Caltech vs. MIT: Which College is Right for You?

Rivals on opposite coasts, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are STEM-focused institutions of higher learning, and two of the most selective and prestigious colleges in the country — and the world.

 

If you’re deciding between MIT vs. Caltech, the choice isn’t easy. In this post, we’ll go over their similarities and differences, to help you make the best decision for you.

 

Learn more about MIT and Caltech and see your chances of being accepted.

 

Caltech vs. MIT: A Quick Overview

  Caltech MIT
Location Pasadena Cambridge, MA
Campus Type Urban Urban
Undergraduate Enrollment 938 4,600
Acceptance Rate 6% 7.3%
U.S. News Ranking 9 4
Middle 50% SAT 1530-1560 1520-1580
Middle 50% ACT 35-36 35-36
Sticker Price $77,718 $73,160
Need-blind, no-loan, or meets 100% demonstrated need? Need-blind

Meets 100% of demonstrated need

Need-blind

No-loan for families with income < $90,000

Meets 100% of demonstrated need

 

MIT vs. Caltech: A Closer Look

 

Location and Weather 

 

MIT is located in Cambridge, a city in its own right just north of Boston. You’ll find plenty to do in Cambridge itself, such as exploring the shops at Harvard Square. Or, you can take the short T ride to Boston across Charles River. If you appreciate experiencing all four seasons, this is the place to be. Cambridge is in New England, and winters can be bitterly cold, while summers are hot.

 

All the way on the other side of the country, Caltech’s Pasadena is northeast of Los Angeles. You’ll hear plenty of arguments about whether it’s actually considered a suburb of LA, considering everything you can find in the city itself, including the Ice Skating Center, the Tea Rose Garden, and the famed Rose Bowl, one of the most well-known sports arenas. If you prefer warmer temperatures, you’ll love it in Pasadena: highs rarely go below the upper 60s in the winter and can reach the upper 80s/low 90s in the summer.

 

Size

 

Caltech is significantly smaller than MIT, with fewer than 1,000 undergraduates to MIT’s 4,600. However, the classes are similar sizes; the student to faculty ratios are both 3:1, and the percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students is around 70% at each school. 

 

Academics

 

Caltech and MIT are best known for their technology and engineering programs, each exclusively granting Bachelor of Science and graduate degrees. 

 

MIT students may declare majors in one of the following schools: 

 

  • School of Architecture and Planning
  • School of Engineering
  • School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
  • MIT Sloan School of Management
  • School of Science

 

Along with majors like biological engineering, computer science, and physics, MIT also offers programs in areas outside of STEM — Ancient and Medieval Studies, Writing, Literature, and Music, to name a few. In certain cases, students may also design their own courses of study. General requirements include:

 

  • 6 total science subject, including Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Biology
  • 8 total Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) subjects
  • 2 total Restricted Electives in Science and Technology (REST)

 

(Keep in mind there are additional major requirements.)

 

At Caltech, students may choose among 28 majors (known as options) over six divisions:

 

  • Division of Biology and Biological Engineering
  • Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
  • Division of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
  • Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy

 

Like at MIT, there are a handful of majors outside of STEM-focused disciplines, such as English, History, and Philosophy, but these options are fewer than those at the Cambridge counterpart. Through the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP) students can create their own curricula, working with faculty advisors. Requirements for all undergraduate students include:

 

  • Freshman Mathematics: 36 units (covering Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra)
  • Freshman Physics: 36 units (yearlong course)
  • Freshman Chemistry: 15 units (classes) and 6 units (lab)
  • Freshman Biology: 9 units
  • Menu Class: 9 units (subjects include Astronomy, Environmental Science and Engineering, Energy Science, Geosciences, Information, and Logic)
  • Additional Introductory Lab: 6 units (multiple options)
  • Scientific Writing: 3 units
  • Humanities and Social Sciences: 36 units in Humanities, 36 units in Social Sciences, and 36 additional units in either
  • Physical Education: 9 units

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Housing 

 

Roughly 73% of MIT undergraduate students live on campus. Others choose to live in sororities, fraternities, and independent living groups.

 

Students who live on campus share their residences with faculty families, who act as heads of house. There are also residential student governments, which facilitate social, athletic, and intellectual programs.

