What is Caltech Known For?

October 22, 2022
By AdmissionSight

What is Caltech Known For?

Why Is Caltech So Prestigious?

Why is Caltech so prestigious? The private institution, California Institute of Technology, was established in 1891. Caltech is regarded as a tiny powerhouse of science and engineering. With only 979 undergraduate students on its 124 acres in Pasadena, California, Caltech is substantially smaller than its east-coast rival, but it is still at the top of the list of MBA admissions advisory services, occasionally tempting comparison as the “MIT of the West.” What is Caltech known for? Caltech enjoys a well-deserved reputation in the scientific community thanks to the millions of dollars in research funds it receives each year, as well as a long record of patents, Nobel Prizes, and CEOs of IT companies.

California Institute of Technology is ranked #9 among National Universities in the 2022–2023 edition of Best Colleges.

Caltech has 11 student apartments and houses that are the heart of both social and academic life. A beloved Caltech tradition includes dinner in student housing provided by student waiters. Housing is guaranteed for first-year students, and most of them stay on campus for the entire four years.

View of Caltech building surrounded by flowers.

Due to Caltech’s Honor Code, students are permitted to participate in activities that are largely unheard of at other campuses. For instance, students are allowed to take tests home to finish on their own. They are given keys to various buildings on campus and are allowed to work together with their classmates on certain assignments. Students at California Institute of Technology are only required to sign the following agreement at the beginning of their studies: “No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.”

The fun atmosphere of the school balances out the demanding academic program. Additionally, part of “What is Caltech known for?” is its location. Students do not have to travel far to experience a large city culture because the campus is close to Los Angeles.

Who Is the Most Famous Person From Caltech?

Howard Hughes

Students might be curious about who is the most famous person from Caltech. Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was once regarded as one of the most important and prosperous people in the world. He was an American business magnate, investor, record-setting aviator, engineer, film director, and philanthropist.

Male student typing in a table.

He first rose to fame as a film producer before becoming a significant figure in the aviation sector. His obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic pain from a near-fatal plane crash, and increasing deafness contributed to his unusual conduct and isolated lifestyle later in life.

Richard Feynman

American theoretical scientist Richard Phillips Feynman is renowned for his contributions to the parton model in particle physics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the quantum integral formulation of quantum mechanics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium.

Together with Julian Schwinger, Shin’ichir Tomonaga, and others, Feynman shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the growth of quantum electrodynamics.

Linus Pauling

An American chemist, biochemist, chemical engineer, author, and educator, Linus Carl Pauling was also a peace activist. Of the more than 1,200 books and articles he published, about 850 were on scientific subjects. He was ranked as the 16th most significant scientist in history in 2000 and was named one of the top 20 scientists of all time by New Scientist.

In 1954, Pauling received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions to science while in 1962, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his peace advocacy.

He is one of just four individuals to have received multiple Nobel Prizes (the others being Marie Curie, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger). He is one of just two individuals among them to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes, along with Marie Curie, who also received a Nobel Prize in a separate field.

Charlie Munger

American billionaire investor, entrepreneur, and former real estate lawyer Charles Thomas Munger. Munger is the vice chairman of Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. According to Buffett, Munger is his closest friend and right-hand man.

From 1984 through 2011, Munger presided over Wesco Financial Corporation. In addition, he serves as a director of Costco Wholesale Corporation and chairman of the Los Angeles, California-based Daily Journal Corporation.

Frank Capra

One of the greatest award-winning films of the 1930s and 1940s was directed, produced, and written by Frank Russell Capra, an American of Italian descent. His rags-to-riches journey from being born in Italy and reared in Los Angeles from the age of five has caused cinema historians like Ian Freer to refer to him as the “American Dream embodied.”

Donald Knuth

American computer scientist Donald Ervin Knuth is also a mathematician and emeritus professor at Stanford University. He won the ACM Turing Award in 1974, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize in computer science. The was known to be the “founder of the analysis of algorithms.”

Ahmed Zewail

The “father of femtochemistry” was an Egyptian-American scientist by the name of Ahmed Hassan Zewail. He became the second African and the first Egyptian to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field when he received the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on femtochemistry.

At the California Institute of Technology, he served as the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology head as well as the Linus Pauling Chair Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Physics.

