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Monday, October 17, 2005

How to Get Into Caltech for Undergrad part 2: no, really, how do I get in?

All right, the part that I bet most students who read this are zooming straight to. How do you get into Caltech? What can I do to my application that will make my chances of admission higher?

The number one question at the Caltech Info session I attended revolved around test scores. "What kind of SAT score do I have to aim for?" Your SAT score and other standardized test scores probably mean squat, and are not indicators of how well you will do at Tech. I knew folks who got 1600 on their SAT's (this was before there were 3 parts to the test) and they flailed through all 4 years of Caltech. The Admissions committee knows this. So don't bother retaking the SAT a billion times to get that perfect score. If you scored relatively high, then that's all that matters... you just need to prove you are smart enough to take a test, not that you have mastered standardized testing.

The most important thing that you can show on your application is that you have challenged yourself as much as you possibly can with the resources around you. This means that you should have taken the most challenging classes at your school. If your school offers AP's in sciences, you should take them. Having gone to the community college nearby for classes that your high school doesn't offer is also a big plus.

Me, I went to a magnet program in high school, and I have a feeling that was a big factor in my admission. I sought out the hardest stuff I could do in my school district.... I took at least 7 science/math AP tests, and did pretty well. I ended up being an average student at Caltech. On the other hand, my husband took 3 science/math AP classes in high school because harder classes weren't offered. His high school science classes were a fraction of the difficulty of my classes. But he was admitted to Caltech early, had a much easier time grasping the concepts than I did, graduated with honors, and is now a graduate student at Harvard. I think that the admissions committee could see from the rest of his application that he was a hard worker.

This brings me to extracurriculars. What I said above about challenging yourself holds here as well. This is where I think my husband made his application. He was an Eagle Scout, and the section leader for the saxophones in his extremely successful high school marching band. Both those things took a lot of time and dedication and hard work.

Almost everyone I knew at Tech had something interesting to put in their extracurriculars. Some of us did research over the summers. (I think that's what got me in; I worked at Fort Monmouth for 3 summers doing engineering research.) Some of us goofed around and built wacky things with our friends (a friend of mine built a remote controlled submarine). None of us were simply classes classes classes. We challenged ourselves outside of school as well, and were able to juggle everything.



So those are the important things in your application. Which means that by the time you are a senior and are applying, there's very little you can actively do to pad your application. It all depends on the stuff you've already done.. have you taken the hard classes? Have you challenged yourself extracurricularly? It's a little late to fix that now! Great SAT scores won't make up for slacking off in school and doing nothing over summers but video games.

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thats so cool that you went to Caltech. Caltech is my numero uno college choice. I'm a junior right now, and when I apply, I'll have two years of DI(a competition where groups solve scientific problems creativley, which involve mechanics and architecture) and a team science fair project (involving physics and engineering)which all advanced to state level competition, be working on a solo science project(involving computer science and statistics), and have completed a internship in a computer science-related field. I'm an officer in three clubs, am heavily involved in dance, am in a magnet school, and have done really excellently on the National Latin Exam. I haven't taken any recognized tests yet, SAT, ACT, except AP World History (a paltry 4), but will have completed 12 AP classes by the time I finish high school, 5 of them math/science related. Is this enough, or should I be constantly looking for more opportunities to excell?

wedge said...

It sounds like you are a great candidate for Tech. Best of luck next year when you apply!

Anonymous said...

I love Caltech, too. I am applying for it this year. I was wondering what are my odds of getting it.
Including this year, I have been captain of science bowl team for 3 years. I am the president of math club this year and was the V-p sophomore year. I took calc based phys in a community college since our school doesn't offer AP and I am taking multi-variable calc at a san jose state university now( I am in waiting list so they might make me drop it though) I got perfect scores on SAT II math and chem however I am not going to be able to do well on SAT since I am not good at English ( we came to U.S less than 3 years ago and that's also why I haven't done more things in high school) so I am guessing like 1800 for SAT. I am also the V-P of juggling club. I might do a research at san jose state this year but that depends on my AP chem teacher because he is suppose to talk to them. Btw my GPA is about 4.0 but I got a B so not quite. and I took three AP's last year and I'm taking two this year (calc BC, CHEM, US HISTORY) all 5's and A's and STAT and Gov

Anonymous said...

i really like caltech alot and i would really love to enter their astrophysics undergraduate course. i am really passionate about astrophysics..however, it is a fairly recent obsession and hence i really havent demonstrated a clear interest through my extracurriculars as yet. I am however joining an astronomy club as well as probably do something in pure mathematics at a prestigious technology institute. i have a GPA of about 3.7 (unweighted) and an SAT score of about 2000 with my first try.. i know i will do better on the second try.Some of the extracurriculars i have taken part in include Model United Nations where i have also been a student officer, and i will be again next year. I have done soccer and track and field and i also write for the school magazine. In addition to this i am also part of the Student Tech Crew and NHS. How realistic are my chances. What do i have to do to make my dreams of entering caltech closer to a reality

8675309 said...

i am sophmore. i have 93.5 weighted gpa. i am in ap stats, honors precal with As, am taking two semesters calc this summer. i have gold econ, silver lang/lit, math at usad states, am going to memphis for nats. i got 90 amc 10 (no studying). i have mostly As, excepting latin right now, but tanked freshman yr. i am also in a non-honors history, with an A. i am a mediocre football player, wrestler, too. same questions (chances, if my chances are already passed, etc)

8675309 said...

