Caltech vs Occidental: Which College is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

College Decision Day

Caltech vs Occidental: Which College is Right for You?

If you’re considering attending college in the Southern California area, you may be wondering which institution is the best fit for your academic and personal goals. Two options that often come up in these conversations are the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Occidental College (Oxy). In this article, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between Caltech vs Occidental College to help you make an informed decision about your future.

Introduction to Caltech and Occidental

Caltech and Oxy are both located in the greater Los Angeles area, making them convenient options for students who want to live and study in Southern California. However, these colleges have distinct histories, missions, and academic programs that set them apart from one another.

Caltech was founded in 1891 as Throop University, and it has grown into one of the world’s leading research universities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Caltech’s campus is located in Pasadena, California, and it spans over 100 acres. With just over 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students, Caltech is a highly selective institution that offers a rigorous academic experience.

California Institute of Technology front view

Oxy, on the other hand, was founded in 1887 as Occidental College by a group of Presbyterian clergy members. Located in the neighborhood of Eagle Rock, Oxy is a private, liberal arts college with a focus on undergraduate education. It enrolls over 2,000 students from diverse backgrounds and offers a range of majors and minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Despite their differences, both Caltech and Oxy offer unique opportunities for students. Caltech’s emphasis on STEM fields means that students have access to cutting-edge research and technology, as well as opportunities to work with renowned faculty members. Oxy’s liberal arts focus, on the other hand, allows students to explore a wide range of academic disciplines and develop critical thinking and communication skills that are valuable in any career.

Additionally, both colleges are located in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, which offers endless opportunities for cultural and recreational activities. From museums and theaters to beaches and mountains, students at Caltech and Oxy can take advantage of all that Southern California has to offer.

Campus Environment and Location at Caltech vs Occidental

Caltech’s campus is often described as minimalist and modern, with buildings arranged in a cohesive way that encourages collaboration and interdisciplinary research. The campus is located in Pasadena, which is known for its sunny weather and upscale living options. Pasadena has a vibrant cultural scene, with museums, galleries, and theaters that attract students and residents alike.

Oxy’s campus, on the other hand, is more traditional in its architecture and layout, with buildings inspired by Spanish mission design. The campus is located in Eagle Rock, which is a more residential neighborhood that offers a small-town feel in the midst of Los Angeles. Oxy students often enjoy exploring nearby neighborhoods like Highland Park, Silver Lake, and Downtown LA for their diverse food and entertainment options.

One unique aspect of Caltech’s campus is the presence of the Seismological Laboratory, which is responsible for monitoring earthquakes in Southern California. The lab is home to the world’s largest seismograph, and students have the opportunity to work alongside researchers in studying seismic activity and developing earthquake early warning systems.

At Oxy, students can take advantage of the college’s proximity to the Arroyo Seco, a natural area that offers hiking trails and opportunities for outdoor recreation. The college also has a partnership with the nearby Occidental Children’s Center, where students can volunteer and gain experience working with children from low-income families.

Academic Programs and Majors Offered at Caltech vs Occidental

Caltech is known for its STEM-focused curriculum, with majors in fields like physics, computer science, engineering, astronomy, and chemistry. However, the college also offers a range of humanities and social science courses and encourages students to take classes outside of their primary fields of study. Caltech’s academic programs are centered around small, discussion-based classes and lab work, with a focus on independent research opportunities.

Oxy’s liberal arts curriculum is designed to give students a broad education that prepares them for a range of careers and graduate programs. The college offers over 40 majors and minors in fields like English, sociology, economics, biology, and psychology, as well as interdisciplinary programs like diplomacy and world affairs, urban and environmental policy, and cognitive science. Oxy’s academic programs emphasize critical thinking, writing skills, and class participation.

Liberal arts carved into a stone window

In addition to its majors and minors, Caltech also offers a number of interdisciplinary programs that allow students to explore multiple fields of study. These programs include options like bioengineering, computational and neural systems, and environmental science and engineering. Caltech also has a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, with opportunities for students to work alongside faculty members on cutting-edge projects.

