The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the California Institute of Technology

Known for its incredibly strong science and engineering programs, the California Institute of Technology is recognized worldwide as one of the top universities in the nation. Caltech boasts prestigious academic programs, renowned faculty, and a strong emphasis on research. Every year, these qualities, among others, draw thousands of applicants to the school.

 

Located in Pasadena, California, Caltech provides students with strong academic offerings and incredible research opportunities. Caltech prides itself on its emphasis on undergraduate teaching, and has one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in the country. Approximately 300 faculty members teach 1,000 undergraduate and 1,250 graduate students. The Caltech faculty members are leaders in their fields, and among them are 34 Nobel Prize winners.

  

Are you interested in applying to Caltech? In this post, we’ll walk you through the Caltech application and provide you with the tips, tricks, and insights you need to make your application to Caltech stand out.

 

Average Stats of Accepted Caltech Students

 

Caltech is a highly selective school when it comes to admissions. In the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, Caltech received over 8,300 applications. It accepted approximately 6% of those applications, and 236 students ultimately enrolled. 22% of enrolled students came from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds and 10% were international students. 

 

When it comes to the SAT, the middle 50% range for Caltech is 1530-1570. The middle 50% for ACT scores is 35-36. In the past, the school required students to take subject tests in math and science, but will not have this policy going forward. In fact, the application will be completely test-blind – for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 application cycles, the school’s admissions committee will neither require nor consider SAT and ACT test scores.

 

Caltech doesn’t release GPA averages, but 99% of the members of the Caltech Class of 2019 graduated in the top tenth of their class, and all graduated in the top quarter of their class. If you don’t know your GPA, you can find it using our free GPA calculator.

 

Because the school is so selective, having these stats won’t guarantee you a spot. But, they should at least get your application read. On the contrary, not having these stats may automatically disqualify you, unless you’re an under-represented minority, legacy, or recruited athlete. This is because many selective schools use the Academic Index as a screening tool.

 

Caltech Application Process

 

Application Overview

 

Caltech offers two programs under which you can apply: Early Action and Regular Decision. Caltech’s Early Action program is not binding, meaning that if you are admitted under Early Action, you are permitted to apply to other and consider other schools. 

 

Caltech accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. Applicants must also submit a $75 application fee or a fee waiver

 

In terms of coursework, Caltech has high expectations for its incoming class. The school requires students to take the most rigorous English coursework offered by the school. Domestic applicants must take at least one course in U.S. history/government. For math, the school expects to see coursework at least through calculus, and strongly recommends students take it at the IB HL or AP level. 

 

For science, the admissions committee expects applicants to complete at least one year of physics and one year of chemistry, preferably taken at the highest levels offered by the school. Although biology is not explicitly required, it is recommended that you indicate your preparedness for the subject through other courses. If your school offers a calculus-based science class, Caltech would like to see that you took advantage of this opportunity. 

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Application Components

 

Beyond this, Caltech requires the following:

 

  • 2 teacher evaluations
  • Supplemental essays
  • The secondary school report
  • Academic transcripts

 

Let’s delve a bit more into letters of recommendation and supplemental essays.

 

Teacher Evaluations

 

Applicants must submit one evaluation from a math or science teacher and one evaluation from a humanities or social sciences teacher. These should focus on your academic performance. You also may submit up to two additional recommendations from other individuals, such as an extracurricular mentor or work supervisor, who can add another, non-academic dimension to your application. 

 

Supplemental Essays

 

Prompt 1: Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. Use the separate spaces provided below, one for each STEM experience and/or activity. (10-120 words each)

 

This essay functions as a set of three mini-essays, and should be ordered based on overall significance/priority. Because the word count is limited, your descriptions should be direct and carefully thought out to maximize space. You don’t need to mention how you developed your passion since you won’t have room, and there’s no need to transition between activities because Caltech made three different text boxes to keep your responses separated. Remember to clarify acronyms and use accessible terms.

 

 

Prompt 2: Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a “Techer” relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (250-400)

 

This prompt focuses on collaboration and also contains a bit of a “Why Caltech?” element. Feel free to briefly touch on past collaborative experiences, but focus on your takeaways, what you learned, and which collaborative skills you’ll bring to the Caltech campus. You can also mention your interests within STEM by mentioning specific opportunities you’ve had, or you can also mention whether you’d like to start a new club – just remember to be specific and focus on collaboration within your descriptions. 

 

Prompt 3: Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (250-400)

 

In this prompt, applicants can explore their quirky side by writing about unique hobbies or elements of their personality. Try not to discuss cliched activities like watching Netflix unless you can spin them in a unique way, such as mentioning how you love doing impressions of your favorite stand-up comedian special. When thinking of unusual activities to include, we advise applicants to be careful with contentious topics like politics. If you engage in (tasteful) pranks, this is a great thing to touch on as prank wars are common within Caltech’s campus culture.

 

Prompt 4: The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community? (250-400)

 

Here, Caltech asks you to address your own background and demonstrate that your contributions in high school will continue once you attend college. Discuss how you will enhance Caltech’s diversity of thought through how you generate ideas, analyze problems, or approach academic challenges.

 

With these four prompts, there’s a lot more to cover when it comes to writing the best essays possible for Caltech. Head over to our blog and check out our post on How to Write the Caltech Application Essays 2020-2021. In this post, we walk you through how to answer each prompt, so if you’re applying to Caltech, be sure to check it out!

 

Already have drafts of your essays? You can get free essay feedback from other students using our Peer Essay Review tool.

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

The deadline to apply to Caltech under Early Action is November 1st, and applicants will receive their decision in mid-December. Early applicants may be accepted, rejected, or deferred to the waiting list. The deadline to apply under Regular Decision is January 3rd and applicants will receive their decision in mid-March. 

 

Caltech Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

Caltech’s tuition costs $54,570 per year, and the total estimated cost of attendance is $77,718. The school is need-blind, meaning your ability to pay tuition will not impact your chances of acceptance.

 

Caltech also meets 100% of demonstrated financial need, and eligible applicants will receive a combination of grants, loans, and work-study to cover their costs. In terms of scholarships, the school has a host of outside scholarships available for prospective and current students to apply to. 

 

Caltech hasn’t released the most updated number, but in 2019, the estimated cost based on family income went as follows:

 

Family Income Average Net Price
$0-$30,000 $3,544
$30,001-$48,000 $5,652
$48,001-$75,000 $6,781
$75,001-$110,000 $20,077
$110,000+ $42,977

 

For even more information about the price of attending Caltech, check out our blog article What Does it Really Cost to Attend California Institute of Technology?. Here, we provide a comprehensive look into the costs of going to this university. 

 

How to Apply for Financial Aid

 

Caltech has financial aid forms available on its website. Students applying Early Decision need to submit a FAFSA by November 30th, and a CSS profile and IDOC documents by January 6th. Regular Decision applicants need to submit their FAFSA by March 2nd, and a CSS profile and IDOC documents by March 16th. 

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

If you’d like to know your personal odds of acceptance based on your current profile, check out our free chancing engine! It can help paint a more accurate picture of your chances based on academics, extracurriculars, and demographics and will let you know how to improve your profile.

 

To learn more about Caltech, such as diversity stats, majors, and how long your app should take, check out our Caltech school profile page.

 

That’s all for our ultimate guide to Caltech – if you’re applying this admissions cycle, we wish you the best of luck!


Short Bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.

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