How to Get Into Caltech

Caltech building in Pasadena
November 29, 2023
12 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/24/23

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! 

A view of the mountains in California

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.

Caltech Acceptance Rate

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! 

Data shows that Caltech received thousands of applications in the most recent admissions cycle, but only 412 students were offered admission. Of this percentage, only 263 matriculated

Caltech acceptance rate compared to how many students Quad get's into the same school!

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%. 

How Hard Is It to Get Into Caltech? 

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: 

  • 59% male, 41% female 
  • 64% students of color
  • 18% international 

Caltech boasts of its diverse and highly accomplished teachers!

How to Get Into Caltech Undergrad: Step-by-Step 

A to-do list

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. 

Perform Well in Your Classes, Especially Math and Science 

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. 

Show Your Academic Preparedness 

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: 

  • Students have taken the most advanced English coursework offered by their high school.
  • U.S. students that have completed at least one course in history or government. International students are exempted. 

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: 

  • Set Theory & Logic
  • Differential & Integral Calculus
  • Linear Algebra
  • Ordinary Differential Equations

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: 

  • Taking one year of both physics and chemistry. Biology isn’t required, but Caltech will “look for indicators that you are prepared for taking biology coursework.”
  • Showing your command of calculus through chemistry and physics classes. 
  • Although not a requirement, it’s in your best interest to complete science classes in the most challenging curriculum offered by your school. 

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. 

Gain Volunteer/Work Experience, Participate in Activities, and More

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.

Choose How to Apply 

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. 

Ensure Your Transcripts and Secondary School Report Are Submitted 

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. 

Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation 

A math teacher standing in front of a blackboard

Although some top colleges may not have any preference on which teachers provide you recommendations, Caltech requires recommendation letters from

  • One math or science teacher 
  • One humanities or social sciences teacher 

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: 

  • English 
  • Spanish, French, or another language 
  • Philosophy 
  • Psychology 
  • Sociology
  • History
  • Anthropology 
  • Government
  • Specialized writing classes 

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

  • Sports coaches
  • Tutors
  • Professors from community college courses you’ve taken 
  • Your supervisor at your part-time job 
  • Your supervisor at your volunteer organization/community service project 
  • Anyone else who knows you well (who isn’t a family member) and can speak to your positive character qualities and college readiness. 

Write a Stellar Personal Statement 

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: 

  • Highlight select positive characteristics you possess (aim for two or three) 
  • Choose relevant anecdotes that uncover your personality and motivations
  • Show colleges what they’ll gain by accepting you, and explain what/who you want to be

Personal statements should include a lot of detailed imagery, have a logical flow, and focus on your experiences and their impact on your journey. 

Thoughtfully Answer Supplemental Essays

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. 

Academic Question

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)

Required Short Answers

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:
  • Openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged
  • Respect and appreciation for the idea that, while we are all members of the same community, the opportunities we've had to develop, showcase, and apply our talents have not been equal
  • Passion for the ideal that science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others
Share what one or more of these values evokes for you. (Min: 200 / Max: 400)

Optional Short Answers

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)

Optional Academic Short Answers 

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!

Caltech Deadlines

Mark these dates on your calendar to stay organized in the application process:

Action Date
Restrictive Early Action deadline November 1
Restrictive Early Action decision notifications Mid-December
Regular decision notifications January 3
Regular decision admissions notifications Mid-March
Admissions reply deadline May 1

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!

Benefits of Attending Caltech 

Caltech is a highly competitive and prestigious school. As such, it offers many benefits. 

Small Class Sizes/Campus 

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! 

A Short Skip Away From LA 

Hollywood sign

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. 

There Really Is an Educational Path for Everyone

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: 

  • Biophysics 
  • Decision Neuroscience 
  • Environmental Science and Policy 
  • Quantum Information Science 

An Emphasis on Undergraduate Research

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: 

  • Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF)
  • Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF)
  • SURF Exchanges
  • Amgen Scholars
  • WAVE Fellows

Caltech undergraduates are also offered several research opportunities from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA for those interested in aerospace.

Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into Caltech

Two women high fiving

Consider these tips to make your Caltech application stand out:

Focus on Having Outstanding Academic Performance

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.

Have Exceptional Extracurricular Involvement

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.

Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

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 Compelling Personal Essays 

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! 

Trust the Experts

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!

FAQs: How to Get Into Caltech 

Do you still have questions about how to get into Caltech? Let these FAQs be your guide! 

1. Will Caltech Consider My SAT/ACT Scores? 

Caltech will not require or consider any SAT or ACT scores until at least fall 2025. 

2. Can Anyone Set Up Caltech’s ISP Curricula?

To set up Caltech’s ISP curricula for yourself, these two criteria must be met: 

  • “The program must enable educational goals that cannot be achieved in any of the other available Options.
  • In scope and depth, the program must be comparable to a normal undergraduate program.” 

3. Do I Have a Better Chance of Getting Into Caltech With Early Action? 

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. 

4. How Do I Get Into Caltech as a Homeschooled Student? 

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. 

5. I Am Not In the Top 10% Of My Class. What Are My Chances of Acceptance? 

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%. 

6. What Classes Should I Take to Get Into Caltech? 

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. 

7. How Do I Get Into Caltech As a Transfer Student?

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: 

  • Calculus of One and Several Variables
  • Linear Algebra
  • Differential Equations
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism
  • Waves, Quantum Mechanics, and Statistical Physics

You should also have strong supplemental essays that share how you explore STEM outside of the classroom!

8. How Much Is the Tuition Fee At Caltech?

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. 

Final Thoughts

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! 

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