- Caltech Library
Q. How can I access a Caltech thesis?
- 41 Access e-resources
- 36 Borrowing & circulation
- 1 CaltechAUTHORS
- 29 CaltechDATA
- 6 CaltechTHESIS
- 26 Collections
- 5 Copyright & Fair Use
- 14 Course reserves & textbooks
- 13 DocuServe
- 10 Geology Library
- 3 Grant information
- 6 iThenticate
- 17 LibSearch
- 6 Open Access
- 3 Publishing
- 6 Repositories
- 8 Research data
- 15 Research help
- 12 Technology
- 15 User access & privileges
- 22 Writing & publishing
Answered By: Kathy Johnson Last Updated: Jan 14, 2023 Views: 349
Most Caltech theses are available online via CaltechTHESIS . If the thesis you're interested in isn't available, there are a few possible reasons:
- If you find the thesis in the CaltechTHESIS database, but the link to the PDF says that it is restricted to the Caltech community, only those with access.caltech accounts can download the full text. If you do not have an access.caltech account, please contact us (including information about which thesis you're interested in) and we'll see if we can remove the restriction to campus.
- If you find the thesis in the CaltechTHESIS database, but the link to the PDF says that it is restricted until a specific date, we won't be able to make the thesis available until that date.
- If the thesis is not available in CaltechTHESIS, please check our library catalog to verify existence of the thesis. We do not generally loan out the print copy of a thesis, so please contact us (including information about which thesis you're interested in) and we'll add that thesis to the queue to be scanned and put online.
Links & Files
Looking for a specific item.
Caltech books, ebooks, & more - Catalog
Caltech subscribed journals - Journals List
Popular books - Your local library
- Jobs & Opportunities
- Staff Directory
- Mission Statement
Education and Research
Students at Caltech work toward undergraduate and graduate degrees alongside their intellectual equals in an academic environment that emphasizes interdisciplinary teamwork, critical thinking, mutual support, and a deep understanding of core concepts and principles across fields.
Caltech students, faculty, and postdoctoral scholars are addressing fundamental scientific questions and pressing societal challenges. Together, they are expanding our understanding of the universe, shifting paradigms, launching new fields, and inventing the technologies of the future.
Caltech is home to more than 50 research centers and institutes. Some 90 percent of Caltech undergraduates participate in research during their time here.
UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS AND RESEARCH
Caltech offers undergraduates 26 majors (called “options”) and 17 minors across the six academic divisions. The most popular options are computer science, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and physics. Caltech also offers interdisciplinary programs in applied physics, biochemistry, bioengineering, computation and neural systems, control and dynamical systems, environmental science and engineering, geobiology and astrobiology, geochemistry, and planetary astronomy.
The Institute offers the opportunity for qualified students to engage in research early in their careers under the supervision of a faculty member. There are four principal avenues for undergraduate research: the senior thesis, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program, research courses for academic credit, and research for pay under a faculty member’s grant or contract.
The senior thesis involves original research under the mentorship of a faculty member, an effort that develops research, writing, and presentation skills that together provide an excellent preparation for future graduate studies and/or professional life.
The SURF program provides continuing undergraduate students the opportunity to work on an individual research project in a tutorial relationship with a mentor, usually a member of the Caltech/JPL research community, but occasionally a faculty member at another college or university. The work is carried out during a 10-week period in the summer, after which SURF students submit a written report describing the project, methods, and results of their work.
Most options offer undergraduate research courses in order to encourage research participation during the academic year; students should consult listings and descriptions of opportunities.
In some circumstances, faculty will hire students to conduct research. Students should discuss this option with a prospective mentor. Students with work-study financial aid should also contact Caltech’s Career Achievement, Leadership, and Exploration (CALE) about how to apply funding to research positions.
Learn more about undergraduate programs and research at sfp.caltech.edu/.
GRADUATE PROGRAMS AND RESEARCH
Students can enroll in Master of Science, Degree of Engineer, Doctor of Philosophy, BS/MS, and MD/PhD degree programs; the majority of graduate students are enrolled in the PhD program.
The academic work of the Institute is organized into six divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering ( bbe.caltech.edu ); Chemistry and Chemical Engineering ( cce.caltech.edu ); Engineering and Applied Science ( eas.caltech.edu ); Geological and Planetary Sciences ( gps.caltech.edu ); Humanities and Social Sciences ( hss.caltech.edu ); and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy ( pma.caltech.edu ).
Graduate study at the Institute is divided further into a number of individual graduate options (degree programs), which are supervised by those professors whose interests and research are closely related to the area of the option. Entering graduate students are admitted into one of these options. The most popular options for graduate work are chemistry, physics, electrical engineering, and biology. Learn more at gradoffice.caltech.edu .
Caltech maintains an array of external partnerships with other institutions in Southern California. These partnerships provide pre-med students with opportunities to work in area hospitals and train with practicing clinicians; allow students to participate in ROTC through a joint program with USC; and offer a 3/2 dual degree for students from 13 select liberal-arts colleges. Caltech undergraduate students can cross-register at Occidental College and Art Center College of Design, and the Institute maintains relations with research partners such as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD. Undergraduate students can also study abroad in Cambridge, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, London, Paris, Melbourne, or the University of Chicago during their junior or senior years For graduate students, joint programs between Caltech and both the USC Keck School of Medicine and the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine grant MD/PhD degrees.
