Caltech vs UCLA: Which University is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Close up of students smiling at the camera.

Caltech vs UCLA: Which University is Right for You?

Choosing the right university can be a daunting task, especially when you’re deciding between two of the best universities in California: Caltech and UCLA. Both universities have a lot to offer, from excellent academic programs and research opportunities to thriving campus communities and robust sports programs. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between Caltech vs UCLA, helping you make an informed decision about which university is the right fit for you.

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Overview and History of Caltech and UCLA

Caltech, short for California Institute of Technology, is located in Pasadena, California. The school was founded in 1891 and is known worldwide for its exceptional science and engineering programs. Caltech has a small student body, with only around 2,200 students enrolled, but it boasts an impressive alumni network, including a number of Nobel laureates.

UCLA, on the other hand, is located in Los Angeles, California, and was founded in 1919. It’s a large university with over 44,000 students enrolled, and it offers a wide range of academic programs, including some of the best arts and humanities programs in the country. UCLA has a diverse student body and a strong reputation for its research programs.

Despite their differences in size and academic focus, Caltech and UCLA have collaborated on numerous research projects over the years. In fact, the two schools have a long-standing partnership in the field of astronomy, with Caltech’s Palomar Observatory and UCLA’s Department of Astronomy working together on groundbreaking discoveries in the study of the universe. Additionally, both schools have strong ties to the entertainment industry, with Caltech’s close proximity to Hollywood leading to collaborations with filmmakers and UCLA’s prestigious film school producing numerous successful alumni in the film and television industry.

Understanding the Application Process for Caltech and UCLA

Both Caltech and UCLA have competitive application processes, but the requirements and criteria differ slightly. Caltech is known for its rigorous admissions process that focuses heavily on academics, including test scores, grades, and course rigor. In addition to the application and transcripts, Caltech requires students to complete one of two essays, and SAT or ACT scores along with two SAT subject tests in math and science are required.

UCLA also has a competitive admissions process that considers a variety of factors beyond academics, including extracurricular activities, community service, and leadership experience. The application requires an essay and a list of extracurricular activities, and applicants are urged to highlight any unique achievements or experiences.

It is important to note that both Caltech and UCLA offer resources to help students navigate the application process. Caltech provides information sessions, campus tours, and interviews with admissions officers, while UCLA offers workshops, webinars, and virtual tours. It is recommended that students take advantage of these resources to gain a better understanding of each school’s unique admissions process and to increase their chances of being accepted.

Campus Life at Caltech vs. UCLA: What to Expect

The campus life at Caltech and UCLA differs greatly. Caltech is a small campus with a tight-knit community. Students are passionate about science and engineering, and there is a strong emphasis on research. On the other hand, UCLA has a much larger campus with a diverse array of activities, clubs, and organizations. There is always something to do, whether it’s participating in student government, joining a dance team, or attending a sporting event.

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Both universities offer a variety of dining options, with Caltech having a few more limited choices. As for housing, both universities have several options for on-campus living, but Caltech’s campus is considerably smaller, so the housing options are more limited.

Another major difference between the campus life at Caltech and UCLA is the student-to-faculty ratio. Caltech has a much smaller student body, which means that students have more opportunities to interact with their professors and receive personalized attention. At UCLA, the student-to-faculty ratio is much higher, which can make it more challenging for students to form close relationships with their professors. However, UCLA does offer a wider range of majors and academic programs, which can be beneficial for students who are still exploring their interests.

Differences in Academic Programs and Majors Offered by Caltech and UCLA

The academic programs and majors offered by Caltech and UCLA are drastically different. Caltech is primarily focused on science and engineering, with majors in math, physics, chemistry, and computer science. UCLA, on the other hand, offers a wide range of majors, including arts, humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences.

Overall, Caltech’s curriculum is highly specialized and focused, while UCLA’s curriculum is broader, with more emphasis on liberal arts education. Both universities have excellent programs, but your choice of major and academic interests may inform your decision.

One of the unique aspects of Caltech’s academic programs is its emphasis on research. Students are encouraged to participate in research projects and work alongside faculty members in their respective fields. This hands-on experience allows students to gain practical skills and knowledge that can be applied to their future careers.

On the other hand, UCLA offers a variety of interdisciplinary majors that allow students to combine their interests in multiple fields. For example, the Global Studies major combines courses in political science, economics, and cultural studies to provide a comprehensive understanding of global issues.

Faculty and Student Ratio: How Does It Compare Between Caltech and UCLA?

Caltech has a student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1, which means students have a great deal of access to professors and advisors. This ratio is much lower than most universities, which contributes to the high level of interaction between students and faculty.

