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College Essays

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The California Institute of Technology—or Caltech, as it's more commonly known—is a highly exclusive college. If you want to join the Beavers, you'll need not just top grades and standardized test scores, but strong writing supplements to support them as well.

Caltech accepts around 6% of students who apply, making it an extremely competitive school . The more you know about the Caltech essay prompts before you start, the better prepared you are to answer them.

Read on to learn about 2021's essay prompts, as well as some tips and tricks for maximizing their potential to impress!

Feature Image: Canon.vs.nikon /Wikimedia Commons

BREAKING: Caltech Application Changes Due to COVID-19

As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many colleges have made the decision to at least temporarily stop requiring SAT and ACT scores. In June 2020, California Institute of Technology announced that they will stop considering SAT and ACT scores of applicants for the next two admission cycles (those applying in fall 2020, 2021, and 2022). This means that, not only are SAT and ACT scores not required, but, even if you submit them, they won't be reviewed and they won't be considered as part of your application. (This is what we refer to as a "test blind" policy.) Additionally, international students can now meet Caltech's English proficiency requirement by submitting either TOEFL or Duolingo scores.

Because of SAT and ACT cancellations , as well as the difficulty some students are having preparing or paying for the tests, Caltech made the decision to temporarily stop requiring standardized test scores to make admissions as fair and equitable as possible. Because test scores aren't being considered, there will be an increased emphasis on classes students took and the grades they received in them.

What Do I Need to Know About the Caltech Essays?

Caltech accepts four different applications: Coalition, Common App, Powered by Scoir, and Questbridge. In addition to the required Coalition,  Common Application, and powered by Scoir essays, Caltech also requires three short essays. ( Questbridge applicants only need to write these if they become Match Finalists and have ranked Caltech.)

You’ll write one required academic question and three required short answer questions, but you’ll also have the option to answer three supplemental short answer questions and one supplemental academic question, if you want.

Altogether, you'll be writing up to 1100 words for the required essays, and 300 words for the optional short answer questions. These essays are fairly short, so you'll want to spend a good amount of time honing your argument to its most efficient. Start early so you have plenty of time to plan, refine, revise, and proof before you submit!

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Do a little preparation and you can look this happy when writing your Caltech essays, too!

What Are the Caltech Essay Prompts?

The Caltech essay prompts are fairly standard, though each one is tailored to the college's specifications. You'll see the usual "Overcoming Obstacles” and “Defining Your Fit” essay questions, but always keep in mind that you're applying to Caltech specifically, and your essays should reflect that.

Required Academic Question

Because of the rigorous core course curriculum, Caltech students don't declare a major until the end of their first year. However, some students arrive knowing which academic fields and areas already most excite them, or which novel fields and areas they most want to explore. If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest? (Max: 200 words)

The first essay asks you share your academic passion (or passions), and how you discovered them. Many colleges understand that students change their majors throughout the course of their careers, and Caltech doesn’t want you to have to choose a major until you’re a sophomore. But they still want you to have a good idea of what you want to focus on and why it matters to you.

The key here is to be specific about your area of interest. Note that they don’t mention a major, but instead an overall field. In other words, now isn’t the time to say that you want to major in biology because you’ve always done well in school. Instead, focus on something more specific, like a problem you want to solve or an experience that changed the way you see your career. Maybe your physical science egg-drop challenge inspired a desire to create safer structures, or maybe a field trip to a NASA location made you realize you had to be in that control room one day.

Whatever the case, be as specific as you can with what you want to study, and remember that multiple majors could get you there. For example, visiting NASA could have inspired you to study mathematics, physics, or engineering. There are multiple paths to reach the same goal; do your homework, look at the different programs Caltech offers, and choose one or two that align with your dream.

Caltech is, in their own words, “an unapologetic STEM institution.” Whatever you do, make sure that your chosen area fits within these parameters.

Required Short Answer Question #1

At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (Min: 100/Max: 200 words for each experience)

This prompt is asking you to discuss something you're passionate about. Your interests and activities outside of school and work can reveal a lot about the kind of person you are. As such, this prompt is a great opportunity to show how you exhibit the characteristics of the perfect Caltech candidate in your life experiences that don’t show up in your test scores and GPA.

Hopefully, thinking of a topic for this essay will be easy for you. You should write about a situation, story, or topic that gets you so engrossed and excited that it’s tough to tear yourself away from learning about it! Whether that’s reading up on the psychology of conspiracy theories or bird watching with your little brother, the most important thing is that you choose something that you’re deeply interested in. When you do that, admissions counselors will be able to feel your passion too!

Even though you probably could write pages and pages about the topic you choose, it’s important to keep things clear and concise here. Remember: you only have 200 words per topic to work with! To keep your essay focused, tell the story of how these experiences piqued your curiosity into the subject (or subjects) you’ve chosen to write about. You can describe your learning process, even if it’s quirky or unconventional. This is your chance to show Caltech how you choose to expand your mind when left to your own devices.

And that’s the most important thing to emphasize in your essay. Caltech is looking for students who don’t stop learning when the semester ends. The people who make a difference in the world are passionate, lifelong learners. This essay is your chance to show off your niche interests and prove to Caltech that you’re a lifelong learner too.

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This guy would fit right in at Caltech.

Required Short Answer Question #2

The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech's students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars , but Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3D printing dorm decor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)

This question is a great way for you to show off your skills! Maybe your insight helped your school’s robotics team take home first place, or maybe you found a way to streamline some part of your family’s day-to-day routine. You have a lot of options here, but make sure to keep your topic focused on STEM-related subjects. This is an excellent topic for a problem-and-solution essay: after all, your innovation will have improved a situation, right? You only have 250 words, so you’ll need to make them count! Caltech wants to see how your mind works : why were you driven to your chosen innovation? Were there any obstacles? What was the end result, and how was it received?

Remember:  you'll need to give the admissions counselors enough information that they can understand your innovation and  its impact. Be sure to answer both parts of this question so that you're fully addressing the prompt. 

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It probably wasn't one of these kids who wrote these successful Caltech essays.

Required Short Answer Question #3

The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)

This is your chance to show Caltech what makes you tick, and how you’ve become who you are. Think back on the formative experiences in your life: your home, your family, your cultural background. How have they shaped you into who you are now and what you want? Show Caltech how you see the world, and why.

As always, you should remember to gear this toward STEM as much as you can: Caltech isn’t kidding when they tell you to “lean all the way in on the STEMiest of STEMmy topics.” The trick here is to show how your own lived experiences have informed your interest and perspective on the STEM subject that you’re most drawn to. Maybe you come from a family of artists, and their sense of aesthetics informs the way you design and present your projects. Maybe you have a different cultural background than most of your peers, which influences your thought processes.

Be sure to tell a story here so that you can connect with admissions counselors. For example, was there a formative experience in your childhood or youth that made you realize you stand out from your peers in some way? Was a family member or cultural tradition particularly influential?

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CalTech Short Answer Questions

Along with longer essays, you'll also have to tackle a few short answer responses, too. We'll break them down below! 

Supplemental Short Answer Question #1

If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (Max: 150 words)

This is a pretty broad prompt! Unlike Required Question 3, which asks about your background, or Supplemental Question 2, which asks about your hobbies, this is about your identity, which includes both of those things and more! You have a lot of options here: think of past experiences that made you realize more about who you are and what you stand for. Maybe you stood up to a bully. Maybe you went stargazing with family or friends, and found yourself overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Just like with the other prompts, remember to be as specific as possible, and give examples.

Supplemental Short Answer Question #2

When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy? (Max: 100 words)

This is a great prompt to answer, because it gives you the chance to show the admissions counselors more about who you are not just as a budding scholar but as a person. Here’s a chance to open up about, say, your passion for rock climbing or your increasingly-large collection of succulents. You only have 100 words, but try to go into as much detail as possible about how your hobby makes you feel. This is the place to be descriptive, and to show rather than tell.

Supplemental Short Answer Question #3

Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (Max: 50 words)

You've probably got more than one hobby you love. This is your chance to share that with admissions counselors at CalTech. You don't have much space, but help your readers understand why you're passionate about the hobby you choose. 

Caltech Essays That Worked

All this information is great, but it can still be tricky to understand exactly what Caltech wants to know until you've seen it demonstrated. Check out this accepted essay—and some tips from someone who took a serious risk—to learn more about what Caltech hopes to see in your essay!

Even though the example essays below respond to old essay prompts, there’s still a lot you can learn from them about how to write successful Caltech essays.

Martin Alternburg's Essay

I cross over the bridge into Minnesota. Out of my three sports, cross country is definitely my worst — but I continue to be hooked on it. Unlike swimming and track, my motivation to run is heavily intrinsic. I live for the long runs I take on by myself. While they rarely happen during our season, we were assigned a long run to complete over our first weekend of cross country. In reality, I was supposed to go six miles, but felt eight gave me more time to explore the home I had just returned to. My mind begins to wander as I once again find my rhythm. My train of thought while running is similar to the way one thinks in the minutes before sleep — except one has more control over how these thoughts progress and what tangents they move off of. While special relativity would be the "proper" thing to think about, especially at MITES, I revive the violin repertoire I had turned away from for so long and begin playing it in my head. I'm now at the edge of town in between the cornfields. The streaming floodlights on the open road give me a sense of lonely curiosity, reminiscent of the opening lines of Wieniawski's first violin concerto. I come up with adaptations of the melody in my head, experimenting with an atonality similar to Stravinsky's.

Martin Altenburg's essay is well-structured, using the narrative of a morning run to demonstrate all the things that run through his head, and, more importantly, all the unique traits that make him who he is.

From just these two paragraphs, we know he's a runner, that he's driven, that he strives for more than he thinks he's capable of, and that he knows music and composition. Because the essay is in a narrative format, we're able to follow this line of thinking and have it all wrapped up neatly at the end. We're drawn in by energetic and purposeful writing that also delivers us all the information we need.

Throughout the essay, Altenburg discusses his interests and his growth. His strategic use of locations in his hometown allows readers to understand where he comes from both literally and figuratively, especially the part about his beliefs and how the community he's grown up in have impacted them. All this is valuable information to an admissions office, who wants to see how you see yourself and why.

One thing to note about this essay is that it doesn't include any reference to Caltech. In fact, Altenburg used the same essay to apply to—and get into—eight different Ivy Leagues as well as some other schools. The essay was likely written as part of the Common or Coalition Application rather than as part of Altenburg's Caltech supplement, hence the lack of specificity. Your essays for the Caltech supplement should contain more specificity than this, as these essays are unique to Caltech and want to know exactly what draws you to that school above others.

Michelle Fan's Essay Reflection

"How do you believe Caltech will best fuel your intellectual curiosity and help you meet your goals?" If I had a few weeks, I might have done enough research to namedrop a few professors, rave about the strength of their computer science programs, and come up with a compelling story about all my professional goals. But I didn't have those few weeks, so I told them the unembellished, wholehearted truth: I said I have no idea what I want to do in life. All I knew was that I liked making calculator games and explosions and wanted to participate in the bread-throwing, water-dumping congregations otherwise known as Caltech house dinners. As it turns out, being yourself actually works. Shocker, I know. Colleges really do want to like you for you.

Michelle Fan doesn't post her Caltech essay directly, but she does talk about her process and what she discovered between her highly planned essays and the ones she wrote the day they were due.

Fan points out that her last-minute essays, the ones that she wrote from her heart rather than from her head, are the ones that got accepted. Though I definitely don't advocate for waiting until the same day that your essay is due to start writing it, it's a good message to keep in mind—when you're faced with an imminent deadline and you just need to get something out, your writing is probably more genuine than if you've been editing and revising it for ages.

But the big takeaway here should not be to wait until the last second to write your essay (please, don't do that!). The real lesson is that you should write in a way that is true to yourself, not a way that you think will impress admissions offices. You should be authentic and genuine, letting your personality and interests tell Caltech why you're a good fit.

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If your essay looks like this, that's a good thing!

4 Key Tips for Writing a Caltech Essay

Like all college essays, there are some general things to keep in mind when working on your Caltech writing supplement. The earlier you get started, the better—take a little time to make sure that your essay is as polished as possible!

Brainstorming before you start writing will help you pick a topic that's both meaningful and impressive. Jotting down a list of ideas for each topic, no matter how silly they might feel at first impression, gives you options. Spend a little time away from your options so that you can pick the one that you feel most strongly about with less bias!

#2: Get People to Read Your Essays for You

Feedback is an important tool as a writer. Getting someone else to look at your work—preferably someone who will be honest about its shortcomings—will help you find logical holes, weird phrasing, and other errors that may creep into your work. When you feel like your essays are as polished as you can make them is a good time to hand them off to someone else. Remember, you don't have to make every change they suggest exactly as they suggest it, but if your reader is confused about something, see what you can do to make it clearer!

#3: Edit and Revise

Take that feedback you got from your reader and turn it into gold. Again, don't feel like their suggestions are always the right move, but do consider what's causing their confusion or dislike for parts of your essays. Fix them in your own voice, and re-read your essay, especially out loud, to catch any additional errors. The more time you can spend revising, the better!