The contributions of Caltech’s faculty have earned national and international recognition. Caltech was elected to the Association of American Universities (AAU) in 1934 and remains a research university with “very high” research activity, primarily in STEM fields. Research is central to Caltech, and the Institute manages over $400 million in sponsored awards annually. Its largest federal funding agencies are the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy. More than a quarter of Caltech’s active and emeritus faculty members are members of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and/or are fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Caltech receives more invention disclosures and holds more patents per faculty member than any other university in the United States.
POSTDOCTORAL AND SENIOR POSTDOCTORAL SCHOLARS
More than 550 early-career scientists and engineers conduct research at Caltech as postdoctoral scholars. In addition, JPL hosts postdoctoral scholars whose studies cover many aspects of Earth, planetary, astrophysical, and technology research. All scholars work under the supervision of professorial faculty members or JPL researchers.
RESEARCH CENTERS AND INSTITUTES
Research centers and institutes across campus bring together scientists and engineers to collaborate and add innovative and diverse perspectives to tackle society’s most pressing challenges. Among those centers and institutes are:
- the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech, which seeks to deepen our understanding of the brain and how it works;
- the Beckman Institute, which develops methods, instrumentation, and materials for fundamental research in chemistry and biology;
- the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, which advances cross-disciplinary research in the areas of nanoscience and nanotechnology;
- the Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, which encourages intensive, fruitful collaborations between bioengineering researchers;
- the Resnick Sustainability Institute, which fosters advances in energy science and technology through research, education, and communication;
- the Richard N. Merkin Institute for Translational Research
Learn more about Caltech’s research centers and institutes at caltech.edu/research/centers-institutes .
ON-CAMPUS ACADEMIC RESOURCES
Center for teaching, learning, and outreach (ctlo).
The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) supports Caltech’s multifaceted educational efforts, including the design and instruction of undergraduate and graduate courses and curricula, formal and informal student learning, and educational outreach partnerships with K–12 teachers and students. The CTLO is committed to advancing evidence-based, inclusive practices through our programs and services, and to fostering innovation based on this foundation. CTLO focuses on:
Instructor Support: Supporting effective course design and teaching methods for university faculty and teaching assistants (TAs). Topics regularly addressed through individual consultations, training programs, workshops, and courses include in-class techniques, choice and use of instructional technologies, feedback on teaching, and discipline-based educational research.
Student Learning: Fostering opportunities for students to grow as teachers, mentors, and leaders. In addition to advising students on teaching and outreach-related projects, CTLO oversees the Caltech Project for Effective Teaching (CPET), a graduate student-led community offering seminars and Certificates of Interest and Practice in University Teaching, and collaborates with the undergraduate Academics and Research Committee (ARC) on course improvements, course ombuds, and other initiatives.
Educational Outreach: Helping faculty and students to develop K–12 outreach programs, including collaborations with schools and districts in Pasadena and Greater Los Angeles. CTLO assists faculty on grant proposals with educational components, convenes educational outreach coordinators from across Caltech’s divisions, runs signature educational outreach programs for K–12 students and teachers during the summer and year-round, and serves as an interface for partner organizations offering K–12 opportunities at Caltech.
Learn more at ctlo.caltech.edu .
Hixon Writing Center (HWC)
The Hixon Writing Center (HWC) promotes excellence in writing and communication. The HWC operates on the premise that writing is a mode of discovery and learning as well as a tool for communication, and thus strong writing skills are fundamental to inquiry, learning, and success across disciplines.
The HWC works actively with Caltech students, faculty, and the Caltech community. The HWC offers students the opportunity to meet one-to-one with professional and peer tutors to discuss works-in-progress. These sessions help students accomplish short-term goals while they also promote the acquisition of skills that are valuable for long-term success. HWC staff members are available to consult with Caltech faculty and TAs about best practices for incorporating, designing, and responding to writing assignments in courses across all disciplines. Finally, the HWC sponsors events and creates resources that address varied aspects of academic writing, with a particular focus on academic STEM writing.
The HWC is a part of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and it is funded in part by a generous donation from Alexander P. and Adelaide F. Hixon. Learn more about current support and programming at writing.caltech.edu .
The Caltech Library advances the Institute’s mission to expand human knowledge by catalyzing information discovery and sharing. The Library maintains extensive research collections, a variety of study spaces, state-of-the-art knowledge-management platforms, and a user-focused program of instruction and outreach.
The Sherman Fairchild Library (SFL) is the main library on campus. SFL is usually open 7 days a week late into the evening and offers a range of collaborative and private study spaces including five bookable group study rooms. All textbooks assigned for courses are available for short-term use through the Library’s Course Reserves service. The Library’s interlibrary loan service, DocuServe, is located on the first floor of SFL. Users can obtain books and articles not owned by Caltech Library at no charge and typically within 24 hours.