Benoit Mandelbrot

Mathematician and polymath Benoit B. Mandelbrot, who was born in Poland and raised in France, had a wide range of interests in the applied sciences. He was particularly interested in what he called “the art of roughness” of physical events and “the uncontrollable element in life.”

He self-identified as a “fractalist” and is credited with creating the term “fractal” and the thesis of “roughness and self-similarity” in nature. He also contributed to the subject of fractal geometry.

Kip S. Thorne

American theoretical physicist, Kip Stephen Thorne, is renowned for his work in astrophysics and gravitational physics.

He was the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) until 2009 and is one of the foremost authorities on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. He has long been a friend and colleague of Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. He still conducts scientific studies and consults in this field, most notably for the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar.

Thorne, Rainer Weiss, and Barry C. Barish were all given the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves.”

Thomas Hunt Morgan

American evolutionary biologist, geneticist, embryologist, and scientific writer Thomas Hunt Morgan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for his findings that clarified the function of the chromosome in inheritance.

What Is Caltech Known For Academically?

What is Caltech known for academically? The university offers 28 majors, including bioengineering, astronomy, geobiology, materials science, and mathematics, however, computer science is the most popular.

Students can choose from degrees in English, history, and political science in addition to STEM majors, while HSS programs sometimes adopt a scientific perspective. Minors in structural mechanics, computer science, philosophy, and aerospace are all available to students. Students may also design their own program in conjunction with academic advisors as part of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP).

View of Caltech building at daytime.

One element of “What is Caltech known for?” is the institution’s research programs. Around 90% of Caltech’s undergraduate students participate in programs like the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), Amgen Scholars, and many more where they perform research under the supervision of professors and graduate mentors, demonstrating the university’s strong emphasis on research. The Higher Education Group at JPL, which offers programs and opportunities for study centered on the NASA mission, also includes Caltech as a member.

Caltech works with other universities to develop programs and opportunities. For instance, during the fall semesters, the college conducts an exchange program with the University of Chicago.

Students at the liberal arts colleges listed below can seek to transfer to Caltech after their junior year thanks to the 3/2 program. In addition to receiving a bachelor’s degree from their home institution, students will spend an additional two years at Caltech and graduate with a bachelor of science from Caltech.

The colleges taking part are:

  • Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Occidental College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Grinnell College
  • Haverford College
  • Mt. Holyoke College
  • Oberlin College
  • Pomona College
  • Reed College
  • Spelman College
  • Wesleyan University
  • Whitman College

A part of what is Caltech known for is its strong study abroad program. Students may apply to study for their junior or senior years:

  • École Polytechnique (EPT) in Palaiseau, France
  • Cambridge University in Cambridge, England
  • University College London (UCL) in London, England
  • Danish Technical University (DTU) or University of Copenhagen (UCPH) in Copenhagen, Denmark
  • University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland
  • University of Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia

What Are Some Traditions At Caltech?

Every university has its own customs and traditions during the year. The COVID-19 epidemic forced many of these yearly rituals to take place online, but by 2022, most had been restored to their original in-person status, much to the pleasure of Caltech undergraduates. So, what are some traditions at Caltech? Check out these popular traditions below.

Pi Day

On March 14, Pi will appear everywhere at Caltech as well. Pi appears everywhere in nature. Students attend a traditional pie-eating party on March 14 at exactly 1:59 a.m. where 26 different types of pie are offered because the first digits of pi are 3.1415926. The renowned digits are also celebrated in other ways by techies, who might construct a paper chain with each link representing a different pi digit.

Pumpkin Drop

The phenomena of triboluminescence suggest that when extremely cold gourds fall nine stories and hit the ground, they should—or at the very least, could—emit a scary shimmering spark. Students gather each Halloween to throw liquid-nitrogen-frozen pumpkins off the roof of Caltech Hall and watch them shatter into smithereens on the hard ground below. At least, that’s the scientific explanation.

Pumpkin Drop often referred to as “Splatterday,” began in 1972 when students in Dabney House launched pumpkins from the top of their dormitory for the first time.

Ditch Day

Ditch Day was just what its name implies a century ago. Seniors have skipped classes and disappeared from campus for a day starting in 1921. But soon after, the yearly event evolved into something more that made into “What is Caltech known for?” The custom is now known as “stacks.”

Students sitting in a couch in a room.

