California Institute of Technology Admissions
The California Institute of Technology does not beat around the bush with what it demands from its students. The academics are stringent, the workload is high, and the admissions process is famously competitive. However, as their admissions website puts it, “the payoff? You’ll change the world. But you’ll sacrifice an easier road, and a lot of sleep, on the way.” William Shockely (Class of 1932), the “Father of Silicon Valley,” was able to get through it, as well as 30 living Nobel Prize-winning alumni (making Caltech have the highest per capita affiliation with the Nobel Prize of any institution in the world). This ethos is what has given the university its reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
The Caltech curriculum consists of 28 majors (termed “options”), 12 minors, and several interdisciplinary programs. Undergraduates are required to take courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, laboratory work, scientific communication, physical education, and humanities and social sciences. The majority of undergrads also participate in research, which explains why The National Science Foundation found that Caltech has the highest percentage of alumni who go on to receive a Ph.D. of any American university. In addition to its undergraduate program, the university also operates many major research facilities, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a variety of observatories, and the Keck Institute for Space Studies. It also manages the Einstein Papers Project, which handles the archive and literary estate of that former Caltech professor who many know as Albert.
Students live in residential houses during their time at the Institute, a system that replaced fraternities on campus in the 20th century but maintained the student loyalties and communalism of Greek life. Twenty percent of students participate in athletics, and there is a healthy visual and performing arts scene on campus. Perhaps the most well-known student tradition is the prank war, in which students carry out elaborate technological farces every year, including changing the Hollywood sign to read “CALTECH” in 1987 to national news coverage. The Institute has a longstanding rivalry with MIT that has historically devolved into this prank war as both schools compete for the reputation as the most prestigious technological institute in the world.
The university was established in 1891 by politician Amos G. Throop in Pasadena, California. In 1911, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at what was then termed the Throop Institute, declaring his desire for the university to train students in “cultural scientific” and “industrial” fields. During the early twentieth century, a series of high-profile faculty appointments and military contracts cemented the Institute’s reputation on the cutting edge of scientific advancement and technological innovation. While under the presidency of Lee A. DuBridge, Caltech opened its doors to federal funding and expanded into the research juggernaut it is known as today. Now, the Institute has become synonymous with innovation in seismology, quantum physics, soft robotics, and sustainability.
For the Class of 2026, Caltech received about 17,000 applications, but only accepted 448 of those students, for an acceptance rate of 2.7%, beating out rival MIT (much to their chagrin!). The competitiveness of their admissions cycle is no joke, but their admissions website highlights the main qualities they look for in prospective applicants: “a love of math,” “a passion for chemistry and physics,” “an appreciation for humanities and the social sciences,” “resilience,” a “collaborative spirit,” “creativity,” and a “single-minded determination.” They add that “You don’t have to say you’re “well-rounded” — we know you love STEM first and foremost.” In other words, they understand that their best applicants can’t lay claim to an extensive interest in every pursuit because they want to be the best researchers and innovators in each field. At Ivy Coach, we’re here to help our students demonstrate to Caltech why and how all of that specialized focus has paid off!