SFL is complemented by three branch libraries: Humanities and Social Sciences (Dabney), Astrophysics (Cahill), and Geology (North Mudd). Caltech Hall also houses additional collections in its basement, along with two specialized Library locations: the Lookout on the ninth floor, and the TechHub on the first floor. The Lookout is a flexible collaboration and study space with large displays. The TechHub, houses and facilitates the Library’s eDevice lending program and is home to the Techlab, the Library’s 3-D printing service. Equipment available in the TechHub includes 3-D printers in the Techlab as well as iPads, laptops, Kindles, and electronic kits that can be borrowed for short- or long-term loans.
The Caltech Library hosts the Caltech Collection of Open Digital Archives, or CODA. It consists of several digital repositories including CaltechAUTHORS, for research papers, monographs, and other publications; CaltechTHESIS, for theses and dissertations; and CaltechDATA, for primary research data and computer code.
Visit the Library’s website, library.caltech.edu, to access Library collections and services or to request research assistance.
Archives and Special Collections
The Caltech Archives and Special Collections facilitate understanding of Caltech’s role in the history of science and technology, and of the research and lives of its faculty, staff, and students. The Archives collect, organize, preserve, exhibit, and make available for research the papers and other materials that document this history, both tangible and virtual. Collections include the personal and professional papers of Caltech faculty and alumni; Caltech records, publications, and websites; scientific instruments and other artifacts; photographs; fine art; and rare books from the Scientific Revolution to the present. These collections are available to both the Caltech community and outside researchers; contact the Archives at 626-395-2704 or [email protected] to arrange an appointment. More information, including guides to many collections and digital access to some, can be found at archives.caltech.edu.
How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2023/2024
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What are the caltech supplemental essay prompts.
- How to write each prompt for Caltech
- Prompt #1: "Why major?" essay
- Prompt #2: STEM-related experiences essay
- Prompt #3: "Innovation" essay
- Prompt #4: "Values" essay
- Prompt #5: Optional short answer essay
- Prompt #6: Optional short answer essay
- Prompt #7: Optional short answer essay
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “You know, I think I’m really looking for a school that teaches students how to launch eggs using trebuchets,” then you should probably take a look at Caltech.
Well known for its strong science and engineering programs, nestled below the San Gabriel mountains near Pasadena, and linked to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech offers aspiring STEM students a fun, beautiful place to build a foundation for their future careers.
Because of that, Caltech is a very selective school, and you’ll want to spend a good amount of time developing strong responses to its supplemental essays. To explore how, check out the guide below.
If you want to get a clearer sense of what Caltech is looking for, you can explore an extensive, by-the-numbers look at its offerings, from enrollment and tuition statistics to student life and financial aid information, on its Common Data Set .
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #1
A) If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? (Select from the dropdown list provided)
B) Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words max)
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #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? STEM experience/activity #1 (100-200 words) STEM experience/activity #2 (100-200 words)
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #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 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).
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #4
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:
Openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged 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 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)
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #5
Optional: 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 Supplemental Essay Prompt #6
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? (100 words)
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #7
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! (50 words)
How to Write Each Supplemental Essay Prompt for Caltech
How to write caltech supplemental essay prompt #1.
If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? (Select from the dropdown list provided) Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words max)
This is a classic “Why Major” essay. You’ll find a step-by-step guide to writing this essay at this link , but here’s the short version:
Step #1: Imagine a mini-movie of the moments that led you to your interest in STEM and create a simple, bullet point outline.*
Step #2: Put your moments (aka the “scenes” of your mini-movie) in chronological order, as it’ll help you see how your interests developed. It also makes it easier to write transitions.
Step #3: Decide if you want to include a specific thesis that explicitly states your central argument—in this case what you want to study and why. This thesis can be at the beginning, middle, or end of your essay.
Step #4: Write a draft!
Important note before writing your response: When choosing your mini-moments, note that there’s potential for overlap in your answers to some of the other Caltech prompts, so consider carefully which experiences you’ll focus on for each prompt to avoid redundancy in your answers. Since this is Caltech, with an obvious emphasis on... tech, it’s possible the prompts were designed this way to urge you to show depth and diversity in your STEM interests and experiences.
Here’s a great example (written for another school but also applicable here).
I fell in love with computers at nine when I learned how to make a graphical turtle crawl across the screen, and I’ve written code every week since. I am self-taught in nine programming languages (my favorite is C++), which I learned through iteration and persistence. Teaching advanced algorithms at a programming bootcamp for the past two years allowed me to share my love of computer science with others. My interest in CS runs deep—from studying memory virtualization to the beauty of the B-Tree O(log n) search algorithm. Writing protein folding simulations for my biology teacher peaked my interest in computational science. Building real-world machine learning models during each of the last two summers expanded my awareness of the types of problems computers can help solve. Over the years, though, I have shaped a focus: security. In the process of running multiple servers, developing custom security software, and configuring the switching and routing for a 96-computer network, I became fascinated with the challenge of creating secure systems. Software has found its way into all aspects of our lives, creating staggering risks to privacy and security. These are problems I want to study, understand, and solve. (196 words) — — —
Tips + Analysis
Take the reader on your journey. Did you feel the author practically grab your hand and pull you along the exhilarating ride of their lifelong love affair with computers? Each paragraph is chock full of the myriad ways they’ve engaged with their object of desire. You get a great picture of the student’s skills and accomplishment, as well as their self-motivated pursuit of their passion.
