Caltech Undergraduate Requirements

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Caltech undergraduate requirements

Caltech Undergraduate Requirements

Navigating Caltech undergraduate requirements is the first crucial step in your journey toward becoming part of an elite academic community. The process might seem complex, but we’re here to guide you through it. This article will outline what you need to know to make your application compelling. So, don’t miss out; read on to arm yourself with the information you need to succeed.

The Basics of Caltech’s Admissions Process

When it comes to securing a spot at Caltech, understanding the Caltech undergraduate requirements is key. The admissions committee carefully evaluates each applicant not just on academic excellence, but also on a well-rounded profile that includes extracurricular involvement, personal qualities, and potential for growth. In the following sections, we will scrutinize the importance of these various factors and how they influence the admissions process at Caltech.

For your application to be considered complete for first-year admission to Caltech, it’s crucial to adhere to the following Caltech undergraduate requirements. Even a single omission may render your application insufficient.

  1. Common or Coalition Application and Supplemental Essays
    • Caltech accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application, with no preference for either. It’s advisable to choose the platform that best suits you. Additionally, Caltech is a QuestBridge Partner, allowing prospective students to submit their applications through the QuestBridge National College Match.
  2. Application Fee or Fee Waivers
    • If the $75 application fee poses a financial hardship for you or your family, you have several options:
      • Include a copy of your SAT or ACT fee waiver form with your application.
      • Email [email protected] with a copy of the form attached. Caltech continues to accept these waivers.
      • You can request a fee waiver through the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
      • Ask your school counselor to email Caltech ([email protected]) to confirm that the application fee is a significant financial burden for both you and your family.
      • When using the Coalition Application, you can receive an early indication of fee waiver eligibility.
  3. Standardized Examinations
    • SAT and ACT test score requirements have been temporarily suspended for two years, starting in June 2020. This suspension was extended for an additional year as of July 2021, resulting in a three-year moratorium. This change is in response to the ongoing impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic on test accessibility for students. It applies to all first-year applicants for fall 2021, fall 2022, and fall 2023.
  4. Teacher Evaluations
    • Caltech’s undergraduate requirements for the fall 2022 semester necessitate two letters of recommendation from instructors:
      • One evaluation from a math or science teacher.
      • One evaluation from a teacher in the social sciences or humanities.
    • These letters can come from any year of your high school education. It is advised to approach teachers who can comment on your academic performance.
    • For the humanities or social science teacher evaluation, the teacher must have assessed your writing, typically from subjects like English, foreign languages, philosophy, history, and more.
    • You can also submit up to two additional evaluations from mentors or supervisors in different settings, though these are optional.
  5. Secondary School Report
    • This report is sent to Caltech by your high school’s college counselor. It provides background information about your school, aiding the Admissions Committee in a comprehensive review of your application.
  6. Academic Transcripts
    • Submit official academic transcripts from your high school. Your school can send these online or via mail.
  7. International Students: English Proficiency Exam
    • All international students must provide the results of an English Proficiency Exam unless their primary language is English or their secondary school predominantly teaches in English. Valid exams include TOEFL iBT, IELTS, and Duolingo English Test (DET).
  8. Declaration of Intent Regarding International Financial Assistance
    • International students applying to Caltech must affirm their understanding of the financial aid policy and their intention to apply for financial aid from Caltech. This is crucial as the availability of financial aid for international students is limited, and Caltech is committed to meeting demonstrated financial needs.

Meeting these Caltech undergraduate requirements ensures your application is complete and ready for consideration. It is important to adhere to these guidelines to enhance your chances of admission to Caltech.

Academic Excellence

At Caltech, academic performance is highly valued. The institution seeks students who have demonstrated a strong aptitude for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. While a robust foundation in these areas is essential, Caltech also considers a candidate’s overall intellectual curiosity and passion for learning.

Admissions officers carefully review applicants’ high school transcripts and evaluate the rigor of their coursework, paying close attention to advanced classes and challenging electives. They look for evidence of a student’s ability to excel in a rigorous academic environment and their potential to contribute to the intellectual community at Caltech.

Beyond grades and course selection, Caltech looks for evidence of intellectual engagement outside the classroom. This can include research projects, participation in science fairs, or any other extracurricular activity that showcases a student’s dedication to their chosen field of study. Admissions officers are interested in understanding how applicants have pursued their academic interests beyond the traditional classroom setting.

Students talking to their professor.

Extracurricular Activities

Caltech firmly believes in the value of a well-rounded education. As such, the admissions process considers applicants’ extracurricular involvement and leadership experiences. While STEM-focused passions are important, Caltech also encourages participation in non-STEM activities, such as music, sports, community service, or the arts.

The key is to demonstrate a genuine passion for your interests, a commitment to personal growth, and a willingness to contribute to the campus community. Admissions officers will look for indicators of your initiative, creativity, and ability to work collaboratively. Leadership roles, exceptional achievements, and contributions that positively impact others can significantly strengthen your application.

Caltech values students who are not only academically accomplished but also well-rounded individuals who can bring diverse perspectives and experiences to the campus community. Extracurricular activities provide an opportunity for applicants to showcase their unique talents, interests, and values.

Standardized Test Scores

Caltech requires applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. While these scores are not the sole determining factor, they do provide additional information about an applicant’s academic abilities. These standardized tests offer a standardized measure that, along with other academic credentials, helps the admissions committee assess your readiness for the rigorous Caltech curriculum.