#4: Be Authentic

Always remember that you're not just trying to impress Caltech with a bunch of statistics—you're trying to impress them as you. That means always staying true to yourself and striving for authenticity. Give Caltech an essay that showcases what it means to be you, not an essay that gives them what you think that they want to hear.

What's Next?

Need an even more in-depth guide to how to write a college essay ? Those tips will help you write a stellar essay from start to finish!

A strong essay is just one part of a successful Caltech application. Also look into Caltech's SAT scores and GPA requirements so you can draft an effective academic plan!

Before you send in your Caltech application, it's a smart idea to figure out how much money it's going to cost you to attend. How do Caltech's financial aid offerings measure up to tuition costs?

how to write caltech essays

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

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Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-23

Quick facts- caltech essays.

  • Caltech acceptance rate:   7%— U.S. News ranks Caltech as a most selective school.
  • 1 (650 word) Personal Statement
  • 1 (~200 word) Academic essay
  • 1 (~200 word) Short answer essay
  • 2 (~250 word) Short answer essays
  • Caltech application: The Caltech application can be submitted via the Common App , Apply Coalition , Powered by Scoir , or through Questbridge . Make sure to check all of the Caltech application requirements. 
  • Caltech supplemental essay tip: Your responses to the Caltech essay prompts are your chance to show your love of STEM . Use the opportunity to show how you would thrive in a STEM-focused environment. 

What are Caltech’s supplemental essays?

The Caltech supplemental essays are listed on the Common App website . You can also find the Caltech supplemental essays listed on Caltech’s website , alongside brief explanations of each prompt. 

Required Caltech supplemental essays and short answer questions:

1. Because of the rigorous core course curriculum, Caltech students don’t declare a major until the end of their first year. However, some students arrive knowing which academic fields and areas already most excite them, or which novel fields and areas they most want to explore.If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words )

2. At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (100-200 words for each experience)

3. The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars, but Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3D printing dorm décor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (200-250 words)

4. The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (200-250 words)

Optional Caltech supplemental essays:

1. If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (150 words)

2. When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy? (100 words)

3. Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (50 words)

4. Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.

5. Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).

You’ll notice that the first thing stated on the Caltech supplemental essays page is that Caltech is “unapologetically STEM.” So, Caltech admissions wants to read all about your STEM-specific experiences . When considering how to write Caltech essays, look first to the “what we look for” page on the Caltech site. This is a cohesive list of what admissions looks for in applicants. 

Notably, the Caltech supplemental essays do not ask students to write a “Why Caltech essay.” However, just because there is no “Why Caltech essay” doesn’t mean that you can’t show the admissions team why you belong at a science and engineering powerhouse like Caltech . So, think of these essays as your chance to show how you’ll contribute to the Caltech community. 

Whenever possible and relevant, reference specific Caltech programs, classes, professors, and organizations that you would take advantage of. The Caltech admissions process extends beyond the admissions office alone. In fact, the Caltech supplemental essays are read directly by faculty. With a 3:1 student to faculty ratio at Caltech, it may not be a surprise that students closely interact with their professors. 

Later in this guide, we will break down each of the Caltech essay prompts in more detail. This should give you an idea of Caltech supplemental essay examples, both required and optional.

How many essays does Caltech require?

Caltech requires students to complete four Caltech essay prompts .

These Caltech essay prompts ask students to reflect on their experiences, interests, and character. You should also use the Caltech essay prompts to discuss your STEM experiences. Prime Caltech supplemental essay examples will encompass who you are within the context of STEM programs . 

Additionally, there are five optional Caltech essay prompts that students can respond to. Caltech stresses that these Caltech essays are optional. We’ll get into specifics later about these optional Caltech essays. This may help you determine if and when to respond to each of the optional Caltech supplemental essays. 

How to Write Caltech Essays

Caltech supplemental essays

So, how do you answer the Caltech supplemental essays?

Since each of the four required Caltech essays has a 200-250 word maximum, you will want to focus on both content and execution in your writing process. As we’ll discuss, each of the Caltech supplemental essays asks students to reflect on a particular experience or interest. 

To maximize your Caltech essays, you’ll want to offer a brief summary of each experience of an event. Then, use the bulk of your essay to reveal how this experience or event influenced your broader character. Specifically, when focusing on how to write Caltech essays, reflect on your STEM experiences. You may want to write about STEM research in your Caltech supplemental essays. The admissions committee should come away from your Caltech supplemental essays with a clear conception of who you are and the kind of community member you would be on the Caltech campus. 

Caltech Essay Prompts #1 

If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose why did you choose that area of interest (200 words).

The first of the four required Caltech essay prompts asks applicants to write “why major essays.” Caltech makes it clear that students aren’t expected to know their major. In fact, students actually can’t declare a major until after their first year. So, undecided students shouldn’t stress too much about their choice of major in these “why major essays.” Students are in no way obligated to study the major in which they reference in their why major essays. 

To answer the first of the Caltech supplemental essays, students should reflect on why they want to attend a STEM-forward university such as Caltech. Think about more than just the Caltech ranking and Caltech acceptance rate. What made you first fall in love with STEM? What specific programs are offered at Caltech and nowhere else? Are you planning to go pre med and hoping to study science at one of the best institutions for STEM? Do some research on the Caltech website in order to reference specific details on programs, internships, research, or faculty.  

Think about the “why”

After having decided an area of interest to write about in this Caltech supplemental essay, focus on the “why” part. Successful “why major essays” will explain why you need to study that major in that particular school. They’ll draw from both personal and academic experiences. Students should also discuss how studying this major would influence their future career goals. 

Let’s say you decide to focus on chemistry. You could discuss how your AP Chemistry course challenged your previous understanding of science. Or maybe a specific experiment stands out in your mind as the point when you knew chemistry was for you. Or perhaps it was the teacher that made an impact on your life. Whatever the reason, reference an academic or personal experience that told you this was the major for you. If you can get more specific than just “chemistry,” such as organic or inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, theoretical chemistry, etc., that’s even better.

Reflection Questions for Caltech Essays:

  • Do you choose an area of interest that genuinely excites you?
  • Does your essay talk about Caltech specific programs and offerings?
  • Do you tie your study interest to your future and career goals ?

Caltech Essay Prompts #2

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. what about them made you want to learn more and explore further (100-200 words per experience).

Similar to the “why major essays,” successful Caltech supplemental essays for this prompt will show applicants’ love of STEM. However, the difference between these two Caltech essay prompts is that the first should focus on a specific area of interest offered at Caltech. The second, however, asks students what sparked their interest in STEM in general during high school. 

We probably don’t have to mention that figuring out how to get into Caltech should start with a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering , Math ) programs. That being said, students will likely have a number of experiences to reference in their Caltech essays. Start by brainstorming some of the most impactful STEM moments of your high school career. 

Are you in the robotics club and spend your free time tweaking your newest room cleaning robot? Or have you just led your team to the finals of your state’s math competition? Did you participate in a STEM summer program ? Or, maybe it’s nothing too outwardly dramatic. It could be something as simple as an experiment in biology class that ignited your curiosity. 

Make a list and choose two experiences that evoke emotion surrounding choosing STEM. Caltech admissions wants to see serious STEM applicants in these Caltech supplemental essays. Show through your two chosen experiences that you are passionate and committed to a STEM education.

When writing, you’ll also need to show why you want to further study STEM. How have these experiences shaped your future goals and intellectual curiosity? California Institute of Technology seeks students who will pursue their interests, contribute to a thriving intellectual community, and still love learning even when classes get difficult. 

  • Does your draft sincerely convey your inspiration and excitement?
  • Do you choose two specific STEM related experiences?
  • Do you show how these experiences have affected your future studies?

Caltech Essay Prompts #3

The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won nobel prizes and put rovers on mars , but techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3d printing dorm décor. how have you been an innovator in your own life (200-250 words).

When planning how to write Caltech essays, you may think that you only need to focus on STEM-related topics and experiences. Of course, Caltech admissions shamelessly states that they want to hear about as much STEM topics as possible in students’ Caltech supplemental essays. However, they also look for critical thinkers with the ability to problem solve. This prompt asks applicants to think about times when they had to create their own innovative solutions to problems. 

If you can think of STEM related instances, great. However, if not, don’t stress. Successful Caltech essays responding to this prompt will just show how you creatively found solutions to an issue you were facing. 

Let’s say your doorbell was broken for months. No one in your household seemed too concerned about it, but one day you miss an important package that you’d been looking forward to receiving. You decide to take matters into your own hands and fashion your own doorbell with some tips from the employee at your local hardware store. Problem solved. 

Solving problems

Any version of that hypothetical story will work in this Caltech supplemental essay. There’s a problem that needs to be solved, and you do so. If you’re stuck, try to focus on your strengths. Are you hard-working, creative, motivated, or curious? Highlight these strengths in the examples you come up with for this essay. 

You have to fall within 200-250 words, so you can use multiple anecdotes here. However, keep it focused—limit yourself to one or two topics. Make a list and choose the instances that show your most innovative, creative, and unique solutions to personal problems while highlighting your strengths. 

Reflection Questions for Caltech Essay:

  • Does your essay show that you are innovative and creative?
  • Do you discuss specific examples and solutions that you came up with?
  • Does your essay give Caltech admissions a better picture of who you are and what you would bring to the campus?

Caltech Essay Prompts #4

The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. how do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world (200-250 words).

Think about the most important parts of who you are. What makes you you? How have you become that way? Focus on your background and how it has shaped you. Are you about to be a first generation college student? Do you come from a small, close knit town? Has a certain culture or language greatly influenced your upbringing? What communities do you belong to? 

Background can refer to endless things; choose something that resonates deeply with you. It should be something that has greatly impacted you and how you maneuver through the world. Try to avoid cliche topics when writing this essay. Remember that your background can mean anything.

Maybe your mom is a chef at a five-star restaurant and you grew up in the kitchen. Paint a picture of life in a chaotic, fast-paced environment and what it taught you. Successful Caltech essays will be creative while answering the Caltech supplemental prompts. Start with a hook and then expand on how it has impacted you. 

  • Do you draw on personal experiences from your background?
  • Is it evident what an impact those experiences have had on who you are today?
  • Do you show how your background affects your worldview or experiences?

Caltech Supplemental Essays: Optional Short Answer Questions

Caltech supplemental essays

On their website, Caltech prefaces these optional essays by saying that they are “optional opportunities to show us more of your personality.” Before even getting into the optional Caltech essay prompts, admissions reiterates that they are in fact optional by stating: “Optional. We Promise.”

Basically, you can choose whether to answer these Caltech essay prompts or not. However, there are certain optional Caltech essay prompts that you should opt to answer if you want your Caltech application to be as competitive as possible. 

Optional Caltech Essays #1

If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (150 words).

If you struggled to fit all of your meaningful, personality-forming experiences and background information into the last Caltech supplemental essay, then this is your opportunity to add more. 

Continuing with our last example in the previous Caltech supplemental essay, let’s say that you wrote about growing up in a fancy restaurant’s kitchen because of your mom’s profession. Maybe in the last essay, you wrote about how you learned to think on your feet in a high-pressure environment, which has made you the decisive person that you are today. You may want to add onto this by talking about the different cultures that you experienced in the kitchen. Did you become close with the sous chef who was from Italy? Did it inspire a gap year or summer trip to Italy that changed your life?

Or maybe you want to talk about a completely different community that has shaped you. Maybe you’ve grown up training ballet in every moment of your spare time, which has built discipline and pushed you to achieve. If you can talk about how a certain community has formed you, and your story will add value to your Caltech application, then answer this prompt. 

However, if you were struggling with the last of the Caltech essay prompts that touched on background and feel as though you have nothing to add, then feel free to skip this essay.  

Optional Caltech Essays #2

When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. what is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy (100 words).

While the first of the optional Caltech supplemental essays is actually optional, we recommend considering the second of the Caltech essays as required. The goal of this Caltech supplemental essay is to see who you are outside of STEM-related hobbies and interests. While admissions wants to see that you love all things STEM, they also want to learn about your other interests. They understand the importance of having some sort of outlet from academics or work. 

Use this Caltech supplemental essay to talk about a hobby that you haven’t mentioned elsewhere. Basically, don’t just repeat your extracurricular activities. That certainly won’t do anything to help you beat the Caltech acceptance rate and impress admissions. Talk about something that will demonstrate a new skill or interest. Don’t forget to mention why this activity is worth writing about. What impact has it had on your life?

To start writing this essay, make a list of all of your activities. Hone in on the ones that are most important to you. Make sure they haven’t been mentioned elsewhere in your Caltech application. Then, choose the topic that interests you the most. 

Consider the following questions:

  • Which activity elicits the most emotion? 
  • What hobby could you not live without? 
  • Which interest has made an impact on who you are today?

Successful Caltech essays will not only mention the activity but also explain why it brings joy. Feel free to get creative when responding to this prompt. Make sure that admissions can feel your passion for this topic. 

Optional Caltech Essays #3

Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby we understand – caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest (50 words).

This is another of the optional Caltech supplemental essays that is definitely optional. No tricks here. If you are a true hobbyist and have various activities that define you, then feel free to take on this Caltech supplemental essay. 

Was your list of interests from the last essay spilling onto multiple pages? Great. Students writing their Caltech supplemental essays shouldn’t skimp on passion. However, these Caltech supplemental essays will have to be more succinct, as you only have 50 words. 

