UCLA vs Caltech: Which University is Right for You?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A female student smiling at the camera.

UCLA vs Caltech: Which University is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing a university, there are plenty of factors to consider. From academic rigor to location to campus life, each institution offers its unique advantages. In Southern California, two institutions that often draw comparisons are UCLA and Caltech. While both schools boast impressive reputations, deciding which one is the right fit requires a closer examination of each school’s strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the similarities and differences between UCLA vs Caltech and help you determine which one is the best choice for you.

Location: How do the UCLA vs Caltech campuses compare?

One of the most apparent differences between UCLA and Caltech is their location. UCLA is located in Westwood, a bustling neighborhood in Los Angeles’ Westside. The campus sits on over 419 acres and boasts beautiful gardens, art installations, and fountains. In contrast, Caltech is located in Pasadena, roughly 15 miles northeast of LA. Caltech’s campus is smaller, covering around 124 acres, but the architecture and lush greenery make up for its size. Pasadena is a charming town, with plenty of cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.

Another difference between the two campuses is the surrounding environment. UCLA is situated in a more urban area, with easy access to the city’s cultural attractions, such as museums, theaters, and music venues. On the other hand, Caltech is located in a quieter, more residential area, with a focus on science and technology. The campus is surrounded by research institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.

Finally, the weather is another factor to consider when comparing the two campuses. UCLA enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and warm summers. Caltech, on the other hand, experiences a semi-arid climate, with hot summers and cool winters. Both campuses offer plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and beach trips, but the weather may influence the types of activities students prefer.

Academics: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each school?

Both UCLA and Caltech are highly regarded academic institutions, but they differ in their areas of focus. UCLA is a comprehensive university that offers over 125 majors, including the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences. UCLA’s academic rigor is well-known, and its research programs are highly rated, especially in the fields of medicine, psychology, and law. Caltech, on the other hand, is a research institution primarily focused on STEM fields. Caltech’s strengths lie in its engineering and science programs, and its research has resulted in countless Nobel Prizes. That being said, both schools offer excellent academics and maintain a high standard of intellectual rigor.

Close up of students smiling at the camera.

One of the strengths of UCLA is its diverse student body, which allows for a rich cultural exchange and a variety of perspectives in the classroom. Additionally, UCLA has a strong emphasis on community service and social justice, with many opportunities for students to get involved in activism and volunteer work.

On the other hand, one of the weaknesses of Caltech is its lack of diversity, both in terms of its student body and faculty. This can lead to a homogenous academic environment and a lack of diverse perspectives. Additionally, Caltech’s focus on STEM fields means that students may have limited opportunities to explore other areas of study, such as the humanities or social sciences.

Admissions: How selective is UCLA vs Caltech?

Both UCLA and Caltech are selective schools, but their acceptance rates differ significantly. UCLA’s acceptance rate is 11%, while Caltech’s is just 4%. Caltech’s smaller class sizes and more specialized focus often make it a highly sought-after institution for STEM students.

However, it’s important to note that acceptance rates only tell part of the story. Both UCLA and Caltech have rigorous academic standards and look for well-rounded students who excel not only in academics but also in extracurricular activities and community involvement.

Additionally, both schools offer a variety of resources and support for their students. UCLA has a robust career center that provides students with internship and job opportunities, as well as career counseling. Caltech has a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, with many opportunities for students to work alongside faculty members on cutting-edge research projects.

Student Life: What’s campus life like at UCLA vs Caltech?

UCLA’s campus life is vibrant and diverse. Its student body is diverse, with students from all over the world. There are plenty of student groups and organizations, Greek life, and club sports. UCLA’s location in LA also means there is always something to do off-campus, from visiting museums to attending concerts.

Caltech, on the other hand, has a quieter campus life. Its smaller student body size means that extracurriculars are more focused and niche, but no less exciting. Its campus culture is deeply collaborative, and students often work on projects together and engage in interdisciplinary research.

Group of students smiling and talking to each other.

