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Math at HMC

paintmuffinpaintmuffin Registered User Posts: 98 Junior Member
edited April 2011 in Harvey Mudd College
I was wondering what the math program is like at Harvey Mudd (besides fantastic). Is it impossible to be a successful math major unless you're like, USAMO qualified or something? Do they expect you to have taken classes well past calculus?

(Let's have my dreams crushed now before I apply next year, haha.)
Post edited by paintmuffin on
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Replies to: Math at HMC

  • lizardrocklizardrock Registered User Posts: 83 Junior Member
    Actually most have only taken calculus in high school. When you enter you are given a math placement test and the majority place into the basic math course. Even if you can place higher you are encouraged to take the basic class because it offers greater depth than high school level. My D had only taken 1 year of high school calculus and has so far enjoyed her frosh math class this year. .....no dream crushing here.....
  • iforgot37iforgot37 Registered User Posts: 124 Junior Member
    I'm not sure about what it takes to be a successful math major, but I don't think they expect as much as you think from the applicants. I haven't been able to do a math competition since middle school, so I'm not USAMO qualified. I am a senior in AP Calculus AB. I also put my interest in majoring in math as an 8/10 (tied with engineering and just below chemistry). And I still got in. I think that as long as your challenging yourself as much as you can and succeeding, you've got a good shot.
  • SuinSuin Registered User Posts: 182 Junior Member
    I suppose it depends on what you mean by successful. USAMO qualified is definitely not necessary, and neither is having taken classes beyond calculus, though of course both help. I would think a 800 SAT II would be a necessary minimum, as well as a good understanding of calculus. To do well you have to be very good at proofs and theoretical stuff, but I'd say the core mathematics prepares you for this fairly well if you haven't experienced it before. Nonetheless, theoretical proofs require a certain kind of thinker and wasn't really for me, so I leaned more towards operations research and applied statistics. Even in math major core however, be prepared to spend 2 hours on a single proof in many cases, with generally 4+ proofs per assignment, so a lot of it is simply perseverance and putting in the time. Personally, I qualified for the AIME each year (for whatever that's worth) and did reasonably alright in the math major.

    If you have any other specific questions, I can try to answer.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    You don't need an 800 on math 2. I know several kids who are VERY good at math (they finished the equivalent of BC calc by 10th grade, and do well at the state and national level in math competitions). Quite a number of them missed a question somewhere along the way and scored a 'mere' 750ish number.
    I think you would need to have made it through basic calc and done well by the time you start at HM, but that's all.
  • SuinSuin Registered User Posts: 182 Junior Member
    Well, if you say so, but to get a 750 you need to miss about 10 questions. I can't imagine that anyone missing 20% on algebra and geometry questions could participate in state and national math competitions. I suppose a timed test is a bit different than a math major, but an extreme familiarity with basic algebra and geometry concepts I think is pretty crucial.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    Well, to be precise, I think they mostly got 780s. I know that they didn't all get 800s on either the SAT math section or the SAT math 2. And, really, truely, they know their stuff.
    Here is a bit of info , obscured for privacy:
    Kid 1: now in college, got into great mathy schools, went to nationals for MathCounts, doing grad level math as a freshman
    Kid 2: now a senior in HS, taking graduate level math courses at a good university
    Kid 3: now a senior in HS, competes at the international and national level in math, taking graduate level courses, completed BC calc before starting high school
    Kid 4: now in grad school in math, went to an elite math/engineering school, took college math as a hs junior
    Kid 5: now a junior in HS, taking math at local university
    Kid 6: now a senior, taking math at local university, will take grad level math as college freshman
    Kid 7: now a senior, taking math at local university, admitted to elite math/engineering college.
    Most of these kids have done well in MathCounts, then on the AMC-10 and 12, and AIME competitions.
    Really. Trust me on this one. It is quite possible to be extremely good at math and not get a perfect score on the SAT 2.
  • maruhan2maruhan2 Registered User Posts: 859 Member
    almost everyone begins with the same math class.
    especially now that the curriculum has changed so that you begin with linear algebra.
    If you want to place out, you need to place out in both calc and lin alg.
  • lizardrocklizardrock Registered User Posts: 83 Junior Member
    You do not need an 800 on SAT II. The admissions process is obviously more complex than that. And many students enter without having the ability to take advanced levels of Calculus based on their school, where they live and the resources available to them.
  • SuinSuin Registered User Posts: 182 Junior Member
    lizardrock, for admission that is certainly true, but the OPs questions were pertaining to doing well specifically in the math major, and my response was an estimate based on how I felt going through the program.

    nemom, I'll take your word for it, but I really find it difficult to believe that students who have some of those qualifications could fail at solving basic algebra and geometry questions. Or that if they did poorly the first time they wouldn't take it again, given how dedicated they seem to be to math. I know I took it twice because I could not stand getting a 790 on such a greatly skewed curve and basic test, though perhaps that's a mindset few have. You don't seem to be aware of precisely how each of them did, but I would wager most of them got 800s (perhaps not the HS junior), the test really is that simple for those who have heavily pursued mathematics. I'm not saying an 800 is essential to do well, but it does indicate strong proficiency in the foundations of mathematics, and HMC's math program at least simply assumes you have mastered high school math, jumping straight into proof-based calculus.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Registered User Posts: 3,752 Senior Member
    nemom, I'll take your word for it, but I really find it difficult to believe that students who have some of those qualifications could fail at solving basic algebra and geometry questions. Or that if they did poorly the first time they wouldn't take it again, given how dedicated they seem to be to math. I know I took it twice because I could not stand getting a 790 on such a greatly skewed curve and basic test, though perhaps that's a mindset few have.

