Claremont McKenna College
BackgroundInterview Date:December 2018
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Straight
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Private Catholic school in Oakland, CA with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I play bass in a band on campus and I sing in an acapella group.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Those have both been an incredible part of my experience. It’s really important to do things that you care about and love that take your mind off of school or that you really feel invested in. I love things that take pure focus, and doing those activities I really feel that, so it’s a really refreshing part of my week.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
The Physics department is actually getting revamped in the next few years because Claremont McKenna is leaving a joint program and will create their own Physics program. My program has been mostly problem sets, lectures, going to office hours and working with the professor and other students if you don’t have a grip of what’s going on in the problem sets, and exams. We have very few labs.
Is there anything you feel the Physics department does especially well or poorly?
I think there is a lot of variety in the quality of professors. Some professors are amazing. You go to every lecture feeling like you’ve learned something and you feel super engaged with the material. As a person who thinks the concepts of physics are really cool, walking away from a class feeling like you have a better grip on those concepts is an amazing feeling. But, physics is a pretty convoluted topic and some professors are not as good at getting concepts across so you leave feeling confused. Given the size of the department, you always have space to ask questions and the professors always give time for those questions, so that is also something they do particularly well.
How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
This might be me because I’m not a very competitive person, but I don’t feel much competition, if any, amongst my fellow students. There’s very little comparison or jealousy or anything like that among the students, and something that really helps with that is no classes are graded on a curve. Everybody in the class can get an A if they excel. Also, the students are really nice and people support each other.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
There are two that come to mind: Statistical Dynamics and Modern Physics, which is kind of like an introduction to quantum physics. Both of those classes were taught by incredible professors so that really helps.
What has been your least favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
Classical Mechanics, which is with a professor who is a little more confusing.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose Physics because I like things that are counterintuitive and difficult to understand, and physics is full of that, especially when you get to the quantum realm. The ideas that happen are strange but also real. It’s hard to imagine the things that we learn in class being how the world works. In a lot of ways, I am happy with my decision because I still have a lot of interest in the subject material.
But, there are a couple of reasons that I’m not because Physics can feel like a grind when you have a bunch of problem sets due and you’re just doing a lot of problems, and that can be a little bit overwhelming. The other reason I’m not happy is the Physics department doesn’t have as consistently good professors as other departments do at this school. A higher percentage of them aren’t as connected with the environment here or the material that they teach.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived during college?
Freshman: Phillips Hall in Mid Quad with one roommate.
Sophomore: I took a semester off to play music in a band from home and then I lived in Claremont Hall with one roommate.
Junior: Phillips Hall with one roommate.
Senior: Senior apartments, which is apartment-style living that’s slightly removed from campus but still on campus, and I have one roommate.
What was your favorite living situation?
Freshman year and senior year. Freshman year was really exciting to come in and be in the dorms because that’s an easy way to meet people and there was a really good community my freshman year in that dorm. Our dorms aren’t divided by class, so I was able to hang out with upperclassmen and learn about how to navigate CMC and which classes are good and bad. Now in senior year, I’m not as interested in meeting new people or being on campus, so having a little bit of space and having my own kitchen has been cool.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I feel extremely safe walking around campus. Close to campus I also feel safe. It’s important to note that I’m large and, in general, don’t experience much fear when it comes to physical threats when I’m walking around.
What is your favorite off-campus restaurant?
Sanamluang Cuisine for Thai food. It’s really good.
What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
Mount Baldy is a mountain that’s a couple of miles north. It’s a 10-minute car ride and you’re out in nature, which is really cool. The campus is small and you run into a lot of people you know, which can be cool, but sometimes you want some more space. That’s especially how I’ve been feeling recently, so the fact that the mountains are so close that you can go spend some time outdoors is awesome.
What are the pros and cons of being located in Claremont, CA?
1) California. I’m from California and I like California. I think it’s really cool for a lot of reason. The weather is pretty unbeatable, it can get a little hot, but it’s pretty amazing.
2) The proximity to L.A. Now that I’m older and I’ve done all the on-campus activities, being able to go to L.A. and go to concerts, football games, or whatever is really nice.
1) L.A. can be pretty far. Depending on where you’re going in L.A., it can take 40-minutes to an hour and a half to get there with minimal traffic. If you don’t have the whole day or whole afternoon to go do something, you can’t do it.
2) This might be more of a campus culture vibe, but the school can feel really small. That’s partially about being in Claremont, California and partially about being at school, but I tie those two things together.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Claremont McKenna?
There are a lot of school-sponsored events at CMC and the other colleges, and a lot of people go to them. I usually hang out with some friends beforehand and then go to one of the school events or meet up some friends and have a smaller thing ourselves. A special thing about the Claremont Colleges is they actually host events for students, so that’s pretty much the extent of my nightlife.
What nights of the week do you regularly go out?
Now, just Saturday. Freshman year it was more Thursday and Saturday.
Can you describe a typical night going out freshman year when you weren’t as socially established?
It would usually start with small parties in people’s dorms, or, if you’re having a dorm event, there might be a party in the dorm lounge. There also might be people hosting stuff in their rooms which are larger than the party you started out at but smaller than a big party, so you’d go there for a little bit and meet up with more friends and then go to the school-sponsored event. Then when you feel like you’re ready to go, you’d head out to one of the events thrown by the school. Usually, it’s a CMC event, but sometimes they are thrown by a different school. There’s usually something school-sponsored going on Saturday night.
Do freshman boys have trouble getting into parties?
No, there’s very little exclusivity.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Claremont McKenna? Is there anything you would change about it if you could?
