As a world-renowned science and engineering institution, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a popular addition to college lists from around the country. Read on to learn more about standing out in the admissions process and how to get into Caltech!
Caltech's prestige makes it a popular school choice for students hoping to make their mark in science or engineering. If you're interested in attending Caltech's 124-acre campus in Pasadena, you'll need to perfect your college application for the best chance of acceptance.
We'll walk you through everything you need to know about how to get into Caltech, including a step-by-step guide, how hard it is to get accepted, and the benefits of attending.
Whether Caltech is your dream school or one of your top choices, read on to learn everything you need to know and boost your chance of acceptance.
The Caltech acceptance rate is about 2.7%. This rate reflects Caltech’s prestige and means students have to bring their absolute A-games to their applications!
Pinpointing Caltech’s acceptance rate is difficult: Caltech states, “We don't even like to widely publicize our admit rate because the number of applicants has grown disproportionately to the size of the incoming class, which directly affects the shrinking admit rate.”
To offer you some insight into the admissions stats, the class of 2026 saw 16,629 applications, of which only 432 students were admitted, meaning the school had a record-breaking low acceptance rate of 2.6%. Of these 432, only 224 students matriculated, meaning Caltech had an enrollment rate of only 1.35%.
However, previous cycles prove the typical acceptance rate to be around 4-7%, and the enrollment rate to be closer to 3%.
So, how hard is it to get into Caltech? The first consideration is the school’s prestige. According to U.S. News World and Report, Caltech is ranked as the No. 9 Best National University. Given its ranking based on outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinion, and more, it’s no wonder that Caltech is considered a highly selective school.
Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Caltech.
Caltech is also known for its relatively small campus population. As of the 2021/2022 academic year, 987 undergraduate students and 1,410 graduate students attend the school, for a total student population of less than 2,500. A more intimate campus generally means fewer seats available for students.
Other class profile data includes:
Caltech boasts of its diverse and highly accomplished teachers!
You’ll need a rigorous academic record to get into Caltech. Aim for a weighted GPA of 4.19 and SAT/ACT scores of 1570 and 36. Competitive applicants also take academically challenging courses, such as AP or IB courses, and demonstrate their passion for STEM in their admission essays and extracurricular activities.
You need to fulfill numerous requirements before you submit your application to Caltech's undergraduate program. Here's a step-by-step guide on what you need to know to get into Caltech.
Achieving a high cumulative GPA is essential to getting a leg up in the Caltech admissions process. While Caltech doesn't state the average GPA of incoming students, 99% of students placed in the top 10% of their high school’s graduating class. Strive for the highest GPA possible for an excellent foundation.
Besides performing well in all of your classes, pay special attention to your math and science courses. Caltech is a science and engineering institute at its core; you want to ensure your strong grades are those in related fields of study.
Because of Caltech’s five-year moratorium on the requirement and consideration of SAT or ACT scores, the admissions committee will never consider your SAT or ACT examination scores in its admissions evaluation process. The moratorium was introduced in June 2020 and will last through Fall 2025.
To prepare yourself for Caltech’s Core Curriculum, the admissions committee wants to see:
To show your preparedness in math, Caltech wants to see students who have mastered calculus. The admissions committee also wants to see that students are ready to tackle other math topics, including:
Caltech’s Core Curriculum includes courses like Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. The admissions committee wants to be confident you can succeed, so it’s crucial to demonstrate your science aptitude and preparedness.
Because not all high schools offer the same course opportunities, you can show you’re ready to tackle undergraduate science courses by:
We suggest taking the most challenging curriculum available to you. Taking IB or AP classes, and doing well, shows the admissions committee that you can handle Caltech's curriculum rigor and excel.
When students think about how to get into Caltech as an undergrad, they may think their academic record is all that matters. While it's crucial to show your academic aptitude, you'll compete against many other students with promising records.
The best way to differentiate yourself from the crowd is to participate in various extracurricular activities that illuminate your passion, impact on the community, or facilitate growth and leadership. Here are some examples of things you can do to stand out to the Caltech admissions committee.
Volunteer in your community. Host a charity event, help provide essentials at a food bank, host a community cleanup, or tutor your peers or younger students.
Participate in extracurricular activities. You can join a sports team or any other school club, play an instrument, or even start your own school club if you see a gap in offered programs.
