Boston University vs Caltech: Which School is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A young man thinking intently.

Boston University vs Caltech: Which School is Right for You?

Deciding on which college to attend is a major life decision that can greatly impact your future career path. When considering universities, it can be especially challenging to compare schools that are vastly different from each other. Boston University and Caltech are two such schools that have distinct offerings for students seeking higher education. Both schools are highly regarded, but which one is right for you? In this article, let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between Boston University vs Caltech.

Location: Boston University vs Caltech

Boston University is located in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, in one of the most historic and culturally rich cities in America. The university’s campus is situated along the Charles River, providing students with a stunning view of the city skyline. Caltech, on the other hand, is located in Pasadena, California, which is a smaller suburban city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. While some may prefer the urban lifestyle and dynamic cultural scene of Boston, others may find Caltech’s suburban location more appealing as it provides a quieter and potentially more focused environment for learning.

Boston University is not only located in a vibrant city, but it is also conveniently situated near many other prestigious universities, such as Harvard and MIT. This allows for easy collaboration and networking opportunities among students and faculty from different institutions.

Caltech, on the other hand, is located near many major technology companies, such as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This provides students with unique opportunities for internships and research collaborations with industry leaders in the field of science and technology.

History: Boston University vs Caltech

Boston University, founded in 1839, is one of the oldest and largest colleges in the United States. It was originally established as a Methodist theological seminary, but over the years it has evolved into a non-denominational research university with a diverse academic offering. Caltech, in contrast, is a much younger institution, having been founded in 1891. It was established as a technical school and has since grown into a world-renowned university known for its emphasis on science and engineering.

Despite their differences in age and academic focus, both Boston University and Caltech have played important roles in shaping the landscape of higher education in the United States. Boston University has a long history of social activism and community engagement, while Caltech, on the other hand, has a reputation for producing groundbreaking research in fields such as astronomy, physics, and computer science.

Today, both universities continue to attract top students and faculty from around the world. Boston University offers over 300 programs of study across 17 schools and colleges, while Caltech is home to just six academic divisions, each focused on a specific area of science or engineering. Despite their differences, both institutions remain committed to advancing knowledge and preparing the next generation of leaders in their respective fields.

Academic Programs: Boston University vs Caltech

Despite their differences in history and location, Boston University and Caltech have some similarities in their academic offerings. Both universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of disciplines, including the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and engineering. However, Caltech is predominantly known for its strong focus on science and engineering, while Boston University has a wider range of programs, offering degrees in fields such as business, education, law, and medicine. Ultimately, the choice of program will depend on the individual student’s interests and career goals.


A students smiling at the camera in a classroom.

It is worth noting that while Caltech may have a more narrow focus on science and engineering, it is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the world in these fields. Caltech has produced 39 Nobel laureates and many other notable scientists and engineers. On the other hand, Boston University has a strong reputation for its programs in the social sciences and humanities. Both universities offer unique opportunities for students to pursue their academic interests and make significant contributions to their fields.

Faculty: Boston University vs Caltech

Both Boston University and Caltech boast highly qualified faculty. Caltech, in particular, is well-known for its world-renowned researchers and scientists. However, Boston University also boasts highly accomplished professors across all departments. Ultimately, it is important to research individual professors in a chosen field to determine which university’s faculty offers the best match for academic interests and research goals.

When it comes to research funding, Caltech has a significant advantage over Boston University. Caltech receives a much larger amount of funding from government agencies and private organizations, which allows its faculty members to conduct cutting-edge research in various fields. On the other hand, Boston University also receives a substantial amount of research funding, but it is not as high as Caltech’s.

Another factor to consider is the student-to-faculty ratio. The student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1 at Boston University and 3:1 at Caltech. Caltech has a much smaller student body compared to Boston University, which means that its faculty members can provide more individual attention to each student. This can be beneficial for students who prefer a more personalized learning experience. However, Boston University’s larger student body allows for a more diverse range of courses and research opportunities.

