At 900 undergrads, California Institute of Technology (CalTech) is a small school, and you can easily walk across campus in just a few minutes. CalTech attracts top math and science students, who have found that passion in high school, but top grades and test scores alone won’t get you in. CalTech is also looking for students with a sense of humor (one of their supplemental essays asks about a great prank), and students who will take the honor code seriously. CalTech is an intense environment academically, with students taking 5 courses each term (there are 3 terms in a year), and many students receive their first B or C grade during their freshman year, which can be humbling. In addition to math and science requirements, there is also a humanities course requirement each term across a student’s 4 years.
The school is in a beautiful location, in Pasadena (outside of LA), with a laid-back feeling that is also intensely academic. There seems to be a good community, and most students live in campus in “houses” which are not only residence halls but also organize social activities and sit-down house dinners. For students who are serious about science and engineering and want to be immersed in this type of atmosphere, CalTech is a great school to consider.