Stay creative, just as you were with your last essay. Show why this activity brings you such joy and how it has been such a formative part of your being. Just be sure to do so concisely. 

Caltech Supplemental Essays: Optional Academic Short Answer Questions

Caltech supplemental essays

The optional academic Caltech supplemental essays are completely optional. Students should only submit Caltech essays for this section if they truly feel the need to. 

There is no word count listed on these Caltech essay prompts, so these Caltech supplemental essays should be concise. This isn’t the time to write a novel. Answer these Caltech supplemental essay prompts succinctly and comprehensively. 

Caltech Essay Prompts #1

Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application if so, tell us about them here..

Successful essays to the previous optional Caltech supplemental essays are creative, captivating, and passionate . These final Caltech supplemental essays don’t need to tick the same boxes. These Caltech essays serve to fill any mysterious gaps in the rest of your Caltech application. 

This Caltech supplemental essay specifically asks you to explain any extenuating circumstances that may be noticeable in the coursework noted in your application . If you’ve had access to all the STEM, AP, and IB courses, then there’s no need to respond to this prompt. However, if you attended a school with limited resources and offerings, then you should mention that here. 

Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).

While these Caltech supplemental essays are included with the other Caltech essays, they’re not really essays. They actually want you to list your honors or awards related to STEM here. 

Only respond to this Caltech supplemental essay if you have received STEM related honors or awards. Don’t set the scene of the science competition where you won first place. There are other Caltech supplemental essays where you can do that. Simply list your specific STEM accomplishments.

How much does Caltech care about essays?

Through the Caltech essays, the admissions committee gains a glimpse into who you are as a student, peer, scientist, and individual. Keep in mind that they don’t know what you don’t tell them. Look at your application as a whole—including your Common App essay —and think critically about whether you have included as many facets of yourself as you can. Your Caltech application requirements should do more than just check boxes; they should tell your story , showing why you belong at Caltech. 

The Caltech ranking is #9 on U.S. News’ Best National Universities list. With the Caltech ranking so high, it makes sense that the Caltech acceptance rate is 4% . Every applicant will have an above average GPA and impressive extracurriculars. So, the Caltech supplemental essays are a chance to stand out . Successful Caltech supplemental essays will add to students’ application narratives. Planning how to get into Caltech involves thoughtfully and carefully answering the Caltech supplemental essays.  

Beyond the numbers

The Caltech essay prompts seek to understand who you are rather than just what’s on your resume. This demonstrates the value of the Caltech essays. Since Caltech is test-blind until 2025, you should maximize each essay as an opportunity to help the admissions team get to know you. Test blind schools, unlike test-optional schools, don’t want any ACT/SAT test scores submitted. Basically, Caltech won’t even look at standardized test scores. However, they will pay close attention to the Caltech supplemental essays. 

Check out this webinar to make sure you stand out as a STEM applicant. 

Five Tips for Writing Caltech Essays

Writing comprehensive and meaningful Caltech essays doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We’ve compiled our top 5 tips for how to write Caltech essays that impress admissions. 

Five Tips for Writing Caltech Essays: 

#1- meet the deadlines.

This may seem obvious, but there’s no way that you will figure out how to get into Caltech if you don’t submit your Caltech application requirements by the deadlines . The Regular Decision deadline is January 3rd . The Restrictive Early Action deadline is November 1st . Learn more about applying Early Action in our article .

#2- Don’t rush the writing process

Yes, you know you have to write and submit your Caltech essays by the deadline. However, that doesn’t mean that you should be scrambling to brainstorm, draft, edit, and revise your Caltech supplemental essays the night before they’re due. 

#3- Carefully choose your topics

This is why it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to write your Caltech supplemental essays. You only have one chance to impress the admissions committee. You should have various topics to choose from after brainstorming. Write essays on the topics that you are most passionate about. 

#4- Get creative

The greatest scientists are extremely creative innovators. Use your essays to creatively write on the topics you’re given. As long as you comprehensively and thoughtfully answer the prompt, a creative writing style will only bolster your Caltech essays.

#5- Ask for help

You certainly don’t have to take on your Caltech essays completely alone. Have someone else look at your completed Caltech essays. While they should check mechanics, also ask them for feedback on what they’ve learned about you through your Caltech essays. When implementing their feedback, maintain your own voice and style. 

Caltech Supplemental Essays — Final Thoughts

The Caltech supplemental essays are a key part of your application. The Caltech acceptance rate is low. Maximizing your admissions odds will take acing every part of the application process, including the Caltech supplemental essays. 

Remember to be clear, concise , and specific while telling authentic stories in your essays. Reference STEM-related subjects as much as possible. However, do so in a natural manner. Use the essays as a chance to supplement the quantitative parts of your application such as your grades and GPA with qualitative attributes of who you are as a student, person, and peer.

how to write caltech essays

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how to write caltech essays

Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Padya Paramita

August 24, 2021

how to write caltech essays

If you’re planning to apply to the California Institute of Technology, one of the key ways to distinguish yourself from fellow STEM-oriented applicants is to take full advantage of the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 . Use the prompts provided by this competitive Pasadena institution to show how you hope to grow as a young scientist and to describe the ways you would contribute to the Caltech campus.

The supplemental questions are designed to learn more about your interests and goals within STEM disciplines, as well as determine how you would fit in with the collaborative and creative Caltech campus. To guide you through the four Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 , I’ve outlined the prompts, the dos and don’ts of your responses, and more tips to ensure a successful essay-writing process.

Prompts for the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. (10-120 words each)

The first question in the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 may just require a short response, but that doesn’t mean your answer is any less important. Think about ways to frame your three most significant activities related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Don’t be tempted by the minimum word count of “10” and just name the activities. You need to stand out from thousands of applicants who bring a lot of experience in STEM areas. In your answer, add a sentence showing how each one helped you realize that this is the field for you. If you have space, note how you have made an impact in the activity, whether you’ve involved a greater community, and how you hope to continue your STEM education in relevance to the activity. 

While you have been asked to describe three different activities, they should have some sort of connection to each other, as you don’t have enough space to go over multiple fields you enjoy. Colleges appreciate when your interests are specialized. Moreover, a connection between the three allows you to convey a more elaborate picture of yourself, letting admissions officers know exactly how you would contribute to Caltech. Think about what the combination of your chosen entries conveys about you. This could range from highlighting your teamwork skills to reflecting on your specific niche interest in STEM. Making sure your answers aren’t all over the place is a good way to stay organized when tackling multiple supplemental essays. 

Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a "Techer" relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (250-400 words)

Even though this question doesn’t specifically ask “Why Caltech,” admissions officers want to know that you have made a well-informed decision in applying. Your essays should be tailored to Caltech - they shouldn’t be applicable to other STEM-focused colleges such as MIT or Harvey Mudd as well. The school wants to see that you’re an ambitious individual, and they want to learn how you work in a team and where your interests within STEM lie. 400 words should be enough to get your points across, but at the same time, you have to use your allotted space wisely.

Think about your favorite topics within STEM and your biggest goals. How have you worked to achieve them so far? Mention experiences that reflect your collaboration skills. However, the majority of your essay should focus on how you hope to bring your skills to the Caltech campus, and how you hope to engage the Caltech community in your endeavors. Mention any specific courses, research opportunities, and programs that appeal to you, emphasizing how working alongside your peers in these initiatives can encourage growth and help you get closer to achieving your goals. Don’t miss out on the chance to let admissions officers see that you have done the research and know about the different opportunities available at the university. 

Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (250-400 words)

The third prompt among the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 diverts from the academic approach. Admissions officers want to know how you would fit into the community. Since the question specifically mentions sense of humor and creative pranks, Caltech would appreciate any examples which showcase a playful of you. Now if you’re not the number one jokester in your high school, that’s okay. You could still find ways to depict your humorous and creative side.

Pick one or two activities that you enjoy the most - and bring up any anecdotes that portray you as a fun and creative individual. Remember to stay away from activities that you think the admissions officers want to hear. If you don’t spend your free time drawing portraits or making films don’t write about that. Nor should you say that you enjoy eating and sleeping unless you have a very unique take on these everyday activities. Think about what you like to do when you have a long weekend, or what you do when you have the most fun with your friends. Find innovative ways to bring light to a side of you that isn’t mentioned in the rest of your application. 

Download all supplemental essay prompts here!

The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech's community? (Your response should range between 250-400 words)

The word “diversity” goes beyond your background. Yes, you can be diverse in your race and ethnicity, but you can also distinguish yourself through unique activities and experiences. Since most Caltech applicants are skilled in math and science, your answer to this question can help distinguish you from peers with similar academic interests. After all, Caltech doesn’t want every single student to bring the same attributes. To brainstorm experiences that separate you from the rest of the highly talented applicant pool, you need to jot down some standout experiences you’ve had. This could range from aspects of your identity such as your ethnicity or sexual orientation to an unusual extracurricular activity or hobby, such as calligraphy or competitive eating.

Don’t use up all of the allotted space describing the part of yourself that you’ve chosen to highlight. Discuss anecdotes that clarify to the admissions officers why this quality makes you exceptional. Finally, remember the prompt: Caltech wants to know how this trait can help you contribute to the campus. You should be specific in exactly how and where you are going to contribute, instead of broadly alluding to being a valuable Caltech community member. Will this part of you help you make standout additions to classroom discussions or extracurricular activities? Your essay should focus on connecting the way your perspective has been shaped to how you can make an impact on your fellow Techers.

Additional Tips to Answer the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

  • Make Sure You’ve Done School Research - You may have noticed that the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 don’t ask an explicit “Why Caltech” question. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t thoroughly explore the Caltech website before sitting down to write your responses. You need to know what makes the school unique and which resources call out to you the most. This knowledge will come in handy when writing your essays, as you’ll know how to tailor them to demonstrate knowledge of programs and opportunities at this prestigious institution.
  • Prioritize Adding New Information About Yourself - The Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 are geared for the reader to get to know you better. If you repeat topics you’ve already covered in your activities list or Common App personal statement, you’ll go against the whole purpose of these essays! Make sure answers to each prompt show a new side of you that admissions officers previously did not know. This helps add depth to your application, and convince the reader more and more that you could be a good fit for Caltech.
  • Be as Specific in Your Interests as Possible - Here’s the thing: everyone applying to Caltech is interested in science and math. Adding generic statements about your love for STEM as a whole is far from enough. STEM covers a huge array of topics, and each category is broad in itself. In writing your Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 , you need to find ways to iterate which specific part of STEM you’re passionate about. Don’t just say engineering or biology. Go deeper. Is it molecular biology? Is it marine engineering? Make sure you give admissions officers the chance to understand the depth of your curiosity and knowledge.

Caltech admissions officers want to know that you’re not just applying for the sake of attending any strong STEM school. Use the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 to convince admissions officers that not only have you made a well-informed decision, but you would make valuable contributions if accepted to this selective institution.

Tags : caltech supplemental essays , caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022 , caltech essays , caltech , How to Get Into Caltech

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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Caltech Supplemental Essays

how to write caltech essays

Deciding to go to the California Institute of Technology is the dawn of a new academic adventure! Caltech is a highly selective private research university with a 4% acceptance rate . With such a competitive application pool, your very best writing is required. In this guide, we’ll go over each prompt and help you break the Caltech essays down so you’ll know exactly what is being asked. Let’s get started!

The Caltech essays

Caltech’s supplemental essay prompts are a way for you to show the admission’s readers exactly who you are and why you should be part of the next undergraduate class. Even responding to the optional prompts (Essays #5 through #9 are optional) shows Caltech that you want to be there and are willing to go the extra mile to prove that. Remember, applicants should emphasize STEM in their essays as much as possible since that’s one of the primary focuses of Caltech. 

Keep reading below to learn more about Caltech supplemental essay prompts!

“If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest? (Max: 200 words)”

Applicants should see this prompt as an opportunity to discuss their passions in STEM or any other Caltech program. However, it’s important to discuss more than just what  your desired major is; be sure to talk about how Caltech plays a part in whatever interests are shared. What’s so unique about this major/interest that you can’t stop thinking about it? Is it daring? Are you the only one in your family to do it? Use this essay to show your drive and initiative. 

Questions to consider:

  • Why do you want to study your major at Caltech?
  • What is something unique about the majors that Caltech offers?
  • What do you imagine when you think of studying your major at Caltech?
“At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (Min: 100 / Max: 200 words for each experience)”

Caltech is clear in this prompt that the focus is on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While your experiences might seem similar to other applicants, try to set yourself apart by incorporating a personal aspect to your essay. Explain to the reader where your love of STEM started or grew during your time in high school and how that might contribute to your desire to attend Caltech. 

Applicants should also explain what they want to learn more about or explore further and why. Doing so further demonstrates your interest in Caltech if you’re able to make a connection between what you’re curious about and what you love about this specific university. 

  • Who motivated you to get involved in STEM? Was it a mentor or a family member?
  • What about this experience made you want to pursue STEM at Caltech?
  • What are you most curious or excited about in STEM?
“The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars, but Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3D printing dorm decor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)”

The definition of innovation is the introduction of something that’s never existed before. Remember, innovation doesn’t have to be some large, spectacular creation. Your innovation can be something new you’ve added to your life or doing something that you’ve never heard of. Even being the first person in your family to go to college could be a form of innovation–you just have to get creative! 

