How to Get into Caltech: Ultimate Guide (2024 Undergrad)

Caltech is one of the most prestigious science and engineering institutions in the world… 

So we’re not surprised why you’re wondering how to get into the Caltech. 

This guide aims to demystify the complicated admissions process and offer you actionable strategies to enhance your application.

California Institute of Technology… watch out.

How Hard Is It To Get Into Caltech?

Let’s get on the same page here: Caltech is very hard to get into.

It’s widely considered to be the “hardest school to get into in America”.

It’s important to not underestimate this.

Caltech Acceptance Rate is 3%

The Caltech acceptance rate is about 3%. 

How many Caltech applicants are there? 11,352 first year students applied in 2023.

Out of the 448 that were accepted, and 224 enrolled. 

Out of 11,352 men who applied, only 116 got in (1%).

For women, it’s still incredibly competitive—out of 5,274 who applied. Only 108 got in (2%).

This means, it’s 2x harder if you’re a guy applying.

What is Caltech Admissions Looking For?

According to the data published by Caltech, certain things matter and certain things do not.

how to get into caltech

‘Very Important’ Criteria

School Rigor

Basically this is a document typically completed by a high school college counselor that provides Caltech with an understanding of the academic environment at your high school.

This information helps admissions committees evaluate an applicant’s performance relative to what is available at their school. 

It looks at things like the school’s curriculum difficulty (AP, IB, honors courses offered), GPA distribution among students, the number of students attending college, the types of colleges recent graduates attend, and school demographics.

For example, a student who takes all the available AP courses offered at a small rural public high school might be evaluated differently from a student with similar grades at a large, competitive private high school.

If you’re unable to change your school, the only thing you can do is take challenging classes and score the highest in those classes.

Application Essays (Common App & Caltech Essays)

Caltech requires both the Common App and college-specific essays:

  1. Common App. Submit one response to the prompts. Alternatively, you may also submit via Questbridge if you are eligible (either way, you will be evaluated the same).
  2. Caltech Essays. Basically seven essays. Three are required and four are option, but we highly recommend submitting them.

Essays are where the admissions committee can get a sense of those key character and personality traits, including interest in STEM, intellectual curiosity, creativity, and initiative.

A passion project or internship experience are perfect experiences to have standout essays that match the criteria they are looking for.

Guidance Letter

This is a recommendation letter written by your guidance counselor that typically addresses the applicant’s character, potential, and how they stand out within their school community. 

Again, this is an opportunity to demonstrate the key traits they are looking for. 

This may also include any extenuating circumstances that could have impacted the student’s academic performance, if applicable.

Teacher Evaluations – A key for how to get into Caltech

You are required to submit two teacher evaluations, which are essentially reference letters:

  • One from a math or science teacher. 
  • One from a humanities or social science teacher

The math/science letter should show “STEM depth”, and the humanities/social science letter should show “Creative Diversity”

More on that below.

Additional Letters of Evaluation (Optional)

You may also submit additional letters of evaluation:

  • A General Reference Letter (from a mentor, coach, etc.)
  • A Site of Research Letter (from someone who you worked with on a research project)

The general reference letter should highlight your “Skills and Passions” where your site of Research Letter should demonstrate your “Intellectual Tenacity”.

Youthfully offers a Scientific Research program for students, which is great for this.

‘Important’ Criteria for How to Get Into Caltech

Class Rank & GPA

To get into Caltech, you must be ranked in the top 10% of your high school graduating class.

The data shows, a whopping 96.43% of admitted students met this criteria.

It’s more likely they are in the top 5% of class.

Caltech doesn’t have a minimum GPA requirement, but realistically at least a 3.8 out of 4.0 scale is likely needed to be competitive.


Caltech will evaluate your extracurriculars in two ways:

  • Common app activity list (and essay, if you mention anything about ECs)
  • Caltech essays

The common app activity list allows you to mention up to 10 activities, so if your activities aren’t STEM-related, leadership-oriented, or demonstrate high-involvement and impact, you will not score high in this category.

These two questions are pulled from two of their essays, further highlighting the importance of demonstrating tier 1 extracurriculars in your essays:

  • Required Question 1: “Identify and describe two STEM-related experiences from your high school years, either in or out of the classroom, and tell us how and why they activated your curiosity.”
  • Optional Question 3: “Tell us about another hobby or interest!”

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‘Considered’ Criteria for Getting In

Work Experience & Internships

The same things as extracurricular activities apply here. 

