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California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2021-22 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

We try our best to make sure our guides are as up to date as possible, but we still recommend confirming each prompt and word count with the school in question.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2021-22 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 3 essays of 100-250 words each

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Activity, Oddball

In addition to the personal essay in the Common Application or the Coalition Application, applicants to Caltech must complete required supplemental short-answer essays. These are questions that the Admissions Committee has devised to get to know you better as a student, scientist, and person, and ascertain who you’ll be on our campus. 

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

CalTech doesn’t pull any punches! You can check out our guide to Common App’s Prompt #2 for a full explanation of how to tackle this kind of prompt. In the meantime, we’ll say this: remember, a question about failure or struggle is really a question about resilience and success. Use your story about encountering failure to show how you have overcome obstacles and risen to the occasion, no matter the circumstances. 

A note of caution: if you chose to respond to prompt #2 for your Common App personal statement, you’ll want to choose another story about failure (and subsequent success). 

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 lead you to delve more deeply into learning about a subject on your own.

CalTech wants to accept intellectually curious applicants, so take this opportunity to demonstrate your passion for pursuing knowledge! When was the last time you went down an internet rabbit hole researching something that piqued your interest? When were you recently motivated to solve a problem or create something new? What was the last fact or skill you learned outside of school? Ultimately, you want to discuss examples of what truly fascinates you while also reflecting on what these examples say about your personality traits, interests, and/or learning style.

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.

Caltech wants to know that you’re a team player, so tell them a story about a time you worked with others. This could be the perfect opportunity to write about a professional experience (your first time working as a camp counselor and being responsible for little ones!) or community service (networking within your community to organize a coat drive at your church!). Ideally, you should describe an experience that required you to interact and problem solve with other people. It’s all well and good to say that you spearheaded your group history project, but remember that this question is about collaboration. A more reflective and honest essay will consider how each person’s unique contribution set the course for your team’s success (or failure). If you’re talking about a large group (singing in a 100-person choir!), perhaps you’ll want to focus on the shared interests or goals that are strong enough to unite such a large group of people. If you can connect your past experiences with collaboration to the ones you hope to have at Caltech next year, your application will be that much stronger.

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