Campus Life: Boston University vs Caltech

The campus experience at Boston University and Caltech are quite distinct. Boston University is known for its lively campus life, with a wide range of student organizations, sports teams, and cultural events. Caltech, in contrast, has a smaller and more subdued campus atmosphere, with a focus on academic pursuits. Both institutions encourage student involvement in research and extracurricular activities, but the campus culture at each university differs greatly.

Despite the differences in campus culture, both Boston University and Caltech offer unique opportunities for students. Boston University’s location in the heart of Boston provides students with access to a vibrant city and numerous internship opportunities. Caltech’s small size allows for close relationships between students and faculty, and the school’s reputation for excellence in science and engineering attracts top researchers from around the world. Whether you prefer a bustling campus or a more focused academic environment, both Boston University and Caltech offer a rich and rewarding college experience.

Student Body: Boston University vs Caltech

The student populations at Boston University and Caltech are also quite different. Boston University is a large university, with over 33,000 students, while Caltech has fewer than 3,000 students. Additionally, Boston University has a diverse student population, with students from all 50 states and over 130 countries, while Caltech has a more homogeneous student population, with a focus on science and engineering. Students are encouraged to consider which type of student body they would feel most comfortable joining.

Group of students sitting on the stairs.

Another notable difference between the student bodies at Boston University and Caltech is the academic background of the students. While Boston University offers a wide range of majors and programs, including liberal arts, business, and education, Caltech is primarily focused on science and engineering. As a result, the students at Caltech tend to have a stronger background in math and science, while the students at Boston University come from a more diverse range of academic backgrounds. This can impact the academic culture and opportunities available at each institution and should be taken into consideration when choosing a school.

Admissions Requirements: Boston University vs Caltech

The admissions requirements for Boston University and Caltech differ slightly. Both schools require students to submit transcripts, test scores, and essays, but Caltech places a stronger emphasis on standardized test scores and requires two SAT Subject Tests. Boston University also places importance on extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. Ultimately, each university looks for a well-rounded applicant who is likely to succeed academically and contribute positively to the university community.

It is important to note that both Boston University and Caltech offer opportunities for students to showcase their unique talents and experiences through optional supplemental materials. Boston University allows students to submit a creative portfolio, while Caltech offers an optional research supplement. These materials can provide additional insight into an applicant’s strengths and interests and may help to differentiate them from other applicants.

Tuition and Fees: Boston University vs Caltech

The cost of attendance is a major concern for prospective student and their families. Boston University’s tuition and fees are $62,360, while Caltech’s tuition and fees are $60,864. Both universities offer financial aid and scholarships to help offset costs.

It’s important to note that the cost of attendance goes beyond just tuition and fees. Other expenses such as room and board, textbooks, and transportation should also be taken into consideration when comparing the total cost of attending each university. Boston University estimates an additional $17,000 for these expenses, while Caltech estimates around $16,000. It’s important for students and families to carefully consider all of these costs when making a decision about which school to attend.

Financial Aid Opportunities: Boston University vs Caltech

Boston University and Caltech both offer financial aid packages for students with demonstrated needs. Boston University allows students to fill out the FAFSA to be considered for federal and institutional aid, while Caltech requires the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Additionally, both universities offer merit-based scholarships to high-achieving students.

At Boston University, students can also apply for work-study programs, which provide part-time employment opportunities on campus to help cover educational expenses. Caltech, on the other hand, offers a loan-free financial aid package, meaning that students are not required to take out loans to cover their educational costs.

It is important to note that financial aid packages are not guaranteed and are subject to change each year based on a student’s financial situation. Therefore, it is recommended that students reapply for financial aid each year to ensure they receive the maximum amount of aid available to them.

Career Outcomes: Boston University vs Caltech

Students attend university to invest in their future career prospects. Boston University and Caltech have impressive statistics for the career outcomes of their graduates. Boston University graduates have a median mid-career salary of $87,300, while Caltech graduates have a median mid-career salary of $130,000. Additionally, the location of the university can often play a role in post-graduation employment opportunities, with Boston offering a diverse job market and Caltech being located near the technology hub of Silicon Valley.

