College Visit Report: CalTech, Harvey Mudd & Stanford

January 17, 2009 at 1:16 pm 1 comment

My son and I just returned from our trip to visit science & math-focused colleges in California.

CalTech: I expected CalTech would have extensive science labs & equipment, but they never showed off anything but the outsides of their academic buildings. The core requirements include lots of math & physics, but minimal biology & chemistry – is that an indication of something? Lots of summer research money and the possibility of doing research with a Nobel Prize winner (if all the grad students don’t crowd you out).

Eight dorms, which function more like frat houses in that everyone eats dinner in the dorm and social life revolves around the dorm. For a picky eater, like my son, it doesn’t sound real great that everyone (except vegans, vegetarians, and those eating kosher) has the same meal, served family style. On the other hand, for an introvert (75% of gifted kids), you’re forced to make friends. Each dorm includes equal numbers of freshmen, sophomores, juniors & seniors, so there is always someone older to ask for advice.

Harvey Mudd: One of the 3 best information sessions we’ve attended, because the admissions person had a very clear sense that Harvey Mudd is a unique place and a great fit for some but a lousy fit for others. Small, compact campus. No long treks from one classroom to another. Teachers seem involved with the students, if the stuff posted in the hallways is any indication. Math department is supposed to be #1 in the nation, although I don’t know what the criteria is, and the Putnam Competition team does exceptionally well. The 5 Clarement Colleges coordinate faculty hiring decisions, so they maximize the number of specialties and minimize overlap among faculty.

Social bonds at Harvey Mudd seem to be formed in project teams rather than dorms. HMC also offers “clinics” in lieu of a senior research project & thesis. In a clinic, a company brings a real-life problem to a team of students, and the students have to solve the problem by the end of the semester, while updating their company liaison weekly via teleconference. Clinics, and HMC in general, seem more hands-on and less theoretical, reflected by the fact that the most common major is engineering. Perhaps a great fit for kinesthetic learners and maybe visual learners. Everyone is required to take an engineering class and a computer science class, unlike any other school we have investigated. Interestingly, my son now thinks that would be a good thing and would introduce him to some fields that he has not yet investigated and which he might like. No automatic AP credit and don’t expect to test out of many classes here.

Dorms weren’t impressive, but each has a personality. Brand new cafeteria, and students can take classes or eat at any of the other Claremont colleges. Although Harvey Mudd has more guys than girls, Scripps College next door is a women’s college.

Stanford: What a contrast to Harvey Mudd! Stanford feels huge, well-endowed (based upon the amount of construction), and an all-things-to-all-people kind of place. The campus is so big that there are more bicycles than students and I only saw one person walking to class but nearly got mowed down by bicycles multiple times. Beautiful place. Lots of money for summer research projects. Famous people as professors and guest speakers. Students will find every type of group or club here, but will an introvert easily make friends in such a big place? Will the grad students get all the attention and best research opportunities?

The best part? Financial aid. Full rides for those with incomes less than $60,000; free tuition for incomes less than $100,000. The caveat: “provided your assets are in line with others with that level of income”, so those of us who did the right thing and saved for retirement and college get dinged.


Entry filed under: biology, CA, CalTech, chemistry, Claremont, College Visit Report, computer science, engineering, Harvey Mudd, introvert, kinesthetic learner, math, Paying for College, physics, research, Stanford.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dgtseng  |  March 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Hooray for California schools! Good luck with your choices.
    – a techer


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Insights and advice from a parent of two gifted teenagers



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