Let your geek flag fly. This writer exudes about memory virtualization and the B-Tree O(log n) search algorithm, knowing they’re talking to leaders in the field (and who knows, potentially future collaborators!). Knowledge of specialized language is a great way to demonstrate fit to major, so feel free to use lingo as you normally would to show you know your stuff.
Share why you care. This essay isn’t just a list of all the things the student has done. It’s a reflection of why computers matter to them and what they plan to do with them. You hear that they value sharing knowledge with others and see themselves using computers to solve real-world problems. Find those “mini-movie moments” to show how you’ve fallen in love with your field of interest over time.
Look ahead. “Why Major” essays are the natural place to talk about potential future careers, if you know what you want to pursue. Even if you don’t know yet, you can still end the essay by looking forward to how the major you’re interested in will prepare you for life after college.
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #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? (Min: 100/Max: 200 words for each experience)
Caltech wants a bright, curious, independent student body. It’s looking for intellectual vitality, and this essay is your opportunity to show that side of yourself. What about STEM gets you fired up and why? You get to talk about two of those school or pet projects that you just can’t get enough of, that make your mind spin about the big questions and dream up the answers. Think about things that have inspired you to go down research rabbit holes, that have motivated you to take action, or that have enhanced your understanding of a subject. Choose experiences that genuinely pique your curiosity. Don’t pick something just because you think Caltech will like it. Genuine interest is both easy to write about and hard to fake!
Check out this example, about one high school experience (it would have to be shortened to meet this year’s lower word count. (Note that you’re asked to write about two experiences, 100-200 words each—and the Common App gives you a separate box for each experience, so you’re essentially writing two essays for this prompt.)
When I was doing customer research for my chemistry practice website, I came across another, much larger issue with education: the lack of personalized learning. It stuck with me. I knew if I could create a solution, I would be helping many students, like my friends, reach their goals. Also, the idea of an engine that can recommend lessons based on your learning style just seemed super cool. As I dug deeper into the issue, I realized I didn’t have the skills to even scratch the surface. So I started developing what I needed to build a system that recommends lessons based on learning style. On my own time, I learned about machine learning algorithms, from linear regressions to k-nearest neighbor classifiers, and whenever I could I applied these skills on mini research projects—finding trends, then using data to create an algorithm that predicts other data. At school, I took a rigorous machine learning course where one of my final projects was using data from Portuguese schools to analyze what factors lead to good grades. Looking ahead, I’m hoping to study computational neuroscience to properly know how the brain solidifies connections and recalls information. With the two together, I could create a model of how a person learns based on different stimuli, and recommend different lessons based on the stimuli. I still have quite a bit to learn, but if I manage it, it could have a powerful impact on the educations of students around the world. (247 words) — — —
Identify the problem. The prompt asks you to write about two of your favorite STEM experiences, but it’s ultimately about problem-solving, as the first lines invite you to imagine your place among those tackling some of society’s great challenges. Let your response show how you think and how you approach problems and solutions. The problem could be something global, like an environmental issue, or more individual, like the lack of personalized learning this student chose to address. Get your reader engaged in your curiosity by describing the impact of the problem or what it would mean if you could resolve it. Then dive into talking about a project or experience that allowed you to explore that issue. Bonus points if you can describe an outcome you’ve already achieved.
Show initiative. This student got curious about personalized learning and then taught themselves the skills needed to build the learning system they envisioned. This is the kind of self-starting innovation we believe Caltech is looking for. How have you pursued the subjects that pique your curiosity?
Use an extracurricular: We love how this student used this essay as an opportunity to elaborate on an extracurricular: building a chemistry practice website. If this prompt stumps you, look to your Activities List for inspiration!
Focus on the future: What takes this essay to the next level is the final paragraph. The student is doing two things: 1) transforming the issue (impersonal education) into a learning goal (“how the brain solidifies connections and recalls information”) and an action item (“[creating] a model of a how a person learns based on different stimuli, and recommend different lessons based on the stimuli”), and 2) stating a professional goal—make a “powerful impact on the education of students around the world.” This is a high-level maneuver and an inspiring way to stick the landing.
Here’s a bonus essay we love, written for another school (and a longer word count), but a great example of how to repurpose other essays to fit multiple prompts.