  • Are you the first person to do something in your family?
  • Have you created something that you think is fresh or different?
  • Do you consider yourself a trailblazer? Why?
“The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)”

Use this prompt to consider how your background and/or cultural experiences have shaped your life. Have you had a chance to experience other cultures and learn from them? Has your background empowered you to further pursue STEM? These are questions you should think about as you write your Caltech supplemental essay.

The world has advanced from a collection of ideas from various different sources, so it would be good to share how a collaborative effort from people different from yourself has allowed you to grow and learn new things. Try to show your open-minded side as well as your intelligent one.

  • What opinions have you formed about the world as a result of your experiences?
  • How does your background influence who you are today and who you hope to become?
  • What is the difference between how you navigate the world and how other applicants might?
“ Optional: If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (Max: 150 words)”

This prompt should take the Caltech admissions office on an exploration of the unknown, aka you. You could approach this essay in a unique way and push conventional boundaries. Alternatively, you could take a straightforward approach that positions you as an ideal candidate. Either way, the goal is to differentiate yourself from all other applicants, especially since this is one of the first optional essays that Caltech offers. 

  • Why do you want to share this with the admissions office?
  • How will this aspect of your identity make your application stand out?
  • What should be the key takeaway from this optional essay?

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

“ Optional: When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy? (Max: 100 words)”

As an optional prompt, it may be tempting to skip over this essay. However, completing it can make your application more interesting while showing that you’re willing to go the extra mile to attend Caltech. Telling the admissions office about a unique interest or hobby reveals a lot about your personality and whether you fit in at the university. You could be especially interested in plants and bugs, which might show that your love of science goes deeper than just in the classroom. The same can be true for any other activity that you find joy in. 

The word count for this prompt is relatively short, but don’t over-generalize your interests. Just saying a particular aspect of STEM isn’t going to cut it, so try to dig a little deeper to highlight something different and new to your application. 

  • What is an activity that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else in your application?
  • What does this interest or hobby say about you and your personality?
  • Why do you enjoy this experience? 
“ Optional: Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (Max: 50 words)” 

This prompt is for applicants that have multiple unique hobbies or interests. If you completed the initial prompt mentioned above, then don’t feel pressured to write about another hobby if you can’t think of one right away. However, you’ll have to simplify this interest a lot more than the first, so be sure to pick the most important one for the longer prompt.

  • Why do you want to write about this additional hobby?
  • Does this interest build on your first one and the rest of your application?
“ Optional: Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.”

Everyone doesn’t have the same journey when it comes to pursuing education. Sometimes, we hit bumps in the road, and Caltech offers this prompt for you to explain your story. Applicants don’t have to share every detail of their circumstances, but disclose enough that Caltech can understand what the conditions at the time were and how they affected you. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and transparent since doing so shows that you’re taking your application seriously. It can also prove your tenacity and determination if you include how you overcame this difficulty in your life and how you’ll continue to progress.

  • Is there anything that you feel you need to explain about your grades or courses?
  • Was there anything notable and impactful that affected your school performance?
  • How have you grown or what did you learn from this experience?
“ Optional: Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).” 

Use this prompt as your opportunity to share your STEM accomplishments with Caltech. Don’t be afraid to include all the awards that you’re proud of! Let your accomplishments speak for themselves, and try not to exaggerate. 

There also isn’t a word limit, which can tempt you to go on and on for page after page. So, show Caltech that you still have tricks up your sleeve by giving them a small piece of what’s next. This means knowing when to bring an end to your essay, even if you haven’t listed every award.

  • What are some of the awards I’ve won throughout high school?
  • Why do I want Caltech to know about this specific award?
  • How does this award relate to attending Caltech?

Final thoughts for applicants

As you wrap up your Caltech essays, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind. One of the most important things is noticing word count for each prompt. A majority of the prompts are 100-200 words with only a few exceptions. This means it’s ideal to get to the main point of your essay as soon as possible. 

Potential Caltech students should also take time to read through each essay submission to check for errors or any weird issues with the flow and readability of your essays. It can be helpful to ask your teachers, peers, or family members to read over your submission and get feedback to improve on your writing and storytelling skills. The world wasn’t built in a day, so don’t overwhelm yourself! There are resources here to help.

Additional resources

Since you’re considering pursuing higher education, it’s important to have all the resources you can get at your fingertips. Check out some of these Scholarships360 links to learn more!

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Remember to apply for all the scholarships you qualify for while you are eligible! 

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Last updated July 7, 2023

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Blog > Essay Advice , Private University , Supplementals > How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays

How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech for short, is a small but highly selective school that focuses primarily on STEM disciplines.

The Caltech supplemental essays are divided into two groups: required and optional. You’ll have five required essays to write (that’s quite a few!) and three optional essays to choose from.

Let’s start with the required essays.

Required Caltech Essays

Before you write anything, Caltech asks you to use a drop-down menu to choose an academic area that interests you. Don’t worry—this isn’t a declaration of your major. In fact, at Caltech, you don’t have to declare a major until the end of your first year.

But your first essay question revolves around the academic area you select, so choose whatever calls most to you right now.

Here’s the first prompt:

Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words)

In this why this major or academic interest essay, you’ll want to be clear about the why behind your interest in that particular area.

Were you inspired by an experience or person? Is there a question that fascinates you? Is it related to a career goal?

In your answer, feel free to highlight any relevant accomplishments you have. For example, if you chose chemical engineering and you spent your junior year summer helping a chemistry professor with research, then bring it up!

This is also a place to draw upon any related references to Caltech itself. What about their program entices you? Are there any specific opportunities you’re interested in?

The next two questions go hand in hand. You’ve got 200 words to answer each of them. Here’s the main prompt:

At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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.  What about them made you want to learn more and explore further?

STEM experience/activity #1

STEM experience/activity #2

These essays are your opportunity to highlight special projects or accomplishments that show magnitude, reach, and impact .

Because Caltech asks for STEM-related experiences or activities, you’ll need to choose something that relates to science, technology, engineering, or math. This isn’t the time to take a creative twist on the prompt (”Writing poetry was like science to me!”) because your essays will be read alongside applications from some of the best high school scientists in the world.

As you answer, don’t forget to address the three main questions of the prompt:

Identify and describe the experience. It can be in or out of the classroom.

Explain how it “activated your curiosity.”

Explain how it made you want to learn and explore more.

Feel free to nerd out a little and go in-depth on a topic you’re passionate about. It can complement, be related to, or be completely different from your answer to prompt #1. Just think about how all of your supplemental essays will work together to form one overall narrative .

The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won  Nobel Prizes  and put  rovers on Mars , but Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3D printing dorm decor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (250 words)

In your essay, you can take “innovator” literally or figuratively. Either way, you’ll want to balance your answer to this question with your answers to the previous two.

If you’ve literally innovated something, now’s your time to shine. Did you create an app to help your classmates study for your French final? Did you design a website for your mom’s small business or develop a code to count cars ? Draw out the key points for your admissions officers, and make sure it’s clear why your innovation mattered (to you and to those around you).

Or, if you haven’t literally innovated something, you might think about innovation more metaphorically and use this prompt to show admissions officers a softer or more creative side of yourself. Maybe you innovated a new way to teach algebra to your tutee or rediscovered the design for The Apple Picker 5000 that you drew up when you were five years old. Just be sure to draw out what it all means for who you are as a technical innovator now.

The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (250 words)

By this point, you’ve shown Caltech admissions officers your academic and technical side and maybe let them in on a few important stories from your life.

With this final required prompt, it’s time to dig a little deeper. This is a diversity essay .

Caltech admissions officers will know from the rest of your application why you’ll make a good scientist. Now you need to show them who you are as a person.

Feel free to write about any area of your identity that has shaped your perspectives. Also pay attention to the wording of the prompt: admissions officers want to know about your past experiences AND present-day perspectives. What’s more, they specifically want to know how they inform 1) who you’ve become, and 2) how you navigate the world.

You could write about a particular part of your upbringing, what it’s like to live in the world with a particular identity, or even an impactful experience you had that changed your perspective.

Optional Short Answer Questions

Here’s what Caltech says about the “optional” designation: “Optional. We promise.”

Take their word for it. Choosing not to answer these questions won’t automatically get your application tossed into the reject bin.

But choosing not to answer them is also a choice not to add to your cohesive application narrative . Answering the questions can give admissions officers more information to get to know you with (and therefore more data to base an admissions decision on!).

Let’s take a look at the optional prompts.

If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (150 words)

You may have covered everything you needed to cover in the last required prompt, but this prompt gives you more space if there’s something else you want to convey.

Applicants answering this prompt might choose to write about gender identity or sexuality, race or ethnicity, ability or disability, class, or general background information.

Whatever you write about, make sure there’s a clear takeaway for admissions officers.

When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speedcubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy? (100 words)

The other required and optional prompts are all pretty straightforward. But this one gives you leeway to show some personality.

Note the emphasis on “joy” in the prompt. This isn’t just about a hobby that you’ve excelled at or participated in for a long time. It’s about describing something that makes you genuinely happy, even if it’s not a world-changing activity.

Think of your answer to this prompt as the sprinkles on top of your application. It’s a way to have some fun and add a little narrative diversity.

Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest!  (50 words)

And here you can elaborate just a little more on a secondary hobby if you’d like. Just make sure it’s actually adding valuable information to your file, otherwise admissions officers may simply skim it and move on.

And with that, you’ll have written all your Caltech supplemental essays! Remember: you have to answer the first four, but you aren’t required to write any in the last set unless you want to.

Whichever ones you write will all work towards your cohesive application narrative , so think about them each as an opportunity to advocate for your admission. Make them count.

You’ve got this!

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Guide to Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022/23

Caltech provides prospective STEM students with a wonderful setting to set the foundation for their future careers. It is well recognized for its robust science and engineering programs, is located close to Pasadena beneath the San Gabriel Mountains, and is connected to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Caltech is an extremely selective institution as a result, so you should devote a lot of time to crafting compelling responses to its supplemental essays. The supplemental essays are the section of your application where you can demonstrate that you are more than simply grades, test scores, and a list of activities, so you should view them as your chance to stand out. Check out the guide below to learn more.

Take a comprehensive look at Caltech’s offerings on its Common Data Set to obtain a better understanding of what the university is seekinge, from enrollment and tuition statistics to data on student life and financial aid.

How to write Caltech Supplemental Essays

Tell us about a time or experience in which you encountered failure.

We would like to know more about your potential to persist through challenges and problems that you will face in the future. Qualities such as resilience and persistence can be key to solving the many problems and responding to the frequent failures that can be encountered in academics or research. In an essay about research and discovery at Caltech, “The Transformative Power of Failure”, several current and past members of our community share their anecdotes about, and perspectives on, various forms of failure.

Here are questions that may help guide your response: How do you define failure? What was the problem you were trying to solve? What did you learn from the experience? Did you seek advice or help from others? If so, did you receive any, or did you move forward without? What contributed to your resilience as you struggled, and what motivated your persistence?

(Your response should range between 100-250 words.)

There are innumerable well-known quotes about failure. They all, without exception, frame failure as a teacher and a necessary detour on the way to achievement. Whatever failure you decide to write about, your compass should point to “What I Did/What I Learned.” At least 60% of your essay should be devoted to demonstrating to the reader how you used a setback to your advantage. Failure can take many different forms. There are many different definitions of failure. Decide on the encounter that taught you the most. This essay is a fantastic opportunity to include some self-deprecating comedy if you wish.

Tell us about a life situation, media story, or topic – beyond or outside of a classroom or formal assignment – that has captivated you, inspired your curiosity, and led you to delve more deeply into learning about a subject on your own.

We would like to learn about the nature of your own curiosity and drive to learn independently. Here are questions that may help guide your response: What was the situation, story, or topic? In which ways did it spike your curiosity? Down what path did this newfound interest lead you? How did the pursuit of a deeper, more focused understanding of this prove valuable or satisfying to you?

Caltech seeks out intelligent, inquisitive, and independent students. You have the chance to demonstrate your intellectual energy in this article because that is what it seeks. Whatever subject you decide to write on, be sure:

  • Your interest in your subject is sincere. Choose something you really like, not something you think Caltech will like. Genuine curiosity is simple to describe and difficult to fake!
  • You’ve truly invested in the subject. You should be able to speak comfortably and spontaneously about it.
  • Consider events or circumstances that prompted you to act, sparked your interest in further research, or improved your knowledge of a different topic.

Tell us about how you have collaborated with and worked together within a small group of your peers on some task or endeavor in the past, or about how you imagine you will work with your Caltech peers in the future.

We would like to know more about your potential to collaborate and work together with others as you reach your own understanding of the problem and solution, whether it be an academic assignment or a research project. At Caltech, it is often the case that problem sets assigned during the first year can be challenging enough that any one student is unable to come up with the solutions in isolation. This has fostered a tradition of small groups of students forming to work together to solve these problems, such that each team member also reaches a deep understanding, both of the solution and the path taken to get there as a collaborative group.

