Caltech Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to the California Institute of Technology’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Pasadena, California

Mascot: Orange Beaver

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 2,200 (950 undergrads)

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About Caltech

The California Institute of Technology is a private doctorate granting research institution in Pasadena, CA, known for its strength in engineering and the natural sciences. The university was originally founded in 1891 as a prep/vocational school. Its campus is located 11 miles northeast of downtown LA and maintains a long tradition of practical jokes and pranks in juxtaposition with an honor code that allows professors to frequently assign take-home exams.

Caltech Statistics

Year Founded: 1891

4 Year Graduation Rate: 84%

Gender Distribution: 59% male, 41% female

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Residency: 29% in state, 42% out of state, 29% international

Location Type: Suburban

Schedule System: Quarters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 3:1

Average Class Size: 12

Demographics: 28% Caucasian, 43% Asian, 12% Hispanic, 1% Black, 16% Other

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #3 in Undergraduate Research
  • #4 Undergraduate Engineering Program
  • #8 Most Innovative Schools
  • #11 Best Value Schools
  • #12 National Universities
  • #30 Best Undergraduate Teaching

Independent Rankings:

  • #2 Global Universities per The Times of Higher Education
  • #2 Best Colleges for Chemistry per Niche
  • #3 Best Colleges for Engineering per Niche
  • #4 Best Career Placement per The Princeton Review
  • #5 US Colleges per The Times of Higher Education
  • #5 Best Value Colleges per The Princeton Review
  • #8 National Universities per Forbes

Caltech Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 1st
  • Transfer Deadline: February 15th

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: Mid-March
  • Transfer: Early May

Acceptance Rates:

  • EA: 7%
  • RD: 7% 
  • Transfer: 1.9%

Average Applicant Pool: 7,300

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 550

Average Number Enrolled: 250

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 4.19 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th percentile – 1530, 75th percentile – 1570

ACT Scores: 25th percentile – 34, 75th percentile – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections required.

Subject Test Requirements: Subject Tests are no longer required, but still recommended.

Demonstrated Interest: Caltech does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies: One letter from a math or science teacher, and one letter from a humanities or social sciences teacher. They request both teachers be familiar with your work, and the humanities/social sciences teacher be familiar with your writing. They will accept up to two additional letters from mentors or supervisors who know you well.

Caltech Essay Prompts for 2020:

  • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)
  • Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. (10–120 words each.)
  • 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 words.)
  • Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (250–400 words.)
  • 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 words.)

Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

Since most of the first year curriculum is devoted to core classes, they have many recommendations for how applicants can be sufficiently prepared academically.

Please click here for college application help from Ivy Scholars.

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CalTech Academics


Changing majors between divisions requires filling out a petition to change majors, and is otherwise straightforward.

Core Requirements:

  • There is an extensive core curriculum, meant to give a broad educational base. Freshman Mathematics (36 units), Freshman Physics (36 units), Freshman Chemistry (15 units of classes, 6 of lab), Freshman Biology (9 units), Menu Class (9 units), Additional Introductory Lab (6 units), Scientific Writing (3 units), Humanities and Social Sciences (36 units Humanities, 36 Units Social Sciences, and 36 units either), Physical Education (9 units)
  • Comprehensive Core Requirement Information

Courses of Study: 

  • 28 Majors Offered
  • Option to double major
  • Popular majors include Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering

AP Credit Policies:

  • Caltech does not offer course credit for AP or IB exams.

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • Students with a GPA above 3.5 graduate with honors, students are not further ranked within this category.
  • Academic Honors Societies

Research Availability:

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

Pre-Med Options:

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

Programs for High Schoolers:

  • iD Tech is for students aged 10-17, and is a summer camp teaching coding and game design on Caltech’s campus.
  • Community Science Academy is open to rising 9th-12th graders, and seeks to teach core science skills with a focus on community impact.
  • Summer Research Connection is a 6-week program for K-12 science teachers and high school students to explore research in STEM fields.
  • Da Vinci Camp is for rising 6th-12th graders and is a 21 day program which integrates science, engineering, and the arts.

Alexa Cafe is a coding camp open to girls aged 10-15 to explore computer programming and practical applications.

Student Life at Caltech University

School Motto:  The Truth Shall Make You Free

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.
  • Additional Information
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Cappex)

House System:

Caltech students live in the House system, which combines aspects of dormitories and fraternities. Each house has its own close knit community, traditions, and food options. This system was founded by the students in cooperation with the university in the 1930s, after doing research on various housing situations on other campuses, and decided this was the best. All first and second year students are required to live on campus. House assignments are decided through Rotation.

Housing Statistics:

  • 99% of freshmen live on campus
  • 86% of undergraduates live in on-campus housing at any given time

Campus & Surrounding Area:  


  • Caltech provides students and associates with a free Metro pass, which allows for transit around Pasadena
  • Parking Information


  • Pumpkin DropEvery Halloween, a pumpkin frozen with liquid nitrogen is dropped from the top of the school’s library.
  • Ditch DaySeniors leave campus for a day in spring, leaving behind various traps and puzzles to keep underclassmen occupied and out of their rooms. 
  • Ride of the ValkyriesWagner’s classic song is played at the loudest possible volume at 7:00 AM every morning during finals week. Playing it at other times is heavily discouraged. 

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life:  Caltech has no fraternities or sororities. The house system offers a lot of the perks of Greek life, but without the downsides, like the stresses of rush.


    • Caltech is considered the school where students study the most. 
    • There is a large and active nightlife scene in Pasadena and neighboring LA, with many options for bars, clubs, and entertainment. 
    • Social dancing is quite popular at Caltech, and many clubs have social events. 
    • The house system forms the backbone of socializing at Caltech, though they don’t party as often as some schools.

Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $77,718
  • Tuition: $54,570
  • Fees: $2,292
  • Room & Board: $17,337
  • Books: $1,428
  • Personal Expenses: $2,091

Financial Aid:

Caltech does not offer merit aid, but does offer need-based aid to all students who apply and qualify. Caltech also offers numerous work-study opportunities around campus and in associated laboratories. The majority of students at Caltech receive some amount of aid. 

Additional Financial Aid & Student Loan Information

Fun Facts

  • Caltech is renowned for its pranks, most famously at the Rose bowl, or when they altered the Hollywood sign to read “Caltech”
  • The rivalry with MIT has featured numerous other pranks, including stolen cannons, gag t-shirts, and signs declaring MIT was being turned into “Caltech East”
  • Caltech is governed by an honor code, which means most exams are take-home, and homework is frequently done collaboratively. 
  • Notable alumni include computing pioneer Donald Knuth, Benoit Mandelbrot, and director Frank Capra. 
  • The school was originally founded as a vocational school, and named “Throop College”
  • The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, operated by Caltech under contract from NASA, began in 1936, when a group of graduate students were doing research on rocket fuel for a thesis and burned down a barn. 
  • The first protest by students was in 1968, held outside NBC studios over rumors that the network was going to cancel Star Trek
  • Various TV shows have been filmed on campus, including Beverly Hills Cop, The X-Files, and The West Wing.
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