JHU Vs. Williams College? Help please!

Hi all,
I’m having a really hard time making a college choice. In normal years, I would be able to visit the campuses, sit in on classes, and spend time with current students, but this year I’ve been having trouble gathering information from webinars. I’m deciding between Williams and Johns Hopkins, and have also been accepted into Wesleyan. (Also on the waitlist at 8 different schools—oops!)
I applied to both Williams and JHU sort of on a whim, so I don’t have an existing strong preference for one over the other. Both schools would cost the same. I’m interested primarily in the humanities—philosophy, English, and history in particular, but I also love physics and am planning to double major in philosophy and physics.
Culturally, it seems that Williams would be a better fit for me. I value intellectual discussions, close-knit communities, contact with professors, and really engaged and interested peers. From what I’ve heard, the community at Williams is wonderful; everyone seems to support each other, and I’ve heard that there’s a curious and intellectual vibe on campus.
Johns Hopkins, though, seems to be in a much better location. I live in Massachusetts and would love to explore a different part of the country in college. I’m also really worried about the isolation in Williamstown. I love going to cultural events, walking around the city with friends, and exploring new places. (I also hate winter and snow, but no worries, I won’t be choosing a college based on the weather!) I walked around Williamstown a few weeks ago to get a feel for the campus and sort of had an “ahhh” reaction to how small and isolated it was. Admittedly, it was the weekend, and not too many people are on campus at Williams right now. I’ve been assured that once you get to college it feels less isolated—there are always events going on and people to talk to.
At JHU, I’m worried that I wouldn’t get much focused attention from profs (the standard LAC vs research university debate), and that my peer group will be very STEM-leaning and not curious about the humanities. I went to an admitted students fair, and four out of 8 people in my group proclaimed that they hate reading and only read books when they’re required for class. No shame to these people—I’m glad they’ve found their passion in STEM!—but that’s not my vibe personally.

Does anyone have insight on either of these two schools? I realize that this is a long post, and thank you to whoever reads it!
I’m going to post this in both school’s forums :slight_smile:

Don’t have too much to say except are you sure that Baltimore is really such a huge draw? It has some nice aspects, of course, but I have heard from some students (who come from NYC) there that they find the city difficult in various ways. A school like Williams will have a ton of on campus activities (in non-Covid times)… Williams is an amazing place and if you feel the culture fits you better, I would definitely take that very seriously into account.


First, let me help you dispense with the idea that winter will be balmy in Baltimore. I visited JHU on a February day and it was 7 degrees. Neither of the tour guides wore hats, which bothered me so much. I honestly couldn’t see how this school, known for its intense academic atmosphere and smart students, could have two dolts giving a tour in 7 degrees. At any rate, I would dismiss weather as any kind of qualifying factor.

Maybe the frigid temp soured my opinion of JHU, but both my D and I felt an almost stifling sense of intensity everywhere we went on the tour. The library was great, but no one was chatting quietly, no one seemed relaxed. Everyone had their head buried in a laptop.

I’d go with Williams. Your instinct is probably right, there will likely be students with a more varied range of academic interests. And yes, once you’re on campus, you’ll be busy and there will be plenty to do.

Students always think they need to be near a city. In reality, your food, friends and bed are on campus and you’ll spend a lot of time there. You’re not that far from a city if you need a fix.


I’m confused why Wesleyan fell off your list. It seems to combine a lot of the things you wish Williams and Johns Hopkins shared: excellent humanities programs (including those you specify), high-level physics offerings (even a small PhD program, which speaks to the level of research and thinking there), intellectual and engaged students and close professor interaction, and both small-city resources and easy access to larger metropolises (New Haven and, further afield, NYC). Not to mention cultural offerings on campus that are clearly plentiful and top-notch, as demonstrated by the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” started there. Am I missing something? Sure, USNWR may rank Williams higher (though we know their methodology is capricious and flawed), but given your concerns and interests and thoughts about Hopkins, Wesleyan actually seems a better fit.


You have a good point.

Have you sat in on classes at Williams? There’s a big list of virtual classes that you can attend on the Welcome to Williams site. We attended one today with our D, and it was fantastic. There are still classes available 4/19 and 4/20. Virtual Classes I think these could be much more helpful than virtual panels in your case.
I bet that Wesleyan is offering a similar opportunity. As the other posters have said, you sound like you should be deciding between Williams and Wes. Let go of the rankings; you will get an outstanding education at either school. Pick the school that fits your interests both academically and beyond the classroom.
I don’t think Johns Hopkins will have what you’re looking for, particularly as a humanities major. Back in the Stone Age, I was admitted to Hopkins and several SLACs, including Wes. I was a humanities person, too, and thought it might be cool to be one of a few non-STEM types at Hopkins. I went down for a visit, and while I met a lot of nice people, they were all focused on STEM. I ended up picking a different SLAC and didn’t regret it for a second. Hopkins is always there for grad school.


We visited all three of those schools before son applied and was accepted ED to Williams.

In fairness, though, I need to say that even though Hopkins is famous for its great STEM programs, its humanities/social sciences classes are nothing to disparage. We were lucky enough to visit when a history major was giving the talk at the admissions session. She was so enthusiastic about a (relatively) obscure interest of hers in history. It was reassuring because she was living proof of a non-STEM kid having a great intellectual experience at JHU, as well as of someone who was more motivated by the sheer joy of intellectual exploration than by pre-professionalism.

As a history major, you would be very happy at Williams. It is a stellar department! English and philosophy offer good courses as well, and the physics department is considered excellent.

