Caltech vs Carleton: Which College is Right for You?

July 14, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Caltech vs Carleton: Which College is Right for You?

Choosing the right college can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to institutions that are known for their academic rigor and excellence. Two such schools that often come up in discussions of top-tier colleges are the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Carleton College. Both schools are highly regarded for their academic programs, faculty, and research opportunities, but they also have their unique differences that appeal to different students. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at Caltech vs Carleton, comparing and contrasting their various aspects to help you decide which college is right for you.

Academic Programs at Caltech vs Carleton

For students who are interested in studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects, Caltech is the clear winner. It is a research university that focuses on STEM fields and boasts of having some of the most renowned faculty in the world. Its undergraduate programs are highly specialized, with majors such as physics, mathematics, computer science, biology, and chemistry. Carleton, on the other hand, offers a diverse range of majors, including economics, political science, psychology, English, art history, and more. Carleton’s strength in the liberal arts has earned it a spot among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

Group of students talking in a room.

Despite Caltech’s focus on STEM fields, the university also offers a range of humanities and social science courses. Students can take classes in history, philosophy, literature, and more. However, these courses are not as extensive as those offered at Carleton, which has a strong emphasis on the liberal arts. Carleton’s curriculum requires students to take courses in a variety of disciplines, including science and math, in addition to their major courses.

Another notable difference between the two institutions is the size of their student body. Caltech has a much smaller undergraduate population, with only around 1,000 students, while Carleton has about 2,000. This means that Caltech offers a more intimate learning environment, with smaller class sizes and more opportunities for one-on-one interaction with professors. However, Carleton’s larger student body allows for a more diverse range of extracurricular activities and student organizations.

Faculty and Research Opportunities at Caltech vs Carleton

One of Caltech’s biggest draws is its world-renowned faculty, who are often at the forefront of groundbreaking research in their respective fields. Students at Caltech have the opportunity to work alongside these faculty members on research projects, leading to a high rate of published papers and presentations at conferences. While Carleton’s faculty members may not have the same level of international recognition as those at Caltech, they are equally dedicated to teaching and mentorship. Carleton students also have ample research opportunities, with the college investing heavily in supporting undergraduate research, creative works, and career exploration.

Caltech’s faculty members are not only leaders in their fields, but they are also committed to teaching and mentoring students. They are known for their accessibility and willingness to work closely with students, providing guidance and support throughout their academic journey. This personalized approach to education is a hallmark of the Caltech experience.

At Carleton, students have the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research, working across departments and fields to tackle complex problems. The college’s commitment to undergraduate research is evident in its numerous research centers and institutes, which provide students with access to cutting-edge technology and resources. Carleton students are encouraged to pursue their passions and explore new areas of interest, with faculty members serving as mentors and guides along the way.

Student Life: Campus Culture at Caltech vs Carleton

The campus culture at Caltech is heavily geared toward academics and research. The student body is composed mostly of STEM majors, with a strong emphasis on academic excellence and intellectual curiosity. Student life at Carleton is more relaxed and diverse, with a mix of both STEM and liberal arts majors. Carleton has a strong commitment to social justice and civic engagement, with students actively involved in activism, community service, and interdisciplinary work.

Despite the differences in campus culture, both Caltech and Carleton offer a variety of extracurricular activities for students to get involved in. At Caltech, students can participate in research projects, join academic clubs, and compete in intramural sports. Carleton offers a wide range of student organizations, including cultural clubs, music groups, and sports teams. Both schools also have a strong sense of community, with students forming close bonds through shared experiences and academic pursuits.

Admission Requirements at Caltech vs Carleton

Both Caltech and Carleton are highly selective colleges with acceptance rates of 4% and 18%, respectively. To get into Caltech, applicants typically need to have outstanding academic records, and top test scores, and demonstrate exceptional talent in STEM fields. Carleton values more holistic criteria, taking into account extracurricular activities, essays, recommendations, and interviews in addition to academic performance.

A young woman using a laptop while writing on her table.


Caltech offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in cutting-edge research and innovation. The college encourages students to participate in research projects and collaborate with faculty members. This hands-on experience provides students with a competitive edge in their future careers. Carleton, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of a liberal arts education. The college offers a wide range of majors and encourages students to explore different fields of study. Carleton also has a strong commitment to community service and encourages students to engage in volunteer work.

Both Caltech and Carleton offer generous financial aid packages to eligible students. Caltech meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students, while Carleton offers need-based financial aid and merit scholarships. Students are encouraged to apply for financial aid early in the application process to ensure they receive the maximum amount of aid possible.