Another kid interested in caltech, but also mit and whatever school i can get into. i have 93.5 weighted right now (sophmore), am enrolled in ap stats, honors precal with As. this summer i am taking two semesters of calc. i have A in a non-honors history. i have golld medal C econ, silver math, lang/lit in usad and am going to nats. i scored 90 on amc 10. i also am (mediocre) football player, wrestler. my grades are As outside of latin right now, but freshman yr will keep my gpa down forever. same questions as others (chances, given improvement.)

W said...

So something I realized that I did not touch on in this post was the impact of your essays. I've done some application reading for a high school summer program, and EVERYONE who applies has great grades, great standardized test scores etc etc etc.... so the things that stick out are:

- extracurriculars where you are demonstrating leadership in a science/math type activity
- volunteering
- a GREAT essay in which you clearly demonstrate your interests. And don't make your essay a relisting of what's in your resume in terms of activities. Show why you find astrophysics, or biology, or whatever, to be interesting. Relate an interesting story about an experience that spurred you to be interested in it.

The application committees are inundated with lists and lists of everyone's grades and whatnot... you have to STAND OUT somehow.

Anonymous said...

hey i my name is N SAI MADHUSUDANAN...i am an indian and i am doing my btech(BS) in mechanical engineering....i am interested in doing MS fro caltech...please help me with the procedure...i know i have 3 more years to go as i am only in first year now...but still help me...i am an ardent lover of string theory,quantum physics and stuff...i have also read books like THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE BY BRAIN GREENE...i loved it...so u now know about my taste...so pleas help me...here is my id where uc an contact me...

d1.quantum@gmail.com

madhu

Karen said...

I'm not really sure what school I'm going to go to, but I would like to know what my chances are for CalTech. Currently I am a sophomore at my high school. My classes this year are... AP World History, AP Calc AB, AP Physics B, regular English, and Spanish 3-4. I am also on the swim and water polo team as well as the sophomore class treasurer. Besides high school, I'm also taking a course at a community collage called scientific computing which is going to start on the day of Halloween. After the end of my sophomore year, I have decided to go to an public home schooling academy and graduate from high school by the end of Winter semester. After that I'm going to continue my education at the community collage I'm taking my scientific computing class, (Glendale Community Collage). During the time I'm in collage, I'm also going to intern at JPL since I live really close to Pasadena. If you think that graduating early from high school will be a wast, please tell me, because I'm not yet fully sure about my decisions. By the way, my future plans are to do aerospace engineering either at JPL or on an air force base. I will really appreciate any suggestions.

Karen said...

Oh I forgot to mention that I'm also in the Science Bowl which is going to take place at JPL.

Joseph said...

What is your advice for transfer students? I want to major in computer science. Should I go to a community college and get my AS degree or university for 2 years and transfer? Also, will they look at my high school transcript?

W said...

I know very little about transfer students, other than that they did exist out there. Sorry I can't help you more on that topic, Joseph.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I'm already an undergraduate student in my university in Bangladesh. I've been studying here for 5 years in Computer Science and Engineering. My results are not quite satisfactory, but i've done some really interesting projects in my university. I'm wondering if i'm eligible now to try to take admission as an undergrad in Astrophysics/Aeronautics etc. Because of my interest in astronomy.

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Erin said...

Caltech is also my dream school. I'm currently a junior with a 94.1 weighted GPA. I'm in a magnet school and am currently taking AP Calc BC, AP English Language, AP US History, and DE Chemistry (DE meaning dual enrollment meaning being enrolled in the same course at the local community college in addiction to having the class). I've already taken AP Euro History, Ap Governement, and DE Biology. I've been a member of the Virginia Math League for my whole high school career and will be joining the Environthon (A science related club) team this year. Next year I'll be taking 6-7 additional AP classes including AP Art and AP Computer Science. I'm part of the German club, Latin club, Multicultural Club, and the SCA. I volunteer my time as my school's Football MAnager and have been on the varsity swimteam for the past 3 years and the varsity track team for the past two. I have competed on varsity track in the Discus event earning such titles as district champion and even qualifying for states. I am heavily involved in a non-profit organization called the Young Marines which is the premier youth service education program in the country. I have been with that program for 7 years and through it I have attended conferences at the white house and the united nations. I am currently the senior Young Marine in my unit meaning I ma in charge of making sure everything gets carried out efficiently. Also with this program I have attended three national leadership academies and staffed at one. I have attended Space Academy and Aviation Challenge Mach III which sparked my interests in mechanical and aerospace engineering. I'm in the process of applying for VASTS ( Virginia Aerospace Sciences and Technologies Scholars) and if accepted I will get the opportunity to spend 6 days this summer at the NASA research enter in Langley conducting experiments. By the time I complete High school I'll have completed 14 college level classes with 6 of them being science/math related. Am I on the right track, or should I be looking for more?

Food, Film, Fun said...

Hi W, thank you for posting such a useful article on CalTech admissions. Would it be possible for me to email you regarding a few personal queries I have about applying to CalTech? I'm an overseas Chinese and a high school student who wants to read mathematics in CalTech.

Thank you very much!

thePhixixfrk said...

Hi wedge,
I have just passed 10th grade with 92% marks. There are no extra courses in India but I did teach myself calculus and now I am doing tensors and vectors,
That is a high percentile score. I play piano and keyboard, have many innovative computer programs made. I also made a voice controlled room. I also make a lot of projects on my arduino.
Here is my latest big project:
https://sites.google.com/site/jarvis2karan/home

I made it in linux.
I wanted to ask what more should I do? I have been in my school council too. I want to be a physicist. Can you please guide me on what kind of research should I do too?
And on what topics?
Thanks!

Isabel Pena said...

i'm going to be a sophomore in high school this upcoming year, and i was wondering if you knew of any summer research programs you described in your article near orange county California? your input is greatly appreciated! (:

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