Touring the SoCal Elites:UCLA, USC, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna | Thinking About College | John Raftrey And Lori McCormick | Mountain View Online |

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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Touring the SoCal Elites:UCLA, USC, Harvey Mudd, Claremont McKenna

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2014
(written by John Raftrey) The second in a series.

The Elite schools in Southern California all have admit rates under 20%, making admissions to them a virtual lottery. UCLA gets over 100,000 applications a year that they have to process in four months. Do you think they might make a few mistakes! These schools are as different as snowflakes. The student who is happy at Harvey Mudd would probably struggle socially at USC. The Poli-Sci major at Claremont-McKenna who loves to debate in class, would wilt waiting to get called on in a mega freshman politics class at UCLA. While colleges all obfuscate their class sizes, my rule of thumb is: "If they have graduate teaching assistants, they have large classes."

UCLA – UCLA for all intents and purposes is not a state college. It is a large elite university located in Los Angeles that gets its funding from several sources, one of them is the state of California. And like all large donors, there are strings attached to the money as the state insists the school gives the impression they are a school for Californians. UCLA admits about 9,000 Californians and 6,500 non-Californians. Less than half of admitted students actually attend UCLA, so if 1,000 more Californians said no and a 1,000 more non-Californians said yes, Californians could be a minority at UCLA! UCLA and Berkeley used to be the flagship universities in California, just like the University of Oregon or the University of Kansas. Now the real flagships are Davis, Santa Barbara and Irvine. Walking around UCLA I realized it is a big, diverse research university that touts the work of its graduate departments and thinks of itself as Harvard with a football team. While it has every conceivable major, I couldn't help but thinking everyone is a film major, or wishes they were! But then this is true at most southern California colleges. You should put UCLA on your college list if it includes schools like Tufts, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Princeton. Do not think of it as "one of the UC's." It has grown up and is now playing in a different league.

USC – USC is for smart smiling people. The campus is beautiful, spotless like Disneyland, and it seems everyone must have won the award for "best school spirit" in their high school. This is not the school for students who want to stay in their dorm rooms. Their engineering and business undergraduate schools are first rate and the USC alumni take care of their own when it comes to jobs. Most impressive is the film school. I was a television-film major in college, worked in the industry for 16 years and I was intimidated by the resort-like buildings of the film school! You can't miss the huge arches in front of the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas buildings. USC is for you if you want to join a sorority or fraternity, get involved in campus life and can manage to keep your grades up in competitive classes amid all the merriment. For the film school, if you are an accomplished auteur and have won a few student film festivals, come here to take your art to the next level.

Harvey Mudd and Claremont-McKenna
These are two schools in the Claremont Consortium. (See Pomona blog post). While they attract two entirely different student bodies, they share the same science classes and labs and join together as one NCAA entity for varsity sports. They are small schools that are nearly impossible to get into and a different blogger might have put them in the "Ivies" category.

Harvey Mudd – With a name like Harvey Mudd you know it's got to be really good just to overcome the name! This is a small (800 total students) liberal arts school for scientists and engineers. I asked an admissions officer what the difference was between Harvey Mudd and MIT and Cal Tech, and he said that Harvey Mudd doesn't have grad students, everything at Harvey Mudd is focused on undergraduate education. The pranks are different too. Cal Tech likes physical pranks. Harvey Mudd likes hacking pranks. They hacked their way into contest for a free Taylor Swift concert and won, beating out all other US colleges. Harvey Mudd is a great school for girls who want to study STEM subjects. Their president is a woman, and admissions office told us that 40% of their faculty are women, and more women than men graduated with an engineering major last year. This year's freshman class had 114 men and 103 women. This is probably not the place for one of those engineering macho types, who takes the red-eye back from a prank at MIT, stays up for three days developing a new operating system and then tries to ace a physics final without studying. This school is for you if are a thoughtful boy or girl math whiz who is headed to being a world class scientist or engineer, but you don't have the need to remind everyone you're the smartest, cleverest person in the room.