Here are questions that may help guide your response: What have your peers told you about the ways you contribute to working in groups? How do you approach problem solving in groups? What would your peers tell us about how you collaborate and work together with them?

(Your response should range between 100-250 words.) Three things are required from you in this question:

1. A narrative about an important previous or present partnership Any time you collaborate with others to find a solution or accomplish a shared objective counts as a cooperation. Think about prioritising an academic or research-based collaboration. If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific example, it can be helpful to list the communities you’re a part of and then consider your interactions with other members of those communities.

2. A sense of how you interact with and support organisations Are you the team member that prefers to listen to speaking, soaking up others’ thoughts before combining them into one big idea? Or are you a more assertive, front-footed person?

Here, an honest evaluation of your teamwork skills is crucial. This is why picking the right subject is so crucial. By rooting your essay in a particular narrative, choosing a particular period or circumstance that personifies your approach to collaboration will not only make it easier to write but will also help you stand out from other applicants. Your ability to provide precise insights into who you are is improved by including as many specifics and instances as you can.

3. A statement of intent with regard to Caltech You could briefly describe how you plan to work with others on campus. Consider the requirements that your chosen major or the organizations and clubs you plan to join may have for you.

Essays with Rostrum Supplemental essays are a critical part of your application, and they can be very challenging to write without any assistance. Rostrum Education’s team of highly experienced college counsellors provides assistance at every stage of the application writing process. Every one of our students receives personalised essay help, which ranges from brainstorming essay topic ideas to editing the essay. We will help you make a compelling case for yourself and your experiences to the admissions committee. Get in touch with us for a free consultation to find out more.

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how to write caltech essays

Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts & Advice

September 14, 2022

caltech supplemental essays

With a 2.7% acceptance rate (yes, truly), Caltech is one of the most highly selective schools in the country. Amazingly, they have managed to operate as a test-blind institution throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so until 2025 . This means that they do not presently consider ACT or SAT results in the admissions process. As such, the Caltech admissions committee gives extra weight to the five supplemental essay prompts that they require from all applicants.

 (Want to learn more about How to Get Into Caltech? Visit our blog entitled:  How to Get Into Caltech  for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Before we dive right in and begin examining the five required and two optional 2023-24 Caltech essays, one quick note…  the admissions committee has provided in-depth guidance for three of the five required essays , so we’ll keep our advice for those short and sweet.

Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #1 (required)

Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words)

(Note: you’ll select 1-2 areas of interest from a provided drop-down box on the application)

We all have a story of what drives us to pursue a certain academic pathway and career. How did your interest initially develop? What was the spark? How have you nurtured this passion and how has it evolved over time? If you desire to go into engineering, this is a chance to talk about everything from your childhood fascination with how things work to your participation in an award-winning robotics program at your high school. Share a compelling (and, of course, true!) narrative about how your love of your future area of study has blossomed to its present levels.

In other words, this essay should show evidence of intense hunger for knowledge that extends well outside of the classroom. How do you learn about your favorite subjects? What books have you read on the subject? Which podcasts have you listened to? What museums have you visited? What related experiences have you had?

You should also tie your passions into specific academic opportunities at Caltech including  courses ,  professors ,  hands-on research programs , or any other aspects of your desired major that appeal most to you.

Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompts #2 & #3 (required)

At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (100-200 words for each experience)

Main note here—you won’t be writing about both experiences within the same response (phew!). Caltech provides a separate response area for each experience, so you’ll have 200 words for STEM Experience #1 and 200 words for STEM Experience #2.

Perhaps you experienced a fascinating challenge during your engineering internship, encountered a particularly thought-provoking topic during differential calculus, or relentlessly pursued an interest in black holes or topological physics. Whatever you choose—formal or informal, inside or outside the classroom—use this opportunity to share more about your chosen experience. What fascinated you about it, and why? How has it impacted you or enabled you to build particular skills?  Whether it’s falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about the nature of time or consuming thousands of hours of podcasts on drone capabilities, this is a chance to illustrate the ways in which you are an obsessive learner with an endless thirst for information.

The admissions reader should emerge from reading this essay with the sense that you are a sincerely curious young person with a strong intellectual drive. If that curiosity can be tied to your intended area of study at Caltech, all the better!

Caltech Essays – Prompt #4 (required)

The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won  Nobel Prizes  and put  rovers on Mars . But Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to how to 3D print dorm decor. How have you been a creator, inventor, or innovator in your own life? (200-250 words)

Caltech knows you’re not a PhD-level researcher or a Nobel laureate, so they’re not looking for anything earth-shattering here (unless, of course, you’ve accomplished something earth-shattering—in which case, please share). Instead, they’re simply trying to understand the ways in which you bring your creative, inventive, and/or innovative qualities to your day-to-day life. Essentially, this is a fun chance to show off that side of yourself. To do so, feel free to go beyond extracurricular activities and formal experiences—maybe you perfected a solar oven design that bakes perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies without utilizing electricity, or offered to develop a website for your local thrift shop with online shopping options. The sky is the limit here!

Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #5 (required)

Caltech’s mission – to cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation for the benefit of humanity – relies on its community members embracing our Mission-Based Values ,  which include:

1. Openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged

2. Respect and appreciation for the idea that, while we are all members of the same community, the opportunities we’ve had to develop, showcase, and apply our talents have not been equal

3. Passion for the ideal that science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others

Share what one or more of these values evokes for you. (200-400 words)

Here, Caltech provides you with three different values to choose from. Before you begin, make sure you familiarize yourself with Caltech’s full breakdown of their values . Then, choose one of the three noted above that 1) resonates most with you and 2) allows you to share more about your own personal experiences. Although you can select more than one, doing so may make it more difficult to craft a focused response, so keep that in mind as you write.

In addition, essays that wax poetic about the general importance of a chosen ideal—without connecting it to your own past experiences or future goals—will have approximately zero needle-moving value to the admissions committee. As such, rephrase each ideal as a question in order to identify the significance and depth of your associated experiences. For example, when have you had preconceptions challenged? How did you respond? When have you been confronted with the fact that yours (or your peers) opportunities have not been equal, and how did you handle it? Have you experienced how science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others? How so?

Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #6 & #7 (optional)

We know, we know … you see optional and start to wonder if we mean it. But in this section, we truly do! See these as completely optional opportunities to show us more of your personality. 

Optional. We promise.

  • If there are aspects of your life or social or personal identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please tell us about them below. (150 words)
  • Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (50 words)

Caltech’s admissions committee is quite transparent about what they are and aren’t looking for, so this is one of those rare occasions when an optional essay is truly optional. As such, if there is something significant to share about your background, identity, or interests that hasn’t already been communicated elsewhere on the application, feel free to discuss it here, but do not feel compelled to respond if you’ll be grasping at straws to formulate an answer.

How important are the essays?

Overall, Caltech lists five factors as being “very important” to the admissions process. Those factors are: the rigor of your high school coursework, test scores (even though they are test blind, which is odd) recommendations, character/personal qualities, and your application essays. In fact, the essays are rated as being of greater importance than your GPA, class rank, or extracurricular activities!

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If you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Caltech and  Common App essays , we encourage you to  get a quote  today.

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Command Education Guide

How to write the caltech university essays, updated for 2023-2024.

At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (Min: 100/Max: 200 words for each experience)

Explanation:

To effectively address this question, select the two most meaningful and relevant academic experiences that have shaped your high school career. These can include classroom activities, research projects, extracurricular involvements, or even personal interests and hobbies related to STEM. Ensure that the chosen experiences genuinely activated your curiosity and had a significant impact on your perspective.

Whether you choose to write about an experience in or out of the classroom (meaning a class you took at school), be sure that the experience is unique and that the class was challenging (in a good way). Perhaps you went above and beyond on a project or research paper and it got published. Maybe your biology teacher recognized your talent for a particular topic and tapped you for a research project. To answer the question, “What about them made you want to learn more and explore further?” it would be wise to write about how expansion of your knowledge was in pursuit of the greater good, ideally some kind of humanitarian end. For example, maybe the engineering class allowed you to postulate different ways to improve public transportation.

The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars. But Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to how to 3D print dorm decor. How have you been a creator, inventor, or innovator in your own life? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)

This prompt offers an excellent opportunity to illustrate your creative thinking, inventive spirit, and innovative contributions. Since you’ve previously written about STEM-related experiences, it could be beneficial to use this prompt to write about a different side of your experiences where you’ve displayed creativity and curiosity outside of the classroom. Take a look at your extracurriculars and find an example where you found a solution to an everyday problem—perhaps you found a solution to fix all the broken bathroom stall locks at your school, or found some way for N-95 masks to be recycled. If you don’t have a STEM specific solution, think about solutions you’ve come up with outside of your STEM activities. Maybe you found an effective way to tutor younger kids in math, or you found a solution to the excessive amount of waste created by your school’s cafeteria. Whatever path your solution charted, detail the results and outcomes of your efforts. What changes or improvements did your project bring about? Whether it’s a tangible product, a process enhancement, a new perspective, or a positive impact on a community, describe the significance of your work.

Optional Questions:

If there are aspects of your life or social or personal identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please tell us about them below. (Max: 150 words)

This space allows for you to share any information that you believe is important to your application, but has not yet been conveyed through your essays or through your grades or test scores. Have you started your own company or initiative to help others? Have you had to help an ailing family member? Is there an alumni from Caltech who really inspired you to apply? Perhaps you’d like to elaborate on an aspect of your application that would require more context to fully understand. Whatever you choose to write, be sure to use this space wisely—you shouldn’t use this space to brag about all your amazing accomplishments, but rather, give more context or add information that you think would be valuable to your application.

When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speed-cubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby, and why does it bring you joy? (Max: 100 words)

This is a great opportunity to highlight something about yourself that is not STEM-related. Doing so will allow you to show your personality and interests even further and give you an opportunity to stand out in a sea of STEM applications. Mentioning a hobby—anything from knitting, to traipsing, to bird watching—will help you catch the eye of admissions officers!

Did you have a hard time narrowing it down to just one interest or hobby? We understand – Caltech students like to stay busy, too – tell us about another hobby or interest! (Max: 50 words)

If you have another hobby worth elaborating on, this is the place to share it!

how to write caltech essays

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how to write caltech essays

How to Write Amazing Caltech Essays

how to write caltech essays

Writing amazing essays for Caltech requires careful thought, creativity, and a deep understanding of what the admissions committee is looking for. Here are some key tips to help you craft compelling Caltech essays:

A. Understand the Prompts: 

Understanding the prompts is a crucial first step when writing essays, as it ensures that you address the specific questions or topics provided by the college or university. Here's how to effectively understand the prompts:

1. Read Carefully:

Take the time to thoroughly read and analyze each prompt. Pay attention to the wording, tone, and any specific instructions or requirements mentioned. Understand what the prompt is asking you to discuss or explore.

2. Identify Key Components:

Break down the prompt into its key components to grasp its core elements. Identify the main theme or subject matter, the specific question being asked, and any subtopics or points that need to be addressed.

3. Analyze the Prompt's Purpose:

Consider why the college or university has chosen this particular prompt. Reflect on what they may be looking to learn about you through your response. Are they seeking insight into your personal experiences, intellectual curiosity, problem-solving skills, or values? Understanding the purpose will help you tailor your essay accordingly.

4. Brainstorm Ideas:

Once you have a clear understanding of the prompt, brainstorm ideas related to the topic. Think about personal experiences, academic achievements, challenges faced, or lessons learned that are relevant to the prompt. Consider how these ideas align with your overall narrative or the message you want to convey about yourself.

5. Interpret the Prompt:

Sometimes, prompts can be open-ended or require interpretation. Take the opportunity to delve deeper into the prompt and explore different angles or perspectives. Consider how you can provide a unique and insightful response that goes beyond a surface-level understanding.

6. Consider the Audience:

Keep in mind that your essay will be read by admissions officers who are looking for specific qualities and characteristics in applicants. Consider how your response can showcase your strengths, experiences, and potential contributions to the college or university community.

7. Seek Clarification if Needed:

If you have any doubts or uncertainties about the prompt, don't hesitate to seek clarification. Reach out to the admissions office or consult with your guidance counselor or teachers for guidance. It's better to have a clear understanding of the prompt before you start writing.

Understanding the prompts is essential because it allows you to focus your essay and provide a relevant and meaningful response. It ensures that you address the specific aspects the college or university is interested in, and it helps you avoid going off-topic or providing generic answers. By thoroughly understanding the prompts, you can craft a compelling and well-structured essay that effectively communicates your ideas, experiences, and personal growth.

B. Showcase Your Passion for Science and Technology: 

When writing an essay to showcase your passion for science and technology, it's important to demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm in a compelling and impactful way. Here's how you can effectively showcase your passion for science and technology in your essay:

1. Personal Experiences:

Start by sharing personal experiences that ignited your passion for science and technology. Discuss a specific event, project, or moment that sparked your curiosity and enthusiasm. Explain how this experience influenced your desire to pursue studies in the field.

2. Academic Pursuits:

Highlight your academic achievements and pursuits in science and technology. Discuss specific courses, research projects, or competitions you have participated in and the impact they had on your intellectual growth. Emphasize any exceptional accomplishments or awards that showcase your dedication and commitment to the field.

