The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays

November 5, 2020
By AdmissionSight

The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays

The Caltech Supplemental Essays are a great opportunity for eager applicants to set aside all of their dry academic information and throw some color and vitality into their application forms. While other parts of the general application form are straight-forward and limited, these prompts give students a chance to highlight their past achievements, elaborate on their academic interests, and reveal aspects of their personality that simply couldn’t get through on the standard application. AdmissionSight wants to give every student the best chances of gaining admittance to their dream colleges. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you nail the Caltech Supplemental Essays. We’ll break down each prompt and offer some suggestions to kickstart your creative flow.

You can get into Caltech…you just need the right strategy

The California Institute of Technology, better known as Caltech, is a private university based in sunny Pasadena, California. Founded in 1891, the college was initially a vocational and preparatory school but eventually shifted its operations. Currently, Caltech is one of only a few esteemed institutes of technology in the US devoted to instructing on the applied and pure sciences. In short, Caltech is one of the most popular STEM universities in the country. With an impressive alumni list that includes astronauts and renowned scientists, it’s no wonder students from around the country apply to attend this prestigious university.

Considering the school’s popularity, many students are daunted by the application process. With an acceptance rate of 6.4%, Caltech remains highly selective when admitting incoming students. There were over 8,000 applicants for the Class of 2023 and only a little over 250 were accepted. While these numbers paint an accurate picture of the admissions landscape at Caltech, don’t let them put you off from applying. Although GPA scores, standardized tests, and courseloads are important factors contributing to your acceptance or rejection from Caltech, the Caltech Supplemental Essays are another important factor that too many students forget about.

These prompts are perhaps the best method you have for standing out amongst the wave of applicants that flood the admissions office each year. These essays are a perfect opportunity for you to show why you want to attend Caltech, why you deserve that coveted acceptance letter, and how you plan to make the most out of your education. AdmissionSight has helped hundreds of students find their way into highly-sought-after universities by perfecting the admissions process and we want you to be the next. Read on to see how you can make the most out of the Caltech Supplemental Essays to increase your chances of getting into this wonderful university!

Caltech campus

What are the Caltech Supplemental Essays?

Let’s breakdown the purpose of these essays before diving into the finer details. Admission officers don’t have a lot to base their decisions on when it comes to the general application. It’s through these supplemental essays that they can gain a better understanding of who you are, how you’re unique, and why you want to attend Caltech. While you should always stick to the prompts requested, your responses should always attempt to address these primary points. This is your chance to stand out. Let’s make the most out of it!

Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. Use the separate spaces provided below, one for each STEM experience and/or activity. (Length = 10 – 120 words for each experience/activity)

This Caltech Supplemental Essay is essentially three mini-essays wrapped into one. While other schools might only ask about one activity or experience that prompted your interest in the STEM field, Caltech admission officers want to know about three independent events. Think back about some different academic (classes, programs, teachers, etc.) and even personal experiences you’ve had that contributed to your desire to pursue a career in a STEM field. You can even choose to elaborate on some activities you’ve mentioned in the common application that you’d like to expound upon.

As with any list you provide on your application, it’s important to put the activities or experiences in order of significance. You should take care to ensure they’re not repetitive or too similar. For instance, if you’ve participated in a summer program and course focusing on robotics, you might want to consider opting for one and finding other STEM activities to fulfill the other two. This variety can help to illustrate your fluency with multiple STEM-related concepts.

With just 120 words maximum allotted for each activity or experience, your responses have to be succinct, descriptive, and careful. While the prompt is requesting that you explain experiences that encouraged you to pursue an education and possible career in a STEM field, you don’t have to spend much time detailing how this passion was developed given the limited space. This Caltech Supplemental Essay is really only interested in the activities themselves. This is where you should go into detail.

Pro-tip: Just because the person reading your Caltech Supplemental Essays works at the school, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re privy to all of the terms, acronyms, and other esoteric information that STEM students might consider common-knowledge. It’s a good idea to have someone outside of the field read your essays to make sure they’re understandable.

Caltech alumni's talk about their experience at Caltech

Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a “Techer” relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (Length = 250 – 400 words)

The second Caltech Supplemental Essay gives applicants the freedom to talk about what kind of future projects they’d like to pursue without being limited to their specific major. The sheer openness of the prompt can feel daunting at first, so it’s a good idea to brainstorm beforehand. Think of a few future goals you’ll want to pursue in order to ensure you don’t go off on tangents or include any extraneous information in your answer.

While Caltech admission officers want to know about your goals, this prompt also necessitates the mention of collaboration. As a “teacher”, you’ll be required to work with other people throughout your professional life. Caltech wants to get a better idea of how you’ll collaborate with fellow students at university when it comes to specific goals you have. No matter what you respond, the answer should include both of these components in order to fulfill the requirements.

As with all Caltech Supplemental Essay responses, originality is paramount. This prompt is a great opportunity for you to discuss your purpose for applying to Caltech and what you dream of accomplishing while you’re there. Maybe you want to start a new club or non-profit on campus. Perhaps you’d like to suggest the addition of a new course in a burgeoning STEM field. You can even think further into the future and talk about a business you’d like to start while at the university.

Be sure to keep your response related to Caltech in some way. In fact, you could even look at this Caltech Supplemental Essay as asking you to talk about how the school will help you accomplish your future goals. That’s not exactly the angle this prompt is taking, but it does highlight the importance of relating your response to the university itself. It’s also important to harken back to relevant experiences you’ve had that inspired these dreams or future endeavors of yours. As we mentioned before, it’s critical to talk about how these explorations, innovations, or creations of yours require, lead to, or inspire collaboration amongst your fellow Caltech peers.