Claremont McKenna (CMC) – USC's money comes from Hollywood. CMC's comes from Wall Street. The biggest building which houses many campus offices and classes is the Kravis Center named for investment banker Henry Kravis. He and fellow Claremont McKenna student George Roberts founded the investment banking firm KKR. This is a school for those who want to turns their smarts into worldly success. This is where a future presidential candidates will meet their campaign financiers. This is a first rate liberal arts school with all the typical majors serving the many students who are not headed to Wall Street or Washington. However, attending CMC for politics or business is a lot like attending USC for film school, it is for those who are already driven for success and not for those using college as a nice place to hang out to discover who they are. This is a school for 4.0 students who live in the real world and don't want to head east to a small liberal arts school like Bowden or Middlebury.

The next blog in the series will focus on the highly selective residential liberal arts schools.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

Great article.

I have a lot of experience with some of these schools.

First of all, there are hundreds of colleges/universities to choose from. My impression is Palo Alto graduates and parents will find the best that can be for their 'college bound' high school students.

Here is my observation as a parent (3 children - UC Berkeley; Concordia - a small school in Irvine; University of Michigan AA)

- UCLA is enormous.40000+ students; Westwood is beautiful; near Beverly Hills; Santa Monica 3 miles; Beach 5 miles to west.
A happy place for students; at all levels; Access to LA.
It is not Stanford, not Berkeley or Harvard
Just a great school to graduate from for undergraduate all the way to PhD
They have one of the 'best dorm foods'

GO to UCLA to have 'happy life' as a student; as a graduate; There is no business school that offers undergraduate BBA degree at UCLA. So, you need an MBA from UCLA; a great school; but Stanford is the best in the west coast for MBA.

- USC; a high energy campus. I studied there in 1977 after I moved from Texas; at the school of engineering; took about 5 graduate level classes in computer science and electrical engineering; CS 585 is Data Base Systems was taught by Dennis McLeod in 1977-1978. Paid for by employers; classes in the evening.

Football program is greatest in our area. Football spirit is great.

Here is what I heard in the industry having working for great companies Northrop, Hughes and Boeing (1980-2010).

GO to USC if you want to be great CPA, Dentist etc.. It is a well connected society in southern California.

Did you know their Annenberg School of Communications is one of the best and has lot of connections to next door Hollywood?

Parents - please read about some of the things going on regards to 'crime' and how to manage your precious daughter/son to stay from crime ridden areas around Hoover.

- Claremont colleges

I am a graduate of Claremont Graduate School; executive certificate program when Peter Drucker, a management guru taught there.

A serene campus/es; like the east coast.

The colleges are elite; preppy; student teacher ratio 1- 15 or less. Harvey Mudd graduates go to get a PhD in the highest number.

The location is great. 35 miles east of UCLA/LA etc. Not much going on in the weekend; a village atmosphere.

Not UCLA; Not Columbia; Not Berkeley. But a great school to go to get a PhD later somewhere else.

Mind you this is my personal experience.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by How About Scripps?, a resident of another community,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I would have liked to see a single blog post discussing the entire Claremont Colleges consortium, all five of them, not just a blog including Pomona and then one including Mudd and CMC. All five, including Scripps and Pitzer, are excellent schools and interact with each other in the same way departments in a bigger university do. They are interrelated in many ways. When I attended Scripps it was not uncommon for somebody to be taking classes at another college, participating in a club at a different college and perhaps participating on either a Sagehens or Stags/Athenas sports team.

Also I'm getting tired of hearing about "elite" colleges. As if high schoolers around Palo Alto, Menlo Park and surrounding areas don't hear that word linked with colleges enough! I'm a Scripps College alum and I wish you had discussed my alma mater (or hope you will be discussing it in a future blog) because it is an excellent choice for young women, and many graduates go on to grad programs at Ivies, UCs, etc.... The admit rate at Scripps is about 30% but isn't that elite enough? At least it is easier to get admitted there because the college weighs the applicant's entire application, including letters of recommendation, personal statement, extracurriculars, etc... That said, it is considered the third best women's college in the U.S. behind Smith and Wellesley (not too shabby!) according to US News and World Report and rated 25 on the list of top SLACs in the country. In fact according to the Forbes list of colleges and universities, both Scripps and Mudd were rated higher than USC (although I felt all three schools were ranked way too low on the Forbes list). Plus Scripps offers everything from excellent science programs (it shares its science program with CMC and Pitzer) to the arts. It would be a great place for a young woman interested in STEM (as well as Mudd or Pomona of course). I was English literature major and found the courses and senior thesis project plenty rigorous and I knew many Pomona students who found Scripps English courses challenging too. I have also met many young women from Paly and Gunn who decided to attend Scripps. As I've said, all of the Claremont Colleges are excellent and rated Most Competitive by US News (actually Pitzer I think is rated Highly Competitive, but that's good enough IMHO!).