I am fascinated by patterns. Learning the art of writing Chinese characters taught me to pay attention to a pattern’s reference points, where deeper meaning lies. My favorite character, XIAO, from the word XIAOSHUN, visualizes a central tenet of Confucianism: the lifelong supporting relationship between parent and child. The top part, LAO, means old. The bottom part, ZI, means son. Mandarin, like many other ancient languages, provides a code of behavior. During quarantine, I enrolled in IBM's AI For Everyone and Harvard's CS50 on edX and traveled down a TED rabbit hole. While intriguing to learn that each emoji is made up of patterns like this: 11111011000000010, I was captured by the human applications technology like AI provides. With AI’s pending impacts worldwide, I feel driven to ensure society doesn't experience potentially harmful implications of technology. How do we embed universally ethical reference points in algorithms for AI to exhibit empathy, recognizing XIAO encourages a relationship of support? Humans and machines have processing limitations. In his research paper, Linguistics Professor John Whitman taught me that grammar, typically regionally similar, immensely influences humans’ cognition abilities. AI’s applications will be universal, so likewise, its grammar or code must be universal. By learning how people segment information and optimizing this cross-cultural data in a beneficial way, algorithms’ limitations will be reduced. If ethically structured, AI will inherently learn to reflect moral behaviors. While it’s a big task to construct an ethical and empathetic AI, I believe I will find the tools at Stanford. (250 words) — — —
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #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 decor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)
You don't aspire to attend Caltech if you don't have big ideas and the nerve to test them out. What have you created, invented, or innovated? What have you come up with that no one else has, whether it’s an actual invention, an idea, a process, or something else? It might be that gadget you dreamed up and hacked out the prototype for late one night. Or the improved method you developed for your team to document and share its collaborative research. Or maybe it was the summer you decided to teach yourself a new skill for each of 67 days. Think of a time you didn't just build code in CS or work on a team in robotics, but you actually innovated—changed something for the better or brought something new into the world.
Keeping with the novelty theme, be sure to save this experience for this prompt only and not mention it in your answers to other prompts.
Whatever it is, this is where you get to show off a bit. They’re talking not just Nobel Prizes and Mars rovers, but smaller-scale everyday innovations like techie room decor. If you have a rockstar achievement, this is your time to bring it out and play it loud. But if you don’t, that’s not a problem for Caltech, as the prompt signals that quieter inventions are just as interesting. The question is how you’ve innovated in your own life. As we see in this example (written for a previous prompt with a longer word count), this author paved the way for herself and other young women to excel in STEM.
Why are Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant all female? Because women are often just seen as “assistants”. Society has made some progress, but women still make up only 25 percent of STEM workers. Last year I was chosen as my school’s delegate to California Girls State. Among other things, the program brought to light to me how big the gender gap really is. Women are underrepresented at every level in STEM--and the higher you go, the greater the gap. Like myself, many of the other delegates are pursuing careers in STEM, and we helped each other understand the importance of having a supportive community of intelligent, empowered young women. Inspired by Girls State, I’ve become more proactive in my school and community. As Vice President of the Angel Heart Club this year, I’ve worked to recruit new members, helped organize and run meetings, and guided others on how to craft the cards we make to send to children with congenital heart disease in China. I also continue to volunteer at the hospital, helping to discharge patients, deliver food, and transport x-rays from radiology to the ER. But since Girls State, I’ve begun to take greater initiative, volunteering to cover other people’s shifts and taking on tasks that others are reluctant to, like running the tea cart to support nurses and doctors. At Caltech, I would like to join Women in Physics, Math and Astronomy (WiPMA), which offers a similar supportive community. There, I will listen and interact with female scientist guest speakers, and build confidence and skills alongside my female peers. I hope to join Engineers Without Borders because I am interested in designing and implementing sustainable engineering projects. After working with the H20 for Life Club, I am aware of the global water crisis and would love to get involved in the current project of establishing a spring water source protection system that will help provide clean water for about 300 households in the surrounding Ilam District of Nepal. I would also like to get involved in Caltech Chemistry Club, demonstrating my love of chemistry and inspiring young children about the wonders of science. I would also like to listen to faculty members discuss career options in the field of chemistry and the yearly guest speaker talk about current innovative chemical research. I want to be the boss, not just an assistant. I believe Caltech can help. (399 words) — — —
Grab ’em at the start and pull ’em right along. This example has a pretty rad hook. It provokes with an engaging query and sets up the theme of the essay—empowering women in STEM. Then the clear topic sentences guide the reader through the main points. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that your reader will be reading quickly to the point of skimming. Because of this, structural elements like clear topic sentences help ensure the reader doesn’t miss anything important or feel lost. This student also does a nice job bookending the final lines.
Get specific. The author details each of the ways she created more opportunities for herself and others, from representing her school at Girls State and gaining new skills at the hospital to recruiting new members to the community organization she leads. Describe your role and actions in detail.
Show why it matters. In every essay, you want to answer the question, “So what?” Why were you moved to create in this way? What problem did you want to solve, or who did you want to affect and how? How is the world a better place thanks to your inventiveness? Now that you’ve done this thing, what’s the impact? When your reader is invested in your intention, they’ll celebrate your accomplishment. And you for sure want them cheering for you.
Make the match. Because the previous prompt additionally asked students to identify how they hoped to innovate with their Caltech peers, this author described the campus clubs she hoped to get involved with. But it never hurts to smuggle in a few “Why us?” elements into your essays, establishing why your interests and abilities are a perfect fit for Caltech. Naming specific courses, programs, activities, or professors’ work you’re interested in exploring shows you’ve done your research and discovered how the school specifically offers what you want in an education. While it isn’t necessary for this prompt, if you want to level-up in this way, you can read more about how to do it at the link above.
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #4
- Openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged
- 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
- Passion for the ideal that science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others.
For this prompt, Caltech is highlighting their mission (cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation to benefit humanity) and how students can help bring this mission to life by embracing their values, listed in each of the bullet points. By sharing what one or more of these values evokes for you, Caltech can get a better understanding of how you might fit in with their community and focus.