Additionally, UCLA has a strong emphasis on community service and social justice. Many students participate in volunteer programs and activism on and off campus. The university also hosts various events and workshops to promote diversity and inclusion.

Meanwhile, Caltech’s campus life is heavily influenced by its focus on STEM fields. The school has a strong research culture, and many students are involved in cutting-edge scientific projects. The campus also has a unique tradition called “Ditch Day,” where seniors create elaborate puzzles and challenges for underclassmen to solve, fostering a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among students.

Cost: How does UCLA vs Caltech’s tuition, fees, and financial aid compare?

Both UCLA and Caltech are expensive institutions, but they have different cost structures. UCLA’s tuition for in-state students is around $13,804 per year, while out-of-state tuition is roughly $44,830. Caltech’s tuition is higher, with a cost of $60,864 per year. However, Caltech offers generous financial aid packages, and around 60% of students receive some form of aid. UCLA also provides financial aid, but the number of students receiving assistance is lower.

It’s important to note that tuition and fees are not the only costs associated with attending these universities. Students must also consider the cost of housing, food, textbooks, and other expenses. UCLA offers a variety of housing options, including on-campus dorms and off-campus apartments, but the cost of living in Los Angeles can be high. Caltech provides on-campus housing for all four years, but the cost is included in the tuition and fees.

Another factor to consider is the return on investment. Both UCLA and Caltech are highly respected institutions, but Caltech is known for its strong focus on science and engineering. Graduates from Caltech often go on to work in high-paying fields, such as technology and research. UCLA has a broader range of programs, including arts, humanities, and social sciences, which may appeal to students with different career goals.

Career Opportunities: Which school has better job prospects?

Both UCLA and Caltech offer strong career preparation programs. UCLA has a robust career center that provides students with resources for career exploration and job search strategies. Additionally, UCLA has a vast alumni network, and its graduates have gone on to work in a wide variety of industries, from entertainment to finance to technology. Caltech’s career center is also highly regarded, and its graduates are known for their expertise in the sciences and engineering. However, because of Caltech’s narrower focus, its graduates often go on to work in more specialized fields.

It’s important to note that job prospects also depend on the individual student’s interests, skills, and experiences. Both UCLA and Caltech offer opportunities for internships, research, and networking, which can greatly enhance a student’s career prospects. Additionally, location can play a role in job opportunities, as UCLA is located in Los Angeles, a hub for entertainment and media industries, while Caltech is located in Pasadena, which has a strong presence in the aerospace and technology industries.

Research Opportunities: What kind of research is being conducted at UCLA vs Caltech?

Both UCLA and Caltech are research-heavy institutions. UCLA has a vast research enterprise that spans multiple disciplines. Its research projects range from investigating the genetic basis of disease to exploring the intersection of policy and technology. Caltech’s research strengths lie in the natural sciences and engineering, and its scientists conduct groundbreaking work in fields like physics, astronomy, and computer science.

a male astronomer looking through his telescope


Additionally, both UCLA and Caltech offer numerous research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Center provides resources and support for students interested in conducting research, while Caltech’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships program offers students the chance to work on research projects with Caltech faculty members. These opportunities allow students to gain hands-on experience in their field of interest and contribute to groundbreaking research.

Sports and Extracurriculars: Which school has a more vibrant student life outside of academics?

UCLA’s athletic program is famous for its excellence, with its basketball team winning 11 national championships. Its intramural sports program is also highly regarded, with students participating in a variety of sports, including soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Caltech, on the other hand, doesn’t have an athletic program. However, its students engage in a range of extracurriculars, including music, theater, and fencing.

Additionally, both schools offer a variety of clubs and organizations for students to get involved in. UCLA has over 1,000 registered student organizations, ranging from cultural clubs to academic organizations. Caltech has a smaller student body, but still offers a diverse range of clubs, including robotics, debate, and community service groups. Both schools also host events throughout the year, such as concerts, festivals, and guest speaker series, providing students with ample opportunities to socialize and engage with their peers outside of the classroom.

Student Body Diversity: How diverse are the student bodies at both universities?