UCLA has a larger student body, but the university still maintains a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1. While the ratio is not as small as Caltech’s, students can still expect a high level of interaction with professors and advisors. Both universities have highly qualified and accomplished faculty members.

Despite the difference in student-to-faculty ratio, Caltech and UCLA both offer a variety of opportunities for students to engage with their professors outside of the classroom. Caltech has a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, which allows students to work closely with faculty members on cutting-edge projects. UCLA also offers research opportunities, as well as smaller discussion-based classes and office hours for students to meet with professors one-on-one.

Another factor to consider when comparing the faculty and student ratio between Caltech and UCLA is the size and focus of each university. Caltech is a smaller, STEM-focused institution, while UCLA is a larger, comprehensive university with a wider range of academic programs. This can impact the level of interaction between students and faculty, as well as the types of research and projects available to students.

Research Opportunities at Caltech vs. UCLA: Which One is Better?

Both Caltech and UCLA offer a wealth of research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Caltech is known for its research, and undergraduates have the opportunity to work alongside faculty members on groundbreaking projects in science and engineering. UCLA is also a top research institution, and students have access to numerous research centers and labs in a variety of fields.

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Overall, both universities have exceptional research opportunities, and your choice may depend on which field of study you are interested in pursuing. However, there are some differences in the research culture and approach between the two universities. Caltech has a smaller student body and faculty, which allows for more personalized attention and collaboration on research projects. On the other hand, UCLA has a larger research community, which can provide more diverse perspectives and resources for interdisciplinary research.

Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Tuition Fees at Caltech vs. UCLA

Attending either Caltech or UCLA can be expensive, but both universities offer financial aid and scholarship opportunities to help alleviate the costs. While tuition fees for both schools are comparable, Caltech’s cost of attendance is considerably higher due to factors such as housing and supplies.

Both universities have financial aid offices that can help students apply for grants, loans, and scholarships. Caltech offers a need-blind admissions process, while UCLA offers a need-based financial aid program that may cover the full cost of attendance for students from low-income families.

It is important to note that the types of scholarships and financial aid offered at Caltech and UCLA may differ. Caltech offers merit-based scholarships, which are awarded based on academic achievement and potential, while UCLA offers a variety of scholarships based on factors such as financial need, academic achievement, and community involvement. Additionally, both universities offer work-study programs that allow students to earn money while gaining valuable work experience.

Extracurricular Activities Available at Caltech and UCLA: Which One Offers More?

As previously mentioned, UCLA’s campus offers a wide range of clubs, organizations, and activities for students to participate in. However, Caltech’s smaller campus does not mean fewer opportunities. Although Caltech’s emphasis is heavily focused on STEM, there are still opportunities for students to get involved in areas such as entrepreneurship, music, and sports.

In terms of sports, both universities offer a robust athletic program and have a solid reputation for their respective sports programs. UCLA boasts a strong NCAA Division I athletic program, while Caltech has its own unique sports program focused on recreational and intramural activities, including a popular tradition known as “Ditch Day.”

Group of students talking in a room.

Aside from sports, both universities also offer a variety of music-related extracurricular activities. UCLA has a renowned music department that offers opportunities for students to participate in ensembles, bands, and orchestras. Caltech, on the other hand, has its own music club, which hosts concerts and events throughout the year and also offers music lessons to interested students.

Furthermore, Caltech’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation is reflected in the numerous clubs and organizations available to students interested in these fields. From the Caltech Entrepreneurs Forum to the Caltech Innovation Club, students have the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and gain valuable experience in the world of business and innovation.

Campus Location, Transportation, and Accessibility: Which One is More Convenient?

Caltech and UCLA are located in two different parts of Southern California, with Caltech located in Pasadena and UCLA located in Los Angeles. Both campuses are conveniently accessible by public transportation, including bus and rail, but Los Angeles’s public transportation options are more varied and accessible for students who want to explore the city. Additionally, Los Angeles is a larger and more vibrant city than Pasadena, offering a vast array of attractions, events, and cultural experiences.

However, Pasadena has its own unique charm and attractions. The city is known for its beautiful architecture, including the historic Gamble House and the iconic Colorado Street Bridge. Pasadena also hosts the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, which attracts millions of visitors from around the world. For students who prefer a quieter and more laid-back environment, Caltech’s location in Pasadena may be more appealing.

When it comes to accessibility, both campuses have their advantages and disadvantages. While Los Angeles has a more extensive public transportation system, it is also known for its heavy traffic and long commute times. On the other hand, Pasadena is more pedestrian-friendly, with many shops, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance of Caltech’s campus. Ultimately, the choice between Caltech and UCLA will depend on each student’s individual preferences and priorities.

