How To Write the Harvey Mudd Supplement

Harvey Mudd is an amazing college. It’s small, with under 900 undergraduates, and located in Claremont, CA. Its primary focuses are math, science, and engineering, but it’s a liberal arts school with strong humanities departments as well. Their supplements require thought and storytelling. We break it down below:

Question 1: What influenced you to apply to Harvey Mudd College? What about the HMC curriculum and community appeals to you? Please limit your response to 500 words.

This question is similar to the “Why X School?” essay in that Harvey Mudd wants to know why you are applying, but the way that they phrase it makes it a bit different. They are asking about what influenced you to apply and they are giving you 500 words to address the questions. Unlike other questions where we’ve suggested that “less is more,” we always advise our students who are applying to Harvey Mudd to use the entire allotted space to tell the story.

As always, use a personal interest as a starting point for your story. Make sure that you’re writing about something:

  • that you haven’t dug into in your application yet
  • that is meaningful
  • that isn’t coming out of left field

This essay should make sense in the context of your entire application while also shedding new light on a different aspect of your personality, background, goals, interests, etc. Once you have your topic, you can tie Harvey Mudd into it and weave a compelling story that the admissions reader will not only enjoy reading because it’s well-written and interesting, but because they will finish the story and truly want to bring you into the Harvey Mudd community. You can be creative and illustrate your interest in the school within a narrative structure—you have room to do that here. Take advantage.

We had a student write an essay on this topic about engineering and physics. He didn’t even mention any specific classes that he’d be interested in taking until halfway through because he briefly discussed how he became interested in the topic at hand. His dad was a boat mechanic and he used to help him fix the engines. He began with his background and quickly delved into his interests and how he plans to incorporate his interests into his studies at college. The language was evocative and nuanced, and his interests diverse but logical. He discussed his interest in majoring in something related and then mentioned a minor in an unrelated field before explaining his extracurricular interests. He incorporated his hobbies into this portion in a way that made sense, and overall the essay read as a grounded, well thought-out piece of writing. He got in.

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

Choice 1: “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?

As we’ve said before, you can tell a lot about a college by reading its supplement. They very clearly let you know what they believe to be important and worthy of highlighting. This question, for example, reflects the fact that Harvey Mudd is a research college. This question is aimed at the motivated, research-oriented Harvey Mudd applicant, as many of them are. And for good reason—you should be clear and passionate about the topics that you want to uncover and study at Harvey Mudd. In the same fashion as the first question, we suggest that our students discuss a personal story or the precipitating event that inspired your research interest, and then expanding upon why you want to research it. Ultimately, if you want to solve a problem or series of problems, your background reflects that.If you’re interested in shedding light on one topic or problem in particular, talk about why. If you’re interested in researching mental health because a family member suffered from mental health problems, this is your chance to tell that story. Throughout the rest of the application, we always advise students to make sure that the stories that they are telling are about them, not others. This question gives you a bit of leeway with that rule—it’s an inherently outward-facing question, so discuss outside influences, experiences, and people that have affected your desire to do good and problem solve. It will ultimately be tied back to your own set of goals that you have for yourself both at Harvey Mudd and beyond, but it should start outwards and work inwards, instead of the opposite structure.

Ultimately, if the language of this question speaks to you, then it’s for you to answer. What comes to mind is likely an event, moment, or series of moments that has influenced the way that you think. Whatever happened that affected you so profoundly that it sparked your desire to change things (anything, big or small), it’s going to continue to propel you forward through college and beyond. Talk about it.

Choice 2: What is one thing we won't know about you after reading your application?

This is one of our favorite supplement questions. Make sure that you do not, under any circumstances, discuss something that is already present in your application. Whatever you talk about should be completely unrelated to anything that has been mentioned in your application thus far. And it should reflect a part of your personality or reality that has gone unrevealed until now.

Additionally, this is not the time to talk about anything related to your extracurricular activities. This isn’t an additional information section where you should list all of the online courses you took. Whatever you discuss, you need to be able to expand it into a metaphor and demonstrate how it has affected your perception of the world around you.

You can answer this question in a few ways—you can choose one thing about you that is new, interesting, and unexpected, and write about a story where this quality came to light. You can write about how you believe this one thing will play out in the future. You can write about how you think this one thing has affected another thing. There’s really no way to get too weird with this. And in fact, if you immediately thought of something but then thought, “No, that’s too weird for me to talk about,” then you should probably write about it. We quickly came up with 12 essay seeds for you to read through, below:

Essay seeds:

  1. You’re 6’7” and you’ve looked like you’re 25 years old since you were 13. You have to duck to get into the subway and whenever you’re at a concert, without fail, at least three people will ask to get on your shoulders.
  2. Your favorite food is mapo tofu. The tingly numbness from the szechuan peppercorns is your favorite kind of spice.
  3. You’ve moved 5x since 6th grade, but in the same city so you’ve never had to switch schools, just immediate neighborhoods, environments, and commutes to school.
  4. Your favorite M&Ms are the almond ones. They’re very hard to find. You asked your local bodega man, Louis, who has been your friend since you were 4 to please order them and for the last 5 years he has, essentially just for you.
  5. You named your childhood stuffed animal after the cat in Homeward Bound named “Sassy” and it may or may not have influenced your personality.
  6. Ideally you want your room to be 68 degrees when you go to sleep.
  7. You and your best friend’s family have dinner together every Sunday night. Her dad is a savant and can beat you (or anyone) in Chess even if he’s blindfolded. He taught you calculus when you were 12.
  8. You’ve been doing your own laundry for the past five years. You and your mom got into a fight because she made you separate your clothes into three piles, two days before she actually did it. You found that her method was inefficient. She said, “if you don’t like the way I do it you can do it yourself.” You decided to take her up on it but you realized you actually didn’t have the money to pay for the laundry detergent so you had to get a job babysitting Katherine who lives next door. You babysit Katherine every Wednesday night from 6-9 while her parents go out on a date just so you can have money to do your laundry your own way. It’s a whole thing.
  9. You only wear purple sneakers.
  10. It takes you 1.5 hours to get to school every day.
  11. You collect coasters from different restaurants that you’ve traveled to with your family around the world. Sometimes you also take the branded pens that they give you with your check. You’re not sure if that’s considered stealing or not.
  12. When you go Christmas tree shopping you always end up choosing the tree. There’s always something a little bit wrong with it. When you were little, you would cry and beg to take home the slightly flawed tree because you were convinced no one else wanted it and it would spend Christmas alone. Now you don’t cry anymore, but you’re steadfast in your belief that every tree, even ones with uneven branch spacing and a hole here or there, deserves a home.

There is a story in each and every one of these examples, even just as we have them written. Of course, you’ll expand on yours, but they are illustrative, interesting, and they cause your ears to perk up.

Let us know if you need help brainstorming or expanding on anything for this supplement. We’d love to help you come up with an amazing application.