Recommendation Letters

Caltech requires letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or other individuals who can speak to an applicant’s academic abilities, character, and potential for success at Caltech. These letters offer third-party insights into your academic performance, your contributions to the classroom environment, and your intellectual curiosity.

School Report and Teacher Evaluations

In addition to meeting the Caltech undergraduate requirements, applicants must also submit letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors, as well as a mandatory School Report. This document, provided by your high school college counselor, offers context about your educational background and your school’s academic environment.

Your counselor will also submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf, adding another layer of insight into your academic and personal qualities. Teacher evaluations, usually submitted by instructors familiar with your academic work, play a vital role in the application process, granting the admissions committee a deeper understanding of your academic abilities and character.

A man talking to his teacher in a classroom.

Personal Essays

Applicants are required to submit personal essays that provide insight into their motivations, aspirations, and personal experiences. These essays allow admissions officers to assess an applicant’s writing skills, critical thinking abilities, and alignment with Caltech’s values. The essays serve as a platform for you to share your unique story, your goals, and how you see yourself contributing to the Caltech community.


While not required, Caltech offers optional interviews for applicants to further showcase their interests, experiences, and fit with the institution. Interviews provide an opportunity for applicants to engage in a conversation with a Caltech representative and ask questions about the college. This face-to-face interaction can be an invaluable addition to your application, offering a more personal perspective of you as an applicant.

Supplemental Materials

Beyond the standard application components, Caltech allows for the submission of supplemental materials. These optional additions can help the admissions committee learn more about your skills, interests, and potential contributions to the Caltech community. You may submit research papers, maker portfolios, visual art, or even detailed descriptions of internships or projects you have undertaken. If you choose to submit a research paper, an additional letter of recommendation is required. This letter should come from someone who can comment on the research experience that led to the paper, such as a research supervisor or mentor.

By considering a holistic range of factors, Caltech aims to identify students who not only excel academically but also possess the qualities and potential to thrive in the unique academic and research environment at the institution.

Requirements for International Applicants

Caltech’s global reputation attracts a diverse pool of applicants, including those from outside the United States. If you are an international applicant—defined as a student who is neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent resident and has attended secondary school outside the U.S.—there are additional requirements you must meet. English Proficiency Exam scores are required unless English is your native language or the primary language of instruction in your secondary school. Accepted exams include the Duolingo English Test (DET), IELTS, or TOEFL.

Furthermore, international applicants must submit an International Financial Aid Statement of Intent. This confirms your understanding of Caltech’s financial aid policies and your intent regarding financial aid. Lastly, all application materials must be submitted in English. If any documents are originally in another language, both the original and an English translation are required.

Caltech undergraduate requirements for internation students

Detailed Breakdown of Caltech’s Admission Requirements

Now that we have discussed the broader aspects of the admissions process, let’s focus on the specific Caltech undergraduate requirements that the institution expects from its applicants. Understanding these requirements will equip you to prepare a more compelling application.

High School Coursework Expectations

Caltech seeks students who have challenged themselves academically throughout high school. This means taking a demanding curriculum that includes, but is not limited to, math, science, and advanced placement (AP) courses. The institution prefers to see students taking advantage of the most rigorous classes available to them, showcasing their dedication and ability to thrive in a challenging academic environment.

When it comes to high school coursework expectations, Caltech places a strong emphasis on STEM subjects. It is crucial for applicants to have a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Taking advanced math and science courses not only demonstrates proficiency in these areas but also showcases a genuine interest in these disciplines.

However, Caltech also values a well-rounded education. While STEM subjects are of utmost importance, the institution recognizes the importance of a breadth of coursework. Pursuing other subjects, such as humanities and social sciences, can showcase your intellectual versatility and ability to think critically across different disciplines.

Furthermore, Caltech values students who go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Taking additional advanced courses, such as independent research projects or college-level courses, can further strengthen your application. These experiences demonstrate your willingness to challenge yourself and pursue knowledge beyond the standard curriculum.

It is also worth noting that Caltech considers the context in which applicants have pursued their coursework. The institution takes into account the resources available to students and the opportunities they have had to excel academically. If you have faced challenges or limitations in your high school education, it is important to provide context and explain how you have made the most of the resources available to you.

Overall, Caltech’s high school coursework expectations reflect the institution’s commitment to academic excellence and well-rounded education. By taking challenging courses, showcasing your proficiency in STEM subjects, and pursuing a breadth of coursework, you can demonstrate your readiness to thrive in Caltech’s rigorous academic environment.

School students extract electricity from apples, use of the energy of a chemical reaction

Application Platforms and Fee

After understanding the broader aspects of Caltech’s admissions process, it’s crucial to know how to actually submit your application. Caltech offers two primary ways to apply: through the Common App or the QuestBridge Application. The institute does not have a preference between these two platforms, giving you the flexibility to choose the one that best suits you. Additionally, Caltech is a QuestBridge Partner, allowing students to apply through the QuestBridge National College Match program.

When it comes to the application fee, a non-refundable fee of $75 is required. However, fee waivers are available for those who qualify, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder your application process.


Navigating Caltech’s admissions process can be complex, but being well-informed simplifies the journey. This article has provided a thorough overview of Caltech undergraduate requirements, encompassing academic excellence, extracurricular involvement, and additional elements like school reports and supplemental materials. Guidelines for international applicants have also been discussed.

Caltech is interested in more than just academically gifted students; the institution values individuals who offer diverse perspectives and have the potential for meaningful contributions. As you finalize your application, make sure it showcases both your intellectual abilities and your unique qualities. With this understanding, you are now better prepared to embark on your journey toward joining this esteemed academic community.


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