Selecting High School Courses
We talk a lot about academic rigor, but what do we mean? At Caltech, we have high expectations in the classroom, and we expect students to think critically. To prepare for that, we want to see that you are challenging yourself. Are you stretching your intellect? If you are, you'll likely want to do the same in college. And that's what we want to see.
We want to see that you are challenging yourself and doing well. That doesn't necessarily mean taking every AP class available. Rather, we want to see that you are willing to explore and take chances. If you take a class that will help you see the world in a different way, that's a challenge.
High school offers you the chance to explore and to see what really interests you. If STEM is your passion, see what's out there--and prepare for Caltech. Take the math and science classes that will launch you into our core curriculum. And take classes that really spark your interest.
Importantly - take more than STEM. All students are required to take 3-4 years of English and, if you are in an American school, we require one year of US History or Government. Wherever you're in school, we want to see that you are taking thought-provoking humanities and social sciences classes. They help you gain new perspectives and prepare you for the level of academic discourse that you'll find in our classrooms.
So which STEM classes will meet Caltech's requirements?
Calculus: Any calculus class offered at your school. These may include, but are not limited to general calculus, AP Calculus, IB Mathematics HL, A-Level Math/Further Math, national curriculum calculus. If you take calculus prior to 12th grade (or the equivalent of your final year of high school) and it is easily accessible, seek out opportunities for other math classes either online or at a local college. We never expect you to enroll in other institutions to take more STEM courses, but we do want you to stay connected to math throughout high school in preparation for the core curriculum. That could be through the free Khan Academy or a textbook you pick up on your own to explore.
Physics: Schools vary on the classes that they offer. These may include, but are not limited to general physics, AP Physics 1, AP Physics C, IB Physics SL or HL, A or AS-level Physics, national curriculum physics.
Chemistry: Again, this will depend upon what is available at your school. These may include, but are not limited to general chemistry, AP Chemistry, IB Chemistry SL or HL, AS or A-Level Chemistry, national curriculum chemistry.
If you decide to take any of the required classes at college level, be sure to send us the transcript. College classes will meet our requirements.
What if I couldn't take the advanced STEM courses in my high school?
At Caltech, we like to see students push themselves to take the most advanced STEM courses that they can. The most important phrase in that sentence? If. They. Can. There are a multitude of reasons why students cannot enroll in certain courses in their high school and we want to know about it.
To be very clear: if you are not able to take the most advanced courses in your high school, whether that be AP Physics C, AP Chemistry, or AP Calculus BC and these courses are offered every year, we want to know why. It is very, very common that students cannot take all of these courses; in fact, we can easily think of 3 reasons (though there are many more: a) the student fell in love with STEM later in high school and was tracked out of the class; b) the AP Physics C and AP Calc BC courses were offered at the same time; c) a student has been waiting 4 years to take Latin IV, African American Literature, or American Musicals in the 21st Century (our Director's favorite course in college), and it conflicts with the other class. We respect the choices you have to make and we want to know why you made them.
On all of our applications, there will be space to tell us if there is anything about your academic journey you would like to share. Don't be shy. Remember, our first piece of advice was simple and always holds true: be yourself.
What if I run out of classes?
If you have already run the course of your high school curriculum and would like to take more math, for example, consider taking online or local college classes. We certainly don't want you to get bored in high school. And don't worry—we will never run out of classes for you at Caltech.