3. Extracurricular Involvement:

Illustrate your passion by highlighting your involvement in extracurricular activities related to science and technology. Discuss clubs, organizations, or initiatives where you actively participate and contribute. Describe any leadership roles you have held or projects you have undertaken that demonstrate your initiative and commitment to the field.

4. Research Experience:

If you have engaged in research, share details about your research experience. Describe the specific area of study, the research questions you explored, and the methodologies used. Discuss any significant findings or contributions you made to the field. This demonstrates your ability to apply scientific methods and conduct rigorous investigations.

5. Projects and Innovations:

Highlight any personal projects or innovative ideas you have pursued in science and technology. Discuss how these projects allowed you to apply your knowledge and skills, and how they reflect your passion for pushing boundaries and finding creative solutions to real-world problems.

6. Future Goals and Impact:

Explain your long-term goals in science and technology. Discuss how you aspire to make a positive impact in the field and contribute to advancements or solve pressing challenges. Highlight specific areas of research or industries that interest you and explain why they are important to you.

7. Showcasing Curiosity:

Demonstrate your curiosity by discussing how you stay updated with the latest developments in science and technology. Mention books, journals, websites, or podcasts you follow to enhance your understanding and expand your knowledge. Showcasing intellectual curiosity reveals your dedication to continuous learning.

8. Connecting to Caltech:

If you are applying to Caltech, make connections between your passion and their specific programs, faculty, or resources. Research the school's unique offerings, such as research opportunities, collaborative projects, or renowned professors, and explain how these align with your interests and goals.

Remember to convey your passion for science and technology through vivid storytelling, engaging language, and personal anecdotes. Let your enthusiasm shine through in every aspect of your essay, from the introduction to the conclusion. By showcasing your authentic passion and dedication, you can make a compelling case for why you are an ideal candidate for further studies in science and technology.

C. Be Authentic: 

Being authentic in your college essay is crucial as it allows you to present your true self to the admissions committee. Here are some key points to consider when striving to be authentic in your writing:

1. Reflect on Your Values and Experiences:

Take the time to reflect on your values, beliefs, and experiences that have shaped your identity. Consider the moments, challenges, or accomplishments that have had a significant impact on you. These insights will help you convey your authentic self in your essay.

2. Share Personal Stories:

Use personal stories and anecdotes to bring your essay to life. Be open and honest about your experiences, emotions, and lessons learned. Sharing vulnerable moments can demonstrate your authenticity and allow the reader to connect with you on a deeper level.

3. Use Your Own Voice:

Write in a way that reflects your unique voice and personality. Avoid trying to mimic a particular writing style or using vocabulary that doesn't feel natural to you. Your essay should sound like you, conveying your thoughts and ideas in a genuine manner.

4. Express Your Passion and Enthusiasm:

Write about topics, interests, or activities that genuinely excite you. Showcasing your enthusiasm and genuine passion for your chosen field of study or extracurricular pursuits will help the reader understand your genuine interest and commitment.

5. Be Honest and Transparent:

Don't be tempted to exaggerate or fabricate experiences or accomplishments. Admissions officers can quickly identify inauthentic content, and it can harm your chances of admission. Instead, focus on presenting an honest and sincere representation of who you are.

6. Embrace Your Flaws and Failures:

It's important to acknowledge and embrace your flaws and failures as part of your authentic self. Admissions committees appreciate vulnerability and the ability to reflect on challenges and personal growth. Discuss how you've learned from setbacks and how they have contributed to your personal development.

7. Stay True to Your Values:

Your values shape who you are as a person. Ensure that your essay reflects your core values and beliefs. Discuss how these values have influenced your decisions, actions, and aspirations.

8. Seek Feedback from Others:

While it's essential to maintain your authentic voice, it can be helpful to seek feedback from trusted individuals, such as teachers, counselors, or mentors. They can provide insights and suggestions to help you refine your essay while ensuring that your authentic self shines through.

Being authentic in your college essay allows you to stand out and make a genuine connection with the admissions committee. By sharing your unique stories, expressing your true passions, and staying true to yourself, you can create a compelling and memorable essay that truly represents who you are as an individual.

D. Demonstrate Fit: 

Demonstrating fit in your college essay is about showing the admissions committee why you are a perfect match for their institution. Here's how you can effectively demonstrate fit in your writing:

1. Research the College:

Before writing your essay, thoroughly research the college or university you are applying to. Gain an understanding of its mission, values, academic programs, campus culture, and any unique opportunities it offers. This knowledge will help you tailor your essay to highlight the aspects that align with your interests and goals.

2. Connect Your Interests and Goals:

Clearly articulate how the college's offerings align with your academic and career aspirations. Explain why the specific academic programs, research opportunities, or extracurricular activities at the college resonate with your interests. This demonstrates your genuine enthusiasm and motivation to contribute to and benefit from the college's resources.

3. Showcase Shared Values:

Identify and emphasize the shared values between yourself and the college. If the institution emphasizes community engagement, social justice, or environmental sustainability, provide examples of your own experiences, projects, or initiatives that reflect these values. Showcasing alignment in values helps establish a strong connection between you and the college.

4. Mention Faculty and Resources:

Highlight specific professors, researchers, or resources at the college that are relevant to your intended field of study. Explain how their expertise, research interests, or teaching methods align with your own academic interests and goals. This demonstrates that you have done your homework and are genuinely excited about learning from and collaborating with the college's faculty.

5. Relate Experiences to College Life:

Share experiences, accomplishments, or challenges that demonstrate your ability to thrive in the college environment. Discuss leadership roles, teamwork experiences, or community involvement that showcase your readiness to actively engage with the college's campus life and contribute to the community.

6. Connect with Alumni or Current Students:

If possible, reach out to alumni or current students to gain insights into their experiences at the college. Mention any conversations or interactions you've had and how those experiences solidified your interest in attending the institution. This demonstrates your proactive approach to researching and understanding the college community.

7. Show Long-Term Vision:

Articulate your long-term goals and how attending the college will help you achieve them. Discuss how the college's academic programs, internships, or networking opportunities align with your career aspirations. Demonstrating that you have a clear vision of how the college fits into your future plans can reinforce your commitment and dedication to the institution.

8. Convey Enthusiasm:

Throughout your essay, convey genuine enthusiasm and excitement about the college. Use descriptive language and specific examples to illustrate why you believe the college is the ideal place for you to learn, grow, and make a meaningful impact. Showcasing your enthusiasm will leave a positive impression on the admissions committee.

By effectively demonstrating fit in your essay, you can convince the admissions committee that you are not only a qualified applicant but also a perfect fit for their institution. Showcasing your understanding of the college's values, resources, and opportunities will help you stand out and increase your chances of admission.

E. Use Concrete Examples: 

Using concrete examples in your writing is an effective way to enhance the clarity, credibility, and impact of your essay. Here's how you can use concrete examples to strengthen your writing:

1. Provide Specific Details:

Instead of making general statements or using vague language, provide specific details and vivid descriptions. For example, instead of saying, "I had a challenging research experience," you can say, "During my summer internship at XYZ Research Institute, I conducted experiments on the effects of temperature variation on plant growth, collecting and analyzing data from over 100 samples."

2. Use Personal Anecdotes:

Share personal anecdotes or stories that support your points or illustrate your experiences. By providing real-life examples, you bring your writing to life and make it more relatable and engaging. These anecdotes can showcase your skills, achievements, challenges, or personal growth.

3. Quantify Achievements:

Whenever possible, use numbers, percentages, or statistics to quantify your achievements. For instance, instead of saying, "I contributed to increasing sales," you can say, "I implemented a marketing campaign that resulted in a 20% increase in sales within three months." Quantifying your accomplishments adds credibility and provides a clear picture of your impact.

4. Reference Specific Events or Experiences:

If you have participated in significant events, conferences, or competitions related to your field, mention them. Discuss your role, the outcomes, and how these experiences have shaped your perspective or skills. By referring to specific events, you demonstrate your active engagement and commitment to your area of interest.

5. Incorporate Research Findings or Studies:

When discussing academic topics or making arguments, support your statements with relevant research findings or studies. Cite reputable sources and provide specific details such as the authors, publication dates, or key findings. This shows that your arguments are grounded in evidence and adds credibility to your writing.

6. Draw from Personal Observations:

If you have observed real-world phenomena or trends that are relevant to your topic, share them in your essay. Provide specific examples of what you have observed, including the context, details, and any insights or conclusions you have drawn from these observations.

7. Discuss Relevant Projects or Assignments:

If you have completed noteworthy projects, assignments, or coursework, use them as concrete examples to support your claims or illustrate your abilities. Explain the objectives, methodologies, and outcomes of these projects, highlighting your skills, problem-solving abilities, or creativity.

8. Connect Examples to Your Overall Narrative:

Ensure that the examples you use align with the central theme or message of your essay. They should contribute to a coherent and compelling narrative that showcases your unique qualities, experiences, or perspectives.

By incorporating concrete examples into your writing, you provide tangible evidence of your experiences, skills, and achievements. This not only enhances the credibility of your essay but also helps the reader visualize your story and connect with your ideas on a deeper level. Remember to choose examples that are relevant, specific, and support the main points you are making in your essay.

Remember, the essay is an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you beyond your academic achievements. Use it as a platform to showcase your passions, values, and intellectual curiosity. Be confident in your abilities, be genuine, and let your personality shine through your essays.

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How to write the caltech essays: the marvelous guide to success.

Located in Pasadena, California, the California Institute of Technology has an acceptance rate of 8% and is a world-renowned science and engineering institute with one of the nation’s lowest student-to-faculty ratios.

Despite its small size , Caltech’s contributions in science and research have led to international recognition, including 38 Nobel Prizes.

  • The school also manages NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and owns and operates large-scale research facilities and a global network of astronomical observatories.

The self-stated mission of this private university is to “investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

If this mission statement appeals to you, you might be a great fit for Caltech.

  • But earning that acceptance letter isn’t easy: Caltech accepts only about 8% of applicants, building a freshman class of just 230 new students.

Luckily, we’re here to help with one of the most challenging parts of the application: the Caltech essays.

We’ll provide all the info and tips you need to write essays that will help you stand out from the competition.

Let’s get started!

What Are the Caltech Essay Requirements?

Caltech accepts both the Coalition Application and the Common Application , with no preference between the two platforms.

No matter which of these options you choose, you’ll also need to complete the Caltech Questions.

The university explains that these questions help them evaluate “your passion for science, technology, engineering, and math.” They’re looking to find out “what excites you, what you value, and which of Caltech’s resources appeal most to you.”

This supplement consists of four short answer questions:

The short answer questions are:

Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. Use the separate spaces provided below, one for each STEM experience and/or activity. (120 words for each activity?) Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a “Techer” relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.) Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.) The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

What Kind of Student Does Caltech Want?

When applying to an extremely selective school like Caltech, it’s important to consider what type of student admissions officers are trying to find.

The goal here isn’t to lie and tell admissions officers what they want to hear; it’s to showcase the aspects of your personality and background that fit best with Caltech’s criteria.

On the university’s website, Caltech writes of freshman applicants, “All we ask is that you share the typical Caltech student’s unbridled sense of curiosity and extraordinary aptitude for and interest in science, engineering, and technology.”

They further explain that they attempt to answer several crucial questions as they review your application:

  • Are you academically prepared?
  • Have you demonstrated a consistent interest in science, technology, engineering, or math? (Are you ready to push the boundaries of scientific discovery?)
  • How will you impact Caltech’s campus community?

Overall, the university is looking for students who not only excel in the STEM fields but are also passionate and excited about exploring these disciplines.

They want creative, curious students who can help make innovative contributions to society.

Caltech also values students who are collaborative and trustworthy enough to work with other Techers in classrooms and labs.

General Tips for the Caltech Essays

On the school website, Caltech explains that—perhaps surprisingly—the way they evaluate applications is “more of an art than a science.”

The admissions team reads every application and every essay to get a sense of who you are and determine whether you would be a good fit for Caltech, pointing out, “You are more than a GPA and a set of test scores!” The university’s advice is to take your time preparing the short answers and essays.

And taking the information in the previous section into consideration, we’ve come up with an additional list of general tips for responding to the Caltech Questions:

  • Be authentic. Your genuine voice should shine through in these essays. Many students will be focused on trying to impress admissions officers rather than on providing honest answers, so one way to stand out is to simply be yourself!
  • Be specific. Another way to write memorable essays is to provide specific, meaningful details . Don’t give the same general, generic answers that admissions officers will read over and over. The more specific you are, the more you’ll stand out.
  • Be enthusiastic. One of Caltech’s key requirements is passion for science, technology, mathematics, and/or engineering. Show this excitement in your essays, and don’t be afraid to “geek out” a little. You should also demonstrate enthusiasm for learning and discovery.
  • Be reflective. You might think it’s obvious how you’ll contribute at Caltech, but spell it out for admissions officers. Relate your responses to the contributions you’ll make in Caltech’s labs, classrooms, and community. Give specific examples of what you’ll do and how you’ll add value to the university.

Now that you know our general advice, let’s take a look at each of the questions you’ll be asked.

Get personalized advice!

Three experiences and activities.

Essay #1: Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. Use the separate spaces provided below, one for each STEM experience and/or activity.

