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How to Write the California Institute of Technology Supplemental Essays

Required Academic Questions

1. If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose?
(drop down options)

Before making your selection, make sure to understand which majors are the most popular and therefore, most competitive at Caltech. It is best to select programs that you can demonstrate an interest in. If you select computer science, it is to your advantage to have a proven track record of taking courses related to that discipline and work or extracurricular experiences that align with computer science endeavors.

2. Why did you choose that area of interest? *0/200 words

This is where you connect your plans beyond college (future career, graduate school, etc.) to your area of study. With the next question (s) you will have an opportunity to go into detail about different experiences that have led you to this interest; here, I would tie all your academic and extracurricular experiences together in more of a summary and explain how all of these experiences have culminated to your intended major. Explain why this area of study will be a stepping stone for you and build on your past experiences to help you achieve your goals after college. Be sure to be as specific as possible. For example, don’t just say “I want to do research after college.” Instead, be specific about where you would want to do research and toward what end.

3. 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*0/200 words

STEM experience/activity #2*0/200 words

Select the two most meaningful and relevant academic experiences that come to mind. Whether you choose to go with 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 talk about how expansion of this knowledge would be toward some end, ideally some kind of humanitarian end. For example, maybe the engineering class presented different ways to improve public transportation.

4. 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? *0/250 words

Since you’ve already written a lot about STEM-related experiences, it is advisable here to write about a different side of your experiences where you’ve displayed creativity and curiosity outside of the classroom. We advise you to 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 all the broken bathroom stall locks at your school, or found some way for N-95 masks to last longer. 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.

Optional Responses

6. If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. 0/150 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 that 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.

7. 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? 0/100

Here is a great opportunity to highlight something about yourself that is not-STEM related. This 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. Mention a hobby, anything from knitting, to traipsing, to bird watching!

8. 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! 0/50 words

If you have another hobby worth elaborating on, please do so here!