At Oxy, students have the opportunity to participate in a number of experiential learning programs, including internships, research projects, and study abroad opportunities. The college also offers a number of unique programs, such as the Campaign Semester program, which allows students to work on political campaigns while earning academic credit, and the Kahane United Nations Program, which gives students the chance to attend UN meetings and conferences.

Class Size and Student-to-Faculty Ratio at Caltech vs Occidental

One of the biggest differences between Caltech and Oxy is their class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios. Caltech has a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1, meaning that classes are typically very small and students receive a lot of personalized attention from their professors. The average class size at Caltech is around 13 students, and the college has a reputation for challenging coursework and rigorous grading standards.

Oxy’s student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1, which is still quite low compared to many other colleges and universities. Oxy’s average class size is around 17 students, and the college is known for its lively class discussions and supportive faculty members. Oxy professors typically have an open-door policy and are available to help students with writing, research, and academic advising.

Another important factor to consider when comparing Caltech and Oxy is the type of students who attend each college. Caltech is known for attracting students who are highly motivated and academically gifted in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The college has a strong emphasis on research and innovation, and many students go on to pursue careers in these fields after graduation.

Oxy, on the other hand, has a more diverse student body with a wide range of academic interests and career goals. The college offers a liberal arts education that encourages students to explore different subjects and develop critical thinking skills. Many Oxy students go on to pursue careers in fields such as law, education, and the arts.

Admissions Process and Requirements at Caltech vs Occidental

Both Caltech and Oxy are highly selective colleges that look for students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, academic achievements, and extracurricular involvement. Caltech has an acceptance rate of around 6%, while Oxy’s acceptance rate is around 38%. Both colleges require students to submit standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation.

Caltech also requires applicants to complete a science research project or equivalent, while Oxy encourages applicants to submit additional materials like art portfolios, music recordings, or personal statements that reflect their interests and achievements. Financial aid is available at both colleges, and students are encouraged to apply for scholarships, grants, and loans to help cover the cost of tuition and living expenses.

unidentified person filling out a scholarship form

It is important to note that both Caltech and Oxy have holistic admissions processes, meaning that they consider a variety of factors beyond just test scores and grades. They also take into account factors such as leadership experience, community involvement, and unique personal circumstances. This means that even if a student’s test scores or grades are not perfect, they still have a chance of being admitted if they demonstrate other strengths and qualities.

Additionally, both colleges offer opportunities for students to visit campus and learn more about the admissions process. Caltech offers campus tours, information sessions, and interviews with admissions officers, while Oxy offers campus tours, information sessions, and the opportunity to sit in on a class. These visits can be helpful for students to get a better sense of the campus culture and community, and to ask any questions they may have about the admissions process or the college in general.

Tuition and Financial Aid Options Available at Caltech vs Occidental

As of 2021, Caltech’s tuition and fees are around $55,000 per year, while Oxy’s tuition and fees are around $58,000 per year. However, both colleges have generous financial aid packages that can cover up to 100% of demonstrated need.

Additionally, both colleges offer merit-based scholarships and awards for outstanding academic performance and research achievements. Students at both colleges are also eligible for federal and state grants and loans, as well as work-study opportunities on campus and off.

It is important to note that the process of applying for financial aid can be complex and time-consuming. Both Caltech and Oxy have dedicated financial aid offices that can assist students and families with the application process and answer any questions they may have. These offices can also provide guidance on alternative financing options, such as private loans and payment plans.

Furthermore, both colleges have partnerships with external organizations that offer additional financial support to students. For example, Caltech has partnerships with the Amgen Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which provide funding for research opportunities and internships.

Oxy has partnerships with the Posse Foundation and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which offer scholarships and mentorship programs to high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Student Life: Extracurricular Activities, Clubs, and Athletics

Both Caltech and Oxy offer a range of extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations that allow students to pursue their interests outside of the classroom. Caltech has over 100 student-led clubs and teams, including robotics, astronomy, theater, and debate. Caltech’s athletics program is Division III and includes sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball, and swimming.

