Here's the TL;DR version of what it takes to be ready for Caltech.
- Love STEM. Love it.
- Love something that isn't STEM, too.
- Take the most challenging classes you can in high school. Especially in math and English. (And do well in them, but you probably knew that.)
This is not the page where we tell you how many extracurriculars you need to get into Caltech, or the GPA cutoff. Partly because those things don't exist, but mostly because—as much as we love numbers—numbers aren't what make a Techer.
A Techer is a smart, curious and driven person who really wants to be surrounded by, learn from (and with), and hang out with others who want the same.
In the classroom
We don't expect that you'll arrive with an innate knowledge of proof-based math. We do expect you to show you're proficient at calculus and excited about the challenge in front of you. (If you don't like math, or it gives you fits, that's kind of a deal-breaker.)
As far as science goes, we're looking for evidence that you're ready to tackle complex material and are really interested in it. In general, we expect you've taken advanced chemistry and physics classes, and done well. If you've demonstrated your STEM prowess outside the classroom or dug deeper into the sciences on your own time, we'll consider that, too.
We do not expect that you have done research. It's a cornerstone of the Caltech experience, but if you've never done any, don't worry about it. You'll have plenty of opportunities to conduct research here, and we expect to train you.
When we talk about life at Caltech outside of the classroom, the response—from prospective students, from parents, from incoming freshmen—is generally the same:
There's life outside the classroom?
Yes. Heck, yes. Techers, by nature, are a work hard/play hard group. The students we want to join Caltech have a long list of interests; this would be a boring place if everybody wanted to hole up in the lab or library with no break. So we're looking for people who come to us with hobbies, with a desire to get involved in their community, with guilty pleasures.
While you're in high school, we encourage you to find your own thing. Take some time for yourself. Will that new passion become the thing that gets you into Caltech? Maybe. Probably not. But self-care is real, and it will serve you well when things get stressful farther down the road.
Who gets in?
We know our rep. And we've seen the Reddit feeds—the ones that sound like, "You can get into Caltech only if you've cured cancer or are superhuman."
Yes, some of our applicants are extraordinary students who have already done extraordinary things. But the vast majority of students admitted to Caltech are exceptional STEM students who are at the beginning of their journey to accomplish the extraordinary.
We know, though, that the journey doesn't look the same for everybody. It's why we ask questions like: Where do you live? What resources do you have access to? What responsibilities do you have in your family or community?
Those factors are just as important in shaping your promise as the grades you get. At Caltech, we want to build an institution of students who represent the breadth of extraordinary STEM minds.
Everybody accepted into Caltech has what it takes to thrive here. A lot of the applicants who aren't asked to be part of our incoming class? They have what it takes to thrive here, too.
Here's the not-so-secret truth of our admissions process: There are way more qualified applicants than there are spaces. If you've gotten this far down the page and see yourself here, don't let statistics talk you out of applying. (Full disclosure: We accept less than 5% of the people who apply. Our incoming class is around 235 students.)
Here's another not-so-secret truth: Imposter syndrome is real around here. You wouldn't believe how many people with limitless potential somehow think they don't belong. Even students who graduate with awards acknowledge that nagging sense:
There's a feeling that, 'I got in, but I don't know what I'm doing.' Or if you ask a question, everybody's going to learn, 'She's a fraud.' But the entire way you learn is by asking questions. That was a big step for me. And you realize, we're all in the same boat.
So don't sell yourself short. As small as Caltech is, it's big enough for somebody like you.