How to Write the Harvey Mudd College Essays 2020-2021

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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 2024 was 13%, 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

Prompt 1: 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.)


Prompt 2: 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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