You have between 200-400 words to respond to this prompt, which allows you solid space to either deeply elaborate on one of these values, or slightly less on two, if you decide that you want to tackle more than one. If you’re not sure which bullet point you might want to address or what exactly you’d want to write about, here are some things to explore:
First Bullet Point —Openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged: If there was a time when you were challenged or when you challenged someone else, and were able to come out on the other side with new perspectives, the first bullet point could be a great option to respond to.
This one specifically notes an openness and enthusiasm for having preconceptions challenged—even if this challenge wasn’t just a friendly debate, openness and enthusiasm can also come from reflecting about what you learned, and/or how you changed or grew afterwards, making you excited for similar future interactions in college. To learn more about this type of diversity prompt (experience or conversation with someone who is different from you), you can also check out this guide to answering diversity prompts .
Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you brainstorm possible topics for this prompt:
Don’t think you have to write about a knee-jerk issue and a blow-up here. You can. But the point of this prompt is essentially to help a college see the kind of student you will be in a classroom—can you engage with people who disagree with you in ways that lead to productive discussions rather than just shouting or conflict. (See Tips below for more on this.)
Focus more on the engagement, change, and growth than on the conflict. How you engaged on the issue, what you learned, and how you grew are far more important to your readers here than the conflict itself. You can plan on spending fairly little word count on the conflict/topic, so that you can spend most of your time exploring some deeper whys.
Second Bullet Point —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: Since Caltech prompt #4 is new, this bullet point in particular might be in response to the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, to which Caltech responded that they “remain committed to pedagogical and research practices that engage, motivate, and support students from all backgrounds.”
By upholding these values, Caltech could be looking to see how future students hope to uphold these same values. While you don’t have to touch specifically on race, if there was a time when you’ve worked with others from a different background or upbringing from you, or if you’ve worked to give help expand the opportunities available to others, you might consider responding to this bullet point, exploring some of the following:
Give the reader some context. The reader will want to know what the context is–who are you interacting with, for what purposes, and how have the experiences of the people you’re mentioning been different from yours? Setting this up will allow you to illustrate the situation first, then expand on the experience later with what you learned, which brings us to…
Don’t forget to focus on what you learned. As with many/most other essays, focus on what you learned from this experience of interacting with others; this will highlight your growth, how you view the world, and how you’ll be able to contribute to a diverse community at Caltech.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge differences. This bullet point in the prompt specifically asks you to address your respect and appreciation for those who may not have had equal opportunities. It’s OK, and even encouraged, to acknowledge these differences, which shows the reader your awareness of those with different backgrounds and how you still created a community with those around you.
Third Bullet Point –Passion for the idea that science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others: If you have engaged in an activity that has helped to meaningfully improve the lives of others, this might be the direction you want to go. By picking a concrete example of a time when you engaged in a science-related activity that helped improve the lives of others, you’ll not only be able to talk about your passion for this value, but you’ll have the action that illustrates this passion.
Whether you have one or multiple extracurriculars that could fall under this category, here are some tips to help you get started:
Use the BEABIES exercise . Using the BEABIEs exercise will help determine which activity you want to talk about (if you have multiple), but it’ll also help you think about the important parts of your experience before you start drafting, especially impact. Speaking of which…
Pay attention to problems you solved and your impact. Referring to the BEABIES exercise, you’ll want to pay special attention to the sections “problems I solved” and “impact I had” to make sure you can answer the part of the prompt that specifies “meaningfully improve the lives of others.”
No matter which prompt you answer, as a small bonus, you might also consider adding in a sentence or two that touches on “Why Caltech” or how you can contribute. For example, for the third bullet point, if you talked about how you’ve been able to help people through working at a lab, you might name a lab at Caltech where you’ll be able to continue helping people in the same way (if that’s something you’re interested in). Or, for the first and second bullet point, you might be able to name a class or club where you’ll be able to engage with people from diverse backgrounds. This not only shows that you’ve done your research on Caltech, but it also shows how you’d be able to contribute to the community as a Caltech student.