A word about Mudd, which I'm also familiar with because my husband attended it. When he attended it, there was no shortage of egos! Although Mudd had many thoughtful and nice students, it also had a lot who were used to being the smartest person in their school and when they came to Mudd they were disappointed to find out that was no longer true. There was a lot of competitiveness, but perhaps the school climate has improved since my husband attended. Still if you get admitted to Mudd you can't go wrong!

 +  Like this comment
Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Hi "What About Scripps?" I'm writing about Scripps and Pitzer right now and it should be posted soon. I hope you like it! I separated the Claremonts because I wanted to tease out their individual differences. I wrestled with the terms "Ivy" and "Elite," but couldn't come up with anything better before I had to publish. Personally, I'm a big proponent of the "Colleges That Change Lives" schools.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Facepalm McGee, a resident of Stanford,
on Aug 22, 2014 at 1:25 am

Ugh. Henry Kravis and George Roberts aren't investment bankers and KKR is not an IB firm. They're known for virtually coining the term "Private Equity".

How dare you undermine the accomplishments of our holy lord and savior Henry Kravis?!

- a See em See student

 +  Like this comment
Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Aug 22, 2014 at 2:51 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

Point taken! No harm intended. A bit embarrassing as Kravis and I are both alumni of the Columbia B School.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Old MP, a resident of another community,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

@ S Seddy: I think the Bruins would have a pretty good argument over who has the better football program in LA these days.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I met a nice young man, Harvey Mudd undergrad, Stanford PhD starting next week his first real job, E_.
Met today, at coffee house.

Matt Nathanson, his manager Jordan Kurland, less famous but also brilliant Jonah Mantanga, all met at Claremont Schools, where Ben Harper's family had a music shop and hangout, almost in their crew.

I wish Palo Alto, for the arts, was a cultural hub the way other college towns -- Austin, Chapel Hill, Madison, I guess even Pomona -- are. For tech, yeah. Most other things, no so much.

And yes I think its great when Gunn, Paly kids go to small west coast schools and not Ivies or Colonial League. I wish, by same token, that we could build up University and State system to it's pre-right-wing-attack levels. And that, sadly, is not a lacrosse reference.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by UC grad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I'm not sure where you got the impression that Davis, Santa Barbara and Irvine are now the "flagships" of the University of California system. I'm involved with the UC system on several levels, and you are alone in that impression. Berkeley and UCLA still set the system standards; if anything San Diego is next in line.

Davis is and has always been a fine university, but Santa Barbara and Irvine should not be included in the same league as Cal and UCLA.

Since the state is now very much a minority funder of the UC system, the schools that are considered front-runners are the ones doing the best research. Why is Cal constantly ranked #1 among public universities, and in the top 5 worldwide? You might look into that before you start calling Irvine, which does very little research in comparison, a "flagship" of the system.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Hi, Sea. Man you are on this thing almost as much as I am. Better would be to walk a few precincts, or better yet, fried diced spiced chicken at local Tamil restaurant in MV....

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joan M., a resident of Los Altos,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm

CREDIBILITY? Hopefully those researching California Colleges and Universities will check other descriptions and overviews of them, than John and Lori's.

Their UCLA blog is so biased and trite ("Everyone looks like they would like to be a film major") that I found myself skeptical about other colleges they described that I knew less about. And the statement that Cal and UCLA are no longer part of the UC system theoretically is only a bit less silly than that Davis, Santa Barbara and IRVINE are now the leaders! Come on!

We have a grand daughter who is a junior at UCLA and I can't wait to show the blog to her! Go Bruins Go Bears!

 +  Like this comment
Posted by IT, a resident of another community,
on Aug 28, 2014 at 9:23 am

Really quite a superficial description of major universities. I work in higher ed; have personal experience at Berkeley, UCSD, MIT, and USC. I would agree that Berkeley and UCLA are still the UC flagships, for their substantial world-class research, with UCSD very close to them (UCSD is so heavily STEM-oriented). The undergrad experience will be different there than at the next tier UC schools.

