10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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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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How to Write the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-2024
Caltech has four required supplemental essays, and three shorter optional essays, with word limits of 150, 100, and 50, respectively. Because Caltech is one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country, you want to be sure that your essays capture your intellectual and creative potential. In this post, we’ll break down each prompt so that you can know what you need to do to craft a response that truly shines.
Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts
All applicants, required prompts.
Prompt 1: 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? (There are dropdown menus from which you can choose up to two areas of interest.)
Why did you choose that area of interest (200 words).
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? (100-200 words per experience)
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? (200-250 words)
Prompt 4: Caltech’s mission – to cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation for the benefit of humanity – relies on its community members embracing fundamental Caltech values :
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), all applicants, optional prompts.
Prompt 5: 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. (150 words)
Prompt 6: 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)
Prompt 7: 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)
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.
After you select your area(s) of interest, you are asked to provide the reasoning behind your choice(s). This is a fairly standard “Why This Major?” prompt . This straightforward prompt is intended to give the admissions committee a sense of what interests you, why it interests you, and why/how you plan on pursuing this interest in college and beyond.
Before we continue, we have to address the elephant in the room—what if you’re undecided?
The bad news is that you’re required to pick at least one area of interest on your application. The good news is that you aren’t contractually bound to the area you choose! In fact, “Every first-year student at Caltech takes the same classes during their first two terms; you won’t even declare your major until the end of your first year.”
Don’t worry if you haven’t figured out exactly what you want to do in college—many students haven’t! Look through the list of areas of interest and pick one that’s closely related to a hobby or pastime of yours so you’ll have something to write about.
If you do have an area of interest or desired major in mind, great! Pick that one for your essay.
Now that you’ve picked a subject, you may find it helpful to ponder the following questions before you begin crafting your response:
1) What are your sincere reasons for wanting to major in your chosen field?
Ideally, you will have picked a field in which you have a deep interest—one that you can talk about at length. You should have meaningful reasons for wanting to pursue your chosen field. If your primary motivation involves money, status, or pressure from your parents, you’re already off to a bad start. An essay that seems disingenuous or too self-serving will detract immensely from your application as a whole, so be sure to choose substantial reasons.
2) What are some specific examples of things you enjoy about this field of study?
When answering this question, aim to be as specific as you can. Anyone can write about liking “information and data sciences” or “biology,” so think of more narrow subtopics like “principal component analysis to reduce dataset dimensionality” or “identifying mitotic mutations in fruit flies.” If you’ve picked a topic you’re already passionate about and familiar with, talking about something specific you enjoy about it shouldn’t be too daunting.
3) How does this major serve your life and/or career goals?
You might not have the most detailed plan for your career and adult life, and that’s totally fine! However, it would be helpful if you had some idea of what you want to do in the future. Think of industries you would be able to work in with a degree in your chosen field. What is your dream job? How can this major contribute to your attainment of that job and success in the field?
4) What’s your favorite experience with this subject in school? What are the best parts of your experience with it outside the classroom?
5) Is there any recurring emotion or state of mind that you experience when exploring this field of study? What do you find appealing about that emotion or state of mind?
You can use your answers to questions 4 and 5 to recall some relevant anecdotes that may contribute to your response.
Once you’ve figured out the answers to the five aforementioned questions, you can begin planning a structure for your response. You may find it helpful to break your essay into two principal parts:
- The experiences that fostered and increased your interest in this field (as well as your emotional and personal connection to your chosen major)
- What you hope to do in the future, both at Caltech and in your career
Now, you should do some research on Caltech’s website to find some unique aspects of your chosen major that you can write about. Check out Caltech’s list of majors , as it has links that will lead you to each major’s respective webpage. Also consult their lists of faculty members and research facilities to see what work Caltech is doing in your area of interest.
For example, consider a hypothetical student who wants to pursue bioengineering with a particular interest in stem cell research. She might begin with an anecdote about how her father was a participant in a clinical trial for stem cell therapy after his spinal cord treatment. Perhaps seeing the potential of stem cell treatment opened up a new world for her, which fostered a deeper interest in biology and bioengineering than she had ever had before.
She might write about her high school experiences with biology classes, her intensive preparation for the AP Biology exam, and the bioengineering publications she now likes to read in her free time. She can then transition into a discussion of what kind of research she would like to be a part of at Caltech. A faculty member she can talk about specifically is Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, whose lab used stem cells last year to create model mouse embryos “that have beating hearts, as well as the foundations for a brain and all of the other organs in the mouse body.”
No matter how unique, weird, or quirky you think your interests are, there will probably be a major or research group at Caltech that can cultivate them. Don’t be afraid to show how unique you are as an individual—that’s the point of supplemental essays!
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? (100-200 words per experience)
This prompt is supposed to gauge your interest in and experiences with STEM, both in school and in your personal life. Writing a successful essay will ideally show the admissions committee a few things:
- You are serious about pursuing STEM in college and beyond.
