Southern California Road Trip: Harvey Mudd

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

The tour guide had just finished explaining a research project in which engineering students had to burn down a high school when someone let out a thunderous "Woohoo!" It was a current student, who had picked up an exam that he was now displaying over his head. Turning to the students on the tour, he announced that he had just earned his first A on an exam at Harvey Mudd. "In high school," the student said, "I always had A's."

Talking your way into this small undergraduate college of math, science, and engineering in Claremont, Calif., requires serious smarts. Once in, students must also have humility and a sense of humor. Engineering majors spend their junior and senior years working in teams on real-world problems that test how much they know—and how long they can go without sleep. The students who burned down a high school were testing a system that could alert first responders to a building collapse. And how about taking out the stress from classes by smashing objects with liquid nitrogen at chemistry club parties?

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One recent student presentation drew an audience that included a manufacturer of ultrasonic wire bonders and a global defense and technology firm. While much of what was said sounded impossibly technical, one thing was clear: The Mudders demonstrated leadership, teamwork, and humor (one team thanked its "Domino's delivery guy" for his contribution to its research). On a campus where practically every student rides a skateboard or a unicycle (and occasionally a double-decker bicycle), Maria Klawe, the president, has her own longboard for getting around.

Because science and engineering dominate, the school is trying to make it easier for students to take more classes in the humanities and social sciences (both are required for graduation). Klawe recalls with regret one student who was so busy at Harvey Mudd that she never played any of the four instruments she had learned in high school. The president also frowns at the small number of minorities on campus, including African-Americans; the school has recently hired more women and people of color.

More About Harvey Mudd

Plus factor: School's president likes to say it has an "excellence without arrogance" mentality.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 732
Est. annual cost, '08-'09 (tuition, fees, room and board): $48,606

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