How to Write the Harvey Mudd College Essays 2019-2020

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Passionate about STEM, but unwilling to give up the humanities? Certain that you want to major in computational biology, but secretly hoping to also continue your weekly art projects? Meet Harvey Mudd, a liberal arts college in the Claremont consortium near Los Angeles, California. While there are barely more than 800 undergraduates at HMC, four other colleges and two graduate schools are right across the street, offering unparalleled resources to all Mudders. Besides the pranks and a healthy rivalry with nearby Caltech, HMC’s notable curriculum features a generous humanities requirement alongside its ten STEM majors.


The admit rate for the Class of 2023 was 13.4% last year, so don’t disregard those supplements! Keep reading to find out how to write standout essays for Harvey Mudd. Want to know your chances at Harvey Mudd? Calculate your chances for free right now.


How to Write the Harvey Mudd Essays

What influenced you to apply to Harvey Mudd College? What about the HMC curriculum and community appeals to you? (500 words)

While you agonize about getting into HMC, the admissions office is fretting over whether you’d actually enroll. Remember that every admitted student is a gamble on their end, too! Accordingly, this essay should convince them that there has never been a more reliable investment than yourself. 


Step one is to do your research. Start with the website, explore the learning and extracurricular opportunities, and read up on what they want to see in applicants, but don’t stop there — try digging through YouTube, talking with alumni (through interviews or otherwise), and asking questions. You want to know more than just the googleable facts. Sure, HMC has the Core Curriculum, but what does a day-to-day schedule actually look like? How do students spend their free time? What values does the Mudd culture emphasize?


Once you have a solid idea of what attending HMC would actually be like, you can start thinking about what to write. The challenge with this prompt is that you’ll likely be covering a few things that stand out to you — a list, in other words, but a list is hardly an essay. The challenge becomes how creatively you present your list items and how you smoothly you connect them together, with the ideal end product being a cohesive and memorable narrative. 


Remember that as with any Why X School prompt, the question you should really be answering is Why X School and You. HMC already knows that HMC is amazing, so don’t pitch the college to itself. Instead, the topics you discuss in this essay should illustrate what you care about, and the reader should walk away with a better sense of who you are and why you’re interested in HMC. The easiest approach is to focus on one main theme that connects everything in your list while also reflecting favorably on your personality, values, or goals. Here’s how one student did it: 


These past three years, I have received many college brochures about the magical concept of AND. This isn’t an OR place, they insist. Here, you can have pre-professionalism AND learning for learning’s sake, sports AND academics, professors who do great research AND teach you at the same time! What a steal!


Now, the one place from which I have yet to hear this concept is Harvey Mudd College. And that’s a good thing because HMC is special; they couldn’t possibly stoop to the same level as everyone else. (Besides, HMC sends me better things — a deck of playing cards, for instance, involving puns, virtual reality technology, and Morse code!) 


In case, however, you’d like to try out this AND thing in your admissions flyers next year, I think you’d be well suited to it. But I guess it’s not so much the AND vibes I’m getting from you as much as it is the ALL vibes; it’s this idea of inclusion, applied on all levels.


The community, to begin with — the community at my high school, Forest Hills, is so warm and kind that I cannot imagine spending the next four years of my life in a place where the people aren’t just as supportive and genuine. In my mind, HMC has always stood out the most for its community, the collaboration and loyalty and love that every person on campus, from administrator to staff to student, has for one another. More evidence comes in the activity on campus this past spring; the advocacy and the willingness of everyone to hear everyone else’s voices signifies to me a culture of open-mindedness and mutual respect. To see people standing up for one another and consciously taking part in hard conversations is not only comforting, but also emphasizes the strength and conviction of the HMC community. 


The other obvious part to ALL is President Klawe. I’m delighted to hear that a fellow Canadian has risen to the top of such an institution, not to mention that she’s simple proof of how women can succeed in STEM fields, so long as they are given the chance. With HMC’s history of empowering women and embracing the LGBTQIA+ community, I don’t think I’ve found a place that’s more inclusive of everyone. Also, President Klawe’s involvement in art signifies to me that for once, I shall not have to choose between my passions — I will be able to nurture all of them at HMC, my music, art, and writing alongside biology, physics, and computer science.


But ultimately, dear HMC, it is your mission that screams ALL. To leverage STEM for the good of society, to recognize that an understanding of the humanities is necessary for technology to serve our world – that is the embodiment of ALL, your determination that the students you educate will value every bit of knowledge they are given. 


So perhaps you might give it a try, this message of ALL? (I could even make you the brochure…)

This essay worked because while it highlights specific aspects of HMC, it also sheds light on the author. It’s clear that this student values community and activism, that she’s passionate about the arts and wholeheartedly believes in HMC’s mission. Even the little details lend support to her case: she solved the card deck that the admissions office sent her, and she researched enough to find that President Klawe is Canadian, just like her. Put it all together with her engaging voice, and voila — she’s clearly HMC material. 