- You have hands-on experience in STEM.
- You have at least some idea of what to expect from a STEM-based education at Caltech.
You’ll probably know if an experience is related to STEM at first glance. Nevertheless, before you begin writing your responses to this prompt, you should make sure you have a handle on what exactly STEM is, even if you think you understand it fully.
As a quick refresher, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It heavily emphasizes analytical and critical thinking skills, scientific literacy, and domain-specific hard skills that are essential to many career paths.
Even though the prompt specifies that you can write about experiences both within and outside the classroom, you might find the tips in CollegeVine’s guide to the extracurricular activities essay helpful.
If you have any obvious STEM experience, picking some events should be fairly straightforward. Think about the experiences you’ve had with science fairs, robotics clubs, biology or chemistry classes, etc. Narrow down your experiences to the ones that had the most significant impact on your interest in STEM. If you write about an experience that you didn’t have too much emotional investment in, you might inadvertently express a tepid interest in STEM as a whole.
If you only took one science class in high school and didn’t participate in any STEM-related extracurriculars, don’t fret! Feel free to write about two experiences from the same class. You might even be able to relate some work experience to STEM.
For example, perhaps you worked alongside a pharmacist during high school. Some people consider pharmacy to be more medical and less STEM-related, but the field of pharmacology is indisputably a branch of biology and chemistry. Don’t be afraid to bend some definitions when identifying meaningful STEM experiences you’ve had.
To help you identify your two experiences, mull over a few questions:
1) What is your favorite STEM-related activity? If you don’t have a good STEM activity, which of your non-STEM activities can be linked to STEM logically?
2) What about this activity generated your interest in STEM? Why did it make you curious and how did your participation in it increase your interest?
3) What went through your mind as you participated in this activity?
4) Have you developed or strengthened any specific interests because of this activity? If so, what are they and how have they changed over time? For example, you might have been interested in chemistry in general, but this particular activity focused your attention on metal alloys.
5) Are there any specific STEM-related skills that you have developed as a result of participating in this activity? Think about hard skills like chemical titration, building robots, testing the pH of substances, etc.
Once you’ve decided on your two activities, you can begin writing your responses. For each activity, you should address each point of the prompt:
- How did the activity activate your curiosity?
- Why did the activity activate your curiosity?
- What about the activity made you want to learn more and explore further?
After addressing each point, if you still have room within your 200 words per activity, you can explain some things further. Perhaps you want to discuss something specific that you learned or exactly what your role in the activity was.
For example, consider the following response by a hypothetical student:
“During my junior year of high school, I joined the Robotics Club with no prior experience, other than having taken AP CompSci. Our team’s first project involved building and coding a robot that could get to distant water sources, collect water, and purify and store it. We spent several weekends and late nights programming the bot and troubleshooting it.
It had trouble navigating at first, then it failed to recognize the water sources. Finally, we completed the build in a few months, and though it was far from perfect, it did the job. That first drink of purified water from the bot was beyond refreshing.
That project was the one that truly showed me how useful robotics could be to humanity. I imagined building hundreds of robots like the original and sending them to developing countries to increase their access to clean drinking water. I am now drawn to mechanical engineering because it offers limitless opportunities to create devices that can be used to improve the world and people’s quality of life.”
This example is effective because it tells an engaging anecdote, addresses each point of the prompt, and offers a plan for the student’s college career and future professional life.
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? (200-250 words)
This prompt is trying to determine how you think as a problem solver. The admissions committee wants to know the ways in which you have been innovative or have approached problems creatively.
Don’t feel like you have to have developed some revolutionary solution to a global problem. No one is expecting you to have engineered some brilliant scientific apparatus—you haven’t even begun college yet! Just like the prompt’s examples illustrate, you can think on as big or as small a scale as you’d like.
When trying to choose an example of innovation in your own life, it might be useful to think about abstract qualities then work your way to concrete events. Are you ambitious, adaptable, creative, resourceful, open-minded? What are some positive qualities of yours? Once you’ve decided on some attributes, you should be able to relate them to some anecdotes.
Let’s say you’re creative and resourceful. Think of a time when those traits generated something innovative or novel in your life. Maybe you were locked out of your apartment and used a credit card to open the latch. Perhaps this experience inspired you to 3D print a plastic card to use specifically for problems like that.
Your story of innovation can involve anything really, as long as you came up with a creative solution to a problem you were confronted with. Maybe the arm of your glasses broke in the middle of class, so you attached a pen cap to it so the glasses could still be used until you had time to replace them.
You have 250 words, so you may want to think of 2-3 anecdotes to discuss. It might even be helpful to write about something you want to improve but haven’t yet. You can talk about a persistent problem you’ve seen and propose a creative potential solution.
Here’s an example of an anecdote a student might write:
“I worked at a hardware store during high school to help my parents pay some bills. The store was far from my home, and often took about an hour to get to by public transportation. I’ve always been interested in tinkering with mechanical devices, so I decided to make the most of my job.
