Math 55 is the toughest math class at Harvard, often referred to as the “math class from hell.” It’s legendary for its workload and monstrously difficult curriculum. A semester-long course, it’s designed for advanced math students looking for a challenge. But there’s even more to the story than meets the eye. Here are some insane facts about this math course from heaven—or hell, depending on who you ask.
History of Math 55
Math 55 first began in 1954 when Professor George Lepape at Harvard noticed a need for tougher math coursework. It’s since gone through revisions and is now taught by world-renowned mathematician and Fields Medal winner, Richard A. Tapia.
Coursework and Requirements
Math 55 is a semester-long course that requires incredible dedication. It begins with the study of advanced calculus and its applications, and then dives deeply into real and complex variables. The course is broken up into weekly problem sets, exam reviews, and lectures. Students must submit nearly 40 problem sets and take two midterm exams—in addition to a final exam.
Famous Math 55 Alumni
Math 55 carries a prestigious alumni list full of some of the world’s most accomplished people. Some of the famous names are Bill Gates, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ruth Lawrence. Even those famous faces found the course incredibly difficult—with Ruth Lawrence claiming that Math 55 was “the toughest course I have ever taken.”
In the past, the class has been taught by famous mathematicians such as Edward Witten, William Thurston, and John Ford. Currently, world-renowned professor Richard Tapia oversees the course to ensure it remains as difficult as ever.
Reasons for Difficulty
Math 55 is considered to be one of the most difficult undergraduate math classes in America for good reason. The creative problem solving required to pass weekly problem sets, the sheer volume of work, and the intense level difficulty of each problem make it a challenge to complete.
The Math 55 syllabus contains unit topics that range from fields such as linear algebra and differential equations. Other topics accurately capture the course’s unique difficulty and complexities, including topics in Galois Theory and Numerical Analysis.
Unlike other Harvard classes, Math 55 commonly hosts smaller class sizes, ranging anywhere between 10 and 30 students. This small size allows for detailed discussion of complex mathematical concepts and individual attention for Instructors.
Getting admitted into Harvard Math 55 is no easy task. Before being considered, potential students must pass a variety of rigorous exams and have a heavy academic background in mathematics.
Despite its stellar faculty and relatively small class size, Math 55 does not have generous passing rates. It’s a grueling course and it often takes rigorous studying and an immense amount of dedication to earn a passing grade. With that being said, passing rates from the past decade have held steady at around 70%, while average grades have been predominantly A’s and B’s.
Famous Math 55 Legends
Math 55 has spawned many tales of admiration and dread that live on to this day. The most well-known legend is of junior Robert Garfield, who reportedly solved 47 problems in with a single all-nighter. Other feats include Professor Ralph Battelle, who gave exams without any calculators and without any mercy, and mathematician Victor Kac who wrote part of his novel while in the classroom.
Life After Math 55
Undertaking and passing Math 55 is often seen as a feat that requires incredible strength, determination, and focus, which pays off for the brave students who survive the course. After Math 55, students feel more prepared for higher-level math, problem solving, and coursework.
Math 55 is a notorious math class that is known for its intense workload and difficult curriculum. From its history to its faculty and alumni, there are many curious facts about this course that all math enthusiasts should know. It’s a course that earns the respect of even the most seasoned undergraduate mathematicians, and its challenging curriculum ensures that only the most dedicated and determined will survive its course!