Another potential approach is to discuss your interactions with members of the HMC community, as this lends credence to your list items and demonstrates initiative. Have you had an enlightening conversation with an admissions officer, or maybe even a professor? Did you get a chance to visit campus, or interview with an alum? Explain what you’ve learned about HMC through these experiences, along with how they have solidified your interest in the school. Beware of getting too carried away with setting up context (details are good, but they can also stretch out expositions unnecessarily), and remember that everything you describe should come back to who you are — not the admissions officer/alum/professor with whom you spoke.  


Those who’d prefer to be creative, however, should do some serious brainstorming. An oft-relied on technique is writing from the perspective of a non-human or inanimate object — perhaps the sparrow that flew into your host’s room when you visited campus, or the age-old gum stuck underneath that one chair in the Sprague lab. (Best, however, would be a letter from the Caltech cannon that Mudders stole in 1986.)


Please select one of the four prompts to answer. Please limit your response to 500 words.

Option 1:  Many students choose HMC because they don’t want to give up their interests in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts – or HSA as we call it at HMC. Tell us about your dream HSA class. Your answer might (but doesn’t have to) include projects you could do, texts you might want to read, or topics you would want to explore.


Option 2:  ”Scientific research is a human endeavor.  The choices of topics that we research are based on our biases, our beliefs, and what we bring: our cultures and our families.  The kinds of problems that people put their talents to solving depends on their values.” – Dr. Clifton Poodry. How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve? (500 words)


Option 3: Who in your life is depending on you? For what are they depending on you? (500 words)


Option 4: What is one thing we won’t know about you after reading your application? (500 words)

Option 1

Many students choose HMC because they don’t want to give up their interests in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts – or HSA as we call it at HMC. Tell us about your dream HSA class. Your answer might (but doesn’t have to) include projects you could do, texts you might want to read, or topics you would want to explore.

As the prompt suggests, this is a great opportunity to showcase your interest in something non-STEM! Some expertise (or research, at the very least) will likely be necessary to write an effective essay, so if you have a specific passion or hobby in the humanities, social sciences, or arts, this might be the prompt for you. The possibilities are endless — a pianist who especially adores Chopin, for instance, may propose a course focusing on how the composer’s life experiences influenced his musical output, or a student interested in social psychology may propose a course concentrating exclusively on theories of conformity. 


Regardless of the topic, however, those who plan to answer this prompt must take care to be very specific (as proof of genuine interest), while also keeping the essay comprehensible and relatable to the average “outsider,” i.e. the admissions officer. Remember that your reader may not understand the particulars of your topic as well as you do, so be sure to contextualize details and storytell rather than list. The beginning of the Chopin essay, for instance, may look like this: 


Ding, dong, ding!  


“No, no, Matilda,” my teacher intoned, as I plunked away at the unforgiving black keys. “Think sparkling water and champagne bubbles, so effortless — no NO, not like that! Light! Leggerissimo! Nooo elephants!”


And that was my introduction to Fryderyk Chopin, towards whom I would harbor a deep resentment throughout my preteen years. But once I turned fifteen and started exploring, my love affair with his music began — and even the etudes became beauties in my book, evidence of his pure genius. You see, there’s just something exquisite about Chopin’s works, a perfection and masterful simplicity to them that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and while I’ve studied some of the theory, I long to better understand how he was inspired to create such masterpieces in the first place. As such, my dream HSA course would examine the influences that made Chopin’s music into the legacy they are today, studying topics like his strong sense of nationalism, his relationship with George Sand, his circle of friends, and his own favorite composers.


I imagine that the course would begin with a sweeping overview of his life story, as numerous biographies have been written, but I’d probably start with Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger’s Chopin: Pianist and Teacher: As Seen by his Pupils and Frederick Niecks’s Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician. Depending on interest, I’d then move on to specific topics. For certain, I plan to consider his trip with George Sand to Marjorca, during which he was apparently quite sick and unhappy and yet also oddly productive (a ballade, scherzo, and two polonaises within three months, specifically). I also want to know more about his friendship with Franz Liszt, a fellow composer and concert pianist, as well as the dedicatee of Chopin’s first set of etudes. (Yup, those are the ones.) …

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Option 2

”Scientific research is a human endeavor.  The choices of topics that we research are based on our biases, our beliefs, and what we bring: our cultures and our families.  The kinds of problems that people put their talents to solving depends on their values.” – Dr. Clifton Poodry. How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve? (500 words)

This prompt goes straight to HMC’s mission statement: educating students in STEM who will also understand “the impact of their work on society.” But other than affirming the importance of a liberal arts education, the college clearly hopes to produce students who will make waves and ideally, change the world. Your essay should explain how you plan to do that.  


Unsurprisingly, this is a great prompt to talk about the issues that you feel passionate about and the problems you want to solve someday. But the question is also explicitly asking you to connect your topic(s) to your background — so more than just talking about the issues at hand, the admissions office also wants to understand you better. It’s carte blanche!