Enroll in a pre-college summer program. Enrolling in a pre-college summer program is an excellent way to stand out to Caltech, especially if the program is STEM-related. Examples of prestigious pre-college summer programs include MIT Research Institute, Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes, and even Caltech’s multiple programs.
Attend prestigious student conferences. Prestigious student conferences can help you gain and hone skills such as effective communication, public speaking, critical thinking, and research. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of these conferences is Model UN, a simulation of the UN General Assembly for high school students.
Work/internship experience. Working a part-time job (even one unrelated to your field) is an excellent addition to any college application. Internship experience (especially in your field of interest) shows you have gained the necessary experiences and skills and have taken steps to explore and understand your field of interest.
No matter what activities or experiences you choose, ensure that you're passionate about them and not doing them just to put them down on your college application. Always go for quality over quantity: you'll need to balance your school and other responsibilities.
You can apply to Caltech using the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Using the QuestBridge Application, you can also apply to the school through the QuestBridge National College Match. The school doesn't prefer either application, so pick whichever is best for you.
Caltech will need your official academic transcripts and a secondary school report submitted by your school counselor. The secondary school report aims to provide "context about your school that helps the Admissions Committee evaluate your application holistically."
Ensure you stay in communication with your guidance counselor and that they submit everything they need to on your behalf.
Although some top colleges may not have any preference on which teachers provide you recommendations, Caltech requires recommendation letters from:
Although Caltech indicates that you can ask teachers who instructed you in any year, it's best to secure strong letters from teachers who can speak to your recent achievements, growth, and demeanor in the classroom.
Caltech requests letters from a humanities or social science teacher who has evaluated your writing. Here are some examples of classes that can fulfill this requirement:
Beyond these required recommendations, Caltech gives students the option to present two additional recommendation letters from “a mentor or supervisor who knows you in a different context.”
It’s in your best interest to take advantage of these extra letters if you feel that you can obtain strong recommendations. Some examples of people you can ask include:
Your personal statement is the heart and soul of your application. It shows admissions committees who you are beyond test scores and GPA. To write an excellent personal statement, you'll need to:
Personal statements should include a lot of detailed imagery, have a logical flow, and focus on your experiences and their impact on your journey.
Caltech asks all first-year applicants to respond to several supplemental essay prompts: one academic question, three short answers, and a few optional short answers.
If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest? (200-word limit)
1. At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Identify and describe two STEM-related experiences from your high school years, either in or out of the classroom, and tell us how and why they activated your curiosity. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (Min: 100/Max: 200 words for each experience)
2. The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech's students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars. But Techers also imagine smaller-scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to how to 3D print dorm decor. How have you been a creator, inventor, or innovator in your own life? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)
3. Caltech's mission – to cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation for the benefit of humanity – relies on its community members embracing fundamental Caltech values:
Share what one or more of these values evokes for you. (Min: 200 / Max: 400)
1. If there are aspects of your life or social or personal identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please tell us about them below. (Max: 150 words)
2. When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby, and why does it bring you joy? (Max: 100 words)
3. Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (Max: 50 words)
1. Have you had any extenuating circumstances (such as limited course selection or disruptions), that have affected your coursework, but that are not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.
2. Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, or internationally (eg., AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads). If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (with scores, if applicable).
Crafting thoughtful essays is key to getting into Caltech's undergrad program. Ensure you spend time brainstorming, outlining, and editing your responses before submitting them. Remember to keep your writing concise: you don't have many words to get your main idea across!
Mark these dates on your calendar to stay organized in the application process:
The non-binding restrictive Early Action application is perfect for students who are sure Caltech is one of their top options and want to receive their admissions decisions as early as possible!
Caltech is a highly competitive and prestigious school. As such, it offers many benefits.
If you love the idea of a small campus and small class sizes, Caltech is a fantastic option. According to recent Caltech data, the school only has approximately 1,000 undergraduate students and 1,400 graduate students in attendance. In the most recent entering first-year class, only 270 students enrolled.
These numbers show that you'll be a part of a relatively close-knit and small campus. Caltech offers a lovely alternative if you don't love crowded and bustling spaces (like some major public university campuses).