UCLA and Caltech’s student bodies differ in terms of diversity. UCLA’s student body is much more diverse, with students from all over the world and backgrounds. Its student population includes significant numbers of Asian American, Latinx, and African American students. Caltech’s student body is less diverse, with Asian American students making up the majority of the student population.

However, both universities have made efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity on their campuses. UCLA has implemented various programs and initiatives to support underrepresented minority students, such as the African American Enrollment Task Force and the Asian American Studies Center. Caltech has also taken steps to increase diversity, including the creation of the Center for Diversity and the establishment of partnerships with organizations that support underrepresented students in STEM fields.

Alumni Networks: How strong are the alumni networks for UCLA vs Caltech?

Both UCLA and Caltech have strong alumni networks. UCLA’s alumni network is vast, with over 500,000 members worldwide. Its alumni have gone on to become leaders in various industries, from entertainment to finance to politics. Caltech’s alumni network is smaller but highly accomplished. Its alumni have won numerous Nobel Prizes, founded companies like Google and Intel, and worked on groundbreaking scientific research.

Alumni network

One of the benefits of being part of UCLA’s alumni network is access to career resources and networking events. The university hosts job fairs, alumni mixers, and career workshops to help alumni connect and potential employers. Caltech’s alumni network also offers similar resources but with a focus on the STEM fields. Alumni can attend conferences and seminars to stay up-to-date on the latest scientific advancements and connect with other professionals in their field.

Another advantage of being part of these alumni networks is the opportunity to give back to the universities. Both UCLA and Caltech rely on the support of their alumni to fund scholarships, research projects, and other initiatives. Alumni can donate their time, expertise, and financial resources to help their alma maters continue to thrive and make a positive impact on the world.

Campus Safety and Security: What safety measures are in place on each campus?

Both UCLA and Caltech are safe campuses. UCLA has its police department and employs safety measures such as security cameras and emergency phones across campus. Caltech has its security department and utilizes a blue light system and security cameras to ensure the safety of its students. Both schools prioritize the safety and security of their students and provide resources to help maintain a safe campus environment.

In addition to the safety measures mentioned above, UCLA also offers a campus escort service for students who feel unsafe walking alone at night. This service is available to all students and can be accessed by calling the UCLA Police Department. Caltech also provides a similar service, where students can request a security escort to walk them to their destination on campus.

Furthermore, both schools have emergency preparedness plans in place in case of natural disasters or other emergencies. UCLA has an Emergency Management Department that works to prepare the campus community for emergencies and provides resources such as emergency kits and training sessions. Caltech also has an Emergency Management Team that coordinates emergency response efforts and provides training and resources to students and staff.

Graduation Rates and Retention Rates: What percentage of students graduate on time from both schools?

UCLA and Caltech’s graduation rates and retention rates are high, with the majority of students staying and graduating within four years. UCLA’s four-year graduation rate is around 75%, and its retention rate is around 96%. Caltech’s four-year graduation rate is around 90%, and its retention rate is around 98%. Both schools are committed to ensuring their students are successful and have the resources to help them graduate on time.

students wearing their graduation and throwing their graduation cap unto the air

It is worth noting that while both schools have high graduation and retention rates, they differ in their approach to achieving these rates. UCLA offers a wide range of academic and extracurricular programs to support students, including tutoring services, career counseling, and research opportunities. Caltech, on the other hand, has a more focused curriculum and places a strong emphasis on research and innovation. Despite these differences, both schools have a strong track record of producing successful graduates who go on to make significant contributions in their respective fields.

Conclusion: Which university is the right fit for you based on your personal needs and preferences?

Ultimately, choosing between UCLA and Caltech depends on your personal needs and preferences. If you’re interested in a comprehensive university that offers a diverse range of programs and extracurriculars, UCLA might be the right choice for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a specialized, research-heavy institution that emphasizes STEM fields, then Caltech might be a better fit. Regardless of which school you choose, both UCLA and Caltech offer an exceptional academic experience that will prepare you for whatever career path you choose.


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