The most common approach for this essay is to tell a story: begin with the context/background, delve into the conflict (i.e. the problem), and explain how you hope to resolve everything. And while we often stress originality above all, this is an essay where we think that following the common pattern won’t necessarily hurt you, provided that you keep the essay interesting. If you’re unsure of where to begin, try starting right in the middle of the action; dialogue is also a safe bet. Just remember that the admissions office wants to hear your story, so be open and honest. Focus on drawing the reader into your perspective, and don’t be afraid to freely express emotions. Here’s an example beginning: 


I was five when I first went snorkeling — not that I remember, of course, but that’s what my parents told me. We didn’t want you in the water so early, they often recount, but you ran straight into the sea the second we let go. So then we had to outfit you with the gear, and Sylvester was charged with babysitting duties for the rest of the day, and well…here you are now, more fins than feet!


It’s probably a true story. But even if it isn’t, all I know is that I’ve grown up around water my entire life. As I grew older and older, my snorkeling trips dwindled in number, but I still remember the summer when I was fifteen, swimming at Delphi Beach with some friends. We saw a school of fish tangled up in plastic, right off the reef, but our parents wouldn’t let us help them. 


They’re just fish, Mama had said. You’re not going over there to risk your life for some fish.


Yes, they were just fish. And given how much plastic I used on a daily basis, I suppose it would have been hypocritical to try and help, anyways. But I also saw how the Delphi got grayer and sadder over the years — slowly, of course, no significant changes from month to month, but so strikingly obvious in my photos. You could see the red horizon at dusk when I was six; it’s gray, now that I’m eighteen. 


These are the places I want to help fix, the beaches that I’ve known my whole life. Our oceans produce half of the oxygen we breathe, regulating our climate and supporting millions of species. Yet we’ve always taken the water around us for granted, and our time is running out…

Option 3

Who in your life is depending on you? For what are they depending on you? (500 words)

This prompt is an obvious choice for those with significant caregiving responsibilities. If you have not extensively covered this topic in your Common App already, then here is the place to feature it! Just remember that there’s a fine line to walk: you don’t want to sound like you’re complaining, overall, but too much martyrdom will also induce eye-rolling from the admissions officer. The key is to leave a good impression — you want to demonstrate (at the very least!) kindness, maturity, and a sense of responsibility.


But even if nobody is depending on you to any extreme, you can still write a powerful essay. Anyone who has ever volunteered and found their experience meaningful can write about what it was like to help others in need, whether they be little summer campers, the elderly at a retirement home, or even thirsty participants running a marathon. Leaders, in particular, can easily write for this prompt, describing how they managed the expectations of others, how they dealt with challenges, and the responsibility they felt towards those they were leading. Moreover, anyone passionate about their extracurriculars can share valuable experiences, regardless of whether they were a part of the leadership or not — just consider how you served your community through the activity. What did you contribute, and how did others benefit from your work? Did you have goals that you wanted to reach? What did it feel like to be responsible for something? Remember that this essay should be a testament to your good character, giving the reader a sense of your generosity, compassion, gratitude, and/or determination. 


Risk-takers may wish to employ a more humorous approach — the question is asking “who,” but one could make a case for anything with a name! This broadens your potential dependents to pets, plants, and even stuffed animals. A possible beginning:


Sarah, of course, but I also depend on her a great deal, as we’ve been friends since day one! My parents introduced us, actually — I remember drooling all over her when we first met (I was five, give me a break), but she didn’t seem to care at all, and we quickly became thick as thieves. Every night, from age five to ten, she sat on my pillow as I went to sleep, and we’d curl up together whenever the monster underneath my bed made gurgly noises. My mother even threw Sarah in the washing machine once, close to my bedtime, and I refused to sleep till I got her back.


But then I grew up a bit, and it wasn’t cool to hang around Sarah anymore. “Teddy bears are for babies,” said one of my classmates, when Sarah accompanied me to our first day of fourth grade…

Option 4

What is one thing we won’t know about you after reading your application? (500 words)

We’ll be honest here: you don’t need this prompt. 


There are always exceptions to the rule, but it’s more than likely that you can cover everything you need with your activities list, your Common App essay, and the additional information section. Given how open-ended this question is, it becomes that much harder to make an impression. This is why we would suggest that you write for this prompt only if you have some big wacky reveal — and it better be really, really good. (Spoiler alert: attending an international science fair last summer won’t work; it should already be on your application anyways.) Even an explanation of how you built the nuclear reactor in your basement might not be good enough (plus you run the risk of sounding arrogant, excessive, or overly pedantic), unless you hit the tone just right.


So unless you have an excellent reason for writing this essay…don’t! But for those who have a truly extraordinary and quirky story to share, remember to nab your reader’s attention with line one and keep it the whole time. This is already a cop-out essay, so make sure it’s worth the read!


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