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CalTech life?

techiedorktechiedork Registered User Posts: 353 Member
so i just realized that i'm going to a CalTech info session this sunday (boy does time fly) and i was wondering...how's life at CalTech? day-to-day interaction, classes, the houses, on campus, research opportunities...

so just curious because out east we don't really hear too much about it...although i shouldn't have that excuse because i lived in california for 14 years.

oh, and i'm a girl :) (and yes, i am fully aware of the 30-70 ratio or whatever it is)
Post edited by techiedork on

Replies to: CalTech life?

  • viewofspaceviewofspace Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    If you enjoy the frat life, being hazed and assaulted even after saying no, Caltech is definately the place to be. You would expect that Caltech would be a school of intellectuals where everyone respects one another...but that is not the case. House activities (which mostly includes drinking) dominate most of your social life. Don't drink...too bad. If you like people banging on your door, basically forcing you to do something you don't want to at 10:00 at night, Caltech is the place to be...

    <just my opinions formulated from my experiences>
  • alleyaalleya Registered User Posts: 381 Member
    > If you enjoy the frat life, being hazed and assaulted even after saying
    > no, Caltech is definately the place to be.

    I don't know which house you're a part of, but I've never heard of hazing and assaulting happening here, and gossip travels fast on such a small campus. (By the way, don't respond saying which house -- rotation rules apply to this forum). Many houses shower frosh (which means that they carry them into the bathroom and the frosh is supposed to get themselves wet in the shower) but the frosh can shower upperclassmen as well and it doesn't happen often (I've been showered twice in 2 years). Some houses have other events (Grease the Frosh, for instance) but these are all completely optional. I've had friends in houses they didn't hated, and they weren't required to do anything they didn't want to (and they didn't want to do anything).

    > You would expect that Caltech would be a school of intellectuals where
    > everyone respects one another...but that is not the case.

    Specific example? I've found the opposite to be overwhelmingly true.

    > House activities (which mostly includes drinking) dominate most of your
    > social life.

    House activities DO dominate your social life, but they don't have to -- my core group of friends is made up of people 7 people from 5 different houses, and we always find time to do things together every weekend. Few of us drink much, and even though I'm very involved in my house's social life, this rarely involves drinking. Some houses drink more than others, but this is more extreme at the beginning of the year (you sound like a frosh, so you haven't been here long) and the purpose of Rotation is to get to know a house's personality so that you can weed out the ones you won't be happy in (in your case, the ones that have heavy drinking). Excuse me if I sound a bit bitter -- I was at rotation for 5-7 hours nightly getting to know frosh to help them find a house, while most of the frosh were off doing their sets -- if you didn't take advantage of rotation, you have no right to complain about the house you ended up in.

    > basically forcing you to do something you don't want to at 10:00 at night

    First of all, face it, you're in college -- there's no way you can expect people to be quiet at 10pm. Secondly, if you don't want to do something, don't do it -- either say no, close the door in their face, or don't open it in the first place -- it won't take them very long to get bored and move on to bother someone else. After this happens once or twice, you'll get left alone for good. Don't blame people for wanting to make friends with you.
  • webhappywebhappy Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    I actually know the details of the event... let's say there was a mis-understanding, which is very easy to happen in some of the houses.

    Alleya's responses are rather typical of people who like the house system. First, let me preface this message by stating that Alleya's house, IMO, is more close to a normal residence (eg. the residents are less likely to openly drink alcohol, conduct rowdy/physical activities, etc).

    The house system is not all that great. You're forced to rank 4 houses, and IMO, only 2 can be characterized as low on alcohol usage. If you didn't get into those two houses (even though you ranked them first and second), which I think is a likely possibility for the OP of the 2nd message, you're stuck into whichever houses you thought were not the worst.

    So Alleya's comment that you should spend time getting to know the houses really is a moot point. The number of slots available in the more "normal" houses is really too limited.

    Really, though, I don't think the house system should be a reason for you to NOT come here, esp. since they're opening Avery. However, there are a substantial number who are unhappy with the house system, and those students wish they could've gone directly into Avery.

    BTW, if you read my messages on the old board, you'll know that I'm also disappointed with the house system.

    Also, the last couple of sentences in Alleya's post really disturb me, because they're the type of propaganda that I got dished with when I was a prospective student. The benefits of the house system are not exclusive to a house sytem with rowdy activities/traditions. Is someone really trying to make friends with you when they're recruiting frosh to play beer pong on a Thurs. night? I think the house system allows people to do irresponsible actions. For example, at one dinner, someone slammed a glass cup onto the ground without warning! Other people feel they're entitled to shove other people and attempt to drag them into the shower! That's definitely not how I want to make friends!
  • texas137texas137 Registered User Posts: 2,143 Senior Member
    Webhappy - do you mean they are opening Avery to freshman? If so, when does that go into effect?
  • webhappywebhappy Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    Yeah, they are. It should be starting next year (class of 2009), although the details are somewhat in the works.

    It seems they actually want to make Avery an 8th house, which is possibly a bad thing. Some people are worried that Avery would develop new traditions that would stop Avery from being the refuge that it is currently.

    Personally, I think it will be a good thing because the people in Avery want this change, and they still want Avery to be a refuge from the houses. I think their goal is to get more people who want to make friends in Avery, though, because a large population there was forced into there soph year, and those people would rather maintain their friendships in their houses. Thus, the ppl in Avery who are in refuge have a tough time finding friends. So it is possible that Avery will not be as quiet as it is currently, but I think it will remain very livable.

    I think the biggest problem is that too many ppl will rank Avery as their first choice. I know I would've. Actually, I would've preferred the option to go into Avery at the start of the school year and not even go through rotation, but it seems like Avery will become part of rotation.
  • kyshantrykyshantry Registered User Posts: 122 Junior Member
    I guess I must admit that I'm a bit distressed to read ViewOfSpace's post. I've lived here for three years in what is, by all accounts, one of the louder/more rowdy/more "party"ish houses and yet haven't had the same experiences that s/he has.

    My experience, which of course is just that - my experience - has been that while people encourage you to participate in house activities, and get involved, and meet people, no one is even close to forced to. Someone may go around and bang on doors or something ot that effect, but if you say "nah," people will keep on going. I was never hazed, and have never seen someone be hazed, let alone assaulted. Both are completely unacceptable, and there are bodies on campus that can deal with that.

    On the drinking front, as I mentioned, I live in one of the houses where there is probably more drinking than in other houses. That said, our president last year never had a drop while she was here. I served as treasurer for two years in the house and have never had a drink, and yet am very well known (and I hope liked) in the house. Our Vice-President right now doesn't drink at all. I'm sure there are others, but those are ones that jump to mind right away. Not drinking certainly is not social ostracism.

    On houses that are low on alcohol uses, I have one that jumps to mind as very low, but I cannot think of a house that doesn't have subgroups in it that either don't drink much or at all. Just because you're in a house doesn't mean that you have to completely by into that house's culture - the house that has a big pentagram in its dining hall, for example, has members who go to church every Sunday and are active.

    That said, most people - I would wager 80% or more by the end of their freshman year - love the house system. I am one of these, though as I get older (I'm a senior now) it has less pull on me. It brings previously shy people out of their shells and helps them develop the social skills that they so desperately need. It gives you an obvious group of people to hang out with, and while it is absolutely very possible to have friends in other houses (I certainly do) when you're a shy frosh, I think having a social network around you is really good.

    But it's true its not for everyone. That is why you can move off after the end of second term your freshman year, and never have to come back. I think that the people who exercise this option lose a lot of what I would consider to be the Caltech experience (when two alums introduce themselves they'll state year and house... and probably not even mention their major!), but the experience is certainly different for everyone and I wouldn't want to force my view on anyone.

    But anyway, to the original poster if you have questions like that, come to the student panel tomorrow at the open house. A couple of other students and I will be there to answer your questions - and we'll do so as well and as honestly as we can.

  • webhappywebhappy Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    Alright, I'm not sure what social skills I'm developing still from the activities that my house presents via extreme initiations, beer pong on Thurs nights, physical activities, etc....