Racial/Ethnic & First-Generation

They will take into consideration minority racial/ethnic backgrounds and first-generation college applicants to ensure a diverse and equitable student body.

‘Not Considered’ Criteria for Caltech Admissions

Caltech is test-optional and does not require the SAT/ACT

They are on a five-year moratorium, so this might change in the future.

Caltech no longer interviews candidates

They scrapped this in the early 2000s.

Caltech does not give preference to legacy applicants

Any relations with alumni/ae will not matter.

Caltech does not give preference to California applicants.

The state or geographical residence will not directly be considered in your application. 

For example, if a student is from rural California and another student from rural New York, and all variables about their school, GPA, class rank, letters, and extracurriculars are the same—they will theoretically have the same chance of admission.

how to get into caltech

How to Improve Chances of Getting Into Caltech

We have five main suggestions for improving your chances of getting into Caltech.

Launch a STEM extracurricular passion project

Sometimes referred to as a ‘tier 1’ extracurricular or a ‘X-factor’, these projects will do four things for you:

  1. Demonstrate interest in STEM
  2. Get a great reference letter from a mentor
  3. Help you publish a research paper that can be cited in other journals
  4. Get another reference letter from someone in research
  5. Add it to your extracurricular list in the common app
  6. Show your STEM teacher and guidance counsellor (who are also writing a cover letter) what you’re made of

Youthfully offers a certificate program in Scientific Research where students either publish a research paper or complete an internship experience in the scientific field.

Write Incredible Essays

This past year, they had the below required short-answer questions. 

how to get into caltech

What’s the key to standing out: 

  1. Unique experiences
  2. Self-awareness (reflect on your interests and strengths)
  3. Research on the university itself (talk to Caltech grads)
  4. Write your essays as narrative stories

If you want help with your essays, be sure to apply for our admissions coaching program, where you work with a Caltech grad who’s working in the science and tech industry.

We use a coaching approach to help draw out unique aspects of yourself, and we offer certificate programs to build your tier 1 extracurriculars and work experience.

Impress and connect with teachers & guidance

Applying to prestigious colleges is the first time you’ll realize the importance of playing ‘the game’.

This game is not just about acing tests or topping classes, but about forging meaningful connections with those who hold the keys to your academic future: your teachers and guidance counselors. 

These are the individuals who will vouch for your character and abilities through reference letters, pivotal in swaying college admissions.

To excel in this game, presence and participation in class are essential. Engage actively in discussions, demonstrating not just your knowledge, but your enthusiasm for learning. 

However, the game extends beyond the classroom. 

Show initiative by staying after class, delving deeper into subjects with thoughtful questions. This isn’t about flattery, but about showing genuine interest and making your teachers’ experience more rewarding. 

Remember, teachers encounter thousands of students. To ensure your reference letter shines, you need to be memorable, not just as a brilliant student, but as a genuinely engaged and curious individual. 

This approach doesn’t just enhance your chances of a glowing recommendation, it can fundamentally transform your educational journey, making you a standout candidate in the eyes of both your teachers and your dream universities like Caltech.

There are specific tactics and strategies to use  to ensure your teachers will write what you want and the reference letters. We’d recommend enrolling in our admissions coaching program where we will guide you on these best practices

Take challenging classes & rank in the top 5% of those classes

This one is pretty simple. If 96% of Caltech acceptances are to students in the top 5 to 10% of their class,  that’s an important variable for you to focus on.

And our previous recommendation of building relationships with teachers extends beyond the ones who are writing reference letters. 

You should voice your academic goals to all of your teachers and work collaboratively with them to ensure that you achieve them.

Get into the college of your dreams.

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Does Caltech Do Early Admission?

Caltech offers two admission plans: Restrictive Early Action (REA) and Regular Decision. The REA plan, for students who prioritize Caltech as their top choice, is non-binding but restricts applicants from applying Early Action or Early Decision to other private U.S. colleges, with certain exceptions for public institutions, international schools, and specific programs. The key dates for these plans are:

  • REA Deadline: November 1, 2023
  • REA Decision Notifications: Mid-December, 2023
  • Regular Decision Deadline: January 3, 2024
  • Regular Decision Notifications: Mid-March, 2024
  • Admit Reply Deadline for Both: May 1, 2024

Regular Decision, the more common pathway, has a January deadline with decisions in mid-March. Caltech’s REA policy aims to streamline the early admission process, reserving it for students genuinely committed to attending.



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