I recently visited The California Institute of Technology in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles, where I toured the campus and spoke with the admissions office about the latest trends in admissions. Here are some takeaways from my visit:
· Caltech provides an exceedingly rigorous STEM education for the most academically and intellectually inclined. 95% of students complete research as undergrads, and many go on to earn Ph.D.s. The fast-paced quarter system adds to curriculum’s intensity, and students take 4-5 classes (sometimes more) each quarter.
· With just under 1,000 undergrads, Caltech has a small, liberal arts college feel, despite being a leading STEM research university with Nobel Prize-winning faculty. Access to faculty and research opportunities abound.
· There is a more even balance between the sexes than in prior years: 55% of students are male, 45% female.
· Caltech students “surf” at various locations during the summer – that is, they propose and execute their own research projects with funding through the Summer Program Research Fellowship.
· The curriculum focuses on collaboration: students spend each week working on challenging problem sets that were designed to be tackled be a team.
· Students typically take one humanities or social science course each term to satisfy gen ed requirements.
· Students coming to Caltech without the requisite math – say with only AP Calc AB or not having taken AP Calc BC since 10th grade – are invited to a remedial math summer program before starting freshman year.
· Most students live on campus all four years. A unique feature of Caltech is its eight residential “houses,” which serve as social and academic hubs for students throughout their four years.
· Students declare a major at the end of their first year. There are no caps on majors.
· Many students are involved in the nearby Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), which Caltech operates jointly with NASA.