Financial Aid Options for Students at Caltech vs Carleton

Attending a top-tier college like Caltech or Carleton can be expensive, but both schools have robust financial aid programs to make education accessible to all students. Caltech is renowned for its no-loan policy, which means that students do not have to take out loans to cover their tuition fees. Carleton, meanwhile, offers need-based financial aid packages that cover up to 100% of demonstrated needs, including tuition, room, and board.

It’s important to note that both Caltech and Carleton also offer merit-based scholarships to students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement or talent in a particular area. These scholarships can cover a significant portion of tuition costs and do not need to be repaid. Additionally, both schools have work-study programs that allow students to earn money to help cover their expenses while gaining valuable work experience.

Student Success Rates: Graduation Rates and Career Outcomes for Caltech and Carleton Alumni

Graduating from Caltech or Carleton is a significant achievement that opens doors to many opportunities. Both colleges have impressive graduation rates. Caltech alumni have a strong track record of success in STEM fields, with many of them becoming Nobel laureates, successful entrepreneurs, and leading researchers. Carleton graduates, on the other hand, have a more diverse range of career paths, with alumni excelling in fields such as law, medicine, public service, and more.

However, it’s not just about the career outcomes for alumni. Both Caltech and Carleton have strong support systems in place to ensure that students are successful during their time at college. Caltech, for example, has a dedicated team of academic advisors who work closely with students to help them navigate their coursework and research projects. Carleton, on the other hand, has a robust network of alumni mentors who provide guidance and support to current students.

Furthermore, both colleges prioritize diversity and inclusion, which is reflected in their student populations. Caltech has a strong commitment to increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and has implemented various initiatives to support these groups. Carleton, on the other hand, has a diverse student body with students from all 50 states and over 60 countries and has a strong commitment to creating an inclusive campus community.

Campus Resources for Student Support at Caltech vs Carleton

Caltech and Carleton both have a range of resources available to support students’ physical, emotional, and academic needs. At Caltech, students have access to a full-service health center, career development services, and academic advisors who offer personalized support throughout students’ academic journeys. Carleton has a similarly comprehensive student support system, with many resources focused on mental health and wellness, including counseling services, a wellness center, and a student-led peer mentoring program.

A woman explaining something to a woman.

Additionally, both Caltech and Carleton offer resources for students with disabilities. Caltech has a Disability Services Office that provides accommodations and support for students with disabilities, while Carleton has an Accessibility Services Office that offers similar services. Both schools also have student organizations dedicated to promoting disability awareness and advocacy on campus.

Diversity and Inclusion on Campus at Caltech vs Carleton

Diversity and inclusion are important values for both Caltech and Carleton, but their approaches to achieving a more diverse and equitable campus culture differ. Caltech has a relatively low level of racial and ethnic diversity, with the majority of students being White or Asian. Carleton, on the other hand, has a more diverse student body, with students of color making up over 30% of the population. Both colleges have active diversity and inclusion initiatives, including student-led organizations, affinity groups, and training programs for faculty and staff.

Despite Caltech’s lower level of racial and ethnic diversity, the college has made efforts to increase diversity in recent years. In 2020, Caltech announced a new initiative to increase the number of underrepresented minority students in its graduate programs. The initiative includes funding for fellowships and scholarships, as well as outreach efforts to underrepresented communities.

Carleton’s commitment to diversity and inclusion extends beyond its student body. The college has also made efforts to diversify its faculty and staff, to increase the number of faculty members from underrepresented groups. In addition, Carleton has implemented training programs for faculty and staff to promote cultural competency and create a more inclusive campus environment.

Sports Programs at Caltech vs Carleton

While both Caltech and Carleton place a strong emphasis on academics, they also have robust sports programs that enable students to develop their athletic skills and compete at the NCAA Division III level. Caltech has a modest athletics program, with a few varsity sports teams and a focus on individual sports such as track and field, tennis, and swimming. Carleton, on the other hand, has a more extensive athletics program, with over 20 varsity teams and a focus on team sports such as basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Carleton also has a solid intramural sports program that allows students of all skill levels to participate in sports activities.

View of Sports equipments stack on the wall.

Despite the differences in the size and focus of their athletics programs, both Caltech and Carleton offer opportunities for students to engage in sports and physical activity. In addition to varsity and intramural sports, both colleges have fitness centers and recreational facilities that students can use to stay active and healthy. These facilities include gyms, swimming pools, and outdoor fields and courts. Students at both colleges can also take part in fitness classes and wellness programs that promote healthy habits and stress relief.