I bought parts from the store with portions of my paycheck every couple of weeks, and over the course of several months I built myself a bicycle from scratch. Of course, it wasn’t the most visually appealing or comfortable bike, but it did the job and it did it well. I don’t use it much anymore, but I still own it and feel great pride every time I pass it on my way out the door.”
This is a good anecdote because it presents an issue, describes something about the student’s creative and inquisitive nature, and showcases the innovative solution that the student devised.
You may want to approach this prompt in a similar way. Outline a problem you had to deal with, describe some relevant positive attributes about yourself, then explain how these attributes helped you find an innovative solution to the problem.
Caltech’s mission – to cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation for the benefit of humanity – relies on its community members embracing fundamental Caltech values :
Brainstorming your topic:
Caltech has narrowed your list of possible topics to just three things—the values listed above. Now, that doesn’t mean your brainstorming process is over when you pick the value(s) you want to write about.
You also want to have a clear sense of how you’re going to explain what that value means to you, as 400 words is on the longer side for a supplemental essay. If you’re unfocused going into the essay, your writing may end up somewhat scattered. To ensure that doesn’t happen, think of some experiences you’ve had that showcase what the value you’ve selected means to you.
For example, you might want to write about your openness to other perspectives. Maybe you describe a snowshoeing trip you took with your family, and how you were dreading the damp, the cold, and the blisters. But, even though you did end up confronting all of those things, you also unexpectedly got to see the northern lights. That once-in-a-lifetime treat helped you realize that having a positive outlook on new experiences is a choice, and if you consciously make it, you’re likely to enjoy yourself much more.
As this example illustrates, unless you choose the third value, your response doesn’t have to rely solely on STEM-related experiences. Obviously, Caltech is one of the most prestigious tech schools in the world, but remember that admissions officers will also be reading your responses to Prompts 1, 2, and 3, which are all academically focused. So, if you want to share a slightly different side of yourself, this prompt is a great opportunity to do so.
Note: given the linked webpage and the wording of the values in the prompt, you might use this space to write about a topic related to diversity . Just be sure to follow the prompt’s directions if you do.
Finally, note that the prompt says you can write about “one or more” of the listed values. If you can think of an experience you’ve had that showcases two or three of the given values, go for it! That said, don’t force anything. A well-written, cohesive response that focuses on just one value is just as good as one that includes multiple values.
400 words should be more than enough to develop your ideas in sufficient detail, but if you’re trying to cram in a connection that isn’t really logically there, your essay will feel disjointed.
Tips for writing your essay:
Once you start writing, keep this important writing principle in mind—show, don’t tell. You don’t want to just state things in a factual, direct way. Rather, describe a situation that illustrates the points you’re trying to make. To see the difference, compare the following two example sentences:
Example 1: “Although I had been having a terrible time all day, when we finally reached the overlook we had been trekking towards, we got to see the northern lights, which I will never forget.”
Example 2: “When we finally emerged from the treeline, my hair was still damp with cold sweat and snowfall, and my heels were still chafing against my itchy wool socks, but my discomfort melted away in the iridescent shimmer of the aurora borealis sparkling on unblemished snow.”
These two examples are about the same moment, but the second immerses us in the scene with sensory details and strong descriptions, which makes it much more engaging to read. Since you have a little more room to write in this supplement, don’t be afraid to show your creative writing abilities.
Also be sure you give the admissions officers a strong sense of what your chosen value means to you. Remember, within your application as a whole, the point of the essay is to set yourself apart even from other smart, talented applicants. Since everyone is going to be writing about the same three given values in their responses, make sure it’s clear how your experiences have shaped your own personal understanding of the value you select.
Including a personal overall takeaway will help admissions officers see why the experience you’ve described speaks to the kind of Caltech student you’ll be. Remember, their job is to visualize how you will contribute to their school for the next four years, so make sure you explain how something that took place in the past continues to influence you today.
Mistakes to avoid:
The most important thing to avoid in your response is vagueness. If you speak only in general abstract terms about the value you’ve selected and fail to incorporate detailed, illustrative examples, your essay may end up sounding preachy, or like a Hallmark card.
The other, slightly more subtle mistake you want to watch out for is not drawing an obvious connection between your experiences and the value you’ve selected. For example, say that in the snowshoeing example you spent all 400 words describing how beautiful the northern lights are, and didn’t say anything about how grumpy you were at the start of the snowshoeing trip. Your reader wouldn’t have any idea how this story reflects your open-mindedness.
As long as you follow the brainstorming tips we’ve provided above and rely on strong descriptions once you start writing, you should be unlikely to fall into these traps and should be well on your way to a personal, engaging 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. (150 words).
While we typically encourage students to respond to optional prompts, there’s no need to write additional information here if you feel that your application already captures your identity adequately.
This is a variation on the common diversity prompt . Unlike the previous prompts, this prompt has a 150-word limit, so if you choose to respond to it, you’re going to have to be more succinct.
