Math 55: Rite of Passage for Dept.'s Elite Intimidates Many

High dropout rate reflects difficulty, workload in famous course

Students in Math 55 acquire that experience ina variety of ways.

Jaron M. Abbott '02, who is currently in theclass, says he read a lot of mathematics books inthe high school and came to Harvard withessentially the equivalent of an undergraduatemath education at a typical college.

Abbott says he finds the class enjoyable andappreciates the challenge.

"I can get excited about math and stay up allnight to do it," he says. "Math 55 forces you todo that. It's about as challenging as you'll get.

He adds," It's a little beyond my comfortlevel, but that's good. It's the way you learn."


Some of the class's current students attendedsummer programs, where they met other people whoshare a passion for math.

David E. Speyer '02, a student in Math 55,attended the Math Olympiad Program during hissummers in high school. Speyer says he finds thework manageable as long as he works hard andspends time on the homework.

"The whole reason [the problem sets] are hardis that you have to work stuff out for yourself,"he says. "Some new theories are not taught inclass, and you have to work through them to makethem understandable. It's a lot, it takes time,and it's hard, but it's interesting, and that'swhat makes it worth doing," Speyer says.

After computing the homework score for hiscurrent students, he say that the lowest score wasabout 72 percent, with most scores in the 80s and90s.

"Although the problem sets are difficult, weseem to have a very cooperative crowd this year,who work maybe 15 to 20 hours [on each set],"Etingof says. "People are doing much better thisyear. On average, we have stronger students."CrimsonAlexander B. G. Sevy