It has come time for me to decide where to pursue my undergraduate education. I plan to pursue a PhD in mathematics, so accordingly my primary concern is the mathematics programs at various institutions. While I realize that college selection is a personal process, I would like to hear some input from people familiar with the programs I am considering.

My interests currently lie in algebra and dynamical systems, but this is largely because I have not had the chance to study other subjects. That being said, I am most interested in the theoretical math programs of these institutions. It is also my hope that I will be able to perform research with professors as an undergraduate. One thing I am really looking for is to find a "community of scholars" where I can talk with other students about real mathematics on a regular basis. Essentially, I've narrowed my search down to two schools to which I've been admitted:

Chicago: Top ranked program in mathematics and chemistry (my secondary interest). The mathematics department offers a wide variety of classes in various specialties, and faculty are first-rate research mathematicians in most fields. It also has a large body of skilled undergrad and grad students to help create a "community of scholars". However, the school also has a reputation as "where fun goes to die" (this is in fact their mantra), and the large undergraduate and graduate student bodies mean that I may have to fight for attention.

Harvey Mudd: Well-respected math and science college. From what I've heard and my own experiences visiting, the faculty are some of the best teachers out there. Also, the lack of a graduate program means that as an undergraduate I would have a much easier time getting the attention of professors. However, their course offerings are narrower and not as in-depth (their highest course is algebraic geometry, in the language of varieties rather than schemes). Faculty members, as teaching faculty, generally do not have strong research records.

If anyone who has experience with these institutions and could tell me about them in general or their math programs in particular, especially to address my above concerns, I would greatly appreciate it. I will not in any way base my decision off these responses, I am simply looking for some things to think about.

To the moderators: I debated for quite a while as to whether this question was suitable for this site before posting it. If you feel it is not, please inform me so that I may delete it.

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    $\begingroup$ At first glance, I see the fact that Harvey Mudd does not have a graduate program to be an enormous downside. What if you want to take graduate courses while you are an undergrad? What about attending the interesting graduate student seminars and other talks? One thing about the question: It feels you are basically asking which to choose, and it seems more reasonable to ask such a question to people you know and trust in the real world, rather than and unknown on the internet. Perhaps there is a way to ask something more specific. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2011 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ If you can get into Chicago, go. It's one of the best math schools in the country, and will seriously improve your options when it comes to going to grad school. In my humble opinion, at least. Not to mention, if you're good, you'll be taking grad courses at some point, and you'll want to be around people who can get you into research as soon as possible. That being said, I've never spent any time at either of these places. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2011 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ This seem like a typical case for "too localised", and I am therefore voting to close. As others have said, you should ask people you know and trust. $\endgroup$
    – Alex B.
    Mar 31, 2011 at 5:02
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe this will seem naive or overly utopian to some, but it doesn't really matter where you go for undergrad as long as you work really hard. Undergrad is what you make of it. I went to one of the worst undergrad schools you could imagine (no one here has probably ever even heard of it) and I still got into a pretty great grad program. $\endgroup$
    – Matt
    Mar 31, 2011 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and the quality of the education that I got there (mathematically and otherwise) was as solid as any in my incoming class at Harvard, where I did my PhD. Harvey Mudd is a tiny school with a reputation for having strong undergraduates, but seriously, it's no contest. As for where fun goes to die -- yes, some students feel that way...but you live a free 20 minute bus ride away from downtown Chicago. If you can't find fun there, I don't like your chances anywhere... $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2011 at 6:47

2 Answers 2


I am a current third-year math major at UChicago. I don't know much about Harvey Mudd, but am having a great experience here and would be glad to answer any questions you have about math here, or the university in general. Please feel free to contact me.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the offer, but your user page does not include contact info. Is there any chance you could provide it? $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2011 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, sorry, I entered my email address to post this comment and assumed (stupidly) it would be visible. [email protected] $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2011 at 5:49

I am a current fourth year mathematics (and physics) major at Chicago. Let me just say that the mathematics department is absolutely top notch. In particular, the department treats it's undergraduates exceptionally. They really do care about their undergraduates here. By the way, I think that this is something that is often overlooked when applying to college (I know I did): departmental rankings are not very reflective of the quality of the undergraduate experience you will receive there. My guess is that this is mostly because departments tend to be ranked by the quality of research they produce and the quality of the grad students they produce, not so much the quality of the undergraduates they produce. Honestly, if you want to get an idea of how good undergraduate programs are at particular institutions, you'll probably just have to ask current and former students there.

While I could go on and on about how amazing the undergraduate mathematics program is here, unfortunately I have little else positive to say about the school. As a matter of fact, I've had quite a miserable experience here, and I would HIGHLY recommend seeking out other institutions with similar undergraudate mathematics department. In particular, I have absolutely nothing positive to say about the physics department and have heard similar horror stories about the chemistry department (although I personally can't vouch for this).

In any case, before you decide on coming here, make sure you can handle years of classes that have absolutely nothing to do with mathematics, e.g., "Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities", "Self, Culture, Society", etc. I actually have a fair amount of interests outside of mathematics, and was still unable to find anything in the core here even remotely bearable.

Of course, feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions.


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