Think about communities that you’re a member of, especially those that have played a role in your development as a person. These communities can be physical environments, like the neighborhood you grew up in, or communities defined by attributes, like your ethnic group or gender identity. Remember, identity encompasses a wealth of attributes.
Aspects of identity include traditional markers of diversity, such as ethnicity/race, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, your first language, and an illness/disability. However, aspects of identity also include your hometown, socioeconomic class, groups you’re part of, and even your interests or hobbies.
A quick note if you intend to write about your racial background: In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The ruling, however, still allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, which is one reason many schools are now including diversity prompts as one of their supplemental essay prompts. If you feel that your racial background has impacted you significantly, this is the place to discuss that.
Because of the wording of the prompt, you might also choose to write about an aspect of your life that isn’t related to ideas of identity. These can include life-altering events, important social interactions you’ve had, or formative experiences.
After you’ve settled on an aspect of identity or an event you deem important enough to write about, consider some questions to help direct your writing:
1) What is the strongest emotion you feel about your chosen aspect of identity or event?
2) Is there a skill, ability, or talent you have due to this aspect or event?
3) Have you developed or strengthened any personality traits as a result of this background? If so, what are they and how have they changed over time?
You don’t necessarily have to include any or all of this information in your response, but if you’re having trouble putting the importance of your chosen aspect/event into words, these questions might inspire some ideas.
Once you’ve chosen a topic and have some idea of how you intend to describe it and its importance, it’s time to write. There are two strong approaches to writing this response:
- The first approach involves doing something totally novel. You might want to pick a completely new aspect of your identity or life event that is fully distinct from one previously mentioned in your application. For example, if you mentioned your gender identity already, you may choose to write about your ethnic background here. This can be a useful approach if certain parts of your identity hold a similar level of importance to you.
- The second approach involves building a previously mentioned attribute/event. Perhaps there is an aspect of your identity that is related to the one you just wrote about, but distinct enough to warrant a new essay. Maybe you talked about being Hispanic somewhere in your application previously, and now want to write about the Spanish language. The language you speak might be an integral part of your identity. It isn’t the same as your ethnic background, even if the two are closely linked, so something like that would be fair game for this prompt.
Though this response is really whatever you want it to be, there are some things you’ll want to try not to do. Remember to avoid simply listing aspects of your identity without elaboration, writing too much about something negative, and discussing a topic that’s too clichéd.
This is another chance to showcase who you are. During the admissions process, there aren’t too many of these opportunities, so make the most of them!
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 speedcubing 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).
This prompt is meant to gauge who you are beyond your grades and test scores. It’s an optional prompt, but we strongly recommend writing a response to it, as this gives the admissions committee more knowledge about you.
Caltech wants to know what interests you outside of school, and what hobbies you might bring to their campus. Your hobbies don’t necessarily have to be traditional extracurricular activities, but you might still want to look at our guide to writing the extracurricular activities essay for some tips!
Before you begin writing, it’s important that you select a strong topic. Of course, you need to be sincere. Don’t write about a topic you don’t consider a hobby just because you think the admissions committee wants to read about it. An authentic topic will always make for a better essay than an extravagant one. Make a list of your most meaningful hobbies and consider the following questions:
1) Which hobby on your list have you shown the most commitment to? Which has been most influential in your development?
2) What is the strongest emotion you feel about this hobby?
- Why do you feel this emotion?
- Has that emotional response changed over time? If so, how and why?
- What emotions do you feel during the activity?
3) What thoughts and feelings go through your mind while you participate in this hobby/activity?
4) Have you developed or strengthened any personality traits as a result of this hobby? If so, what are they and how have they evolved over time?
5) Have you developed any skills due to this hobby? These can include soft skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, work ethic, and teamwork, or hard skills, which are specific to whatever domain your hobby is a part of.
6) What impact has this hobby had on the rest of your life (other activities, social life, academics, etc.)?
Once you’ve chosen your hobby, think about how you want to structure your essay. You only have 100 words, which is a very small space to work within, so you’re going to have to be concise. The prompt specifically asks why this interest brings you joy, so you’ll definitely want to include a response to that question.
You have some flexibility in the way you respond to this prompt. You might explicitly state what you enjoy about the hobby, or perhaps you’ll talk about some of the activity’s outcomes that have brought you fulfillment.
Consider this response from a hypothetical student:
“My fingers pluck each string deliberately but delicately. My foot taps quietly along, keeping rhythm like a metronome. I am at peace, once again practicing classical guitar like I have every day for the past ten years. That seems long already, but there is still so much to learn.
As each mellifluous note wafts through the air, I am filled with the joy of knowing there is another technique to master, another piece to play, another obstacle to conquer. Playing classical pieces is more than a hobby; it is a challenge, an opportunity to honor something that transcends time.”
This is a strong response for a number of reasons:
- First, it uses very evocative language to great effect, painting a picture of the hobby in question.
