Harvey Mudd College is a highly selective private coeducational undergraduate college
of engineering, mathematics, and science that could well be billed as “one of the best colleges
in America that most people have never heard of.” However, it does attract some of the
nation’s brightest students and offers them a unique, rigorous, and liberal technical education
that is as good as or better than the nation’s more famous colleges. There are three key aspects of HMC that set it apart from other top colleges and give the
school its reputation as a leader in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
(STEM) fields: it is an intensely small college; it offers majors only in engineering,
science, and mathematics, and it prides itself on having humanities and social sciences
requirements that it hopes will produce “leaders with an understanding of the impact of
their work on humanity.”
With no graduate students, no TAs, and a faculty dedicated to a high level of student
interaction, few students fall through the cracks or blend into the woodwork. The administration
and staff take an active role in campus life. The technical curriculum is broad with
an emphasis on the humanities and social sciences as well as core science, math, and
engineering principals. The residential campus is vibrant with a student body that is
widely talented, dynamic, and quirky in addition to being academically gifted. HMC is
bolstered by its participation in The Claremont Colleges Consortium, which gives
students access to academic resources, course offerings, athletics, and other opportunities
that could not otherwise be supported by a small technical college. The student-run
Honor Code demands integrity and honesty from every student. In addition, the general
pace and atmosphere of the college demands a healthy sense of humor in addition to a
healthy work ethic and a strong affinity for engineering, science, and math.
Everyone’s course load revolves around a heap of rigorous classes in engineering,
science, and math. The core curriculum demands that every student take courses in
physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, engineering, and a lot of math. Coincidentally,
these are the same six fields that you can choose to major in. Students will find themselves sitting in tough classes with high expectations, a
motivated professor, a steep grading curve, and a room full of classmates who are engrossed in
the subject matter. Almost everyone will be surprised by the level of challenge in at least one
such course during the freshman or sophomore year before settling into classes of individual
interest or which are required for their chosen major.
Humanities and Social Sciences
The significant humanities and social sciences requirement (around one-third of the
total graduation requirements) makes the curriculum far more
interesting and challenging than the typical tech school. Mudd has been described as “a liberal
arts college of science and engineering.” Indeed, the educational approach is
to provide young scientists and engineers with a broad, liberal education including courses
in a variety of technical and nontechnical fields. Although no one without a strong affinity
for the sciences and engineering should enroll, those who have little appreciation
for fields outside of math and science would be frustrated here.
It is common for students to take advantage of the vast course offerings in the
humanities and social sciences at the other four undergraduate colleges in Claremont. The
Claremont Colleges Consortium provides students with a wide array of course offerings
including music, fine arts, and foreign languages. The strong academic programs at the other
colleges in Claremont allow Mudders to study nontechnical fields in depth and even double
major if they so desire.
After three well-regimented semesters of the core curriculum, students complete their
career by taking classes in their major and completing the humanities
requirements. The six majors are all academically broad in their own right.
The most popular major, engineering, shuns the specialization seen in other top engineering
programs for an emphasis on core design principals, mathematical modeling, and a
cross-disciplinary “systems” approach to the ever-broadening field of engineering. The
chemistry, physics, and biology majors are largely focused on producing top-caliber graduate
students who will go on to become career scientists, although in recent years more and
more science majors are studying and pursuing applied fields. A math and computer
science joint major and a chemistry and biology joint major lead students into an exciting
and evolving new area of study. A mathematical biology joint major opens the door of opportunity
to an emerging and critical area of future endeavor.
All students must have a concentration in a humanities or social sciences field
in addition to their technical major. This concentration (which may as well be termed a
mini-minor) may be in any nontechnical field from dance to political science to religious history.
The vast array of course offerings in Claremont gives students a lot of options in
choosing their HSS course of studies, although students must take about half of their nontechnical
courses from HMC faculty members.
As students enter their senior year, they are required to undertake a year-long project to
demonstrate their knowledge and abilities to the faculty, while learning how to budget
and develop a lengthy project. For the majority of science and math majors, this involves a
theses research project where students design and formally propose projects under the guidance
of a chosen professor. Many students choose to begin research as early as their freshman
year, and often these students continue this research for their theses. The facilities are
first class, from the high tech NMR machine in the chemistry department to the laser scanning
confocal microscope in the biology department to the magnetism lab in the physics
department. (Even more, students have access to these facilities around the clock thanks to
the college’s Honor Code.) Both professors and students alike consistently win awards for
undergraduate research and publish in the top scientific journals in their fields.