Williams is rural, Wesleyan is suburban— and JHU was the one college we visited where I felt some unease about the surrounding area: we drove in from the south and out to the north, and both sides looked like slums with boarded-up buildings and lots of people hanging out on the stoops. Yes, if you like a city, Baltimore is the urban choice. But I second brklynkids’ assessment above!

Wesleyan might be a good middle ground as far as the surrounding area goes. We found part of the attraction of Williams vs. Wesleyan to be the rural vs. suburban aspect, but then again, we live in a suburb so a rural area was more attractive.

Yes, Williams is very much a “life of the mind” kind of place. It sounds like it is your top choice except for the fact that it is in a rural area. So you will need to weigh how important it is to you to get off campus for something other than art museums (of which there are three world-class art museums in the area), apple-picking, and hiking, as well as trips to local stores and restaurants (which are more diverse than you would think- my husband’s favorite cuisine is Mexican and we live in a suburb near NYC, but our favorite Mexican restaurant is Coyote Flaco in Williamstown!).


Agreeing with @TheGreyKing. I live in NYC and have a ton of extended family in Baltimore; it was a regular stop on our “Green Book” trips to the South. But, not anymore; it’s too segregated and too depressed economically. IMO, JHU is a place to go despite Baltimore, not because of it.


Williams is tiny and the winters are snowy. If you want close contact with profs and other students it can be a great place. Has an amazing alumni network too. Was too rural for me back in the day and too small for my ‘22.

JHU has great programs. My biggest concern would be Baltimore. Going to visit this Summer. CC threads have cited it as a drive by( vased on location)but we’ll see for ourselves. The programs are excellent. ( Not looking to engage in the +/- of Baltimore or any city. Some folks factor in location a lot others not so much. Kid will decide if it’s a fit. )

I’d say visit both then decide.

I have heard from several JHU students that they find the academic environment to be more competitive than collaborative Just throwing that out there as something for you to look into.

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Can you give an example/ more details? Collaboration is very important esp in some fields.
Small groups can be tough but sometimes the vibe can be downright off ( like my friend who went to an ivy where kids would run to the library and rip out pages of carious books to hurt other students).
Just love to have details re: competitive environment. Thnks.

So these are some things the JHU students said. Called it ‘Grindy’ - like a lot of not fun or engaging work. Compared it to her sibling who was at an Ivy and said the sibling’s experience was more ‘free and explorative’ Another student said kids want to succeed at others expense and gave a library example like kids would hide books or not return them so that others did not have access. Another just said it was relentlessly intense. These were stem and non stem kids.

If you were to prioritize classroom experience, then Williams would make an excellent choice:

LOL, notice the same charge being made for both “an Ivy” and JHU. Can’t say it has never happened, but this particular urban legend has been around at least since I was in college…wonder how it will evolve as physical library books become less of a thing

“Ivy” is a useless label in terms of the campus culture: Brown v Dartmouth v Columbia should be all the evidence you need.

It’s about fit- which means you, not any other student / friend of a friend, etc. The JHU students that I know love(d) their experience, and were deeply irritated by the ‘cut-throat’ stereotype. There IS a lot of work, and the students do tend to be intense. They push themselves hard at everything they do. A recent one liked it so much she stayed on to do her Masters at Bloomberg.

I’m still curious as to why not Wes?

Never happened to me. But I can definitely see it happening. Source was a good one, but it was ages ago and everything is now online. I don’t think anyone was trying to compare Ivies. It just so happened there. Could/does happen at every school.

I think many schools are stereotyped as being competitive or not collaborative or really anything else. It’s hard to say if this is true or based on the observer. A lot also has to roll off the backs of the student. One of my kid often tells me stories about someone not being collaborative. But it’s usually told from the standpoint of, that kid is missing out not being part of the team.

I’d doubt either school is very different in terms of academics. A really tiny school like Williams might tamper some bad behavior ( kids know they’ll see each other again). Works in small towns too. Just smile and keep walking.

My kids attend a smallish high school and there are collaborative and non collaborative types. A small size school can be great ( for alumni connections) or not so great, as in, I will have to work with a very small group of kids in my major for 4 years.
OP, you have two really great though very different choices.

Wow, did you notice all the schools listed are tiny? I wonder if it’s more a factor of knowing each other well than anything else?

The majority of the underlying criteria seem unrelated to school size, however:

Kind of contradictory. If class is less than 20, naturally there’s going to be more interaction with profs, and more in class discussion.
Those ratings are always a good starting point, IMO. But those schools are far to small to interest many students. Good to think about those underlying criteria but possibly at larger institutions. We noticed in the Fiske book that class size and undergraduate teaching varies a lot. It’s important to look closely.
Thanks for posting that report. I’ll re-read it more closely.

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@collegemom3717. I know stereotypes and urban legends can be misleading, annoying and sometimes not true. But the anecdotes I referenced were from 3 actual students- I have no reason to believe they made it up or didn’t actually feel that way. For reference, the student who found JHU to be a grind with the sibling at an Ivy who did not have an experience like that - the Ivy was Brown.

Yeah!! I guessed that it was Brown :slight_smile: JHU & Brown campus cultures are very different!

And I never challenge the veracity of direct feedback (mostly b/c every time I do I am wrong…). With JHU I always try to emphasize how much of a “fit”’ school it is: the students that I know well enough to speak about are/have been very happy there- b/c it suits them. I try hard to not too push much in general, but with “fit” schools (Swat & Vassar are other examples) I try extra hard to emphasize how much it matters that it suit that particular student.

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