School Profile: The Academic Rigor and Social Traditions of Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College, located in Claremont, California, is one of the top science and engineering liberal arts colleges in the country and comes in at #25 on the Veritas Prep Elite College Rankings. It is one of the five colleges of the Claremont College Consortium, known as the 5Cs, along with Claremont McKenna, Scripps College, Pomona College, and Pitzer College.

The coeducational Harvey Mudd College was founded in 1955 at a time when the nation was turning its attention to the space race and encouraging students to focus their educations on math and science. The university presents a unique approach of focusing on the humanistic aspects of becoming elite scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Their Clinic Program, which originated in 1963, allows teams of undergraduate students to address difficult social problems posed by the non-profit sector, business and industry, and even the government, through scientific and technological research. The result has been one of the highest rates in the country of graduates who go on to earn PhDs in their fields.

Harvey Mudd academics takes a three-pronged approach to education. They set a foundation in math and science with their Common Core STEM program. In order for students to understand the interconnectedness of STEM disciplines, all students must take classes in each – biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, math, and physics. In keeping with their philosophy that the purpose of science and technology is to serve humanity, students also complete rigorous coursework in humanities, social sciences, and the arts.

At Harvey Mudd, they believe that “technology divorced from humanity is worse than no technology at all.” It is from this perspective, which marries STEM with liberal arts, that students are fundamentally prepared to then move on to the third prong – a chosen major where they develop competence and achieve excellence in a single area of expertise. Majors at Harvey Mudd include biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, and dual majors chemistry and biology, math and computer science, and mathematical and computational biology. Since there is no graduate school, the rigorous curricula are delivered in a highly personal environment where fewer than 800 students are enrolled.

The stereotypical personality of a “Mudder” is extraordinarily talented in math, science, and technology, politically liberal and socially conscious, with an insane work ethic, and an uncanny ability to throw a great party. While men outnumber women, it is not by much. The student body is 46% female. The Mudd student population is open-minded, diverse racially and ethnically, and actively supportive of gender equality.

Greek life on campus is non-existent, but over-the-top parties – some complete with artificial waterfalls, are common and draw students from across the consortium of colleges. Add in the nice weather year-round, late night college sponsored pizza, carne asada nights in the dining hall, and numerous clubs, intramural sports, and campus activities, and you have a recipe for a great college experience. Just be sure you are mentally prepared to also work harder than you have ever worked in your life.

In the 5-college Claremont College Consortium, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd College, and Scripps College form a single NCAA Division III athletic program. They belong to the South California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The athletic program is represented by 21 intercollegiate teams, both men and women. Student-athletes demonstrate the same dedication to excellence in sports as they do in academics. Fourteen of their twenty-one teams have finished seasons in top ten positions in the country since their inception in 1958. However, due to the rigor of the college’s academics, the only way to excel at a sport too is to be highly disciplined, self-motivated, and organized. The school also has a strong commitment to intramurals, with inner tube water polo being one of the most popular.

Maybe one of the coolest and oldest of Harvey Mudd traditions is The Foster’s Run. Unicycles became a thing on campus in the 1970s. Before long, a unicycle club called Gonzo Unicycle Madness was formed, which still thrives today. The Foster’s Run is a 9.6 mile unicycle ride to what was once Foster’s Donuts and is now the Donut Man donut shop. The reward for making the trip is delicious strawberry donuts. Once riders return to campus, they participate in “the shakedown,” which is essentially getting the kinks out after a nearly twenty-mile unicycle ride.

The student group, Increasing Harvey Mudd’s Traditional Practices, was organized to revive and preserve this and other on-campus traditions, which also include Wednesday Nighters, Friday Nooners, 5-Class Competition, and occasionally pranking Cal-Tech. If you’re ready to add two parts rigor and one part amusement, this could be your school.

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By Colleen Hill