Engineering and Computer Science majors, as well as those who prefer applied areas
of study to theoretical endeavors, will take part in Clinic projects as their Capstone
The Clinic Program (pioneered by HMC more than forty years ago) brings blue-chip
corporate sponsors to campus to “hire” teams of four to six engineering, math,
physics, and computer science majors for one-year projects that solve a problem or fill a
need for the company. The Clinic projects, both domestic and international, give students
the opportunity to deal with the real-world issues of working with a client, facing
deadlines, writing reports, presenting and defending their work, and finding solutions to
problems that do not appear in a textbook. The nature of the Clinic projects varies widely
both in scope and in subject matter. Numerous patents have come out of work done by Clinic
teams over the years, and many companies return to sponsor Clinic projects year after year,
in part to recruit HMC undergrads for future employment.
The Honor Code
Every student commits to a robust, student-administered Honor Code. The Honor
Code is a statement of integrity and honesty and is taken very seriously by all members
of the community. It engenders a high level of trust between faculty and students. Openbook,
un-proctored, and take-home exams are all common, and cheating of any
kind is simply not tolerated. Students are encouraged to study and work in groups, but are
also instructed to acknowledge their classmates who help them on homework assignments.
A typical course load is five courses per semester. At least one lab per semester
and one or two HSS classes per semester is the norm. Those who choose to double
major often enroll in six classes each semester. Those who can get away with taking four
classes (through summer school, advanced placement, or sheer luck) are teased by their
friends for slacking off. At the other four undergraduate colleges in Claremont, and many
other private colleges, four classes per semester is the accepted norm.
GPAs average around 3.3 at graduation, although many freshmen and
sophomores suffer through much lower GPAs in the core curriculum before pulling them up
during their junior and senior years. HMC does not inflate grades, but neither does the college
wish to weed anyone out. Students who do not perform well in classes are given several
notices with ample time to correct their behaviors. They can seek counsel from faculty
who are readily available and who want them to succeed, and can always lean on a classmate
or upper-class student for help.
Midterms and finals, almost always administered without a proctor, can be very tough.
The freedom a student has to take an exam “home” gives license to the faculty to provide some
extremely challenging problems, intended to determine what a student has mastered and perhaps
what they can deduce on their own. Class average scores of fifty to sixty percent on an
exam are common with some students who had 4.0s in high school scoring in the twenty to
thirty percent range. Fortunately, most of the faculty grades on a sliding scale and
there is an abundance of Academic Excellence seminars available for students who fall behind
in their studies or wish to go beyond the course material.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Harvey Mudd College is a highly selective college and the applicant pool is dominated by
students in the top ten percent of their high school class. Each year around one-fourth of the
incoming class is made up students who were National Merit finalists or who were #1 or #2 in
their high school class. As opposed to some larger schools, the Office of Admissions avoids
hard-and-fast admission minimums or formulas. Instead, the staff favors reading each
application and determining if the individual applicant is the sort of student who will thrive here. The staff does, however, insist that every incoming freshman at has had chemistry,
physics, and calculus as part of a rigorous and successful high school career.
SAT scores among applicants tend to be extremely high. Aptitude in math and science,
as measured by curriculum and grades, but also scores, is considered very carefully in the selection
process. A very heavy emphasis is also placed on communication skills. The ability to move
easily between different disciplines and ways of thinking is also valued. The school produces excellent
problem solvers who can think, write, and express themselves, as well as perform laboratory
research and engineering calculations.
Extracurricular activities, unique talents, interests, hobbies, and a diversity
of geographic and cultural backgrounds are all taken into consideration in the admission
process, although academic aptitude remains the essential component in each admission decision.
Interviews are encouraged, although visiting the campus and experiencing its unique
atmosphere is highly recommended for prospective students.
The college is, unfortunately, an expensive place to attend. The school
is young (founded in 1955) and has an impressive endowment for its age, but does not bathe
in the financial resources that much older institutions enjoy. However, most of the students
(around eighty percent) receive financial aid of some form. As at other prestigious private
institutions, students and parents alike can accrue a sizable debt over their four years at
HMC. The consistency of graduates being placed in high-paying jobs and prestigious
graduate school programs, however, makes all of this debt much easier to stomach and faster
to pay off.
Fortunately, this is the type of small institution that can give students personal attention,
even in financial aid matters. It’s common for parents to call and discuss their child’s
financial aid package with the college’s Office of Financial Aid or with the college vice president
overseeing the financial aid office. The school will work with parents and students to adjust
financial aid awards and to establish payment plans that help ensure that any student who has
been admitted has every opportunity to attend the college.
Student Financial Aid Details
Each dormitory has a distinct personality and set of traditions.