- Second, it describes in detail the emotions the hobby evokes and the reason it elicits joy in the student.
- Finally, it showcases the student’s perspective in a way that cannot be misconstrued. This student is clearly intellectually stimulated by this hobby, dedicated to it, and industrious when it comes to practicing—all excellent qualities to bring to Caltech.
You should strive to do the same things in your essay. Use imagery to your advantage, be specific when discussing your emotions, and try to describe your emotional response to the hobby in a way that reveals something about your personality.
You want to craft an effective essay, so you should note a few common mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t pick the wrong activity! Bad activities include: hobbies you’ve already written about somewhere else in your application, impressive-sounding hobbies you don’t actually participate in, and hobbies you haven’t actually put that much time into.
- Don’t just describe the interest without elaborating on its impact on you. You might get caught up in your anecdote when writing, but don’t forget to explain the hobby’s significance.
- Don’t just list your accomplishments within the hobby. You shouldn’t simply provide a list of things that make you look good superficially. You want to show your personal perspective and growth by discussing your emotional response to your chosen hobby and how the hobby impacts your life.
Structurally, take a reflective approach and really analyze your thoughts and feelings about the hobby. Since you only have 100 words to work with, avoid writing more than one anecdote. You need to be concise in your language, but as long as you can provide a good reflection and describe what it is about your hobby that brings you joy, you will be fine.
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).
This prompt is also optional, but it’s a great chance to describe something else you’re passionate about. If you were stuck on the previous prompt, struggling to choose between two hobbies that are really important to you, you can describe the second one here.
Bear in mind that this prompt has only 50 words, half the words you had for the previous prompt. If you decide to write a response to this prompt, you have to be extremely precise in your word choice. Consult the guide to the previous prompt above, CollegeVine’s guide to writing the extracurricular activities essay , for more in-depth tips on how you should craft your essay.
Consider the following example response:
“My fingers pluck each string deliberately but delicately. I am at peace, practicing classical guitar like I have daily for the past decade. As notes float through the air, I’m filled with the joy of knowing there is another technique to master, another piece to play, another obstacle to conquer.”
This response is the previous example response adapted to fit the smaller word limit. Notice that it still defines the hobby, paints a picture of the activity, and describes the student’s emotional response when participating in the activity. Of course, the reduced word count means that this essay reveals a bit less about the student than the previous version, but it still answers the prompt well.
Where to Get Your Caltech Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your Caltech essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
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- College Essays
- Early Decision / Early Action
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September 14, 2023
2023-2024 Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts
The California Institute of Technology has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle. The school, one of the last among America’s elite universities to release their essays for applicants to the Class of 2028 , asks applicants to respond to several required and optional essays as well as short answers. These essays are, of course, in addition to The Common Application ’s Personal Statement. So, what are this year’s Caltech essays and how should they be approached? Let’s dive in!
2023-2024 California Institute of Technology Essay Topics and Questions
Required academic question.
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. (Max: 200 words)
If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest?
This essay prompt is a straight-up-the-middle Why Major essay. Caltech’s admissions committee wants to understand the origin story of an applicant’s interest in the discipline they wish to study at Caltech. Yet, students should be sure to set that origin story during their high school years. Too often, students share stories about how they developed their academic interests as children. Admissions officers want to hear how students think now — not then.
Required Short Answer Questions
1. 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)
Through anecdotes, this essay allows applicants to show rather than tell why they love the STEM fields. Students could write about a lab experiment from a physics course. They could write about independent research they did in engineering. The opportunities are endless — so long as the stories showcase a student’s passion for learning.
And note how Caltech’s admissions committee emphasizes that the examples should stem from high school. Remember when we said how examples should always stem from high school rather than childhood? Here, you’ll see the advice straight from the horse’s mouth.
As to the word count, students have 400 words for this essay. As Ivy Coach has long espoused on the pages of this college admissions blog , students should always use all of the real estate they’re given to make their case. Students should thus write up to the maximum word count of 400 words!
2. 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? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)
This essay is another excellent opportunity for students to share one small story about how they’ve developed something in the STEM field. And the example does not need to stem from award-winning research. It doesn’t need to be anything formal.
A great example would be seeing a problem on a bike ride to school and figuring out how to fix it. Maybe a student’s bike went over a pothole, so they designed a way to light up a grid on the road to identify when potholes were forthcoming. Caltech’s admissions committee wants to see how applicants think and how they’re creators and inventors even in life’s small moments.
3. Caltech’s mission – to cultivate learning, discovery, and innovation for the benefit of humanity – relies on its community members embracing fundamental Caltech values :
- 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. (Min: 200 / Max: 400)
In this essay, through one small example, applicants should showcase how they want to explore STEM to make our world better. Too often, students express grandiose plans — like ending climate change through the power of STEM. Instead, applicants would be better off focusing on a small issue and then highlighting how they hope to address it in their lifetime.