This is a new prompt for Caltech, so we don’t have any examples specific to this school. Here’s an example that was written for a different school but could work well for focusing on the first bullet point:
I probably argue with my grandfather more than I do with most other people combined. It’s not because we’re at odds. We just have different perspectives, influenced by our experiences—his as a life-long resident of India, mine as a first-generation American. One pretty common argument we have is over Eastern vs. Western medicine. My solution to a headache, for example, is to take Advil. His is to rub Tiger Balm on his forehead and coconut oil on the soles of his feet. I try to convince him of the benefits of taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, describing how it can reduce inflammation by blocking the production of certain chemicals. He tries to convince me that the balm creates a cooling effect, distracting the brain from pain and relaxing the muscles. Rather than becoming sore at or resentful of each other, we’ve grown closer through these debates, and I’ve learned how to disagree without letting the situation get acrimonious. Through these interactions, I’ve learned that a discussion shouldn’t be confrontational. The purpose isn’t to win, but to share my knowledge with the other party and learn from them as well. So rather than saying, “Rubbing balm on your forehead is stupid; you should just take Advil,” I say, “While rubbing balm on your forehead seems to work, I’ve noticed that taking an Advil has a stronger and more immediate effect.” Respecting the opposing party makes them more willing to hear you out. I’ve also learned there’s a fine line between logic and emotion. I try not to take personally the things my grandfather says in an argument. Just because he doesn’t think taking Advil is the better solution doesn’t mean he thinks I’m stupid. If I take it that way, we begin to move away from what the argument really was about—the facts. I’ll continue to apply these learnings in discussions and debates I have with others, realizing that having a “successful argument” isn’t about winning. It’s about sharing my opinion and learning from theirs, expanding our perspectives without alienating each other. (340 words) — — —
Show your stance. One common fear with these “differing opinion” supplemental essays is that the admissions officer reading it may not agree with your stance or belief. This is actually not the point of these essays. Many colleges have opted to ask this question because of widespread public concern around free speech on college campuses , and requests from their college leadership (such as the Board of Trustees) to identify students who are willing to listen to multiple viewpoints. And this prompt and Caltech’s own website help illustrate their institutional goals around free speech. Given this, a student’s response is more powerful when they specifically clarify that their own position is, rather than sticking to vague terminology so that the reader will see them as “neutral.” Otherwise, you run the risk of coming off as apathetic or indifferent, which lessens the meaning and significance of your example. Here, this student gives specific examples of their support for Western medicine. Sure, it’s not the most controversial opinion, but again, that’s not necessarily the goal! You can choose any opinion, so long as it demonstrates your values and beliefs and a change in how you approach dialogue.
Unveil your “software update.” You know when your phone annoyingly lets you know that you have to install a critical software update to use your favorite app (and you’re like… ugh, bruh, it was working fine before)? Well, in this case, the admissions officer is actually actively craving that update notification. They want to know specifically how your approach has changed when navigating differing opinions. This student does exactly that by using actual quotations: “So rather than saying, ‘Rubbing balm on your forehead is stupid; you should just take Advil,’ I say, ‘While rubbing balm on your forehead seems to work, I’ve noticed that taking an Advil has a stronger and more immediate effect.’” The “2.0” version of this student is more advanced, more sophisticated, and more willing to tackle complex “bugs”—without corrupting someone else’s data. Whether you quote yourself or not, be sure to use this essay as a chance to unveil “You 2.0” to colleges.
Be willing to be wrong. We can learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. In fact, sometimes, it says more about us when we’re willing to be vulnerable enough to admit we’re wrong—or, at least, not entirely right. This student echoes that point, acknowledging it “isn’t about winning.” Instead, having viewpoints that are different from those he respects and admires helped him learn about balancing logic and emotion as well as practice the art of listening.
And here’s another example essay written for a different school that could work well for the third bullet point in Caltech’s prompt.
When I was doing customer research for my chemistry practice website, I came across another, much larger issue with education: the lack of personalized learning. It stuck with me. I knew if I could create a solution, I would be helping many students, like my friends, reach their goals. Also, the idea of an engine that can recommend lessons based on your learning style just seemed super cool. As I dug deeper into the issue, I realized I didn’t have the skills to even scratch the surface. So I started developing what I needed to build a system that recommends lessons based on learning style. On my own time, I learned about machine learning algorithms, from linear regressions to k-nearest neighbor classifiers, and whenever I could I applied these skills on mini research projects—finding trends, then using data to create an algorithm that predicts other data. At school, I took a rigorous machine learning course where one of my final projects was using data from Portuguese schools to analyze what factors lead to good grades. Looking ahead, I’m hoping to study computational neuroscience to properly know how the brain solidifies connections and recalls information. With the two together, I could create a model of how a person learns based on different stimuli, and recommend different lessons based on the stimuli. I still have quite a bit to learn, but if I manage it, it could have a powerful impact on the educations of students around the world. — — —
Show us that passion, or in other words, your initiative. While “passion” can be easily talked about (side note: a heads up that “passion” is one of the most used words in college essays), it’s a hard thing to show. This student does a great job of showing us their passion for science (without actually using the word) by talking about how they self-studied machine learning algorithms, applied these skills in their research projects, and took a rigorous machine learning course. Think about how you define passion, then consider the steps you’ve taken to further your knowledge in that area.
Weave in how the topic relates to your future. This writer ends their essay by stating the major they’re interested in and why, tying it into the issue they identified in the first paragraph. Not only that, they show off a little bit of the knowledge they’ve gained throughout the process, thinking about what they might be able to do to solve the problem given that they’ll be able to learn even more in college. One thing you could potentially do in a conclusion like this is to mention a class or lab at Caltech where you’d be able to continue learning more about the issue that you’re passionate about.
How would you use science to improve the lives of others? Since this essay was written for a different school and a different prompt, it doesn’t perfectly answer Caltech’s prompt for the third bullet point. To tailor this essay for Caltech, you might consider spending a little bit more time on how you could use science to meaningfully improve the lives of others. While this student does say that they could help many students, like their friends, or how their solution would impact the education of students around the world, they don’t go into how it would meaningfully improve students’ lives. For example, this student could elaborate on how personalized learning has and could further impact students’ educations (would they be able to grasp concepts more fully and boost their confidence? Would this create an increased interest in learning, leading to a more educated society?). If you’ve decided on a topic where you’ve already been able to impact the lives of others through science, you can use this as your example.