    I did get an 800 myself, but I can easily see why a mostly calculator-based exam like the SAT II Math (the second, since that's the more advanced one) would be something a lot of people with strong math skills may not do perfectly in. I think it matters how much test prep you do.

    I myself made sure I prepared properly.

    I just don't think this kind of standardized testing is a great indicator; I agree it should be a piece of cake for those who care enough to try to do fine on the test, but I think it's sometimes more of an exercise in using a graphing calculator than doing basic math. And it may be the case that people with strong math skills go...this is ridiculous, I don't care.

    Your requirement might be best rephrased as should find getting an 800. extremely easy and doable if requisite effort put in. What if the kid went in without any preparation to the test - i.e. without familiarizing with the type of questions in the least, memorizing any few last formulas, etc? I remember there were a lot of little silly things you could do to increase your score on that test. And yes, I am well aware that the curve on the test is skewed and the top score is some percentile ridiculously far below 99.

    Also, you can kind of add me to nemom's list, in that my lowest score in the SAT I was in math.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Registered User Posts: 3,752 Senior Member
    Is it impossible to be a successful math major unless you're like, USAMO qualified or something? Do they expect you to have taken classes well past calculus?

    I bet it's not impossible to be successful as a math major in any top school for mathematics without having done USAMO, etc.

    However, you have to learn very quickly. Writing mathematics gives a lot of people trouble -- that is, writing proofs, etc. People who come in with some experience doing these things may seem to be unduly more proficient, and one can feel a bit dejected. I know some people who felt that way at my own school.

    Also, if you are doing a math major, you need to think especially hard about what you want to do with it. Math admissions for graduate school is among the most competitive out there, and you cannot pad your resume with very many things outside of what you do in school (it is very hard to do meaningful pure mathematics research as an undergraduate, and in fact near impossible even for the most knowledgeable students...that is, to have it actually end in publication; simply doing work under a professor, developing an advanced understanding of a topic, and maybe deducing a few things is more possible). Taking topics that are somewhat mixed with algorithms, etc, helps.

    Now if you double math with computer science, for instance you could work for Google or something.

    Why do I bring all this up? You'll have a harder time making your way in mathematics if you don't know what you're doing with it. It's very much the sort of subject where, if you enter with a really good idea of why you're going to take a certain path, you'll feel better about what you're doing. Especially at a school like HMC, where the students are probably very strong, it can be hard to come in with little knowledge of what mathematics is really about, and then just start the math major and try to plough through.

    Then again, math tends to have fewer required courses than many others; not sure if this is true at HMC. All of my comments are more from general experience than anything else.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    Suin - you really do have to trust me on this one. No, I don't know their exact scores (except for two). I didn't ask them. But I know they all joked about having imperfect scores on the Sat Math 2 exam. I know that there was one problem that several of them found just slightly misleading. I know that all of them were bored by the whole thing. I know that all of them were told that there was no need to retake a high 700s score.
    And,yes, I understand that it is an easy exam for those both skilled and talented in math. I have degrees in physics and computer science, and know quite well what is on the SAT math 2 exam.
    And, I also know it's easy to make a simple mistake, and not catch it when you double-check. That's about all it takes.
    Again, if you look at the HMC stats, it's clear that not every gets a 800 on the math 2, so clearly admissions does not require it.
  • nemomnemom Registered User Posts: 1,607 Senior Member
    To the OP - no - you don't need advanced math in high school to become a mathematician. Heck, I know a quite successful mathematician who didn't even take calculus in high school. (and yes, he really is a fine and successful one, having a PhD from an elite school and working in the field.)
  • iforgot37iforgot37 Registered User Posts: 124 Junior Member
    Again, if you look at the HMC stats, it's clear that not every gets a 800 on the math 2, so clearly admissions does not require it.
    This is definitely true. I was admitted with a 720 in math 2 and a 720 in math on the regular SAT.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Registered User Posts: 3,752 Senior Member
    To the OP - no - you don't need advanced math in high school to become a mathematician. Heck, I know a quite successful mathematician who didn't even take calculus in high school. (and yes, he really is a fine and successful one, having a PhD from an elite school and working in the field.)

    Well, it's not the fact that someone did advanced math in high school that makes him/her a good mathematician, but there can be correlation. It takes a lot of hard work and confidence to be able to make it; mathematics is a rough world (the prerequisites to understanding or doing anything are ridiculous).

    So you should not go in thinking any specific thing will make or break you, but know that at some point, you're going to feel you really are worthless at math, and love the subject enough to continue onwards by finding things you're not totally worthless at...even if there are people much, much better than you at it.


    I make this post to crush any false enthusiasm saying "who cares, I don't need anything special in terms of competitions, prior knowledge and all, just try hard from now on out and it will be OK" -- rather, lots of stuff is against you if you really want to succeed as a mathematician.

    A lot of top mathematicians had insane backgrounds, and you have to realize how much better they probably are than you eventually....and still be OK going on.

    Basically, asking whether you need the USAMO to succeed at a math major is the wrong question, because what you need is to figure out why you want to get the math major, and have the energy to persevere and get through it. It can't hurt knowing how to write some proofs (e.g. calculus proofs) coming in, so that you can focus on the material presented and be comfortable with how to write mathematics, at least on a very basic level.
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