We determine whether you will be a good fit for Caltech based on a number of factors. Certainly, the courses you have enrolled in and the grades you've received in high school are important. However, there are other important attributes we'll consider. As admissions officers, our job is to set you up for success. This is what we want to see from a student who is admitted:
A love of math
There will be math. Lots of it. It's the foundation for every course at Caltech. Higher-level mathematics demands abstract thinking and problem solving, skills we hold dear. And we want students excited to go into the weeds as they master the subject. If you're hoping to simply push through your required math classes on the way to your major, you will not be happy here.
A passion for chemistry and physics
Most groundbreaking achievements in science and technology incorporate chemistry and physics at some level. Well before you do a deep dive into your major, Caltech's core curriculum will immerse you in the basic sciences, humanities, and social science.
An appreciation for humanities and the social sciences
The core curriculum for first-year students is more than math. In fact, your first year involves just as much writing and analysis-intensive coursework in the humanities and social sciences (HSS), with additional coursework required in each of the years that follow. In fact, 82% of undergrads enroll in HSS courses every fall. Why? Because while you're neck-deep in a hard-to-conquer problem set, we want to be confident that you can think critically, hone your problem-solving skills, write well, and express yourself in these courses and in your future research endeavors.
Thomas Edison said all his fruitless experiments to invent the lightbulb weren't failures—he'd simply found 10,000 ways that didn't work. At Caltech, professors expect that before long, you'll find yourself in way over your head. So we want to know: When you're in the middle of a seemingly unsolvable problem set, are you likely to fold up your tent? Or push on?
Caltech allows researchers to be risky. Risk is an important part of science. It's where discovery occurs."
You can be an introvert. But you won't thrive here if you expect to be able to go it alone all the time. From civil engineering, to geophysics, to chemistry, to computation and neural systems, the majors here are team sports. In fact, the entire Caltech experience is built around students collaborating in small groups: The places you live (on-campus residences where most students stay for four years), the problem sets you solve, and the interdisciplinary research you'll conduct all benefit from blending multiple perspectives.
Caltech sits at the intersection of curiosity and creativity. Techers possess many traits, but the way they blend these may be most universal. You want to know how things work for their own sake. You're not thrilled about retracing well-worn paths. You may even have a North Star you're reaching for already, your reason for research, and are thirsting to reach for it in new ways. A Caltech education can show you the way there, enabling you to create and follow your own unique path to invention and discovery.
Have you ever heard of Alex Honnold? He's a rock climber who has conquered some of the world's most daunting faces—without ropes. He winds up achieving what other elite climbers might think twice about conquering. Techers are a little like Alex: They don't have a voice in their head that says, "Enough." The payoff? You'll change the world. But you'll sacrifice an easier road, and a lot of sleep, on the way.
You don't have to say you're "well-rounded"—we know you love STEM first and foremost (and maybe second- and third-most, too.) And while academic aptitude and commitment are a given here, it can be rejuvenating to regularly pour your focus into something else.
We've found that self-care, and having someplace to turn when it all gets to be a little much, is really important. Whether that involves athletics, theater, music, art, speedcubing, or something else (rock climbing?), we like to learn about the other pursuits you're passionate about, and why.