Optional Short Answer Questions
1. 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. (Max: 150 words)
While the United States Supreme Court outlawed Affirmative Action , Chief Justice John Roberts penned a loophole in the majority opinion. As he wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
This essay allows students to capitalize on this loophole by sharing their stories. And students do not need to be underrepresented minorities to have a story to tell here. Applicants could focus on their faith, community, sexual orientation, or gender identity — the possibilities are endless.
2. 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)
While having a passion for the STEM fields is a prerequisite for Caltech, the admissions committee wants to know that you have interests beyond these disciplines. So here’s an excellent opportunity for applicants to showcase their love for poetry, history, foreign language, anthropology, or any other field. As long as applicants showcase their intellectual curiosity through their storytelling — ideally in an area outside of STEM — they’re on the right track.
3. 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)
We encourage students to write about a hobby that highlights their intellectual curiosity. So many options would work here. It doesn’t need to be a hobby in which a student changes the world. Yet, it should showcase their intellectual curiosity. If they love tie-dying t-shirts, they should focus on the mathematics of creating extraordinary patterns.
Optional Academic Short Answer Questions
1. Have you had any extenuating circumstances (such as limited course selection or disruptions), that have affected your coursework, but that are not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.
While we at Ivy Coach are always in favor of responding to all optional essays — because no optional essay should be considered optional in elite college admissions — this prompt doesn’t apply to all students
In fact, unless a student needs to explain a disruption in their learning during their high school years that is apparent on their transcript, we encourage the student not to answer this prompt. Too many students choose to answer prompts like these, and they do indeed come across as complainers. It does their candidacy a great disservice.
2. Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, or internationally (eg., AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads). If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (with scores, if applicable).
Hopefully, applicants have so many STEM awards that they couldn’t fit them all in the honors section of their Common Application. Here is the place to list them. And it should be a list — not an essay. It’s always critical to adhere to the directions.
Ivy Coach’s Assistance with Caltech Essays
If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission to Caltech by submitting essays that will wow Caltech admissions officers, fill out Ivy Coach ’s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services for seniors.
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Toward the conquest of admission.
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Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-2023
Caltech Supplemental Essays 2022-23
Quick facts- caltech essays.
- Caltech acceptance rate: 7%— U.S. News ranks Caltech as a most selective school.
- 1 (650 word) Personal Statement
- 1 (~200 word) Academic essay
- 1 (~200 word) Short answer essay
- 2 (~250 word) Short answer essays
- Caltech application: The Caltech application can be submitted via the Common App , Apply Coalition , Powered by Scoir , or through Questbridge . Make sure to check all of the Caltech application requirements.
- Caltech supplemental essay tip: Your responses to the Caltech essay prompts are your chance to show your love of STEM . Use the opportunity to show how you would thrive in a STEM-focused environment.
What are Caltech’s supplemental essays?
The Caltech supplemental essays are listed on the Common App website . You can also find the Caltech supplemental essays listed on Caltech’s website , alongside brief explanations of each prompt.
Required Caltech supplemental essays and short answer questions:
1. Because of the rigorous core course 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? Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words )
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? (100-200 words for each experience)
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 décor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (200-250 words)
4. The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (200-250 words)
Optional Caltech supplemental essays:
1. If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (150 words)
2. 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)
3. 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)
4. Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.
5. Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).
You’ll notice that the first thing stated on the Caltech supplemental essays page is that Caltech is “unapologetically STEM.” So, Caltech admissions wants to read all about your STEM-specific experiences . When considering how to write Caltech essays, look first to the “what we look for” page on the Caltech site. This is a cohesive list of what admissions looks for in applicants.
Notably, the Caltech supplemental essays do not ask students to write a “Why Caltech essay.” However, just because there is no “Why Caltech essay” doesn’t mean that you can’t show the admissions team why you belong at a science and engineering powerhouse like Caltech . So, think of these essays as your chance to show how you’ll contribute to the Caltech community.
Whenever possible and relevant, reference specific Caltech programs, classes, professors, and organizations that you would take advantage of. The Caltech admissions process extends beyond the admissions office alone. In fact, the Caltech supplemental essays are read directly by faculty. With a 3:1 student to faculty ratio at Caltech, it may not be a surprise that students closely interact with their professors.
Later in this guide, we will break down each of the Caltech essay prompts in more detail. This should give you an idea of Caltech supplemental essay examples, both required and optional.
How many essays does Caltech require?
Caltech requires students to complete four Caltech essay prompts .
These Caltech essay prompts ask students to reflect on their experiences, interests, and character. You should also use the Caltech essay prompts to discuss your STEM experiences. Prime Caltech supplemental essay examples will encompass who you are within the context of STEM programs .
Additionally, there are five optional Caltech essay prompts that students can respond to. Caltech stresses that these Caltech essays are optional. We’ll get into specifics later about these optional Caltech essays. This may help you determine if and when to respond to each of the optional Caltech supplemental essays.
How to Write Caltech Essays
So, how do you answer the Caltech supplemental essays?