You make USC sound like its old stereotype. Yes, the film school is impressive. Yes, the old rule was USC if you wanted to go to professional schools. But this isn't the old USC, and there's a lot more to it than sororities and fraternities (the majority of 'SC students are not members). There have been significant investments in numerous programs, particularly in the life sciences and in state of art research, that have pushed USC into top ranks. All this and a top music program too. This is a competitive R1 research university, not a film school.

As for LA football? Well, it's a fine thing when there is a good rivalry. That's what college ball should be about. But my heart lies in Memorial Stadium. Go Bears.....

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mudd, a resident of another community,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

To How About Scripps: I too am a Scripps grad, and I agree that it is worth taking a good look at all the colleges in the Claremont consortium. But I wanted to update her view of Harvey Mudd since the days her husband attended. I remember Mudd back in the day - some very hyper-competitive, egotistical (mostly) men who would inflict terrible physical pranks on each other while killing themselves with their heavy classwork. But a lot has changed since then. My daughter, who first looked at CalTech and MIT, chose to apply Early Decision to Mudd, because she felt like it was the most welcoming and collaborative of the STEM colleges. She is now a Senior there, and has absolutely no regrets. While the course load is still crushing, the college maintains a supportive atmosphere where the idea is "nobody can do all this on their own". After seeing her accomplishments and those of her friends, the opportunities given to her and her exploration of the non-STEM humanities at the other Claremont schools, I cannot imagine her finding a better education elsewhere.

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Posted by Mudder, a resident of another community,
on Apr 24, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Sorry, I know that I am late to this blog, but I'd like to contribute. I'm a graduate from Harvey Mudd College (HMC). My parents thought that I made a mistake going to an unknown school like Mudd (this was before the Internet and all these rankings by various entities that came out in the 1980's). After my freshman year, out of the blue, they received an invitation to a party/screening for the latest James Bond movie (Roger Moore at the time) from the College. Turns out the producer is a Mudd Engineering graduate. My parents never bothered me about my decision to attend Mudd again after that, LOL. Since then, I have personally received an invite to at least one party/screening for each different Bond (the last one I attended was the "Spectre" party/screening, held at the Sony Picture Studios). Of course, since I paid for my schooling with my stock market gains during the roaring '80s, my parents didn't really have a say in whatever schools I wanted to attend.

During my time, Mudders were required to minor in a Humanities field - so I took classes at all of the other Claremont Colleges including the grad school. Some other interesting graduation requirements - we had to pass a swim test (basically, the Lifeguard test: 4laps free style, 2laps back stroke, 2laps side stroke, 20 minutes treading water, and style judged by the swim coach) and a cardio test (1mile/6min running or 4miles/1hr walking) as well as elective PE courses.

Mudd is also known as the "Prep school for Grad school", so even though courses are graded on a curve (and all my classmates were brilliant and competitive) deflating GPAs, it was easy to get into grad school even with low grades; I got into UC Berkeley with my D's from Mudd, but got A+'s in grad school (and I took the courses P/F in order to concentrate on my research, so I wasn't even trying - I only did enough in the courses to Pass; when I filed for candidacy, they wouldn't let me graduate because I didn't take enough graded courses, so I petitioned to get my P/F courses changed to whatever equivalent grade I earned and that is when my profs said they were surprised I had taken the courses P/F even though I did really well in class and they quickly changed my P's into A's). Yeah, grad school was so much less stressful than Mudd. I also modeled my grad school research after my Mudd Engineering Clinic project experience, which lessened my stress level even more. So, bottom line, you will work very hard at Mudd, but you will reap the rewards of that hard work afterwards in grad school and/or in your professional life.

Funny anecdote regarding Berkeley - a coworker also graduated from Berkeley and his wife was my 7th grade math teacher who also graduated from Berkeley. Turns out, I had the same profs they had when they went there and we had interesting stories to share.

Side note - Pomona College is tied to the Disney family (family members went there and contribute lots of money to the school) and Kris Kristofferson graduated from Pomona and was a Rhode Scholar. Pomona is also known as the school to attend if you want to go to Med school. My HS classmate went to Pomona for pre-Med and became a doctor in Pittsburgh, PA. Another friend who graduated two years earlier than me from HS went to Pomona for physics, but she always hung around HMC with the Mudd physicists and checked in on me from time to time, to make sure I was doing OK.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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