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California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 2023-24 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 3 essays of 200 words; 1 essay of 400 words; 3 short optional essays

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Activity, Oddball, Why, Short Answer

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. 

We don’t want essay writing to be intimidating, but we know it often is. We have put together some advice to help you get started writing your Caltech supplemental essays, so you can worry less and enjoy the application process.
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.

If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? 

Please indicate your proposed area of interest at Caltech. [Choose an option from a dropdown list]

There’s only one trick to selecting a major or generating a straightforward list of your academic interests: be honest. If you already know what you want to major in or have it narrowed down to two choices, you’re set! Don’t waste time trying to strategize because choosing anything other than your true interests would be a misrepresentation of who you are and a disservice to yourself and the admissions office. This assignment will, no doubt, be most challenging for the undecideds, but ask yourself: how can you use this opportunity to reveal something about what excites you intellectually or academically? 

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

You’ve only got 200 words, but if you chose wisely in the previous question, answering this one should be easy as pie. Whether you listed one or two interests, your goal here is to tell a cohesive story about your intellectual curiosity. Ideally, you should try to recount an anecdote that illustrates your engagement with your chosen field or demonstrates your ability to link together seemingly disparate fields. Perhaps you’re interested in both philosophy and astrophysics because each offers a way for you to contemplate our place in the universe. This is a great opportunity for you to explain how your intellectual interests relate to who you are as a person. Don’t waste it!

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 each)

STEM experience/activity #1* 
STEM experience/activity #2*

For these two short answer responses, we recommend using concrete sensory details to pull your reader into the story. Strong responses will not only describe the project at hand, but also make the readers feel like they’re in the room where it happened (“the room where it happened” – Hamilton). What about the project captured your attention and curiosity? How did you develop your skills or interest in STEM as a result of your participation? How did this experience lay the foundation for your future STEM-related pursuits? If you’re applying to Caltech, we’re willing to bet you have a few experiences to choose from, so we recommend writing about the two that were most intellectually engaging for you.

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? This question can be answered as a written response (200-250 words).*

Admissions is seeking to invite movers and shakers to campus who are excited and motivated to turn their dreams into reality. Whether you’ve been experimenting with robotics or spending your summers researching ways to integrate renewable energy into daily life, this is the place to share your story. Show admissions that you are not only planning to be an innovator, but have already taken steps to incorporate this approach in your day-to-day activities. The more specific details you can incorporate into your essay, the more sincere and personal it will feel (and be!). 

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.* (400 words)

For this prompt, Caltech wants to know how its mission resonates with you, so read over their values, then think about how they overlap with your own. This could be a great opportunity to recycle an essay you’ve written about engaging in conversation with someone who holds opposing beliefs (Value 1), embracing diversity and inclusion (Value 2), or your love for all things science (Value 3). If you don’t have any material to recycle here, don’t fret, odds are you have something to say about at least one of these three values. Maybe you’ve been developing and testing your hypotheses since you were a little kid and you are just as excited when they prove true as when they are proved wrong! Perhaps inclusivity and equity are important to you because you know what it’s like not to have the same opportunities as your peers and you’ve worked hard to achieve your goals regardless. Whatever your story is, be sure to avoid generalizations and, instead, provide concrete examples. For example, anyone can write that they are ambitious and resilient, but not everyone is going to be able to exhibit those traits with real-life examples. Specifics are what stick in admissions’ minds!

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)

Caltech knows that you are a multifaceted person, that your identity cannot be boiled down to nuggets of information on an application. That’s why admissions is giving you this (albeit small) space to expand on an aspect of your identity. Scroll through your application (personal statement, activity list, major selection) and take a moment to think about what you haven’t been able to include yet. Perhaps you want to write about your identity as a first-born daughter of immigrants or the daily yoga practice that grounds you and enables you to better connect with people and places around you. Regardless of what you choose to write about, you don’t have a lot of words to play with, so we recommend brevity!

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 a great place to write about a hobby or interest that is, maybe, newer to you, one you’ve spent less time on. Have you been learning how to play guitar? Did you start taking kayaking lessons this summer? You only have 50 words for this response, so try not to choose a topic that will require too much explaining. Instead, dive right into what makes you lose track of time!

Have you had any extenuating circumstances (such as limited course selection, inconsistent grades, or disruptions), that have affected your coursework, but that are not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here. (150 words)

This is Caltech’s version of the Additional Info essay, which means that, unless you have something crucial to explain to admissions, and there is absolutely NOWHERE else on the application for you to write about it, you should skip this essay. Think about it: if you were an admissions officer, would you really want to read one more essay per applicant? That being said, this essay is perfect for students who have encountered extenuating circumstances and need an opportunity to explain them. In fact, we recommend saving those details for an Additional Info essay, so that you can use the rest of your application to highlight other parts of your amazing personality. So, if something has happened that affected your academic performance, this is a great opportunity to give the 4-1-1 (that means “information” because, in the Stone Age of the late 1900s, we used our rotary phones instead of the internet). 

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

This prompt is as dry as they come. If you’ve earned any STEM honors or awards, this is the place to list them. If you don’t have anything to add here, feel free to skip this prompt altogether!

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School Stats:

State: California
Acceptance Rate: 3%
Undergrad Population: 901
Tuition: $63,255
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