Small class sizes also mean more opportunities to interact with your professors one-on-one, receive more help and guidance, and get more attention than you would in a room with 500 other students. You'll likely see many of the same students in your classes too, which can make it easier to make friends!
Caltech is a relatively short distance away from Los Angeles, the world's entertainment capital. No matter what you're interested in, LA has it all: museums, theme parks, movie studios, lively nightlife, and outdoor activities.
While this may not be related directly to Caltech and its offerings, thinking about the area where you'll live for four years is essential.
Caltech has an incredible initiative called the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP). ISP “enables students to craft custom-tailored curricula—comprising Caltech courses, academic-year research, courses at other schools, or independent study courses—in collaboration with faculty advisors.”
The program can give you even more flexibility and personalization than what’s already offered at Caltech. You can also borrow a designated academic specialty on the transcript, including but not limited to:
At Caltech, over half of the students participate in undergraduate research in their first year. More than 90% of Caltech's student body participates in research during their time at Caltech. If you're an inquisitive person who would love to do hands-on work and find new solutions, Caltech may be the perfect school for you.
Caltech offers these programs:
Caltech undergraduates are also offered several research opportunities from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA for those interested in aerospace.
Consider these tips to make your Caltech application stand out:
Caltech is a highly selective school with rigorous curriculums. To prove you can handle Caltech’s robust programs, you’ll need to maintain a high GPA and take challenging courses, especially advanced mathematics and science.
As if maintaining a high GPA wasn’t enough, Caltech also appreciates students who make good use of their free time. You should pursue valuable extracurricular activities that demonstrate your passion for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).
Seek unique activities that can set you apart from the crowd and help you achieve notable accomplishments.
It’s important your letters of recommendation match the rest of your application. They should speak to your intellectual curiosity, academic excellence, and character. Ensure that your recommenders know you well and can provide specific examples of your achievements and potential.
Write thoughtful and authentic personal essays that highlight your unique qualities, experiences, and your fit with Caltech's academic and research culture. Do your research when answering questions about your interests and ensure you add in personal anecdotes to make your essays memorable!
If you’re still unsure of how to differentiate your profile or where to start, our Caltech admissions counselors have got you covered! They can offer you one-on-one support throughout the admissions process and provide you with insider knowledge to ensure you submit the most competitive application!
Do you still have questions about how to get into Caltech? Let these FAQs be your guide!
Caltech will not require or consider any SAT or ACT scores until at least fall 2025.
To set up Caltech’s ISP curricula for yourself, these two criteria must be met:
It depends. While Early Action/Early Decision pathways generally have higher acceptance rates at top colleges, this is usually because students have worked hard to have their applications perfected.
Applying to Caltech through Early Action won’t make much of a difference from Regular Decision if your application is not polished enough! You know how hard it is to get into Caltech, but a well-executed application can make all the difference.
Many homeschooled applicants are curious about how to get into Caltech undergrad programs. The Caltech admissions committee does not require any additional application materials from homeschooled students than it does from their traditionally educated peers. Caltech reviews each applicant within the context of their experiences.
Almost all students admitted to Caltech are in the top 10% of their graduating class. This means that only 1% of admitted first-year students are not in the top 10%.
It would be best to take the most challenging curriculum available to you, especially in your STEM subjects. Caltech admits students who challenge themselves and show they're ready for a rigorous, STEM-based curriculum.
If you’re wondering how difficult it is to get into Caltech as a transfer student, it’s even more challenging than regular admissions. You’ll need to maintain high grades at your current college, particularly in STEM coursework as you’ll be required to write entrance exams on the following topics:
You should also have strong supplemental essays that share how you explore STEM outside of the classroom!
So, you’re ready to reap all the benefits this school has to offer and start your application, but how much will it cost to go to the California Institute of Technology? Caltech’s tuition fees cost $63,255 a year. On top of your other college expenses, it’s estimated you’ll spend between $80,000 to $90,000 a year to attend this school.
Now that you know more about the admissions process and how to get into Caltech, you can take the appropriate steps to give yourself the best chance of acceptance.
While getting into Caltech’s undergraduate program is difficult, taking challenging courses, writing well-crafted essays, and securing stellar recommendations will boost your chances of acceptance. With patience and hard work, you can make your dreams of attending Caltech a reality!