However, career outcomes are not solely determined by salary and location. The type of degree and field of study can also greatly impact a graduate’s career prospects. Caltech, being a renowned institution for science and engineering, has a higher percentage of graduates who go on to work in STEM fields. On the other hand, Boston University has a strong reputation for its business and communication programs, leading to a higher percentage of graduates working in those industries. Students need to consider not only the overall career outcomes of a university but also the specific outcomes for their intended field of study.

Research Opportunities: Boston University vs Caltech

Research is a significant aspect of the academic experience at both Boston University and Caltech. Caltech’s research reputation is renowned worldwide and its faculty and students have made a significant impact in nearly every field of STEM research. Boston University boasts a similarly impressive research portfolio, being ranked #34 in the nation by the National Science Foundation in research and development expenditures. Both schools encourage student participation in research and offer numerous opportunities for students to work with faculty in cutting-edge research initiatives.

At Caltech, students have the opportunity to work in state-of-the-art research facilities, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech for NASA. This provides students with the chance to work on groundbreaking projects, such as the Mars Rover missions. Boston University also offers unique research opportunities, such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which allows students to work on research projects with faculty members across a wide range of disciplines.

Additionally, both schools have partnerships with industry leaders, providing students with the opportunity to work on real-world projects and gain valuable experience. Caltech has partnerships with companies such as Boeing, Google, and Intel, while Boston University has partnerships with companies such as General Electric, IBM, and Pfizer. These partnerships not only provide students with valuable experience but also often lead to job opportunities after graduation.

Athletics: Boston University vs Caltech

Athletics can often play a significant role in the college experience. Boston University has a robust athletic program, including varsity teams in 18 sports that participate in the NCAA Division I Patriot League conference. Caltech’s athletic program is smaller and competes in Division III of the NCAA, placing a stronger emphasis on academic rather than athletic pursuits. Both schools offer opportunities for both varsity and intramural sports.

sports equipment

Despite the differences in size and emphasis, both Boston University and Caltech prioritize the well-being and safety of their student-athletes. Both schools have dedicated athletic trainers and medical staff to provide care and support for their athletes. Additionally, both schools have implemented policies and procedures to ensure the physical and mental health of their athletes, including concussion protocols and mental health resources.

Technology Resources: Boston University vs Caltech

Technology plays a key role in modern education, and Boston University and Caltech both offer state-of-the-art technology resources to their students. Both schools provide access to cutting-edge research equipment and software, high-speed internet and wireless services, and online course materials. Additionally, students have access to technical support services to ensure they can successfully utilize these resources.

At Boston University, students have access to a variety of specialized technology resources, including a virtual reality lab, a 3D printing lab, and a media production center. The virtual reality lab allows students to explore and create immersive experiences, while the 3D printing lab provides opportunities for students to bring their designs to life. The media production center offers equipment and software for video and audio production, as well as a green screen room for special effects.

Alumni Networks: Boston University vs Caltech

The value of an alumni network often extends beyond graduation day and can significantly benefit career opportunities and personal connections. Boston University and Caltech both have devoted alumni networks, with over 300,000 alumni for Boston University and just under 25,000 for Caltech. These networks offer various ways for alumni to stay in touch, network, and support the university community.

One of the ways that Boston University’s alumni network supports its community is through the BU Alumni Association, which offers career services such as job postings, networking events, and mentorship programs. Caltech’s alumni network, on the other hand, has a strong focus on research and innovation, with many alumni working in the tech industry and collaborating with the university’s current students and faculty on cutting-edge projects.

Conclusion: Which school is right for you?

It is important to note that while both Boston University and Caltech are highly respected institutions, they have different strengths and weaknesses. Boston University is known for its strong liberal arts programs, diverse student body, and urban location. On the other hand, Caltech is renowned for its rigorous STEM programs, small class sizes, and close-knit community. Students should carefully evaluate their academic and personal priorities to determine which school aligns best with their goals and values.

In conclusion, both Boston University and Caltech offer distinct advantages for students seeking higher education. Ultimately, the choice of university will depend on individual preferences, academic interests, and career goals. Prospective students should consider location, academic programs, faculty, campus culture, student population, admissions requirements, cost of attendance, financial aid opportunities, career outcomes, research opportunities, athletics, technology resources, and alumni network when determining which school is the right fit for them.



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