Applying to college 101: Johns Hopkins students host college fair for Baltimore high-schoolers

Alpha Phi Omega co-ed fraternity organizes event designed to make college admissions process less intimidating for applicants

At many high schools, including those in Baltimore, there's just a single college counselor serving hundreds (if not thousands) of students. Those numbers inevitably don't work out to a lot of individual attention for the juniors and seniors who are facing some of the biggest decisions of their young lives.

Recognizing this deficiency, the Johns Hopkins co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega has organized an event to help Baltimore high-schoolers confront the college application process. The college fair takes place this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Ballroom at Charles Commons on JHU's Homewood campus.

"The idea is to engage and empathize and talk them through it, and let them know ... we were all really worried about the process."
Will Wisner-Carlson, JHU junior

For the college students running this event—the Hopkins fraternity is bringing in fellow APO chapters from other local universities, including the University of Maryland, UMBC, Towson, and Morgan State—the goal is to impart peer wisdom to students who are just a few years behind them in the process.

"The idea is to engage and empathize and talk them through it, and let them know ... we were all really worried about the process," says Will Wisner-Carlson, a junior Hopkins APO pledge who helped coordinate the event. "We want to provide a strong basis of support for them."

Students from 15 Baltimore City public high schools who will apply to colleges next fall will rotate among several tables, each devoted to a specific aspect of the college search and application process. At a table focused on college-matching, for example, volunteers plan to speak one-on-one with the high-schoolers to go over the different types of programs available (two-year vs. four, technical colleges vs. traditional, etc.) and different types of degrees to explore. Other tables will focus on financial aid and scholarships, work-study opportunities, sports and extracurriculars, and college essay writing, among other topics. Several Johns Hopkins deans and administrators are also slated to attend.

Wisner-Carlson—who came to Johns Hopkins through the Baltimore Scholar Program, which awards full scholarships to high-achieving Baltimore public school students—recognizes the need to work with local high-schoolers on a more personal level. This event isn't meant to be a stereotypical college fair, he says, set "in a dusty old gym with a lot of different presentations from schools saying the same things … and not really addressing students' concerns."

Through working in APO's tutoring programs this year at Bard Early College High School and his own alma mater, Baltimore City College High School, Wisner-Carlson says he has seen "a lot of fear and anxiety" surrounding the college application process. This weekend's event is meant to remove some of the intimidation factors, he says.

Wisner-Carlson says Hopkins APO views this event as a springboard into a wider array of college-planning activities geared toward Baltimore high-schoolers. Ultimately, the fraternity would like to see a college fair like this take place every semester at JHU.

The fraternity has also launched a new email service to provide feedback on college application essays. High-schoolers can send their drafts to for free consultations.