The college is named after Harvey Seeley Mudd, one of the initial investors in the Cyprus Mines Corporation. Although involved in the planning of the new institution, Mudd died before it opened. Harvey Mudd College was funded by Mudd's friends and family, and named in his honor.
As one of the Claremont Colleges, which includes other small undergraduate colleges such as Pitzer College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pomona College, which adjoin the Harvey Mudd campus, university resources (libraries, dining halls, etc.) are shared and students from Harvey Mudd College are encouraged to take classes, especially classes outside their major of study, at the other 4 Claremont Colleges as well as at Harvey Mudd. Likewise, students from the other Claremont Colleges are allowed to take classes at Harvey Mudd. Together the Claremont Colleges provide the resources and opportunities of a large university while enabling the specialization and personal attention afforded by the individual colleges.
Harvey Mudd College's mission is to educate scientists, engineers, and mathematicians well-versed in the social sciences and humanities so that they better understand the impact of their work on society. The college offers four-year degrees in chemistry, mathematics, physics, computer science, biology, and engineering, as well as interdisciplinary degrees in mathematical biology, and a joint major in either computer science and mathematics, or biology and chemistry. Students may also elect to complete an Independent Program of Study (IPS) made up of courses of their own choosing. Usually between two and five students graduate with an IPS degree each year. Finally, one may choose an off-campus major offered by any of the other Claremont Colleges, provided one also completes a minor in one of the technical fields that Harvey Mudd offers as a major.
Because of its mission statement, Harvey Mudd places an unusually strong emphasis on general science education, requiring a full one-third of courses, known as the "common core," outside of one's major. Students are also required to take another one-third of their courses in the humanities, in keeping with the school's tradition of "science with a conscience." The final one-third of courses comprises those in the student's major. The integration of research and education is an important component of the educational experience at Harvey Mudd; upon graduation, every student has had some kind of research experience, in the form of a senior thesis or a Clinic Program experience. The undergraduate focus of HMC means that, unlike many other science and engineering institutions, undergraduates at HMC get unique access to research positions over the summer and during the school year.
A unique aspect of an HMC education is the Clinic Program, in which teams of students work for a year on a project supplied by a company, make regular reports to the company, and, at the end of the year, deliver a product. There are Clinic projects in engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, and other majors. This kind of real-world experience gives students a first-hand look at a particular industry, and gives the company an inexpensive team of four students, many of whom they recruit after graduation.
As of 2008, it is tied for 14th with Grinnell College among liberal arts colleges in the United States and is ranked second behind Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology as the best undergraduate engineering program at a school whose highest degree is a bachelor's or master's by U.S. News & World Report. In 2006, Harvey Mudd was also named one of the "new Ivy leagues" by Kaplan and Newsweek, while the mathematics department won the first American Mathematical Society Award for Exemplary Program.
Harvey Mudd College is said to be one of the few colleges the nation with very low grade inflation. This perception may be due to a period of significant grade deflation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Only six students in the history of the college have achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA.
In 1997, Harvey Mudd College became the sole American undergraduate-only institution ever to win 1st place in the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. As of 2007, no American school has won the world competition since then.
Harvey Mudd College had long held out as the last four-year college or university in the U.S. to accept only SAT and not ACT test scores in its admissions process. Since August 2007, however, (the beginning of the application process for the class of 2011) it started accepting ACT results.
The official names for the dormitories are (listed in order of construction):
Atwood and Case were occasionally referred to as New Dorm and New Dorm II up until the addition of Linde and Sontag; Mildred E. Mudd Hall and Marks Hall are almost invariably referred to as East and South.
When Case was being built some students decided as a prank to move all of the survey stakes exactly one foot in one direction. They did such a precise job that the construction crew didn't notice until after they had laid the foundation, but California earthquake law forced them to reinspect the new location at some significant expense. Furthermore, the plumbing has never worked quite right. Case is also very occasionally known as Seventh dorm (despite being the sixth dorm built); some have called it the Pink Dorm, inasmuch as the cinder blocks used in its construction seemed to some the color of shrimp.
South Dorm is in the northwest corner of the quad. "East" was the first dorm, but it wasn't until West was built to the west of it that it was actually referred to as East. Then North was built, directly north of East. When the fourth dorm (Marks) was built, there was one corner of the quad available (the northwest) and one directional name (South) left. It got both, and to this day South is more 'north' on the compass than North dorm is.
The fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth dorms are Atwood, Case, Linde, and Sontag, respectively. They were collectively referred to as "the Colonies" by some students, a reference to the fact that they are newer and are at the far end of the campus, a full two blocks away from the academic buildings; these dorms are now more commonly referred to as "the Outer Dorms." The college purchased an apartment building adjacent to the newer dorms to house additional students, but it was demolished to make room for the newest dorm, Sontag.
Since a student from any of the four classes can live in any of the dormitories, several of the dorms have accumulated long-standing traditions and even 'personalities'. Two examples of these traditions are the parties Long Tall Glasses (a formal affair thrown by North) and TQ Nite (a tequila-centered party thrown by West). The personality of a dorm morphs, of course, as Harvey Mudd alumni may find upon visiting the alma mater long past graduation.
The Honor Code is so well followed that the college entrusts the students to 24-hour per day access to all buildings including labs and timed take-home closed-book exams. (See external links below for more information.)
The original buildings of campus were designed by Edward Durell Stone. Most are covered with thousands of square concrete features, called "warts" by the students, which would be perfectly suited to buildering except that, while some are set into the wall, others are simply glued on. In addition, these warts have the unusual usefulness of being great 'shelves' for unicycles and skateboards. One can walk towards Galileo Hall and see the warts (especially those near the entrances of buildings) being used as racks for unicycles and skateboards. Interestingly enough, the unofficial mascot of Harvey Mudd (featured on many college handbooks and other publications) is one of these concrete blocks with a face, arms, and legs, named "Wally the Wart."
Most of the computer labs and many classrooms are located in the basements (called the Libra Complex) of the concrete-block buildings. All of the buildings that make up the Libra Complex are interconnected via a series of underground tunnels, enabling convenient inter-building access (such as during times of rainy weather or by people averse to sunlight).
Other than walking, the leading form of transportation among Mudders is skateboarding. Because the paths of Mudd are smooth and the route to the academic building on one side of campus from the dorms is so straightforward, skateboarding to class is very popular—and Mudders as a whole skate more than the students of any of the nearby Claremont Colleges.
Another Mudd prank involved slight modifications to a freeway sign. By placing parentheses around "Pasadena City College", an institution much less prestigious than Caltech, Mudd students changed the sign to read:
(Pasadena City College)