[+] What is graduate school like at Caltech and how does the admission process work?
Graduate programs in research-intensive institutions like Caltech provide some classroom education, but the majority of the experience is centered around learning through working on an open-ended problem, with the goal of developing the ability to independently formulate and carry out a research program. Graduate students spend the majority of their time in small research groups or individually working with faculty advisors.
Admission to Caltech graduate study is highly competitive. The faculty holistically review all the materials in the application to make a decision; they evaluate many factors including academic preparation, experience and research interests, standardized test scores, recommendations from teachers/mentors, and they look for a match between faculty and an applicant's research interests.
[+] Where can I find the application deadlines?
The application deadlines vary by department and range from December 1 to January 1. Please refer to our Application Deadlines document. Applications received after the posted deadline may be considered, but late applicants may be at a disadvantage in terms of being admitted and/or in the allocation of financial aid. Caltech conducts admissions once each year and applicants are considered for admission to the fall term only.
[+] Does Caltech have rolling admissions?
Caltech admits students for the fall term only. Applications are not considered for the winter, spring and summer terms.
[+] When will I hear about my application?
Each Option has a different schedule for considering applications and offers of admission will be made as the faculty make decisions on individual applications. Applicants may be notified at any time in the period between the deadline for submission and the deadline for accepting the offers on April 15. Offers are made as soon as possible so that students will have a chance to consider graduate study at Caltech together with opportunities at other institutions.
[+] Will I be interviewed or have a chance to visit Caltech?
Each Option has a different practice for considering applications and working with the applicants. Some Options offer admitted students the chance to visit in order learn more about the program, the campus, and community prior to making their decision. The arrangements and schedule for visiting days are set by the individual Options, and each Option will work with admitted students and faculty to coordinate visits.
[+] Do I need to take the GRE exam?
The Verbal, Quantitative, and Writing components of the General Graduate Record Examination are required by all graduate options, and advanced GRE Subject scores are required or strongly recommended by several options. There are no minimum score requirements for admission. Testing schedules and information on the GRE may be obtained at www.gre.org. Caltech's institution code is 4034. A subject code is not required since all scores are delivered to the Graduate Studies Office.
For a list of the departments requiring or strongly recommending the subject exam, please refer to Required Tests.
[+] What are the minimum GRE scores required for admission?
There are no minimum score requirements for the GRE. On average, admitted students score in the top 90th percentile.
[+] I am scheduled to take the GRE exam, but my scores may not arrive before the application deadline. Can I still apply?
As long as the application form is submitted by the application deadline, supporting documents (scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.) can follow within a reasonable time frame. Some admissions committees do begin reviewing applications shortly after the deadline, so it would be to your advantage to send in the required supporting documents as soon as they are available. In the case of GRE scores, it takes Caltech 10-15 days to receive the scores once you have taken the exam. Scores are received from ETS electronically and automatically matched, but it is helpful to the admissions committee if you can self-report your scores, if available, on the application form.
[+] What is the minimum GPA?
Caltech does not have a minimum GPA requirement. However, most successful applicants have a US GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and/or are in the top 5 to 10% of their class.
[+] Are international students required to report a GPA?
GPA's should only be reported for those schools attended in the United States. International GPA's or rankings do not need to be converted to the standard US grade point average.
[+] Do I need to take an English proficiency (i.e., TOEFL, PTE, IELTS) exam?
Applicants whose first or native language is not English are required to take a test of English proficiency as part of the application procedure. Caltech recognizes scores from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) (www.toefl.org), Pearson's Test of English Academic (PTE) (www.pearsonvue.com/pte), and from the Cambridge Examinations and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) (www.ielts.org). Applicants should arrange for the results of these tests to be sent to Caltech's Graduate Studies Office. Caltech's institution code is 4034.
The following exemptions apply:
- Applicants who have studied in the US for two or more years
- Applicants with a degree from a school whose primary instruction is in English
Please note that regardless of whether or not the English proficiency exams are exempt during the admissions process, all non-native English speakers will be screened prior to enrollment and may be required to take additional English as a Second Language (ESL) training.
[+] What is the minimum TOEFL score?
There is no minimum requirement for the English proficiency exams.
[+] I am an international student, but I have studied in the US. Do I need to take the TOEFL exam?
Applicants whose first or native language is not English are required to take a test of English proficiency as part of the application procedure. The following exemptions apply:
- Applicants who have studied in the US for two or more years
Applicants with a degree from a school whose primary instruction is in English
[+] How many letters of recommendation are required?
Three letters of recommendation are required.
[+] Does it help to submit additional letters of recommendation?
The online application currently accepts three letters maximum, so keep in mind that it's important to submit three strong letters from individuals most familiar with you.
[+] From whom should I request letters of recommendation?
Letters should be requested from those individuals who know you best and can attest to your academic capabilities or training. While faculty members and research supervisors can provide the strongest academic recommendations, we recognize that some applicants may also have work experience that relates to their abilities and training. Keep in mind that those individuals writing recommendation letters should be able to address the following information:
- How well the applicant is known and in what capacity
- If the applicant has the intellectual capability, experimental ability, fundamental training, creativity, and motivation to be successful as a student at Caltech
- Whether the applicant would be encouraged to do doctoral research under the recommender's supervision
- If English is not the native language, how well does the applicant read, write, and converse in English?
- How does the applicant compare to any previous students who have come to Caltech for their graduate work?
[+] I understand that electronic recommendations are preferred, but can my referee(s) submit a paper recommendations instead?