Extracurricular Activities Available at Caltech and Carleton

Both Caltech and Carleton offer a plethora of extracurricular activities that enable students to pursue their interests outside of the classroom. Caltech has over 100 student organizations, including clubs focused on astronomy, robotics, and entrepreneurship. Carleton has over 250 student organizations, including clubs focused on social justice, environmentalism, and performing arts. Both colleges also have active volunteering programs, with students actively involved in community service, outreach, and advocacy efforts.

Additionally, both Caltech and Carleton offer unique opportunities for students to engage in research and academic pursuits outside of their regular coursework. Caltech’s SURF program allows students to work alongside faculty members on cutting-edge research projects, while Carleton’s off-campus studies program enables students to study abroad or participate in immersive learning experiences in different parts of the world.

Furthermore, both colleges have a strong emphasis on athletics and offer a variety of sports teams and fitness programs for students to participate in. Caltech is a member of the NCAA Division III and has teams in sports such as basketball, soccer, and swimming. Carleton is also a member of the NCAA Division III and has teams in sports such as cross country, track and field, and ultimate frisbee.

Research Opportunities for Students at Caltech or Carleton

Research opportunities are an essential part of the college experience at Caltech and Carleton, providing students with hands-on learning experiences that can lead to breakthrough discoveries and professional growth. At Caltech, research opportunities abound for undergraduates, with many students co-authoring published papers and making significant contributions to groundbreaking research. Carleton has a similarly robust research culture, with students encouraged to engage in interdisciplinary research collaborations and pursue internships and research opportunities both on and off campus.

One of the benefits of participating in research as an undergraduate student is the opportunity to work closely with faculty members who are experts in their fields. At both Caltech and Carleton, students have the chance to collaborate with professors on research projects, gaining valuable mentorship and guidance. This can be especially beneficial for students who are considering pursuing graduate studies or careers in research.

Additionally, research experience can be a valuable asset when applying for jobs or graduate programs after graduation. Employers and admissions committees often look for candidates who have demonstrated the ability to conduct independent research and think critically. By participating in research as an undergraduate, students can develop these skills and showcase them to potential employers or graduate schools.

Living Expenses at Caltech vs Carleton

Cost is a significant factor for many students when deciding which college to attend, and it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the expenses involved. Caltech’s tuition and fees are among the highest in the country, amounting to $60,864 per year. On the other hand, Carleton’s tuition and fees are $62,634 per year. However, it’s important to note that both colleges have generous financial aid programs that can significantly reduce out-of-pocket costs for eligible students.

African American Women Accounting With Graduation Cap

In addition to tuition and fees, students should also consider the cost of living on campus or in the surrounding area. At Caltech, the average cost of room and board is around $16,000 per year, while at Carleton, it’s closer to $14,000 per year. However, the cost of living can vary depending on factors such as location, housing options, and personal spending habits.

Another factor to consider is the availability of part-time jobs on or near campus. Both Caltech and Carleton offer work-study programs that allow students to earn money while gaining valuable experience. However, the availability of jobs and the hourly wage can vary depending on the local job market and the student’s qualifications.

Prospective Student Visits: What to Expect During a Campus Tour of Caltech or Carleton?

If you’re considering Caltech or Carleton, one of the best ways to get a feel for the campus culture and community is to visit the colleges in person. Both colleges offer campus tours and information sessions for prospective students and their families. During these visits, you can expect to meet with admissions staff, attend classes, meet current students, and explore the campus facilities and resources.

During your campus tour of Caltech, you will have the opportunity to explore the world-renowned research facilities and laboratories, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Keck Observatory. You will also have the chance to meet with professors and researchers who are at the forefront of their fields and learn about the cutting-edge research projects that are being conducted on campus.

At Carleton, you can expect to experience a vibrant and engaged campus community, with a wide range of student organizations and activities to get involved in. From the student-run radio station to the outdoor recreation club, there is something for everyone at Carleton. You will also have the opportunity to attend lectures and events featuring prominent guest speakers and engage in meaningful discussions with your peers and professors.

Ultimately, choosing between Caltech and Carleton comes down to your priorities and preferences. Caltech is an excellent choice for students who are passionate about STEM fields and want to be part of a community of leading scientists and researchers. Carleton, on the other hand, is an ideal choice for students who value a more diverse and inclusive campus culture, a strong commitment to social justice, and a liberal arts education that prepares them for a range of career paths and lifelong learning opportunities.


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