How to Get Into Caltech: Admissions Stats + Tips
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- How Hard Is It To Get Into Caltech?
- Average Academic Profile of Accepted Caltech Students
- What Is Caltech Looking For?
- How To Improve Your Chances of Getting Into Caltech
Founded in 1891, Pasadena, California’s California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a premier university specializing in science and engineering. Caltech has produced numerous leaders in their fields, including Nobel laureates.
Caltech is enormously selective, and students flock from all over the world to attend the renowned university.
How Hard Is It to Get Into Caltech?
According to the Common Data Set, for the 2020–21 academic year, 6.7% of applicants were admitted, with 8,007 students applying and 536 accepted. Ultimately, 225 students enrolled.
This may feel intimidating, but remember that your personal chances of admission depend on your unique factors and statistics. To learn more about your odds of acceptance to Caltech, use our admissions calculator. This free tool uses your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to estimate your chances and offer tips on how to improve your profile.
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Caltech Students
As of June 2020, Caltech announced a moratorium on requiring and considering the SAT and ACT in the admissions process. This applies to first-year students applying for admission in Fall 2021, Fall 2022, and Fall 2023.
Caltech does, however, provide statistics on standardized tests for previous admissions cycles. According to the CDS, 45% of admitted students (101 people) submitted SAT scores, and 34% (77 people) submitted ACT scores.
The middle 50% SAT range was 1510–1570, and the middle 50% ACT range was 35–36.
Caltech reports that of those submitting class rank, 96% were in the top 10% of their graduating class and 100% were in the top 25% of their graduating class.
What is Caltech Looking for?
Caltech does look for students with excellent academic credentials. But it’s about far more than grades. The university seeks out extensive STEM experience, along with more unique and quirky interests.
The school also prioritizes a collaborative spirit. Just consider one of its essay prompts:
Tell us about how you have collaborated with and worked together within a small group of your peers on some task or endeavor in the past, or about how you imagine you will work with your Caltech peers in the future.
Don’t forget that Caltech also wants to hear your unique story.
How Caltech Evaluates Applications
According to their 2020-2021 Common Data Set, Caltech considers the following factors “very important”:
- Rigor of secondary school record
- Standardized test scores (not considered in 2021, 2022, and 2023)
- Application Essay
- Character/personal qualities
The following factors are “important”:
- Class rank
- Academic GPA
- Extracurricular activities
These are “considered”:
- First generation
- Racial/ethnic status
- Volunteer work
- Work experience
These factors are “not considered”:
- Alumni/ae relation
- Geographical residence
- State residency
- Religious affiliation/commitment
- Level of applicant’s interest
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Caltech
1. Achieve a high GPA while taking the most challenging classes available
Because Caltech is extremely selective, it’s imperative for your academic credentials to be strong. Like other colleges of its caliber, the university uses the Academic Index to filter out candidates. That means that they will only look at the more qualitative aspects of your application if you meet their minimum academic threshold.
And it’s not just about the number values. Caltech also wants to see students taking a challenging curriculum. That means plenty of honors and AP/IB courses, particularly in your area of specialization.
If your GPA is lower, and you’re earlier on in your high school career, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA.
2. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”)
Caltech evaluates activities based on 4 Tiers of Extracurriculars, with Tier 1 indicating activities that are highly specialized and exceptional and Tier 4 indicating activities that are commonly found on students’ applications. (Check out these impressive ECs for college.)
It’s best to have one or two well-developed interests, as opposed to a plethora of interests and smattering of different activities. Instead, try to cultivate your passions and show at least a couple Tier 1-2 activities, such as placing in a national science competition or publishing research as a high school student.
3. Have a strong math and science background
Although the school has many choices of programs, Caltech is primarily a STEM institution. Regardless of your major, you will graduate with a Bachelor of Science.
That means you need to demonstrate a strong math and science background. Take challenging courses in subjects like Calculus, Statistics, Chemistry, Computer Science, and so on — depending on what’s available to you — and show preparation in other ways, such as through extracurricular activities in these areas.
4. Write engaging essays
Most students who apply to Caltech have strong academic credentials. To set yourself apart, you need to show skills in qualitative aspects of your application, too. Essays are one way to do this.
This year, Caltech has the following prompts:
- Tell us about a time or experience in which you encountered failure.
- Tell us about a life situation, media story, or topic – beyond or outside of a classroom or formal assignment – that has captivated you, inspired your curiosity, and led you to delve more deeply into learning about a subject on your own.
- Tell us about how you have collaborated with and worked together within a small group of your peers on some task or endeavor in the past, or about how you imagine you will work with your Caltech peers in the future.
These essays are opportunities to demonstrate your own voice and personality, giving the adcom insight into who you really are and what you value. See our advice for writing the Caltech essays in the 2021–22 year.
5. Apply Early Action/Early Decision
Caltech offers a non-binding, non-restrictive Early Action plan, meaning you can apply earlier than Regular Decision and not be required to attend the university if accepted and can also apply to other schools EA.
While Caltech doesn’t publish its EA acceptance rate, students usually have a slight advantage applying under this plan at other schools, although not as much as they do with an Early Decision plan. Given that EA is neither binding nor restrictive, there are few downsides to choosing this plan.
6. Develop relationships with teachers and secure strong recommendations
Caltech considers teacher recommendations “very important.” That means you should be working on cultivating relationships with your teachers early on in your academic career, although usually, you’ll want to ask those who taught you later in high school. You’ll also want to spend some time considering who really knows you the best and can attest to your character, as well as your academic abilities.
Note that Caltech requires two letters of evaluation, including one from a math or science teacher and one from a humanities or social sciences teacher. Get some tips on how to ask for recommendations.
How to Apply to Caltech
- Common Application or Coalition Application with Supplemental Application Essays
- Standardized test scores (waived during the three-year moratorium)
- Two teacher evaluations
- Secondary School Report
- Academic transcripts
- $75 application fee or fee waiver
Learn more about Caltech
Want to find out more about Caltech? Check out these resources: