Caltech isn't real/Someone please humanize this place for me

Ever since 5 months ago, after I found out that the blogs on existed, I’ve been reading and rereading through them nonstop. The blogs and the people behind them really helped humanize MIT for me, and the values of MIT are things I really really respect: their willingness to understand applicants and students, the supportiveness that radiates off of the blogs and anecdotes from people there, etc. Their admissions process too (although very very selective and rough in general) seems super humanized, and beyond the 4.0 and 1500+, they really focus on personality. MIT also really emphasizes that ‘work hard play hard’ mentality.

But Caltech just seems so… otherworldly. On another level. It seems like it has rocketed past MIT in terms of intimidation. It seems like everyone there is doing problem sets in their sleep and developing new physics theorems in the shower while simultaneously drinking and eating purely multivariable calculus. It seems like their professors are radioactive or know ESP or something. They are all level 1000 woke. I don’t think Caltech is real.

But seriously, will someone humanize Caltech for me? For real though, all of their applicants seem like ISEF winners and Nobel Prize laureates with published research at the age of 5.

If you read college review websites, you can learn more about the students there, the personalities, and the issues that they face. I think from an admissions perspective, it can be easy to get caught up in people’s accomplishments but at the end of the day they face the same issues and challenges as you and me. If you enjoyed MIT’s blog, another admissions blog that I would recommend checking out is William & Mary’s Admit It! Admission Blogs. They do a really good job about humanizing the process and are very transparent about it, as well as includes interesting tibits about the people being admitted and behind the scenes.

Caltech’s freshman class size each year is only about 200+, less than 1/4 of the size of MIT’s. Because of its size, it can’t afford to diversify the way MIT does. MIT’s admission is more holistic, similar to an Ivy, and has a wider range of student interest, capability, etc. Caltech is more hard-core science. There’re few “fuzzies”, if any (“fuzzy” is a term borrowed from Stanford but used less precisely here).

You either like CalTech the way it is, or you don’t. Cal Tech is just fine. Given your post, it’s probably not the place for you. Find schools that you like as they are, and ignore the acceptance rate.

Caltech has a truly hideous orange Media Arts building. Their sports teams suck and who can root for the Beavers with a straight face? Undergrads work at Peet’s coffee and are terrible at customer service. Birkenstocks are a year round fashion statement. In summary, it’s geek heaven with sunshine.

@lindagaf Nah, it’s not that I don’t like Caltech or anything! I’m just really intimidated by what the students seem to be, based on CC threads.

I’m not sure what you are asking. CalTech is probably the most purely tech intensive school in the country. Extremely selective. It is what it appears to be.

@1NJParent , what’s a fuzzy? Do tell!
@sputniik , again, if you find it intimidating, that’s telling you something.

@Lindagaf A fuzzy at Stanford is someone who isn’t focused on a STEM career. I used the term more broadly here to mean someone who isn’t as hard-core science/math focused as a typical Caltech/MIT student.

@intparent I guess what I’m trying to ask is what a real Caltech student is like? Beyond the CC posts and the ISEF awards and the USAMO golds. Like, thanks to the mitadmissions blogs, I don’t find MIT students intimidating – I find them both admirable and human. I just find Caltech students to be admirable. And godly.

Caltech does have blogs hosted by their admissions department at – most of the posts are about going out for food somewhere in LA. But, there are also posts about Ditch Day, House activities, Honor Code, hallway murals, and other things that are pretty unique to Caltech. So, you might look at those to get an idea of the personality of the place and the students.

My son is a Caltech student, and he’s a real human being. He’s a pretty smart human, but not ethereal or godly at all. He didn’t enter ISEF or make it beyond AIME. He certainly knows a number of people there who did those things. In high school, he did have some national computer hacking awards and was a co-author on a couple physics papers. He thinks that one of his essays in particular made it clear he was a good fit and was what got him in after meeting the more objective GPA, scores, coursework, and clear interest in science requirements.

He does tell stories that seem nerdy enough to be “only at Caltech.” But, the people there are mortal, and many/all are stressed by the workload.

There are “fuzzy” majors at Caltech, but they are designed to be 2nd majors. Almost everyone has a primary STEM major. I would recommend Caltech only for people who are fairly happy to work on the proofs side of math and physics – even if their planned major is something like biology, geology, CS, or engineering.

Both MIT and Caltech are very selective. Perhaps less so if you are female, but still very selective. Many people we thought would be admitted to one of them weren’t. MIT can say they are super holistic and all, but that doesn’t mean they are admitting more people, just different people. Have safeties and matches when you apply.

Caltech has a Media Arts building?? I’m not familiar with it. The only orange building I know of is the Cahill Astrophysics building, and I think it’s pretty cool looking, especially the inside of the main stairwell.

MIT also has Beavers as its mascot, so I suppose some can. Admittedly, sports aren’t that important to many at Caltech. My son had fun on a couple intramural teams this year. Outside of sports, students are called “Techers” not beavers.

Certainly shorts are year-round options in Pasadena. Shoes of any type are optional sometimes, too. I don’t know about undergrads working at Peet’s. My son is a paid waiter in his house, and among other things has learned to make (non-alcoholic) multilayered rainbow drinks for those who ask for them at dinner.

@ynotgo Thank you for your reply!! I will definitely be checking out the Caltech blogs!!

So, @Ynotgo , what you’re saying is, my theater/theater tech daughter shouldn’t bother applying? :-B

Check out and Caltech’s “hacks” (aka pranks)

If you are serious (can’t tell!), then it might not be a great fit. What about Harvey Mudd? They are super techy, but encourage other interests a bit more than Caltech does.

@Ynotgo is spot on.
My son is at Caltech.
Son walks around in shorts and flip flops all day. Forgets to get a haircut (except when the house is cutting hair as an activity). He lacks sleep and is stressed by the killer amount of work- tends to wait on laundry.
Besides having very high scores and GPA, he wrote a strong essay, which we believe, got him in. It was passed around and he received lots of postcards from the current students who read it.
No, he didn’t enter international competitions.

He had an “all around” high school experience with sports, community service and an Eagle-ranked project which garnered awards from engineers and local builders.
These kids just happen to be very bright, but they are young adults with a passion and are not that different from most students their age.

Hi @sputniik. I have met tons students at Caltech They are all awesome. They are some of the nicest, smartest and socially aware people I have met. If you are lucky enough to be admitted, then I am sure you will find your own cohort of students that are similar to you. They have a house system that is best thought of as the Harry Potter house system. Once you find your house, you will be home.

@JenJenJenJen if your child wanted to go to Caltech and still was interested in music or theater I would recommend it. Students that are in music, sports or theater find that it is the most significant thing they did during their time on campus.

@intparent @Anyaaso Oh, this is embarrassing, I was TOTALLY kidding.

Oh but @JenJenJenJen, she really should check out “Boldly Go! - a musical parody based upon Star Trek” (available in full on YouTube) to judge the quality and seriousness of Caltech’s theater program. :wink:

@JenJenJenJen you are kidding, right?