 

The vast majority (approximately 94%) of Caltech students live on campus. The school prioritizes a collaborative environment, in which students may choose among 11 residences, each with its own traditions, with peers from each class year. There are plenty of activities to participate in these residences as well. 

 

As freshmen, students participate in Rotation, in which they get to visit each residence and rank their choices, with most students assigned to one of their first two choices. At the end of the year, they may decide to stay in their current residence or move.

 

Financial aid

 

Caltech and MIT both have substantial sticker prices: $77,718 and $73,160 respectively. However, they are also need-blind and meet 100% of demonstrated need. While neither school offers merit-based scholarships, students can still apply for scholarships from outside organizations.

 

One difference is that MIT is no-loan for families with incomes under $90,000. This means that students won’t receive loans as part of their financial aid packages.

 

Sports and Extracurriculars

 

Both the MIT Engineers and Caltech Orange Beavers play in the NCAA Division III. MIT has 33 varsity teams to Caltech’s 20, and the schools offer club sports, too.

 

Greek life is somewhat prominent at MIT, while Caltech doesn’t have fraternities or sororities. At both schools, however, there are plenty of other activities. Consider Cricket, the Cheese Society, or the FPV Drone Club at Caltech or Solar Electric Vehicle Team, Student Art Association, or Outing Club at MIT, among many others. 

 

Both institutions offer study abroad programs. Caltech has programs at

 

  • Cambridge University
  • Copenhagen University & Danish Technical University
  • École Polytechnique
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University College London
  • University of Melbourne

 

Additionally, students may “study away” at the University of Chicago for one semester in the fall.

 

MIT, meanwhile, offers both exchange and direct enrollment study abroad programs. Via the exchange program, MIT students may study at Imperial College London, ETH Zurich, the University of Tokyo, the University of Oxford, the University of Pretoria, Tokyo Institute of Technology, or Sciences Po. Or, they may directly enroll at:

 

  • London School of Economics
  • University College London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Oxford- Lady Margaret Hall, St. Catz, and St. Peter’s
  • Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
  • DIS Summer in Scandinavia
  • National University of Singapore
  • University of Hong Kong
  • Australian National University
  • University of Auckland
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Sydney

 

Culture and Diversity

 

MIT’s undergraduate makeup from the 2019–2020 academic year was 51% US minority groups. Ten percent of undergraduates come from countries or territories outside of the US. Broken down, this includes:

 

African American 6.2%
American Indian or Alaska Native <1%
Asian American 29.6%
Hispanic 15.4%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander <1%
International 10%

 

Caltech provides the following enrollment statistics:

 

White 27%
Asian 37%
Underrepresented Minority* 23%
International 8%
Two or More Races 5%
Unknown <1%

 

* Underrepresented Minority includes:

  • American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

 

Both Caltech and MIT offer programs and resources for LGBTQ+ students, including dedicated offices, training, events, and more.

 

How to Decide Between Caltech vs. MIT

 

Deciding between two of the most prestigious institutes of technology in the nation is difficult. There are some notable differences between Caltech and MIT, however.

 

For example, the schools are situated on opposite coasts and offer vastly different climates. At MIT, you’ll experience all four seasons, including often brutally cold winters. At Caltech, say hello to sunshine pretty much year-round. Cambridge offers a city feel, too, while Pasadena is more of a suburb.

 

MIT’s undergraduate population is more than four times the size of Caltech’s, too. While it’s not large by any means, it’s sizable compared with its West Coast counterpart. Plus, there are many other colleges nearby, another contrast with Caltech.

 

Finally, the structure of the academic programs is a bit different. While both schools are STEM-focused and do not offer BAs, MIT has a broader range of non-STEM programs. Caltech, in contrast, offers just a handful of non-STEM programs, and in most cases, they’re intended for students who want to apply their skills to multiple areas — for example, science and technology writing. Caltech also has stricter requirements.

 

Ultimately, you’re bound to receive a stellar education at either school, but it’s important to remember that they’re not just carbon copies of one another situated on opposite coasts.

 

MIT and Caltech are both highly prestigious and have extremely low acceptance rates. To find out your chances of admission, check out our chancing engine. Not only will you learn your real odds of acceptance to these and hundreds of other colleges, but you’ll also receive tips on how to improve your college profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.