Alumni Network and Career Prospects from Caltech vs. UCLA

Both Caltech and UCLA have highly regarded alumni networks, with graduates going on to become leaders in their respective fields. Caltech has a strong reputation for producing successful researchers and entrepreneurs, primarily in the STEM fields. UCLA, on the other hand, has a broad alumni network with graduates from a wide range of professional careers.

Overall, both universities offer exceptional career prospects, and your choice may depend on your career goals and interests.

It is worth noting that Caltech’s alumni network is relatively smaller than UCLA’s, but it is highly specialized and focused on STEM fields. This means that Caltech graduates have access to a tight-knit community of experts in their field, which can be beneficial for networking and career advancement. On the other hand, UCLA’s larger and more diverse alumni network can provide graduates with a wider range of career opportunities and connections across various industries.

Campus Diversity and Inclusivity: How Do They Compare Between Caltech and UCLA?

Both Caltech and UCLA are committed to diversity and inclusivity, recognizing the importance of creating an environment that welcomes students from all backgrounds. UCLA has a more diverse student body, with approximately 30% of students identifying as underrepresented minorities. Caltech has a smaller student body, but the university still places a strong emphasis on creating an inclusive community.

Smiling students looking at something on a laptop.

One way that Caltech promotes inclusivity is through its Center for Diversity, which offers resources and support for underrepresented students. The center provides mentorship programs and academic support, and hosts events to celebrate diversity on campus. Additionally, Caltech has a strong commitment to gender diversity, with initiatives such as the Women Mentoring Women program and the Women in STEM club.

Student Support Services Available at Caltech vs. UCLA: Which One Offers More?

Both Caltech and UCLA offer a range of student support services, including academic advising, mental health counseling, career counseling, and disability services. UCLA’s larger campus means that there are more resources and services available for students, but Caltech’s smaller student body means that students can benefit from more personalized attention and support from faculty and staff.

Additionally, Caltech offers a unique program called the Student-Faculty Program (SFP), which allows students to work closely with faculty members on research projects and receive academic guidance outside of the classroom. This program provides students with valuable opportunities to gain hands-on experience in their field of study and build strong relationships with their professors.

Sports Programs, Athletics Facilities, and Intramural Activities at Caltech vs. UCLA

As previously mentioned, both Caltech and UCLA offer a range of sports programs and activities. UCLA’s NCAA Division I athletic program is one of the strongest in the country, with competitive teams in a variety of sports. Caltech’s sports program, while not as competitive as UCLA’s, still offers a range of recreational and intramural sports, including a popular tradition known as “Ditch Day.”

Both universities have excellent athletic facilities, with UCLA having a larger and more expansive collection of facilities due to its larger campus size. Caltech’s athletic facilities are smaller in scale, but they still offer a great variety of options for students.

However, there is a notable difference in the approach to sports and athletics between Caltech and UCLA. While UCLA places a strong emphasis on competitive sports and winning, Caltech values sports and athletics as a means of promoting physical fitness, teamwork, and stress relief. As a result, Caltech’s sports programs and activities are more focused on participation and enjoyment rather than winning championships.

Student Housing Options Available at Caltech vs. UCLA: What to Know

Both Caltech and UCLA offer a range of housing options for students, including residence halls, apartments, and shared housing. Caltech’s smaller campus means that housing options are more limited, but the university still offers comfortable and well-maintained housing options for students. UCLA’s larger campus means that there are more housing options available, but students may have to deal with a longer walk to their classes and other activities.

It’s important to note that the cost of housing at both universities can vary greatly depending on the type of housing and location. At Caltech, students can expect to pay around $10,000-$15,000 per year for on-campus housing, while off-campus options may be more affordable. At UCLA, on-campus housing can range from $12,000-$18,000 per year, with off-campus options also available at varying prices. It’s important for students to carefully consider their budget and housing needs when deciding between the two universities.


Choosing the right university is an important decision that can have a significant impact on your future opportunities and personal growth. Caltech and UCLA are both excellent universities with unique characteristics and strengths that may attract different students. By understanding the differences and similarities between these two universities, you can make an informed decision about which one is the right fit for you.

One important factor to consider when choosing between Caltech and UCLA is the academic programs offered. Caltech is known for its strong focus on science and engineering, with a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for careers in these fields. UCLA, on the other hand, offers a wider range of academic programs, including strong programs in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Students who are interested in pursuing a career in a non-STEM field may find UCLA to be a better fit.

Another factor to consider is the campus culture and environment. Caltech is a smaller, more intimate campus with a strong sense of community among its students and faculty. UCLA, on the other hand, is a larger campus with a more diverse student body and a wider range of extracurricular activities and organizations. Students who are looking for a more close-knit community may prefer Caltech, while those who want a more diverse and dynamic campus environment may prefer UCLA.


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