Since each of the four required Caltech essays has a 200-250 word maximum, you will want to focus on both content and execution in your writing process. As we’ll discuss, each of the Caltech supplemental essays asks students to reflect on a particular experience or interest.
To maximize your Caltech essays, you’ll want to offer a brief summary of each experience of an event. Then, use the bulk of your essay to reveal how this experience or event influenced your broader character. Specifically, when focusing on how to write Caltech essays, reflect on your STEM experiences. You may want to write about STEM research in your Caltech supplemental essays. The admissions committee should come away from your Caltech supplemental essays with a clear conception of who you are and the kind of community member you would be on the Caltech campus.
Caltech Essay Prompts #1
If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose why did you choose that area of interest (200 words).
The first of the four required Caltech essay prompts asks applicants to write “why major essays.” Caltech makes it clear that students aren’t expected to know their major. In fact, students actually can’t declare a major until after their first year. So, undecided students shouldn’t stress too much about their choice of major in these “why major essays.” Students are in no way obligated to study the major in which they reference in their why major essays.
To answer the first of the Caltech supplemental essays, students should reflect on why they want to attend a STEM-forward university such as Caltech. Think about more than just the Caltech ranking and Caltech acceptance rate. What made you first fall in love with STEM? What specific programs are offered at Caltech and nowhere else? Are you planning to go pre med and hoping to study science at one of the best institutions for STEM? Do some research on the Caltech website in order to reference specific details on programs, internships, research, or faculty.
Think about the “why”
After having decided an area of interest to write about in this Caltech supplemental essay, focus on the “why” part. Successful “why major essays” will explain why you need to study that major in that particular school. They’ll draw from both personal and academic experiences. Students should also discuss how studying this major would influence their future career goals.
Let’s say you decide to focus on chemistry. You could discuss how your AP Chemistry course challenged your previous understanding of science. Or maybe a specific experiment stands out in your mind as the point when you knew chemistry was for you. Or perhaps it was the teacher that made an impact on your life. Whatever the reason, reference an academic or personal experience that told you this was the major for you. If you can get more specific than just “chemistry,” such as organic or inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, theoretical chemistry, etc., that’s even better.
Reflection Questions for Caltech Essays:
- Do you choose an area of interest that genuinely excites you?
- Does your essay talk about Caltech specific programs and offerings?
- Do you tie your study interest to your future and career goals ?
Caltech Essay Prompts #2
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 (100-200 words per experience).
Similar to the “why major essays,” successful Caltech supplemental essays for this prompt will show applicants’ love of STEM. However, the difference between these two Caltech essay prompts is that the first should focus on a specific area of interest offered at Caltech. The second, however, asks students what sparked their interest in STEM in general during high school.
We probably don’t have to mention that figuring out how to get into Caltech should start with a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering , Math ) programs. That being said, students will likely have a number of experiences to reference in their Caltech essays. Start by brainstorming some of the most impactful STEM moments of your high school career.
Are you in the robotics club and spend your free time tweaking your newest room cleaning robot? Or have you just led your team to the finals of your state’s math competition? Did you participate in a STEM summer program ? Or, maybe it’s nothing too outwardly dramatic. It could be something as simple as an experiment in biology class that ignited your curiosity.
Make a list and choose two experiences that evoke emotion surrounding choosing STEM. Caltech admissions wants to see serious STEM applicants in these Caltech supplemental essays. Show through your two chosen experiences that you are passionate and committed to a STEM education.
When writing, you’ll also need to show why you want to further study STEM. How have these experiences shaped your future goals and intellectual curiosity? California Institute of Technology seeks students who will pursue their interests, contribute to a thriving intellectual community, and still love learning even when classes get difficult.
- Does your draft sincerely convey your inspiration and excitement?
- Do you choose two specific STEM related experiences?
- Do you show how these experiences have affected your future studies?
Caltech Essay Prompts #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 décor. how have you been an innovator in your own life (200-250 words).
When planning how to write Caltech essays, you may think that you only need to focus on STEM-related topics and experiences. Of course, Caltech admissions shamelessly states that they want to hear about as much STEM topics as possible in students’ Caltech supplemental essays. However, they also look for critical thinkers with the ability to problem solve. This prompt asks applicants to think about times when they had to create their own innovative solutions to problems.
If you can think of STEM related instances, great. However, if not, don’t stress. Successful Caltech essays responding to this prompt will just show how you creatively found solutions to an issue you were facing.
Let’s say your doorbell was broken for months. No one in your household seemed too concerned about it, but one day you miss an important package that you’d been looking forward to receiving. You decide to take matters into your own hands and fashion your own doorbell with some tips from the employee at your local hardware store. Problem solved.
Any version of that hypothetical story will work in this Caltech supplemental essay. There’s a problem that needs to be solved, and you do so. If you’re stuck, try to focus on your strengths. Are you hard-working, creative, motivated, or curious? Highlight these strengths in the examples you come up with for this essay.