I went through a very cynical phase where I thought it was really lame, but the more I think of it compared to what I’ve heard about other colleges, it seems pretty good. It’s super inclusive and there’s no sort of vibe where people aren’t welcome or think they’re cooler than others. It’s just about having a good time with your friends and that’s wonderful. Something that is a little weird is because of how small the colleges are there is very little anonymity. If you’re going to a party, expect to know a bunch of people there. That can be good and also kind of weird because maybe you feel pressure to say hi to somebody when you’d rather hang out with your crew. It can be annoying how frequently you see people you know out.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Through classes and activities mainly. Part of the way through freshman year is when some of the meaningful relationships come in because you can meet people through your orientation group and oftentimes those friendships dwindle out, and you make some friends after doing some social exploring.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
There are a lot of school-sponsored events. Just by virtue of there not being that much to do in Claremont besides be on campus and go to a party, I at times get frustrated because that can feel like the only thing to do, which isn’t always what I want to do. When I was an underclassman, I loved that because it was so easy to meet new people and branch out and I felt really included. More recently, I’ve been getting a bit tired because it’s mostly the same events that get thrown every year and this is my fourth round for a lot of these events and they aren’t as exciting.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think to a good degree. There are always going to be groups of people of the same race and sexual orientation because there are clubs for different types of people and they have a lot of shared experiences. I have noticed groups of people with the same identifiers, but I also have friends of different identifiers than I am.
To what extent do you mix with students from the other Claremont Colleges?
A good amount. The campuses are all open and very connected, so you keep walking and walking and you’re on a different campus. The proximity is very close. Also, people take classes at the other colleges so a lot of your classes will have students from the other colleges in the class. Also, a lot of the clubs and organizations include people from the other colleges. For example, four of the seventeen people in my acapella group are CMC students and I’m the only CMC student in my band.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Claremont McKenna by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Claremont McKenna?
I think it depends. A lot of people really do. CMC is an incredible school if your goals are oriented with the goals that CMC can help you with, and I think most student’s goals are oriented that way. CMC is very pre-professional, so if you’re trying to enter business or finance we have an incredible network for helping you land jobs with the alumni network. For people like me who don’t want to go into the business world and affiliate more with art, CMC has been supportive but that’s definitely not the main track that CMC is best with helping with. [The top three most frequent employers at CMC are Accenture, Ernst & Young, and Goldman Sachs. The two largest interest sectors are Accounting & Financial Services and Consulting.]
Having the 5C resources as a CMC student has been instrumental in making me feel satisfied with my education, especially with regards to art classes. Art classes are extremely limited at CMC, so being able to take classes at Pomona where they have a music program and have more art classes has been a necessary part of my experience here.
Another thing is that socially people get tired of the party culture. That’s not to say that we can’t think back on really fun social experiences and don’t have friends that we really care about. The nature of this place is that people meet people who they really enjoy spending time with.
How strong is the musical performance community on campus?
It’s decent. CMC is very removed from that. Pomona specifically has a good live music scene. There are people there who do professional level shows in L.A. and there are people that just play on campus. My band has played twice off campus in the Claremont Village area that’s close to campus. Students are really supportive of their friends and, especially if you have an act that is good and has some clout, people will show up and support. In terms of finding players to play with, I’ve been really satisfied with the level of players that I get to play with and their dedication to music.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I have not used the career office.
Have you learned any computer programs or computer languages that have been or will be helpful professionally?
I’m taking a Computer Science course at Harvey Mudd College that’s been really great. One of the best professors across all of the 5C’s teaches Introduction to Computer Science and I’m learning Python right now in that class.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Claremont McKenna before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew how pre-professional the school is. You might hear that stereotype about CMC coming in, and I wasn’t that aware of it coming in, but CMC has the stereotype of being focused on consulting and finance and those sorts of things. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who come here not really knowing what they want to do have ended up doing consulting, and that’s just a nod to the pre-professional vibe of this space.
What’s something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The other colleges. I think it’s important to get a vibe for the 5C community because that’s just as instrumental of a part of the CMC community as CMC is.
Reasons to attend Claremont McKenna:
1) It’s a small school and all the things that come along with that. You get close access to your professors and can build relationships with them. If you want to take that initiative, that’s there. You also get to meet people really easily. If you meet somebody, you’re definitely going to see them again pretty quickly because the campus is so small.
2) The 5C community. We have very diverse schools with diverse student populations in terms of interests and what they want out of their college experience. If you don’t find yourself meshing with CMC, it’s easy to go to another campus and experience their social life and their academics.
3) California is sick. That comes with the weather, the mountains, and the beaches. We get to experience the natural elements at CMC.
4) It’s close to Los Angeles and there are a lot of events going there.
5) If you’re looking to go into business, there are a lot of resources for you.
Reasons to not attend Claremont McKenna:
1) If you’re looking for a larger campus with more diverse on-campus activities. Although you can go to the different schools, the activities can seem pretty homogenous and you can get tired of them pretty easily.
2) Make sure to look into the quality of different programs. I’m somewhat dissatisfied with my Physics major as a student and I don’t feel like we have as many resources in this program as other programs, and that can be frustrating. [In the Class of 2017, some of the most popular majors were Economics, Economics-Accounting, and Mathematics.]
3) The campus is really small. It can feel restrictive because there’s no anonymity. Expect to be seen by people you know pretty much everywhere you go. It can feel like there’s very little space for yourself on campus. [There are about 1,300 students.]
4) The level of socioeconomic diversity is pretty poor. People here, in general, are pretty wealthy and that can be striking to me because people who don’t come from that level of privilege can feel like they don’t fit in as well. Not being able to afford something your friends are going can be sad. [Socioeconomically, 20% of students come from the top 1%.]