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #5
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)
Have you said everything you need to say to help Caltech make a decision about you? Are there any aspects of your life or your experiences that haven’t come out so far in your other essays? This essay is optional, but you might use it to share about a learning difference, your long-standing love affair with the upright bass, the particular impact a certain relationship has had on your learning journey. If there’s an aspect of your identity that you haven’t shared, this is the place to highlight it.
Although this prompt is new for Caltech this year, here’s an essay written for a similar prompt for MIT that works well.
My great-grandpa’s eyes twinkle as my 5-year-old self struggles to stir the giant pot of cioppino. Like this traditional seafood dish, I too am an Italian-American originating from California. My very loud family crowds my house each holiday, relegating me to an air mattress, a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make. The rooms fill with stories and laughter as we down pizzelles and compete in a cutthroat cookie-decorating contest. Likewise, my California beginnings, though brief, had a sizable impact on my life. I was a year old when we left, but California’s adventurous culture is part of my identity, reinforced by annual trips to visit relatives. From hiking San Jacinto Peak, to days at Disneyland, where my grandparents and mom worked, each excursion left me giddily exhausted. The true centerpiece of our get-togethers isn’t the cioppino, but the stories and experiences that connect us as family. (147 words) — — —
Delight with detail. Great-grandpa’s “eyes twinkle” as a 5-year-old stirs a pot of cioppino. The kids sleep on air mattresses when the family comes. They eat pizzelles and hike San Jacinto Peak. (Pro tip: Proper nouns catch the reader's eye and almost always add unique and interesting info.) The specificity in this answer conveys precise data about multiple aspects of this student’s identity (Italian-American, big family, California roots).
Values, values, values. This essay enthralls with food and fun, but ii’s ultimately talking about the importance of family and knowing where you come from. Why is it important to you to share this piece of your identity? Why do you value it, and why should Caltech?
Reflect, reflect, reflect. Notice how the final lines of this essay evince the student’s capacity for self-reflection. We believe this is a highly-prized quality that Caltech and all schools are looking for because it shows maturity and higher-order thinking. By zooming out on what you’ve shared, you’ll want to ask yourself: What’s the meaning that you find in it?
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #6
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)
How to pick a topic:
Choose something that actually brings you joy. In seven other essays, you’ve already bragged about your accomplishments and submitted your resume in paragraph form. You don’t have to sound serious or perfect here. What are you really into? Don’t mislead or exaggerate! If you truly love doing this thing, it’ll show. And that in turn will tell something interesting and important about you. Take a look at your brainstorming work and see whether there are any random/odd/fun parts of you that haven’t yet made their way into your application.
Since this prompt is new for Caltech, we don’t have a sample essay, but these, written for another school, could work. You’ll have more room to elaborate with double the word count allowed.
For many, driving is just a way to get from point A to point B. For me, it’s more than that. It’s becoming one with a multi-ton marvel of engineering, feeling the RPMs as I shift or sensing the road slide under the tires as I take a sharp corner. (50 words) — — — Humming, singing, and belting. Or a combination of the three. Regardless of how I am doing, these activities never fail to make me feel ten times better, whether that be because I am performing, or just because I am screaming in my room. (43 words) — — —
Show a different side. Up until now, there was probably no indication that this student was a speedster. Now they drop a refreshing image to offset the one of them working problem sets at their desk until 3 a.m. These fun prompts let you reveal the amusing, quirky, or little-known parts of yourself.
Be real. “Screaming in my room”–now we get this person. Find those descriptors that really show how and why your hobby brings you joy. What do you look like when you do this thing? How do you feel? Don’t you wanna make us wanna do it too?
Those values again. Since this prompt allows 100 words, you’ve got room to go further than these short examples and connect your interest back to your core values . What does this interest or hobby show about you and what you value?
how to write Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompt #7
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)
Wind it up and do it again! This time in half the words, like this one …
Order. For even the most mundane of tasks, whether it's perfectly tying my shoelaces, pulling matching socks out of the drawer without having to look too hard, or getting the ketchup out of the bottle cleanly without a mess, an efficient system that works is unparalleled satisfaction. (47 words) — — —
Show yet another side. Singing is an activity. Order is an approach to life. If these essays were written by the same person, they’d tell interesting and different parts of their story. How many of your many facets can you turn to the light?
Get specific. You can picture this student meticulously performing their domestic tasks: tying shoelaces, choosing socks, extracting ketchup. How exactly do you do this thing? Can you describe it so your reader could draw a picture of you doing it?
Want advice on dozens of other supplemental essays? Click here
Special thanks to Elica for contributing to this post.
Elica (she/her) is a college essay specialist who has a love of language in all forms; she has degrees in linguistics, has taught academic writing at the university level, and has been coaching students on their college and graduate school admissions essays for over 7 years. When she’s not working with students or writing, Elica can be found reading, printmaking, and exploring nature.
Top Values: Collaboration | Curiosity | Patience
TRY OUT THE COLLEGE APPLICATION + SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS COURSE
Create amazing supplemental essays for the most selective schools, polish your activities list, and complete everything else with ease and joy. Learn more here.
Watch the lessons on your own or via the live option.