How to Get Into Caltech: Data & Admissions Strategies
A popular filming location for shows/movies about brilliant young scientists (Big Bang Theory, Numb3rs, Real Genius, and countless others), the California Institute of Technology is a magnet for the most accomplished STEM minds in the country. You might think of Caltech as “MIT-West”—in many ways that would be an accurate moniker—but the school is far smaller, catering to just 987 undergraduates compared to MIT’s 4,600+.
Undoubtedly, the 13,000+ applicants to Caltech each year would qualify as “geniuses” by sheer IQ and traditional academic achievement, yet only 3-4% gain acceptance. Every successful Caltech applicant possesses a sparkling transcript, perfect or near-perfect standardized test scores, and prodigious talents that extend outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, these attributes are necessary but often not sufficient as Caltech rejects valedictorians every single day of the admissions cycle.
The intent of this article is to give those considering applying to Caltech:
1) An understanding of what you are up against.
2) More data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.
3) Advice for how to get your application to Caltech stand out, even against other superb applicants.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- Caltech’s Class of 2026 acceptance rate
- SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Caltech applicants
- Admissions trends from the Class of 2026
- Caltech’s system for rating applicants
- Math & science preparedness
- A look at the demographics of Caltech undergraduates
- Caltech’s yield rate
- Tips for applying to Caltech
- How to assess whether applying to Caltech is worth the $75 application fee
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
Caltech Acceptance Rate – Class of 2026
There were 13,026 applications to Caltech for a place in the 2021-22 freshman class; just 510 were accepted. This acceptance rate of 3.9% was almost identical to MIT’s in the same cycle. The previous year, the university received 8,007 applications for a spot in the Class of 2024 and admitted 536 for an overall acceptance rate of 6.7%.
Official Class of 2026 numbers have yet to be released but we do know that only 432 students were accepted. This could mean that the acceptance rate for the 2022-23 incoming freshman class was closer to an even 3%.
Caltech Admissions – SAT, GPA, and Class Rank
Caltech has yet to officially report any academic stats for its Class of 2025 in part because they are presently test-blind, meaning they do not consider SAT or ACT scores. Members of the Class of 2024 possessed mid-50% scores of 1510-1570. The range of ACT Composite scores was 35-36. A stunning 96% of this group placed in the top 10% of their high school class. While they do not release information on average GPA, it is fair to say that most Caltech students have an unweighted 4.0 (or very close to it) earned within a full roster of AP/IB courses.
Admissions Trends & Notes – Class of 2026
- 51.4% of accepted Class of 2026 are female.
- 66% of the admitted Class of 2026 attended public schools.
- International students accepted hailed from 25 countries including Zimbabwe, Poland, and Jamaica.
- Caltech is aiming to welcome a class of 235 students to campus in fall 2022.
- A record 35 QuestBridge applicants were admitted to Caltech.
How Caltech Rates Applicants
Back in 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Caltech announced two major changes to their admissions process:
- Elimination of SAT Subject Test scores requirement.
- A two-year moratorium on the requirement of and consideration of the SAT/ACT. This moratorium has since been extended to those applying to join the 2022-23 freshman class.
Caltech has always utilized a holistic process, but this was made even more so by the impact of the pandemic and the accompanying changes made by the committee. The Dean of Admissions stated that: “If you continue to consider applying to Caltech, I promise that we will take great care of the story you share through an application. We have always reviewed students within the context of the opportunities available to them, and we will hold true to that practice. Additionally, we will be flexible and understanding of extenuating circumstances that may surround your college application process.”
Five factors are cited by Caltech as being “very important” to the admissions process: the rigor of your high school course load, standardized test scores, application essays, recommendations, and character/personal qualities. Class rank, GPA, and extracurricular involvement are deemed “important” to the committee. For advice about how to stand out on the extracurricular front, check out our previous blog entitled How Many Extracurricular Activities Do I Need for College?
Math and Science Preparedness
On the academic front, the Caltech admissions committee wants to see evidence of success in courses covering rigorously proof-based, abstract math. They want to see a mastery of calculus that will ready students to study the following subjects:
- Set Theory & Logic
- Differential & Integral Calculus
- Linear Algebra
- Ordinary Differential Equations
Science expectations are similarly high. In the committee’s own words:
“A student’s science preparedness typically goes beyond foundational science classes taken in their earlier secondary/high school years. While not a concrete requirement, the Admissions Committee will prefer to see science classes – especially physics and chemistry – taken at the most advanced level offered by the school.”
Who Actually Gets Into Caltech?
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown for all undergraduates in 2021-22 was as follows (note—these do not add up to 100% as some individuals belong to more than one category):
- White: 49%
- Asian: 44%
- Hispanic: 22%
- African American: 6%
- American Indian: 2%
- International: 8%
The gender breakdown was as follows:
- Men: 55%
- Women: 45%
Students hail from the following locations:
- In-state: 35%
- Out-of-State: 58%
- International: 8%
The greatest percentage of international students come from:
- South Korea
Caltech’s Yield Rate
Caltech’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted to Caltech is 53%. This number is much lower than the likes of Stanford (80%), Harvard (85%), or MIT (77%) but higher than Rice (41%) or Carnegie Mellon (43%).
Tips for Applying to Caltech
If you plan on joining the 13,000+ Caltech hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:
- We repeat–Caltech will continue to operate in a test-blind capacity for the Class of 2027 admission cycle.
- Caltech gives students the option of using the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Unlike rival MIT, they do not use their own separate application form.
- Caltech does not consider “demonstrated interest” so you will not be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit, contacted an admissions officer, etc.
- There are no undergraduate interviews at Caltech. Your essays and teacher recommendations are the best way to forge a personal connection with an admissions officer.
- Caltech requires all international applicants to submit TOEFL scores and an International Financial Aid Statement of Intent.
- Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay and short answers required by Caltech. In the 2022-23 cycle, they are as follows:
Caltech Essay Prompts
PROMPT #1: Tell us about a time or experience in which you encountered failure. (100–150 words.)
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. (100–150 words.)
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. (100–150 words.)
CT Essay Advice: In general, approach each Caltech prompts as a chance to share something genuine and exciting about yourself. Getting to answer so many questions that invite personal, deep, and honest responses is a wonderful way to ingratiate yourself to the admissions officer reading your application. Communicate your passion for learning and your passion for Caltech and be as specific as you can be! Additionally, the prank prompt allows you to show off your humorous side and engage in some lighthearted fun. If done right, your enthusiasm and potential will jump off the page, potentially separating you from thousands of other qualified teens.
Should I Apply to Caltech?
If you are academically qualified, there is no harm in filling out a Caltech application, but—as with all uber-elite colleges in 2022-23—even the best and brightest applicants need to have a rock-solid backup plan. All college-bound teens need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll definitely want to do this in conjunction with an admissions professional (including your own high school counselor).
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).