It really depends on the classes you take, whether you start right off taking something like Organic Chemistry or intro classes. I would say that all of the classes are challenging to some extent, depending on the material and your strengths. In the past, I've found that some classes have been difficult. However, there is so much support to find at Hopkins - the TAs are extremely helpful (sometimes more than the professors) and there's a Learning Den (individual and group tutoring) and the Writing Center (to get help on papers). But the most help I've gotten from have been my classmates and friends.
This is where many of the stereotypes are right on. Academics are hard here, but that's what people should expect from any top 20 school. Fortunately, first semester freshmen have covered grades meaning as long as one gets a C- she receives a Satisfactory on her transcript. When employers or graduate schools look at the transcript, all that will appear is whether the student passed or not. This is a nice way to transition incoming freshmen into a more difficult learning environment. There is also no lack of learning aids -- we have the Writing Center, the Learning Den, and countless TA sessions.
Definitely challenging, but definitely worth it. Since I'm a humanities major, my workload consists more of readings and papers than problem sets or lab reports. There have been a couple of "hell weeks," not just for me but for pretty much everyone, where the work just piles up and seems next to impossible. But I find that my classes are so interesting and overlap in so many unexpected ways that the stress is worth it. The professors definitely know what they're talking about, and even go out of their way to hold extra review sessions or meet outside of class, even in lower level courses.
Some professors know my name, and if you're a teacher's pet in a big lecture class, everyone will know your name because they'll all be annoyed with you. My favorite class here I took first semester as a freshman. It was Intro to Human Physiology and the professor was amazing and the class was non-stop interesting and fun. Competitive doesn't come close to describing how studious some of the kids are here. I'm a bio major, though I would have preferred to be a French major. The education at Hopkins is geared towards learning for its own sake. If you want to just get by, don't come here.
The simple answer is that it is Hopkins. The academics are, of course, going to be excellent. Apart from that, even from first semester freshman year you have access to your professors and can take small classes. I had three classes of less than 20 people my first semester here, while friends going to other colleges seem to have nothing but large introductory lectures where the professors don't even know your name. Even in my larger classes, our TA sections are capped at 25 people each, so you really get to know the people teaching you.
Hopkins is definitely intense, but in the best way. It's a place for independent learners. The school won't hold your hand, but they trust you to pursue your own interests, self-motivate, take your studies and run with them. Because of this, you can do individual research, internships and projects. You can personalize your degree to a greater extent than I've seen at a similar-caliber school. Students often take graduate-level classes, engage in internships, pursue research, and study abroad to pursue their academic interests. I
Academics are challenging for sure, but everything is within reason. If you put the effort into it you'll get good grades. Whether or not a professor knows your name depends on a lot, such as the size of the class and how active you are in it. Students study a lot, and often work in groups to better understand a topic. Many out of class discussions are intellectually themed, and many are inspired by in class discussions. No core curriculum is very nice, as it is one less thing to worry about completing before graduation.
Classes are amazing. There is no core, and the requirements really aren't bad. Besides for major/minor requirements, you have to take 12 credits of science-y stuff and 12 credits of W (writing intensive) classes. My favorite class so far has been History of Africa from 1800 to Present. Dr. Sara Berry is amazing. In general, I've found that in the humanities, people are taking classes for the sake of learning, not for the career, which I definitely agree with.
I really enjoy the many opportunities available to me as a Hopkins student. My professors are very worldly and I enjoy going to their offices to talk not only about class material but about their experiences in the field. I like that Hopkins offers symposiums by national and international intellectuals on many different subjects. Between the ambitious student body and the professors Hopkins offers its members constant intellectual stimulation.
Class participation in the humanities is encouraged and I've found professors to be approachable as well as brilliant. We could do with a few more forward thinking folks but for the most part professors are outstanding. I think there is a great deal of intellectual discussion outside of class -- since everyone carries around the nerd stereotype no one feels "uncool" flexing their intellectual muscle.