Stacks were initially created as a line of defense to stop younger students from wreaking havoc on senior citizens’ quarters when they left campus. They evolved into a series of more difficult scavenger hunts, mazes, and challenges as Ditch Day turned into a day for students to skip class to complete themed puzzles that call for the kind of wit and cooperation that Caltech students are known for.

Ditch Day was held remotely in 2020 and 2021 due to the epidemic, but it was back on campus in 2022.

Space Challenge at Caltech

The Caltech Space Challenge, which is typically held every two years, challenges contestants to build a whole space mission in just one week. About 32 space-obsessed students from throughout the country descended to the university in March 2022, where they had five days to design a mission to study the liquid lakes Titan’s surface.

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) and the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at Caltech (GALCIT) are the hosts of the competition, which was created in 2011.

In earlier rounds, participants were tasked with creating missions that would explore Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, land on the moon of Mars, mine an asteroid, and construct a supply base on the moon.


The houses that make up Caltech’s house system alternate hosting events for all undergraduates throughout each academic year. This long-standing custom combines a social gathering with an engineering spectacular of do-it-yourself inventiveness and competition. For the event they are hosting, each house selects a theme and uses its engineering skills to build extravagant sets, light shows, mazes, and murals from scratch.

For instance, Dabney House transformed its courtyard into a 20-foot-tall geodesic dome decorated to resemble a huge glowing mushroom for its 2022 “Alice and the Chocolate Factory” theme, a parody of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the interior of the building was decorated with suspended origami, fluorescent mushrooms, chess, and subatomic particles.

Every year, Venerable House constructs a dancing platform and decorates an ancient piano and wallboards to fit the theme. If the “griffins,” the upperclassmen in charge of the project, don’t put in as many hours during the last week of preparation as the underclassmen do, they get drenched with water.

While there is hardly any competition in the academic realm, there is year-round inter-house competition between the seven houses. The houses compete in football, basketball, ultimate frisbee, swimming, track, softball, and soccer, collecting points for having the greatest overall records in each sport. The inter-house trophy is won by the house with the most points at the end of the year.

Despite the games being competitive, everyone has an opportunity to play. Before they graduate, 85% of students participate in intramural sports.

Almost every student who can commit to daily practices can participate in intercollegiate athletics, and on the eighteen NCAA Division III teams that Caltech sponsors, about 30% of the student body are represented. There are teams for cross-country, soccer, basketball, baseball, fencing, and more, but there hasn’t been a football team in almost ten years. Students can choose from a wide range of physical education classes to satisfy their PE requirement, including yoga, scuba diving, and rock climbing in addition to traditional sports.

What Are the Extracurricular Activities At Caltech?

Of course, we wouldn’t miss answering the query “What are the extracurricular activities at Caltech?”

The NCAA Division III is home to the Caltech Beavers’ baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, tennis, and other teams. The university also fields a fencing team that competes in the sport’s only NCAA division.

Besides athletics, what is Caltech known for? Caltech provides a range of music and arts programs since many of its students are gifted musicians. There are both men’s and women’s glee groups, a concert band, two jazz bands, chamber music, a symphony orchestra, and a theatrical program that puts on three plays each year. The organization of art programs at Caltech is now increasingly being done by students. Numerous rock bands, dancing clubs, a cappella ensembles, and a literacy magazine are among the student-run organizations that are present.

Young woman looking at her laptop and looking happy.

These organizations are but a sample of the more than 90 student clubs that exist on campus—one club for every 10 students. The cheerleading team, chess team, entrepreneur club, student investment fund, amateur radio club, science fiction club, ethnic organizations, religious organizations, and many other clubs and organizations are all run by Caltech students. An undergraduate research publication was just founded by a group of Caltech students, and it is currently available at several campuses around the nation.

Now that we have much information about what is Caltech known for, if you are interested to join this prestigious university, you must examine how to get into Caltech.

Only 510 of the 13,026 applications for a spot in the freshmen class of 2021–22 at Caltech were approved, with a 3.9% acceptance rate.

Although getting into the undergraduate program at Caltech is demanding, taking difficult classes, producing well-written essays, and gaining outstanding recommendations will increase your chances of getting in. AdmissionSight has helped students for more than 10 years with their college applications. AdmissionSight programs are created to guide students through the tough college admissions process. Feel free to book an initial consultation now.

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