Oxy offers over 135 student clubs and organizations, including cultural, social, political, and recreational groups. Oxy’s athletics program is also Division III and includes sports like football, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. One unique aspect of Oxy’s student life is the presence of “core” programs, which are year-long, interdisciplinary, and writing-intensive seminars that all first-year and sophomore students must complete.

Aside from the numerous clubs and organizations, both Caltech and Oxy also offer opportunities for students to engage in community service and volunteer work. Caltech’s Center for Community Engagement provides resources and support for students interested in volunteering, while Oxy’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute offers internships and research opportunities for students interested in social and environmental justice.

Additionally, both schools have active music and arts scenes. Caltech has a music program that includes a symphony orchestra, jazz band, and chamber music groups, while Oxy has a music department that offers courses in music theory, history, and performance. Oxy also has a theater department that produces several plays and musicals each year, as well as a student-run film club that screens movies on campus.

Facilities and Resources Available on Campus

Caltech and Oxy both have state-of-the-art facilities and resources that support student learning and research. Caltech’s campus includes a range of research labs, high-performance computing clusters, and libraries that are open 24/7. The college also has a vibrant arts and culture scene, with an art gallery, theater productions, and music concerts.

Oxy’s campus features several libraries and research centers, as well as art studios, theaters, and galleries. The college also has several outdoor spaces that students can use for recreation and relaxation, including a botanical garden, a nature preserve, and a recreation center.

Additionally, both Caltech and Oxy offer a variety of resources to support student wellness. Caltech has a health center that provides medical and mental health services, as well as a fitness center and several sports teams. Oxy also has a health center, as well as a counseling center, and a wellness center that offers yoga and meditation classes.

Furthermore, both colleges have strong connections to nearby research institutions and companies, providing students with opportunities for internships and research collaborations. Caltech is located in Pasadena, which is home to several major research institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Oxy is located in Los Angeles, which is a hub for technology, entertainment, and biomedical research.

Faculty Profiles: Teaching Styles, Research Interests, and Accomplishments

Caltech and Oxy both have faculty members who are recognized leaders in their fields and who are dedicated to teaching and mentorship. Caltech’s faculty members are known for their groundbreaking research and contributions to the STEM fields, and many of them have won prestigious awards and honors. Many of Caltech’s professors are also involved in undergraduate research projects and welcome students into their labs.

students listening intently to a class discussion

Oxy’s faculty members are known for their commitment to undergraduate education and their focus on interdisciplinary approaches to research and teaching.

Oxy professors are also involved in research projects and often collaborate with students on scholarly publications and presentations. Oxy professors are known for their accessibility and their willingness to work closely with students to help them reach their intellectual and personal goals.

Additionally, both Caltech and Oxy have faculty members who are actively engaged in community outreach and service projects. Caltech professors often participate in science education programs for K-12 students and work with local organizations to promote scientific literacy.

Oxy professors are involved in a variety of community-based initiatives, such as environmental conservation efforts and social justice advocacy. These faculty members bring their expertise and passion to the wider community, inspiring and empowering others to make a positive impact.

Conclusion: Making Your Final Decision Based on Your Personal Goals and Preferences

Ultimately, the decision to attend Caltech vs Occidental College will depend on your individual priorities, interests, and goals. If you are passionate about STEM fields and want to pursue research opportunities in cutting-edge laboratories, Caltech may be the ideal fit for you.

If you seek a well-rounded, liberal arts education with a focus on critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, Oxy may be the better choice. However, both colleges offer exceptional academic programs, supportive communities, and enriching experiences that can prepare you for a successful and fulfilling future.

Want to learn more about getting into College? You’ve come to the right place. At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process.

AdmissionSight can help you put your best foot forward when applying to college this fall. Contact us today for more information on our services.


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