Yes, individuals unable to submit materials electronically may fax, mail or email materials to:Graduate Studies OfficeMail Code 230-87California Institute of Technology1200 E. California BoulevardPasadena, CA 91125FAX (626) 577-9246 Email email@example.com
Be sure that the applicant's name is clearly indicated on any supporting documents not uploaded with the application.
[+] My grades will not be posted for the most recent term prior to the application deadline. Should I wait to submit my transcripts or upload my transcripts to date?
Transcripts should be uploaded with the application form, if available. Grade reports for additional terms are not necessary for application purposes. Official, sealed transcripts documenting attendance and any degrees conferred at each college and university will be required prior to enrollment in the graduate program at Caltech.
[+] Do I need to submit official transcripts?
For the purpose of applying, official, sealed copies of your transcripts are not required and scanned copies of an original transcript or university generated web printouts are accepted. Please note, however, that any electronic submissions must be official records from the university or college attended. Hand-typed listings of courses prepared by the applicant will not be considered. Official transcripts documenting attendance and the degree awarded at each college and university will be required prior to enrollment in the graduate program at Caltech.
[+] How many copies of the transcript are required?
[+] I would like to apply to more than one department. Should I submit two separate applications?
Applications will not be accepted for more than one academic option per admission cycle. In reviewing your application, the admission committee of the option to which you have applied may recommend that your application be reviewed by another option. If your application is referred to another option you will not be charged any additional fees or be asked to submit a duplicate application.
[+] Who qualifies for a fee waiver?
Application fee waivers will be granted to a limited number of applicants who can demonstrate financial hardship. Financial hardship can be demonstrated by providing a statement of financial need from a current university or college, or an explanation of other circumstances where $100 would provide a financial burden.
The fee waiver request form can be completed as part of the online application. Fee waiver decisions will be sent via email only.
Caltech has agreements with several organizations providing guaranteed fee waivers. These include, but are not limited to:
- Project 1000
- SURF/WAVE participants
- Caltech-USC MD/PhD applicants
- Caltech-UCLA MD/PhD applicants
[+] Can I make changes to the application or submit additional documents after submission?
Once the application has been submitted, you will not be able to modify supporting documents, so please proofread your materials thoroughly before submission. If there is a major error in your application, please contact the Graduate Studies Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) for instructions.
[+] Do you have admission counselors?
Caltech does not have admissions counselors at the graduate level. Most information can be located online through the Graduate Studies Office website (www.gradoffice.caltech.edu) or the main Caltech homepage (www.caltech.edu) and searching by area of interest. The admissions staff cannot provide information on likelihood of admission or how to prepare a successful application. Specific questions regarding current research or prerequisites should be directed to the department to which you are applying.
1:18 p.m. | Updated See below for several comments that take issue with the position argued here, including from Sally Rubenstone of College Confidential and Stacey Cunitz of the Crefeld School in Philadelphia.
In a post this month — under the headline “Does ‘President, Lady Gaga Fan Club’ Belong on a College Application?” — my colleague Rebecca R. Ruiz asked the question, “Are there certain hobbies, passions or accomplishments you’ve excluded from your college application, feeling they’re not worthy or relevant?” Picking up on a thread from the Web site College Confidential, the post explored the notion of “hidden extracurriculars” — one person cycled 1,000 miles, another read every Agatha Christie novel — and how to alert a college admissions office to such activities, if at all.
On Friday night, The Choice received a provocative response from Jon Reider. He is a former admissions officer at Stanford, longtime counselor at a private high school in San Francisco and a co-author of “Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College.” His counsel, boiled down to one word, is “restraint.”
“I can understand the desire to have a little fun with the application, and some colleges actually invite some playfulness on their application supplements, such as Tufts and the University of Chicago,” wrote Mr. Reider, an advisor for an online college counseling service, iAdmissions.com. “But they do it in a serious context, and they are mainly interested in how the student’s mind works when they let themselves use their imagination rather than in their being odd or quirky for its sake.”
At this point, I’m going to get out of my own way and let Mr. Reider have the floor. After you’ve read what he’s written, you can use the comment box below to keep this conversation going. Here is the remainder of Mr. Reider’s advice:
Yes, it is a challenge to try to stand out among the thousands of applicants with similar grades, scores and activities, and the random admission officer may crack a smile at the Lady Gaga fan club, or the Agatha Christie fascination. We all have our private odd interests, after all.
But then cool reason will intercede. The admission officer will look forward to the next morning in committee and how he will make a case for the Lady Gaga kid when each of his colleagues has a stack of solid files in front of them too. Self-protection will come into play, and Lady Gaga will go into the ‘might have been if we only had more room’ pile. Close, but no cigar.
This is how it works.
But there is a larger problem in this conversation that most of the contributors have not mentioned: the idea of gaming the system.
Again, this is common and comes in many forms, some borderline honest, and some clearly outrageous. This is the sad side of the college admissions scene today: the frenzy, the hunt for your own private hook, the gimmick, the need ultimately to win some prize called College X.
What is the price to a student’s self-respect (not the same as their self-esteem, which will be rewarded by admission) if they play the game this way?
Sure, they may never notice what they have done, but they have trivialized themselves. What kind of an introduction to the adventure of higher education is this? I respect students who keep the process in perspective and don’t lower themselves to this level.
I don’t honestly think it helps them to get cute, and I think it hurts them in another, more subtle way. It’s like fighting an election by defaming your opponent. It might work, but is it worth it? And is it good for the general welfare?
What do you think? Please let us know below.
To read an archive of advice in our occasional “Tip Sheet” posts, click here.