    I'm of two minds of this now. On the one hand, people say that it's still in an extreme mode and the house should calm down, and then I'll get to meet people; but the event that happened to viewofspace leaves a negative impression in my mind, and I don't really trust them enough to participate in the house social activities. In fact, the safest thing for me would be to NOT let them get to know me, and then there wouldn't be the possibility of such an event happening to me.
  • kyshantrykyshantry Registered User Posts: 122 Junior Member
    I guess my response to the sentiment on your last post would be that "Often times, the biggest risk is not taking a risk at all." While it may seem like not meeting the other folks in your house seems like the easiest course of action or path of least resistance in the short term, I can almost guarantee you that you'd be happier, in the long term, if you put out that effort.

    That said, a college admissions website probably isn't the best place to have this discussion. I'd certainly be happy to talk to you if you'd like to drop by sometime - donut me and subtract three from the room number that is listed on there (that's where I lived last year).

  • alleyaalleya Registered User Posts: 381 Member
    webhappy and viewofspace,

    Another possibility if you're really not happy with your house is to try to find one that you are happy in. Rotation is not the end all, be all for the housing system. You are welcome to keep looking and when you find a house you like, spend time there, get to know the people, become a social member, and then later a fulll member. The purpose of the housing system is to bring you out of your shell, like Galen (kyshantry) said, and it won't work if you hide out in your room. If you're unhappy where you are, there are avenues to change that, but you have to take the initiative.

    I also agree with what Galen said about there being a core group of people in every house that drinks, but that's not the whole of the house. In some houses it's less than a dozen who drink regularly, but drunk people tend to be rather loud, so it can seem like a lot more. Even the houses with heavy drinking also have very large populations of non-drinkers who are perfectly happy with their house. If you're not comfortable being a non-drinker among drinkers, search out the other people in your house who feel the same way. I can promise you they're there -- but they're not going to come pounding on your door yelling for you to notice them.

    Also, on a related note, you said that Avery, even if it became an eighth house, would remain a "refuge" for people who aren't happy with housing traditions. Can I point out that there are a completely new set of students in every house, every four years. This means that the personality of a house can change VERY rapidly. (I can think of some houses that have done complete about-flips in the last 30 years according to alums.) If Avery became a house, there would be no guaranteeing it would have the same atmosphere it has today. Of course, the Avery question really has no bearing on this forum.
  • reasonabledadreasonabledad Registered User Posts: 885 Member

    I remember your posts about Cal Tech from last year: if ever there was a student looking forward to Cal Tech, you seemed to be it.

    Have you posted more of your experiences at Cal Tech somewhere? For example:

    1. How many classes do you take, and how do you see the legendary course load of Cal Tech now that you are participating in it?

    2. How has your perception of the Cal tech culture changed since you became a student (if it has)? What aspect of Tech met your expectations, and where you surprised?

    3. Any regrets on going to Cal Tech?
  • infktinfkt Registered User Posts: 70 Junior Member
    Cal-Tech sounds scary...because of the atmosphere I mean. From everything I've heard and read, it seems to be that you can't be even remotely sure what to expect.
  • webhappywebhappy Registered User Posts: 278 Junior Member
    Caltech would still be my top choice school to attend because of its academic quality and research opps. The downside is that I wish I had more summers that I could spend on various research opps or internships, but I'm already planning how I want to spend my years here. There is one thing I have learned about research opps here, and that's that the math/theoretical research is a bit harder to get as a UG because these are areas that you need lots of background in to really be useful (although I don't think I'm into those fields so it's not a concern for me).

    I'm taking a huge amount of courses, currently at 51 units. One of them is table tennis, that's unitted at 3, even though it's only 2 hours of class per week (but I also go to the table tennis club every Sun at 4 PM--and we have a mini-tourny today to determine the team for some SoCal event). I've essentially been working non-stop the past few weeks. Well, I watched a bit of the debates, but I feel like I'm in another world. In high school, I finished my work in no time and then had time to play computer games a couple hours/day, read TIME and businessweek, watch TV, etc.