The dorms are all coed and include a mix of students from all classes. Freshmen are
required to live on campus with a roommate and are placed in all eight dorms. The quad dorms,
the four older dorms on campus, are named for the four points of the compass although in a
Mudd-esque twist of logic, South Dorm is north of West Dorm and west of North Dorm. The quad
dorms are each constructed in the early 1960’s vintage cinderblock style that dominates the
architecture on the campus. The atmosphere tends to be more social in the quad dorms, even
if less aesthetic than the newer dorms, where suite arrangements are typical and students are
more likely to stick with their closest friends. All of the dorms have central lounges with TVs
and DVDs (perfect for weekend movie festivals). On any Friday or Saturday evening, you are
likely to see residents of any dorm banding together for a giant picnic on large hibachi-style
barbecues in the dorm courtyard. A wireless network covers the entire campus.
The Linde Activities Center (LAC), located amidst the dorms, is also a staple of fun and
work. The center includes a weight room, a movement room for martial arts, pilates, dance,
yoga, etc., a competition court for volleyball, basketball, etc., a room for table games like
Foosball, air hockey, pool, a TV room with satellite and DVDs for smaller gatherings. Two meeting
rooms and a large computer room reside upstairs.
Parties and Competitions
Parties of all sizes, from small spontaneous gatherings to well-hyped five-college extravaganzas,
take place at frequent intervals in the dorms on campus. Mudd parties
are reputed throughout The Claremont Colleges to be the biggest, most creative, and most fun. The rigorous academic curriculum ensures that students who do not understand
when to stop partying and start studying will not last very long on the campus.
There is a sizable portion of the student body that does not drink at all and
there are always a myriad of nonalcoholic events including regular movies, concerts,
and off-campus trips. “Jay’s place,” an on-campus pizza parlor and pool hall, is a popular
hangout seven nights a week, occasionally offering up live music and other events. Students
are as good at coming up with creative and unique extracurricular activities for themselves
as they are at throwing parties. The Etc. (extremely theatrically confused) Players produce
original plays as well as old standards as often as they can get a willing cast together (three
or four times a year). Other clubs plan outdoor events like the Delta-H (which means
“change in height”) club, race the school yacht Mildred (a nineteen-foot class boat named
for Mrs. Harvey Mudd), and coordinate volunteer opportunities for others looking to use
up the last remaining ounce of their valuable spare time.
The annual class competition event is a giant relay race that crisscrosses the campus
with representatives from each class performing in such events as whistling with
peanut butter in one’s mouth, computer programming under pressure, running a seven-legged
race, and stuffing a textbook into a milk bottle. Faculty and staff serve as judges for
the events, although stretching the rules is a time-honored tradition. After the race is over
(it takes about thirty minutes), the entire campus settles in for a picnic and celebration.
Claremont is well located for weekend and spring break road trips. Los Angeles, Las
Vegas, the Joshua Tree National Monument, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Tijuana are
all within three hours by car. San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, and resort towns in Baja
are all popular locations, well within the reach of road-tripping students with a few
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Despite the emphasis on academics, this is a very athletic campus. Many students
compete in varsity sports, although for some students it is difficult to find time to participate
in the NCAA Division III athletic program HMC shares with Claremont McKenna and
Scripps Colleges. Intramural sports are popular, with inner-tube water-polo as the clear
favorite. Intramurals help promote dorm rivalries. They rarely require a great deal of skill, and
always provide fun stress relief. There are plenty of club sports to go around like the fencing
club or cycling or badminton, and several are extremely successful: the Ultimate Frisbee team
is well regarded regionally, while the ballroom dance team and rugby teams (one each for
men and for women) enjoy national reputations.
Pick-up games of volleyball, basketball, soccer,
and Frisbee are daily occurrences, as most students are looking for any chance
to put aside their homework, soak up some sun, and release some stress. The school is near Mt.
Baldy, one of Southern California’s highest peaks, which means that quality mountain biking,
hiking, and skiing are less than a half hour away.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the college is the success of its alumni
body. Mudd has produced a greater percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D.s
(nearly forty percent) than any other undergraduate institution over the last several years.
Alumni are in such demand that those who decide to enter Ph.D. programs usually are
completely funded for their graduate studies. And many Clinic sponsors offer jobs to
students before they have even graduated. A respectable percentage of alumni own
their own businesses and alums litter the faculty ranks at top colleges across the country
(including five who teach at HMC).
About forty percent of the students here
step directly into the top graduate programs in the
country. Students from all majors regularly make the
choice to go immediately to graduate school out of
Mudd, but the chemistry and biology majors are especially valuable commodities and generally
can write their own ticket into the graduate program of their choice. In the past several years,
numerous highly prized NSF fellowships, Churchill scholarships, Hertz Fellowships, Thomas
Watson Fellowships, and two Rhodes Scholarships have been handed out to graduates.
- Richard Jones, Ambassador
- Stan Love, Astronaut
- Michael Wilson, Film Producer