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How to get into California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

How to get into California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

For Undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MS) degrees

The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, is a private research university in Pasadena in the US state of California, about 18 km northeast of Los Angeles.

It was established in 1891 as a preparatory and vocational school, but the school was disbanded and split in 1910 when the institution started attracting top scientists. Caltech assumed its current name in 1921 and is today one of the top ten universities in the world.

Caltech, mainly devoted to the teaching of pure and applied sciences, manages research worth a few hundred millions of dollars and is regarded as the institution with the highest percentage of graduates who are found eligible for a PhD.

As of November 2019, 74 Nobel laureates have been associated with Caltech as faculty, alumni, or researchers.

Caltech is known for its rigorous curriculum, close collaborations among faculty and students, small class sizes, interdisciplinary teamwork, critical thinking, and deep knowledge of basic scientific concepts.

The institution imparts to its students the ability to identify, analyze, solve problems, and communicate their expertise through their careers.

It has six academic divisions: biology and biological engineering; chemistry and chemical engineering; engineering and applied science; geological and planetary sciences; humanities and social sciences; and physics, mathematics and astronomy.

The institution’s nearly 1,000 undergraduate students can choose from 28 majors in these six divisions. But apart from building expertise in their core areas, Caltech provides its students exposure to basic science, humanities, math, and social science, knowing well that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary for research, business, and society.

Caltech statistics & facts

  • Student-faculty ratio: 3: 1
  • Professorial faculty: Over 300
  • UG students: 948
  • UG majors: 28
  • UG students receiving need-based aid: 52%
  • Graduate students: 1,285
  • Graduate majors: 30
  • Doctoral students receiving merit-based aid: 100%

Source: Caltech websites

Undergraduate admissions

Caltech, which welcomes about 230 new students for UG courses each fall, takes pride in its students’ “diverse experiences, perspectives, and passions.”

What does Caltech look for in applicants? “Unbridled sense of curiosity and extraordinary aptitude for and interest” in science, engineering, and technology.

Caltech points out that its admissions office reads every application. It does not just throw applicant data into a computer to decide admissibility, but reads every application and essay. It, therefore, advises applicants to prepare well for writing short answers and essays in the application.

The institution first looks at your test scores, grades, and recommendations, but if they are a little low by its standards, it looks for evidence of merit in other parts of the application.

High test scores are matched with grades and letters of recommendations, and the candidates’ life circumstances are taken into account from the personal background section. So also courses or research done by the applicant outside school.

What is it about science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) that excites you?
Can you narrate your experiences?
Can you add recommendation from a research mentor?
Do you also love art, or sports, or humanities, or theater?
Even if your test scores and grades are shining examples, be sure to tell Caltech about your interests.

How will you contribute to the Caltech community? How do you collaborate with your classmates?
“We want to know who you’ll be in our labs, our classrooms, and our community.”
How will you live and work as a potential “Techer” in the Caltech community? Caltech encourages applicants to write about their favorite pastimes and pursuits outside of school.

Application requirements

First-year applications require the Common Application or the Coalition Application; SAT (essay section not required) or ACT (writing section not required); SAT subject test in Mathematics Level 2; 1 SAT science subject test in biology (ecology or molecular), physics, or chemistry.

Standardized test scores

All standardized tests scores are to be reported, and the admissions committee reviews the strongest score in each category across all exams. Super-scoring will be done across SAT exam dates and across the same test version.

The middle 50 percent of SAT and ACT score ranges of enrolled students are SAT: 1530-1570; SAT evidence-based reading and writing: 740-780; SAT Math: 790-800; ACT Composite: 35-36; SAT Math Level 2 Subject Test: 800-800; SAT Physics, Chemistry, Biology Subject Test: 760-800.

Caltech doesn’t release the GPA of admitted students, but educated guesses put it at over 4.0. If you don’t hit that figure, you better have other compensating merits in your application,

Evaluation letters

Evaluation letters should ideally tell the story of your passion for science, math, and technology. One math or science teacher and one humanities or social sciences teacher who taught you in high school and can best speak about your performance in the classroom can provide evaluation letters.

These teachers should be those who evaluated your writing. Applicants in the past have given letters from teachers who taught English, foreign language, philosophy, religion, history, economics, government, psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

Applicants may submit two additional letters of recommendation from mentors or supervisors. The letters may be sent through the Common/Coalition Application or the recommender may email the letter directly to Caltech UG admissions email ID including the applicant’s full name and birthdate.

Academic preparation

Applicants should have completed certain courses or be enrolled for them to show they are prepared for taking on Caltech’s core curriculum.

They are four years of math, including calculus; one year of physics; one year of chemistry; and three years of English (four years recommended).

Caltech doesn’t automatically grant credit for AP, IB, A Level, Pre-U, or college courses but conducts a test to determine credit for these courses.

Other requirements

Other requirements include a secondary school report sent by your school counsellor to Caltech, giving the context about the school to enable a holistic review of an application; academic transcripts; TOEFL scores (IELTS not accepted); and international financial aid statement of intent to confirm the candidate’s understanding of Caltech’s financial aid policy (which is need-sensitive for international applicants), under which it the demonstrated need of all admitted students is met.

UG class profile

The profile of the UG Class of 2023: Freshman applications: 8,367; admit rate: 6.4 percent; enrolled: 235; men: 56 percent; women: 44 percent; and international: 6 percent.

Cost of attendance, aid

The estimated nine-month, full-time cost of attendance for Caltech students enrolled in 2019-20 was $74,763, including tuition $52,506, accommodation $9,615, meals $7,029, and personal expenses $2,091.

Grants and scholarships (monetary gifts), work-study (allotment that needs to be earned by working on campus), and loans (borrowed money that needs to be repaid after school) are the three main types of financial aid.

Graduate admissions

The Graduate Office coordinates matters related to graduate studies, such as the administration of graduate programs and supervision of the personal and academic progress of students. The Dean of Graduate Studies and his staff also provide counseling students with special needs.

The graduate studies have the same six academic divisions similar to undergraduate studies. Graduate studies are divided into various graduate options (degree programs).

The Committee on Graduate Studies supervises the requirements for advanced degrees and certifies candidates for graduate degrees to the faculty for approval.

The admission process takes place once each year during the fall. Applications are reviewed holistically, with no minimum GPA, GRE score, or other quantitative metric. The statement of purpose, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores are taken into account.

Only a select number of students with “superior ability” are admitted. Applicants can apply to only one academic option during each academic cycle.

Cost of attendance, aid

The estimated cost of attendance for a graduate student in 2018-19 was $77,967 for a student sharing a four-bedroom apartment on campus, $79,347 (sharing two-bedroom apartment on campus), and $85,647 (single-bedroom apartment on campus).

The cost of attendance for a student sharing a two-bedroom apartment off-campus was $86,247. The figures include tuition ($50,487), mandatory fees ($1,746), board ($8,614), and personal expenses ($4,500), reckoned as the same across students using various types of accommodations.

Most graduate students (99 percent of doctoral students) receive full funding. On average more than 98 percent of graduate students receive merit-based financial support that pays tuition and a stipend.
Financial assistance to graduate students is granted as fellowships, assistantships, or teaching assistantships, or a combination of these. The exception is students in master’s programs, many of whom are self-supported. Students are expected to show satisfactory academic progress.
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