You can also think of this as a great opportunity to show off your diverse interests, skills, and capabilities – whether that’s an entrepreneurial drive to start a new company, a philanthropic itch to help less-fortunate STEM students into colleges, or a social consciousness that urges you to find a way to reduce the gender pay gap within the field. You’ll be successful if you can find a way to incorporate your diverse range of skills and interests into this response.

ME72 Design Challenge KATS team members, Auggie Nanz, Tammer Eweis-LaBolle, Kristin Eliason, and Sheila Lo with there amphibious robotic vehicle and ME72 trophy. This year's Mechanical Engineering 72 competition Tuesday, March 10, 2015, pushes students' robotic design skills to the limit by requiring them to create machines that can operate on land and in the water. Teams must navigate their robots along a ramp and into Millikan Pond. The robots must then transport a pre-loaded ball to one of the scoring goals. Teams earn additional points by collecting other balls and moving them into goals and by returning their robot to a designated spot before the end of the four-minute round. Competitors also may prevent their opponents from scoring. The team with the most points at the end of each heat wins. The victors are rewarded the ME-72 trophy.(Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (250-400 words)

If you’re fighting back a mischievous smile while reading this Caltech Supplemental Essay, it might just be the perfect prompt for you. It’s clearly the most entertaining and even potentially the most revealing topic for students. It’s time to let your idiosyncrasies shine. The prompt has already set the stage for a quirky response by acknowledging that Caltech students are known for their creative pranks and sense of humor. As an incoming student, admission officers want to know how you could contribute to this culture of quirkiness and fun.

While Caltech Supplemental Essays were focused on more serious topics related to academia or professionalism, this prompt is inviting you to write in a more relaxed and informal manner. It’s almost a blank canvas in the way it allows you to write about your humor, personality, oddities, and other unique features. Instead of feeling confined, applicants see this essay as more of an open-ended question. Although all of these prompts offer you to talk more about yourself, they still tend to revolve around or include another topic. Caltech is cutting through all of the red tapes and asking a rather direct question in order to get a better understanding of who you are on a personal level.

Admission officers are keen to read authentic, original, and even humorous responses that offer an accurate portrayal of the human behind the application. In a crowd full of applicants with similar applications and responses, this question is intended to be the shining beacon of individuality and personality. Imagine you’re given an opportunity to sit with an admissions officer for just one minute in an elevator pitch-style interview. What would you say to him or her? You’ll definitely want to include unique experiences, qualities, and hobbies that make you…well, you!

While the prompt is intended to be more revealing than others, there’s still a line that shouldn’t be crossed. For example, if you’re involved in some online communities that have fun making humorous content related to political events or people, you might want to refrain from referencing your political affiliation. This can help to ensure no strange tensions are created between you and the individual reading your response. It’s best to keep the focus on you and what you do for fun.

If you’ve been honest about your responses but realize that they might come across as too commonplace, specificity is going to be your saving grace. For instance, watching Netflix shows is something everyone likes to do. If you’re willing to go into greater detail about the types of Netflix shows you like to watch, why you prefer them, and explain how they impact your world view, you’ve instantly transformed an “average” response into something highly personal. Adding in anecdotes and stories can really drive home the personality behind the contents of your response.

Diversity matters on the Caltech campus

The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community? (Length = 250 – 400 words)

Don’t let the similarity between this Caltech Supplemental Essay and the second prompt confuse you into responding with similar answers. Repetition is something you want to avoid at all costs when answering these questions. While the second prompt was asking you to talk about your future goals at Caltech in a collaborative aspect, this prompt is requesting that you elaborate on your unique background, perspectives, and experiences and how those contribute to the diversity of the Caltech community overall. There’s some similarity between these questions, but you’ll be focusing on background and diversity in this response.

When answering this Caltech Supplemental Essay, think back on your background. Ask yourself what unique aspects of your upbringing contributed to the person you’ve become. What is it about your previous experiences that have influenced the way you see the world, interact with others, approach problems, and come up with solutions? It might sound like a dense question, but it might be easier to answer than you initially think. It’s all about explaining what sets you apart and how that uniqueness will contribute to the diverse community at Caltech.

Maybe you were inspired by your parents to always be an outspoken, virtuous, and dedicated leader and that background inspired you to consistently take a leadership role throughout your personal, professional, and academic life. Perhaps you became the captain of a sports team, the head of an after-school club, or the de facto leader for group projects. You could explain how this unique leadership perspective will work towards your potential contributions to the university.

It’s always smart to throw in a personal story or real-life example demonstrating how you plan to contribute with relationship to a STEM field at Caltech. This not only illustrates your knowledge of the university, its programs, and what it stands for, but it also suggests that you’ve thought through how you can actually benefit the university. After all, admission officers aren’t only interested in why you want to attend school. As is suggested by this Caltech Supplemental Essay, they’re also interested to know how you can contribute to the school. Tangible examples are a great way to drive that point home.

AdmissionSight has a proven track record of helping countless students achieve their academic goals by gaining admittance into the college of their dreams – including many Ivy League Universities. Whether you need academic guidance, help to edit your Caltech Supplemental Essays or anything else related to college admissions, we’ve got the resources and expertise to help. Feel free to contact us at any time to learn more about what we do and how we can assist you personally.

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