What is Caltech Known For?

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The prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has many claims to fame. For one, 58 faculty and alumni have received a National Medal of Science. The university also currently has seven Nobel laureates in residence. Plus, Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

 

What else is this world-renowned STEM-focused institution known for? Keep reading to find out!

 

Overview of Caltech Admissions

 

Location: Pasadena, California

Undergrad Enrollment: 900

Acceptance Rate: 6.4%

Middle 50% SAT: 1530-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 35-36

 

Caltech is consistently ranked in the top 10 national universities. Fittingly so, the admissions committee looks for exemplary academic credentials, such high grades and test scores. That said, the student body is also known for being unapologetically quirky. Along with extensive STEM experience, an ideal Caltech candidate should have unique interests and qualities. 

 

Unique Aspects of Caltech

 

Academics

 

Caltech is divided into six divisions:

 

  • Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE)
  • Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE)
  • Engineering and Applied Science (EAS)
  • Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS)
  • Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS)
  • Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA)

 

While computer science is the most popular major, the university offers 28 majors, including bioengineering, astrophysics, geobiology, materials science, and mathematics. In addition to STEM majors, students may also choose programs in English, history, and political science, although HSS programs often use a scientific lens. Students may minor in topics like aerospace, computer science, philosophy, and structural mechanics.

 

In collaboration with faculty advisors, students may also create personalized curriculum as part of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP).

 

Caltech is very research-focused, with 90% of undergraduates participating in opportunities like the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), Amgen Scholars, and many others, in which students conduct research under the guidance of faculty and graduate mentors. Caltech also participates in JPL’s Higher Education Group, which provides programs and research opportunities focused on the NASA mission.

 

Caltech collaborates with other colleges on programs and opportunities. For example, the institution offers an exchange program with the University of Chicago during fall terms.

 

Meanwhile, the 3/2 program enables students at the liberal arts colleges listed below to apply for transfer to Caltech after their junior year. Students will spend an additional two years at Caltech and earn a bachelor of science from Caltech, along with a bachelor’s degree from their home institution. The participating colleges are:

 

  • Bowdoin College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Grinnell College
  • Haverford College
  • Mt. Holyoke College
  • Oberlin College
  • Occidental College
  • Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Pomona College
  • Reed College
  • Spelman College
  • Wesleyan University
  • Whitman College

 

Caltech also offers a robust study abroad program. For their junior or senior years, students may apply to study at:

 

  • École Polytechnique (EPT) in Palaiseau, France
  • University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England
  • University College London (UCL) in London, England
  • University of Copenhagen (UCPH) or Danish Technical University (DTU) in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland
  • University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia

 

Extracurriculars

 

The Caltech Beavers, including baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, tennis, and other teams, play in the NCAA Division III. The university also has a fencing team that plays in the NCAA’s single division for the sport.

 

Caltech does not have fraternities or sororities, but it does offer more than 100 student clubs and organizations in areas like community service, outdoor adventures, faith, diversity and cultural awareness, music, theater, and more.

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Traditions

 

Caltech has plenty of traditions celebrating the renowned university. For example, the houses on campus hold an annual interhouse party, in which each house celebrates with its own unique activities.

 

The houses have friendly rivalries involving pranking one another, too. Pranks are not uncommon with other colleges, such as MIT; in 2014, for example, Caltech students delivered heat-sensitive coffee mugs to MIT’s admitted students. When cool, the mugs read “MIT the Institute of Technology” in MIT’s colors, black and red. When hot, the mugs became orange and read “Caltech the HOTTER Institute of Technology” with a palm tree.

 

One of Caltech’s oldest traditions is Ditch Day, when seniors leave campus for a day (without sharing the date beforehand). During this time, they arrange scavenger hunts, called “Stacks,” for underclassmen. 

 

Dorms

 

Caltech is known for its tight-knit community, and its residential life exemplifies this. At the beginning of the academic year, freshmen participate in Rotation, in which they can get a taste of each of 11 residences by visiting the houses, meeting the residents, and participating in activities. At the end of Rotation, freshmen rank the options; nearly everyone gets their first or second choice. Students may choose to stay in their freshman residence or move to another one when the academic year ends.

 

Each residence has its own activities and traditions, from study breaks to dinners to trips to LA.

 

Financial Aid

 

Caltech meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for domestic students and is need-blind. While the institution also meets full need for enrolled international students, the school practices “need-sensitive” admissions for students applying from outside the U.S.

 

Resources

 

Caltech offers resources for students such as:

 

  • Academics and Research Committee: a liaison between undergraduates and faculty
  • Caltech Collection of Open Digital Archives (CODA): a collection of publications by Caltech authors
  • Center for Teaching, Learning & Outreach (CTLO)
    support for Caltech education and school partnerships
  • Hixon Writing Center
  • Online learning (not-for-cred) opportunities
  • Caltech CARE Team: mental health awareness training and support
    support for students and mental health awareness training
  • Peer Advocate Program: student leaders trained in listening and mental health

 

Students may also take advantage of Caltech Public Events, which include lecture series and performances. Caltech students often receive preferred seating for free events.

 

Location

 

Caltech is the largest employer in Pasadena. Located just a short distance from Los Angeles, the city has claims to fame of its own, as the home to the Rose Bowl, Norton Simon Museum, and many other attractions.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Caltech?

 

Caltech has an extremely low acceptance rate. Your own chances of admission, however, depend on a variety of factors, including academics and extracurriculars. The university seeks out students with stellar grades and SAT scores, as well as unique activities and interests on their resumes. While Caltech’s acceptance rate may be intimidating, your personal chances of acceptance may be higher or lower, depending on your profile.

 

How likely are you to be admitted to Caltech? Find out with CollegeVine’s chancing engine. This free tool takes into account your specific qualifications to estimate your real chances of admission to Caltech and hundreds of other top schools in the U.S.

 

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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.