    My perceptions changed during prefrosh weekend, and they haven't really changed since. This place is not quite the nerd heaven that I imagined it, but the reality is that it's the closest. At least by numbers, Caltech's student body is the strongest in the nation. There are also quite a bit of nerdy activities and people about. Oh, I've also joined the newspaper here (free lunch + monetary compensation for articles + it's usu. a competitive position at most schools).

    This place is not that scary. Nothing has personally happened to me, but I just think that the usual propaganda about how great the houses are is unfounded. Actually, I realized that most of the social benefits regarding making friends could be achieved if you had a residence system where you lived in the same residence for your four years.

    I have made quite a bit of friends. However, I have to admit that it's a bit segregated, and my house's culture partially causes this problem. A lot of nerdy asians (frosh that rotated out of here and wanted to stay) are in this house, and I've been quick to make friends with them. There are also some non-asian frosh that I consider responsible, and so I've gotten to know them. However, ~ half the upperclassmen I don't really consider responsible, so I stay away from them--which is not a problem because usually they stay on the upper floor, and I stay on the lower floor. In fact, this house could be considered the nerdiest house because we turn the house computer lab (located on the lower floor) into a mini-LAN party every night. Anyways, the reason why I think it's segregated in this house is that the asians stay on the lower floor and the non-asians predominantly socialize/party on the upper floor.

    Also, in regards to Avery, I think it will work because the biggest problem right now is that the houses are not equally popular among the incoming students. Let's face it, some houses are too big relative to the amount of incoming students that really want to get into those houses. I think Avery will be a chance to re-adjust the cultures, esp. if we still only force everyone to rank 4 houses. If some of the houses become under-populated, I hope that will force them to change their cultures to a more moderate form.

    Finally, in regards to drinking, I acknowledge that every house has members who drinks. The difference is in how it's used. In some houses, drinking is usually kept to people's rooms whereas in some houses, drinking is done openly and appears to play a big role in many house social activities.
  • silver-ymssilver-yms Registered User Posts: 150 Junior Member
    Sorry, David, but I'm going to have to disagree. On two things:

    1) It sucks that Avery's going to be open to freshmen. But not for the reason you stated. I believe Avery will remain much the way it is right now. A house where nothing really ever happens. The reason it sucks, though, is that freshmen will be missing out on the house atmosphere that I would argue is an indispensable element of Caltech life. Which leads me to my second point:

    2) The houses aren't as bad as you'd like to make them sound. I've been living for a few weeks now in a house where I voluntarily chose to sing a quite special song, get manure thrown at me, get thrown into a pool, get ice water poured down my back twice (they'll even ask you if you're OK with it before doing it). And not a single time was I compelled ot do anything. You can ignore house activities whenever (most of the time) you feel like it. You can pretend you're in Avery and keep your door closed 24 hours a day.
  • silver-ymssilver-yms Registered User Posts: 150 Junior Member
    I think I should also mention that I didn't get my first pick house. I assigned the lowest score possible to the house I'm currently in. And yet, I'm still very happy I'm part of it. The house system would be, IMHO, one of the most precious things Caltech has to offer.
  • omgninjaomgninja Registered User Posts: 240 Junior Member
    silver, don't forget the cow eyes (i heard that they might have been sheep, but i don't know) we threw at you guys. i wasn't around for that... I would have liked to see it, because that's just weird.

    To the original poster and all others interested:
    The house system is perhaps my favorite part of caltech so far (I'm a freshman in one of the fine houses). Unlike a typical college dormitory, in the house system there are both elements of the frosh picking the house and the house picking the frosh, so one way or the other someone gets what they want. If one doesn't get into a house they wanted to, it is likely that the upperclassmen of a house decided they wanted that frosh. Because houses and frosh pick each other (and it seems like everyone here's really friendly), the upperclassmen really seem to want to socialize with the freshmen, so you'll have friends outside of your class. There's always someone to talk to about what classes to take, how to do a certain problem, which TAs are good, etc.

    Classes: The work's hard, but everyone just collaborates naturally. Being a freshman, I'm taking mostly core classes, but I'm also taking this integrated circuits lab course that's really fun... ummm that was a bad description of classes.

    it seems like there are a lot of research opportunities, but most people do it during the summer.

    I just wanted to say that overall I'm having a lot of fun.
This discussion has been closed.