How to Get Into Caltech

Caltech building in Pasadena
October 7, 2022
How Hard Is It to Get Into Caltech? How to Get Into Caltech Undergrad: Step-by-Step Benefits of Attending Caltech FAQs: How to Get Into Caltech


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

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.

Getting Into Caltech, ranked #9 as best national university

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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. 

Image outlining the Caltech's total population

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. 

Data shows that Caltech received 8,008 applications in a recent admissions cycle, of which 244 students enrolled. 

Other class profile data includes: 

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.” 

Image outlining Caltech's admissions stats

Since the enrolment rate of all students is approximately 3%, we can safely assume the acceptance rate is at least a little higher than this (sources differ but estimate it to be between 6 and 7%). Given this information, Caltech is undoubtedly a highly selective school.

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

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. 

Image outlining the steps to get into caltech

1. 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. 

2. 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: 

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. 

3. Gain Volunteer/Work Experience, Extracurriculars, 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.

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation 

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

7. 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: 

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

8. Thoughtfully Answer Supplemental Essays

Caltech asks all first-year applicants to respond to three essay prompts, each with a 100-250 word count. These are the prompts with some guiding questions provided by Caltech to inform your answers.

Prompt #1: “Tell us about a time or experience in which you encountered failure.”

Failure is an unfortunate but very real part of life. What Caltech wants to see here is your reaction to failure and what you do to move past it and better yourself. These are the questions Caltech provides as a guide to answer this prompt.

Prompt #2: “Tell us about a life situation, media story, or topic – beyond or outside of a classroom or formal assignment – that has captivated you, inspired your curiosity, and led you to delve more deeply into learning about a subject on your own.”

This response aims to show that you are a curious individual capable of independent study. Caltech asks students to answer these questions to help guide their essay: 

Prompt #3: “Tell us about how you have collaborated with and worked together within a small group of your peers on some task or endeavor in the past, or about how you imagine you will work with your Caltech peers in the future.”

Showing your ability to work as a team is an essential element of how to get into Caltech. The admissions committee wants to know how you'll fare as a team member to work toward a common goal. Since Caltech can hand out challenging problems to first-year students, the school has a tradition of small student groups working together to solve them. 

These are the questions Caltech provides to guide answers: 

Answering all three of these prompts thoughtfully 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! 

Benefits of Attending Caltech 

Caltech is a highly competitive and prestigious school. As such, there are many benefits to attending Caltech. 

Benefits of getting into caltech

Small Class Sizes/Campus 

If you love the idea of small class sizes and campus, 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 

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: 

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 your school. 

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.

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 2023. 

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

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

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 top10%. 

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.

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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