## The Rise of MIT

I decided to take a closer look at the Putnam Competition. I analyzed the results of the three top contenders for the best Putnam teams: Harvard, MIT, Princeton. I looked at the annual number of Putnam Fellows from each of these three schools starting from 1994.

Year Harvard MIT Princeton
1994 2 0 1
1995 3 0 0
1996 2 0 0
1997 4 0 0
1998 2 0 1
1999 2 1 0
2000 2 2 0
2001 2 1 0
2002 2 2 0
2003 1 2 1
2004 0 3 2
2005 2 3 1
2006 1 3 0
2007 1 2 1
2008 1 3 0
2009 1 2 0

As you may notice MIT couldn’t even generate a Putnam Fellow until 2000, but starting from 2003 MIT consistently had more Putnam Fellows than Harvard or Princeton.

Richard Stanley, the coach of the MIT team, kindly sent me the statistics for the most recent competition, held in 2009.

Category Overall MIT
Number of participants 4036 116
Mean score 9.5 34.7
Median score 2 31
Geometric mean 0 0
Percent of 0 score 43.7 4.3

Furthermore, MIT had 40% in the top 5, 33% in the top 15, 32% in the top 25, and 35% in the top 81. For comparison, in the top 81, MIT had 28 winners — more than the next three schools together: Caltech 11, Harvard 9, Princeton 7.

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### 3 Comments

1. #### misha:

I guess, you train — you gain.

2. #### Klaus Peters:

“As you may notice MIT couldn’t even generate a Putnam Fellow until 2000.” I know that you only cover the period after 1994 but I would like to point out that MIT had a a winner in the December 1961 Putnam Competition (Elwyn Berlekamp) and that there were other strong performers at MIT in that era. I think in those days,
Caltech was stronger and I believe that Richard Stanley, whom you mention, was among the undergraduate Putnam stars then at Caltech.
Given your interest in MIT and its mathematical culture I should like to mention a recently published book, Recountings: Conversations with MIT Mathematicians
by Joel Segel. I hope that being the publisher of that book does not distract from my recommendation ;-).

3. #### renormalize:

The MIT numbers are not as high when you count students who attended high school in the USA. That’s true both in absolute terms and in comparison to Harvard or Caltech. MIT’s Putnam top-5 winners last year both are Chinese with gold medals from the IMO. A lot of the other high scorers on the Putnam are foreign students recruited to US math departments based on having attained IMO gold or silver medals (before applying to college). With this type of admission policy for the foreign students, it’s no surprise that many of them appear on the Putnam lists.