First, note the key word “develop.”

  • You should be writing about hands-on experiences with STEM, rather than passive activities like watching a video or observing an interesting lecture.
  • Think of a time you applied your interest or passion in STEM.
  • Consider projects, activities, research, and service. You have a broad range here, as long as you’re writing about your proactive approach to STEM.

Also keep in mind that you’re limited to only 120 words for each entry, meaning you don’t have much space to explore three experiences or activities in-depth. Your best bet is to write three short paragraphs, one for each of the events you’ve selected.

  • It may be helpful to choose some activities that have been mentioned elsewhere in your application or essays. You won’t need to go too in-depth, which will save you some room.

This is a pretty straightforward question, so don’t pressure yourself to think outside the box or get too creative.

You could begin by brainstorming a list of hands-on experiences and activities you’ve had relating to STEM. Then choose your three favorites to write about.

A friendly heads-up: Don’t outsmart yourself for this question. You have three separate boxes for 120 words each, so get to the point, be concise, and choose practical, hands-on experiences. Don’t risk giving background detail or providing an activity that is passive or difficult to write about. Keep it simple.

The Life of a Techer: Collaboration

Essay #2: Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a “Techer” relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

Essentially, this is the “Why Caltech?” question. You can read our guide on how to write “ Why This College ” essays.

The best way to accomplish this goal is to do your research.

  • Look into specific programs, extracurricular activities focused on STEM, classes, professors, and so on.
  • If you feel the need to address any research opportunities, be sure to do so in extremely specific terms.
  • What project are you extremely excited about? Which professor would you be working with?
  • Why this project and professor in particular?
  • Last, ask yourself how you can pursue these opportunities with fellow Techers.

Here’s how you should go about attacking this essay:

  • Start by outlining your academic and career goals, as well as your specific area of interest in STEM.
  • Then explain exactly how Caltech could help you further your interest and reach your goals.
  • Discuss team dynamics and how you can leverage other students’ talents and experiences to accomplish your mission.
  • Make sure you’re discussing opportunities and experiences unique to Caltech, rather than qualities that many other schools share as well.

It’s vital to be extremely enthusiastic in this essay.

Are you excited about Caltech? Excited enough to be one of just 230 students who receive this opportunity? Show it.

For example, here’s a successful outline of a Why Caltech essay:

  • Your community was hit by a drought last year. It made you think about how communities in developing countries or those without infrastructure can survive such harsh climates.
  • Your engineering team in high school designed a national irrigation system that adjusts the supply of water over a 300-mile mile radius. This irrigation system utilizes algorithms and radars to make its decisions.
  • At Caltech, you want to work with research partners to discover how you can not only bring this irrigation system to life but also implement machine learning and AI to increase its deployment accuracy. Describe how you’ll work together.

Remember, never write about location or legacy. Southern California is a beautiful place, yes, but there are other schools in SoCal besides Caltech. Demonstrate that you took the time to research Caltech and how you fit within its community.

What Do You Do for Fun?

Essay #3: Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

Think about your hobbies, possibly putting together another brainstorm list.

  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • List as many activities and interests as you can.
  • Then, review the list for the most “unusual” way in which you have fun.

This doesn’t have to be something tremendously unique, just something unusual that not every teenager engages in.

  • Avoid obviously common hobbies like reading, listening to music, playing video games, watching TV or movies, or playing sports (unless you play cricket, curling, or something else uncommon).
  • Perhaps you collect Russian nesting dolls or build elaborate forts with your friends.
  • Maybe you go on fun scavenger hunts around town or devote every Saturday to browsing yard sales for the best deals.

This isn’t a serious question and doesn’t require a serious or academic answer.

For this prompt, you do have enough room to vividly describe the unusual activity you enjoy.

Tell a story and include sensory details. If possible, you may want to see if there’s a way you can continue pursuing this unique activity at Caltech.

If not, maybe you would want to start a club of your own! Colleges love proactive students.

Irrespective of the hobby you choose, be sure to select one that has had a tangible effect on your life. Choose a hobby or pursuit that has changed you. Then, explain how it’s changed you.

  • Do you train Brazilian jiujitsiu? Has it changed the way you approach competition and solve problems?
  • Did you create an app for your school? What did you learn about solving a community’s problem using iOS or Android?

While it doesn’t need to be STEM-related, it should be substantive.

Contributingg to Diversity at Caltech

Essay #4: The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.

This question makes it clear that diversity comes in many forms. Diversity of experience, background, and thought are specifically mentioned, but you can think of any way that you might bring an interesting or unique perspective to Caltech.

  • For instance, you might choose to write about your approach to solving and analyzing problems or generating ideas.
  • How does your approach differ from others?
  • What problems have you been able to solve, as a result, that others haven’t?
  • And how could this help you contribute at Caltech?

You might also have a unique cultural or economic background, or experiences that you think will allow you to offer a fresh perspective at Caltech. There are many different ways to answer this question.

However you decide to approach the question, try to offer a supporting anecdote (a story that demonstrates the diversity you’ve mentioned) and explain how you’ll put this diverse perspective to use at Caltech.

Brainstorming the Caltech Essays

Here’s a helpful exercise that has helped a number of our students who have gone on to study at Caltech.

List three to seven books (titles and authors) that have been meaningful to you, each with a one-sentence summary of how that book has influenced you.

These don’t have to be math, science, or even academic texts.

  • If you learned a valuable lesson from a fictional character or bonded with new friends over your love for a YA novel, feel free to include it here.
  • You may want to include one book title that is in some way related to STEM. After all, your passion for science, math, and technology should be the focal point of your application.
  • Lastly, we recommend avoiding any potentially controversial topics. You never know who will be reading your essays, and you don’t want to offend the person who holds your fate in their hands!

This exercise will help you broaden your thoughts and keep you from writing a cookie-cutter essay. Yes, it’s important to demonstrate your academic gravitas, but it’s also critical that you leverage other important aspects of your personality.

The books you’ve chosen for this list can demonstrate how you value knowledge and the interests you’re most likely to pursue once you’re in college.

Even if your interests are likely to change, this list will jog your memory and help you raise interesting points about yourself.

We mentioned above that Caltech values students who are trustworthy. The school is a close-knit, collaborative community, so honesty and integrity are vital. Here’s your opportunity to demonstrate that you possess these qualities.

  • Come up with an ethical or moral dilemma to discuss.
  • It doesn’t necessarily have to be a major problem, just a time you’ve had to make a challenging decision.
  • Can you think of a time, possibly within your high school community, when you were faced with a tough choice, ultimately deciding to do the right thing?

Then, explain your problem-solving process, or how you arrived at a solution.

  • Briefly introduce the problem and how you felt about the situation.
  • Then, explain the factors you considered and the specific steps you took to arrive at a solution.

You don’t have many words to tell the story here, but try to include a few vivid details that can bring your experience to life. Show action. What did  you  do to solve the problem or come to a solution?

This is an unorthodox brainstorming exercise, but it will help you think three-dimensionally about your life and ability to create solutions. Creating solutions is, by definition, hands-on work, so this exercise is a good way to think critically about action steps you’ve taken to change your life or someone else’s.

Conclusion: Writing the Caltech Essays

Aspiring scientists and engineers from around the world dream of becoming a Techer. When applying to such a highly selective school, your essays are among your best chances to set yourself apart from the competition.

  • Use the tips we’ve provided here for your four short answer questions. Be passionate, authentic, honest, and specific. Show your aptitude and enthusiasm for STEM, as well as your profound interest in Caltech.
  • Don’t forget to proofread !

You might earn the opportunity to join the brilliant and innovative minds at Caltech next fall!

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions essay writing, check out our college essay boot camp.

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How to Write the Caltech STEM Experience Essay

Caltech’s essay prompt emphasizes its commitment to tackling some of the most challenging questions in STEM. In essence, they want to gauge your genuine curiosity, passion, and drive in these fields.

Here’s how you can write a strong response. If you want more advice on Caltech’s essays, see our full Caltech essay breakdown .

Understanding the Prompt

Prompt: At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? (200 words per experience)

Caltech is looking for specific instances where you were actively engaged in STEM. This can be within a class, a club, a project, a competition, or any other related experience.

As you reflect on which experiences to mention, make sure to those that truly piqued your interest and drove you to delve deeper. It’s one thing to be curious, but taking that next step to learn more showcases initiative, drive, and passion.

Crafting Your Essay

Here are the four steps you want to take as you’re writing.

1. Start with a brief introduction of the experience. Was it a physics class experiment? A coding challenge? A robotics competition?

2. Elaborate on what you did. Be specific. Instead of saying you “worked on a project,” explain that you “designed a water filtration system using charcoal and sand.”

3. Identify the moment or aspect that triggered your curiosity. Was it an unexpected result? A challenging problem? A real-world application?

4. Discuss the steps you took post-experience. Did you read more on the topic? Join a related club? Undertake a new project? Your actions should showcase your drive.

Now, let’s get into some examples!

Caltech STEM Experience Example Essays

In my junior year, our school’s Robotics Club decided to enter the annual Robotics Challenge. From videos of past competitions, it was clear that robots could achieve some pretty amazing things, and we were eager to try our hand. I got the task of programming our robot’s pathfinding, which I thought would be a cool challenge.

Initial tests, however, were not promising. Our robot, which we affectionately dubbed ‘Rover’, seemed to have a mind of its own, often getting lost or stuck in corners. This wasn’t what I expected, and instead of feeling defeated, I got really curious. Why was our algorithm struggling?

After some deep dives online and discussions with our club advisor, I stumbled upon the A* algorithm. It was touted as one of the best for pathfinding. Many late nights were spent poring over code, making adjustments, and running trial after trial.

The moment ‘Rover’ smoothly navigated our test maze was unforgettable. Beyond just the success, this experience opened my eyes to how vast and complex robotics can be. It also sparked a newfound interest in AI and how machines can learn and adapt.

Essay 1 Feedback

This essay feedback was provided by Ivy, CollegeVine’s AI . Try it for free with your own essay!

This experience effectively showcases your problem-solving skills and determination in the field of robotics. Your narrative demonstrates your curiosity and passion for learning about pathfinding algorithms. I would rate this experience a solid 8.5 out of 10. The strength of your description lies in the detailed example and your genuine interest in overcoming the challenge.

  • Your experience provides a clear narrative of your involvement in the Robotics Club and the challenge you faced.
  • You effectively convey your curiosity and determination to understand and improve the robot’s pathfinding algorithm.
  • The experience demonstrates your ability to research, learn, and apply new concepts in a practical situation.

Suggestions

  • Consider providing a brief explanation of the A* algorithm and how it improved ‘Rover’s’ pathfinding. This will help the reader understand your discovery better. (Small impact)
  • Share any lessons you learned from this experience and how they may have influenced your perspective on robotics or problem-solving. (Small impact)
  • Briefly mention how this experience has shaped your future aspirations or interests in the field of robotics, AI, or related areas. (Small impact)

What admissions would take away

Admissions officers would view you as a determined, curious, and resourceful student with a passion for robotics and problem-solving. Your experience demonstrates your ability to research, learn, and apply new concepts in practical situations.

In a chemistry lab during sophomore year, our assignment was to synthesize aspirin. The process, on paper, seemed pretty direct, but science in practice can sometimes be unpredictable. My first result wasn’t the expected pure white but had an off-white hue.

Rather than just accepting it, I was determined to understand why. Had I missed a step or mis-measured an ingredient? I turned to additional resources, beyond our classroom’s scope, and delved into the intricacies of the synthesis process. I found out that there are many variables at play, from temperature control to precise measurements.

Armed with new knowledge, I approached the lab again. With more attention to detail and a better understanding of the reactions, my second attempt was markedly improved.

This wasn’t just a lesson in making aspirin; it underscored how deep and layered even seemingly simple reactions can be. It made me appreciate the precision required in chemistry, especially when thinking about its implications in something as important as drug development.

Overall Feedback

This experience effectively highlights your curiosity and determination in the field of chemistry. It demonstrates your commitment to understanding the underlying processes and your ability to think critically about the subject matter. I would rate this experience an 8 out of 10. The strength of your description lies in the detailed example and your genuine interest in learning.

  • Your experience provides a clear narrative of your involvement in the chemistry lab and the challenge you faced.
  • You effectively convey your curiosity and determination to understand the intricacies of the synthesis process.
  • The experience demonstrates your willingness to go beyond the classroom to explore complex concepts and apply them in practical situations.
  • Explore how your newfound appreciation for precision in chemistry has shaped your perspective on the subject or influenced future projects. (Small impact)
  • Share any lessons you learned from this experience and how they may have influenced your approach to chemistry or problem-solving. (Small impact)
  • Briefly mention how this experience has shaped your future aspirations or interests in the field of chemistry or related areas. (Small impact)

Admissions officers would view you as a curious, determined, and resourceful student with a passion for learning and problem-solving in chemistry. Your experience demonstrates your ability to go beyond the classroom to explore complex concepts and apply them in practical situations.

  • Be Genuine: Authentic experiences where your curiosity was genuinely activated will always come across as more sincere and impactful.
  • Show Initiative: Caltech values students who don’t just stop at wondering, but take the initiative to seek answers.
  • Proofread: Ensure clarity, coherence, and error-free content. You can use Ivy, CollegeVine’s AI for free feedback. 

