards. However, I think this has its own benefits. As philosopher Seneca the Younger said, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” 

After going through Hopkins, alumni commonly say that it prepares you for any kind of future hardship or difficulties. I believe that this is true. Not many things in life will seem insurmountably difficult after attending Hopkins.

Second, we need to stop comparing ourselves with each other! Each and every single Blue Jay is under different circumstances. It is simply not fair to compare oneself to a pre-med, a math major, a student with a perfect GPA or any other type of student.

The comparison is futile. It is never beneficial, because at one point you realize that everyone comes from different backgrounds, has different goals, different mindsets.

What is important is one’s own development throughout their years spent in college. Think about where you were when you started Hopkins. Now think about where you are right now. 

Do you see an improvement, in grades, happiness, goals... anything? That means you are on the right track. There is no need to compete with each other; you only need to compete with yourself.

For good or bad, as Hopkins students we might be more competitive than your average college student. 

Now, it is left to us Blue Jays to either continue pursuing this kind of competitiveness or try to seek some change in this kind of ambience. 

Phillip Yoon is a junior majoring in Philosophy and Mathematics from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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