Remember, this essay provides Caltech a glimpse into your analytical mind, your curiosity, and your proactive approach to learning.

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Essay Scoop: How to Write CalTech Essays

Gelyna Price

Gelyna Price

Head of programs and lead admissions expert, table of contents, write caltech essays.

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Essay Scoop: How to Write CalTech Essays

Interested in engineering or math? Want to go to a school just for people with the same interests? CalTech, located in Pasadena, California has 24 majors, most of which are in Science or Engineering. The most popular undergraduate majors are Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences, and Physical sciences. If this school does make your list, you’ll want to know how to approach the CalTech essays properly.

About the school

CalTech has approximately 970 undergraduate students, most of whom live in one of 8 campus houses. Instead of dorms, students are assigned a house where they form friendships for social and academic support.

Another unique element of CalTech is the honor code, which states: “No member of the CalTech community shall take unfair advantage of another member.” Students take this rather seriously and understanding it is part of the admissions process.

CalTech Essays

When you apply to California Institute of Technology, you can apply using the Common App or the Coalition App. You will also write these additional college essays for CalTech:

Please list three books, along with their authors, that have been particularly meaningful to you. For each book, please include a sentence explaining their influence upon you. Please note that your response is not limited to math, science or school assigned texts.

What you read should reveal your interests and education level. Including the phrase “their influence upon you” means you need to explain how the books either changed your understanding of a topic, changed a behavior, or led you to explore something new.

You should probably include a range of genres in your list to show you have broad interests such as historical fiction, science, and mystery instead of simply a list of recent sci-fi novels. (If you haven’t read anything but a text book, get reading!)

What three experiences or activities have helped you explore your desire to study and possibly pursue a career in STEM? (200 words)

Plan a list of science, math, or engineering experiences that helped you find a passion for STEM. A great response will have experiences that have a common thread.

For example, you might have enjoyed chemistry experiments starting with a 4th grade project, a high school class chemistry activity, and a summer visit to a science museum which allowed you to explore liquid molecules.

Members of the Caltech community live, learn, and work within an Honor System with one simple guideline; “No member shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.” While seemingly simple, questions of ethics, honesty and integrity are sometimes puzzling. Share a difficult decision that has challenged you.What was your response, and how did you arrive to a solution? (200 words)

Question 3 asks about “ethics, honesty, and integrity” that are slightly different things. Ethics means moral behavior, honesty means not lying, cheating, or stealing, and integrity means being a good person inside. Since you only have 200 words, focus on one or two of the three terms and give clear examples that connect your decision with the principle you choose.

The question asks you to share the “challenge” of it so you should describe a transition. For example, you may have been hesitant to report a friend who copied test answers but honesty is important so you changed your hesitancy to a firm action to report him or her to the teacher.

Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor and creative pranks. Please describe an unusual way in which you have fun. (200 words)

Question 4 is a fun question you can use to reveal the lighter side of your personality, as well as a sense of appropriate humor!

In an increasingly global and interdependent society, there is a need for diversity in thought, background, and experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community? (200 words)

The words “global and interdependent” along with “diversity” means you should think of question 5 in terms of your openness to a variety of ideas and willingness to work with others in the classroom or in the lab. In your answer, you should combine your unique personal traits or experiences along with your willingness to work as a team with others. For example, your persistence helps you to make sure group projects get completed.

Scientific exploration clearly excites you. Beyond our 3:1 student to faculty ratio and our intense focus on research opportunities, how do you believe Caltech will best fuel your intellectual curiosity and help you meet your goals? (500 words)

Because question 6 asks you specifically about California Institute of Technology, you should do some research on the school to find out what will keep you energized while you attend. Be sure to connect the ideas of fueling curiosity and meeting goals. For example, living with other students in a house would help you get homework help so you keep high grades.

You Can Do It!

Be sure to use clear, concise language, active verbs, and clear examples in your college essays. Using analogies and metaphors can help add interest to what you write.   Here’s a great primer on how to succeed with all your essay writing. The CalTech essays shouldn’t scare you away. If you need more tips on writing or how to handle these prompts yourself, reach out to the Empowerly team!

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Caltech Professors Win 2024 Sloan Fellowships

Four Caltech faculty members have been awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for 2024: Katie Bouman, assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences, electrical engineering and astronomy; Lee McCuller, assistant professor of physics; Vikram Ravi, assistant professor of astronomy; and Antoine Song, assistant professor of mathematics.

The fellowships honor exceptional U.S. and Canadian researchers "whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of leaders," according to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation , which has been granting the awards annually since 1955. The Caltech professors are among 126 early-career scientists who have been selected to receive the fellowships, which come with $75,000 over two years to advance research projects.

Katie Bouman is a computational imaging scientist whose methods combine ideas from signal processing, computer vision, machine learning, and physics to bring out hidden signals in scientific and technical data. She is a key member of the Event Horizon Telescope project, which made history in 2019 by unveiling the first image of a black hole, in this case, a supermassive black hole lying at the heart of the M87 galaxy. Using data acquired by a global network of radio telescopes, Bouman and her teammates developed a computational approach that transformed the black hole data into an image. Since then, her team has helped produce an image of the supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy , called Sagittarius A*, as well as a new image of the M87 black hole made with enhanced data . Bouman is also developing next-generation computational cameras for other imaging problems in astronomy, medicine, and seismology, where traditional cameras will not work.

Lee McCuller is an expert at creating technologies that make the most precise measurements in the world. These quantum measurements are at the heart of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), which has been detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes and neutron stars since it first detected ripples in space-time in 2015. McCuller helped lead the development of essential technology at LIGO based on a concept called quantum squeezing. This method helps reduce unwanted noise in LIGO's detectors—noise that bubbles up from the quantum realm—to make the facilities even more sensitive to gravitational waves. Recently, Lee and his LIGO collaborators took the technology one step further to make quantum squeezing work across the range of gravitational frequencies detected by LIGO. The research helped surpass limits imposed by quantum physics and made LIGO even more powerful.

Vikram Ravi is an astronomer specializing in energetic dynamic events, such as fast radio bursts, or FRBs, which are powerful eruptions of radio waves that originate primarily from remote galaxies and whose cause remains unknown. Ravi co-led the development of the Deep Synoptic Array-110, an array of radio dishes at Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory, which has now identified and pinpointed over 60 FRBs to their galaxies of origin. Ravi plans to use this growing sample—a significant fraction of the fewer than 90 FRBs so far associated with galaxies—to better understand how matter is distributed within and in between galaxies . He is also embarking on a new program to identify tidal disruption events, or TDEs, which occur when a star wanders too close to a black hole and is devoured. Ravi and his colleagues will use data from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at Caltech's Palomar Observatory to search for more obscure TDEs, and help piece together the puzzles of how often these events occur as well as why they do not look the same when viewed at different wavelengths of light.

Antoine Song specializes in differential geometry, the study of shapes using analysis and differential equations. His goal is to better understand minimal surfaces, geometrical shapes that minimize total surface area and total energy; for instance, a circular wire frame dipped in soapy water leads to a film with a minimal optimal shape. For his PhD thesis, Song showed that there are infinitely many minimal surfaces in any three-dimensional space. Recently, Song and his colleague Conghan Dong, a graduate student at Stony Brook University, helped prove an aspect of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, showing that "a sequence of curved spaces with smaller and smaller amounts of mass will eventually converge to a flat space with zero curvature," according to Quanta Magazine .

Read more about the Sloan Research Fellowships at its website .

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IMAGES

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  2. How to Write the Caltech Essays: A Guide to College Application Success

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  3. Magnificent Caltech Essays ~ Thatsnotus

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  4. Magnificent Caltech Essays ~ Thatsnotus

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  5. Caltech Supplemental Essays & Caltech Essays

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COMMENTS

  1. Essay Writing Advice

    Do your research. Read about what kind of students thrive at Caltech by reviewing our What We Look For page. Don't wait until the last minute to write your supplemental essays. Give yourself time to write thoughtfully - and time to proofread them, too!

  2. How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays: Examples

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  3. How to Get Into Caltech (Essay Examples Included)

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  4. How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

    Prompt 1 Because of the rigorous courses in the core curriculum, Caltech students don't declare a major until the end of their first year. However, some students arrive knowing which academic fields and areas already most excite them, or which novel fields and areas they most want to explore.

  5. How to Write Amazing Caltech Essays

    (Max: 200 words) The first essay asks you share your academic passion (or passions), and how you discovered them. Many colleges understand that students change their majors throughout the course of their careers, and Caltech doesn't want you to have to choose a major until you're a sophomore.

  6. How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

    How to Write the Caltech Essays Prompt 1: Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. Use the separate spaces provided below, one for each STEM experience and/or activity. (10-120 words each)

  7. Caltech Supplemental Essays & Caltech Essays

    The Caltech supplemental essays are listed on the Common App website. You can also find the Caltech supplemental essays listed on Caltech's website, alongside brief explanations of each prompt. Required Caltech supplemental essays and short answer questions: 1.

  8. Guide to Caltech Supplemental Essays

    The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays. The Caltech Supplemental Essays are a great opportunity for eager applicants to set aside all of their dry academic information and throw some color and vitality into their application forms. While other parts of the general application form are straight-forward and limited, these ...

  9. Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2021-2022

    Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2021-2022 If you're planning to apply to the California Institute of Technology, one of the key ways to distinguish yourself from fellow STEM-oriented applicants is to take full advantage of the Caltech supplemental essays 2021-2022.

  10. How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Caltech Supplemental Essays

    Updated: October 16th, 2023 Deciding to go to the California Institute of Technology is the dawn of a new academic adventure! Caltech is a highly selective private research university with a . With such a competitive application pool, your very best writing is required.

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  12. Multiple ways to write the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-23

    How to write Caltech Supplemental Essays. Prompt 1. Tell us about a time or experience in which you encountered failure. We would like to know more about your potential to persist through challenges and problems that you will face in the future. Qualities such as resilience and persistence can be key to solving the many problems and responding ...

  13. Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-24

    Caltech Supplemental Essays - Prompts #2 & #3 (required) At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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 ...

  14. Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

    Why did you choose that area of interest?" With a maximum of 200 words, students must be brief yet powerful in their expression, conveying a clear understanding of their field and an eagerness to explore it further at Caltech. This essay should reflect the applicant's individuality and potential to thrive in a challenging academic environment.

  15. How to Write the CalTech University Essays

    Prompt 1: At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 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.

  16. Supplemental Transfer Application Essays

    Transfer students declare their majors by the start of their first term at Caltech, after which they take major specific courses alongside the core curriculum. Many transfer students already know which academic fields and areas most excite them, or which novel fields and areas they most want to explore.

  17. How to Write Amazing Caltech Essays from AP Guru

    Writing amazing Caltech essays requires careful attention to detail, showcasing your passion for science and technology, and aligning your experiences with the college's values. Understand the prompts, be authentic, and demonstrate fit with Caltech's unique academic and research environment. Use concrete examples, provide vivid details, and connect your personal experiences to your desire to ...

  18. How to Write the Caltech Essays: The Marvelous Guide to Success

    How to Write the Caltech Essays: A Guide to College Application Success How to Write the Caltech Essays: The Marvelous Guide to Success by Ashley Cullins Updated October 27, 2022 Do you need help finding best-fit colleges or writing essays? You can sign up for a free consult here .

  19. Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

    When it comes to how to write Caltech supplemental essays, creativity and academic curiosity are the main qualities you want to stress. While Caltech may be focused on sciences, they are still looking for creative thinkers, and your essays are a great place to demonstrate this. The first required essay prompt asks you to reflect on which field ...

  20. How to Write the Caltech STEM Experience Essay

    How to Write the Caltech STEM Experience Essay Caltech's essay prompt emphasizes its commitment to tackling some of the most challenging questions in STEM. In essence, they want to gauge your genuine curiosity, passion, and drive in these fields. Here's how you can write a strong response.

  21. Essay Scoop: How to Write CalTech Essays

    Write CalTech Essays. Interested in engineering or math? Want to go to a school just for people with the same interests? CalTech, located in Pasadena, California has 24 majors, most of which are in Science or Engineering. The most popular undergraduate majors are Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences, and Physical sciences. ...

  22. Write & Cite

    CaltechTHESIS is the digital repository of doctoral, engineering, master's, and bachelor's/senior theses authored by Caltech students as well as essays submitted by students for writing prizes to the Hixon Writing Center. It is updated continuously as students add new theses, and as library staff scan and add older theses.

  23. LLMs in the Classroom

    In his Ethics & AI syllabus, Eberhardt articulates his own instincts about the value of writing. "We teach writing to develop our reasoning skills and to learn how to communicate effectively. In that sense, learning to write is developing a means to achieve broader goals; writing (at least in my teaching and research) has never been an end in ...

  24. Caltech Professors Win 2024 Sloan Fellowships

    February 20, 2024. Four Caltech faculty members have been awarded the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for 2024: Katie Bouman, assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences, electrical engineering and astronomy; Lee McCuller, assistant professor of physics; Vikram Ravi, assistant professor of astronomy; and Antoine Song ...