You have to fall within 200-250 words, so you can use multiple anecdotes here. However, keep it focused—limit yourself to one or two topics. Make a list and choose the instances that show your most innovative, creative, and unique solutions to personal problems while highlighting your strengths.
Reflection Questions for Caltech Essay:
- Does your essay show that you are innovative and creative?
- Do you discuss specific examples and solutions that you came up with?
- Does your essay give Caltech admissions a better picture of who you are and what you would bring to the campus?
Caltech Essay Prompts #4
The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. how do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world (200-250 words).
Think about the most important parts of who you are. What makes you you? How have you become that way? Focus on your background and how it has shaped you. Are you about to be a first generation college student? Do you come from a small, close knit town? Has a certain culture or language greatly influenced your upbringing? What communities do you belong to?
Background can refer to endless things; choose something that resonates deeply with you. It should be something that has greatly impacted you and how you maneuver through the world. Try to avoid cliche topics when writing this essay. Remember that your background can mean anything.
Maybe your mom is a chef at a five-star restaurant and you grew up in the kitchen. Paint a picture of life in a chaotic, fast-paced environment and what it taught you. Successful Caltech essays will be creative while answering the Caltech supplemental prompts. Start with a hook and then expand on how it has impacted you.
- Do you draw on personal experiences from your background?
- Is it evident what an impact those experiences have had on who you are today?
- Do you show how your background affects your worldview or experiences?
Caltech Supplemental Essays: Optional Short Answer Questions
On their website, Caltech prefaces these optional essays by saying that they are “optional opportunities to show us more of your personality.” Before even getting into the optional Caltech essay prompts, admissions reiterates that they are in fact optional by stating: “Optional. We Promise.”
Basically, you can choose whether to answer these Caltech essay prompts or not. However, there are certain optional Caltech essay prompts that you should opt to answer if you want your Caltech application to be as competitive as possible.
Optional Caltech Essays #1
If there are aspects of your identity that you feel are not captured elsewhere in this application, please provide that information below. (150 words).
If you struggled to fit all of your meaningful, personality-forming experiences and background information into the last Caltech supplemental essay, then this is your opportunity to add more.
Continuing with our last example in the previous Caltech supplemental essay, let’s say that you wrote about growing up in a fancy restaurant’s kitchen because of your mom’s profession. Maybe in the last essay, you wrote about how you learned to think on your feet in a high-pressure environment, which has made you the decisive person that you are today. You may want to add onto this by talking about the different cultures that you experienced in the kitchen. Did you become close with the sous chef who was from Italy? Did it inspire a gap year or summer trip to Italy that changed your life?
Or maybe you want to talk about a completely different community that has shaped you. Maybe you’ve grown up training ballet in every moment of your spare time, which has built discipline and pushed you to achieve. If you can talk about how a certain community has formed you, and your story will add value to your Caltech application, then answer this prompt.
However, if you were struggling with the last of the Caltech essay prompts that touched on background and feel as though you have nothing to add, then feel free to skip this essay.
Optional Caltech Essays #2
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).
While the first of the optional Caltech supplemental essays is actually optional, we recommend considering the second of the Caltech essays as required. The goal of this Caltech supplemental essay is to see who you are outside of STEM-related hobbies and interests. While admissions wants to see that you love all things STEM, they also want to learn about your other interests. They understand the importance of having some sort of outlet from academics or work.
Use this Caltech supplemental essay to talk about a hobby that you haven’t mentioned elsewhere. Basically, don’t just repeat your extracurricular activities. That certainly won’t do anything to help you beat the Caltech acceptance rate and impress admissions. Talk about something that will demonstrate a new skill or interest. Don’t forget to mention why this activity is worth writing about. What impact has it had on your life?
To start writing this essay, make a list of all of your activities. Hone in on the ones that are most important to you. Make sure they haven’t been mentioned elsewhere in your Caltech application. Then, choose the topic that interests you the most.
Consider the following questions:
- Which activity elicits the most emotion?
- What hobby could you not live without?
- Which interest has made an impact on who you are today?
Successful Caltech essays will not only mention the activity but also explain why it brings joy. Feel free to get creative when responding to this prompt. Make sure that admissions can feel your passion for this topic.
Optional Caltech Essays #3
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 another of the optional Caltech supplemental essays that is definitely optional. No tricks here. If you are a true hobbyist and have various activities that define you, then feel free to take on this Caltech supplemental essay.
Was your list of interests from the last essay spilling onto multiple pages? Great. Students writing their Caltech supplemental essays shouldn’t skimp on passion. However, these Caltech supplemental essays will have to be more succinct, as you only have 50 words.
Stay creative, just as you were with your last essay. Show why this activity brings you such joy and how it has been such a formative part of your being. Just be sure to do so concisely.
Caltech Supplemental Essays: Optional Academic Short Answer Questions
The optional academic Caltech supplemental essays are completely optional. Students should only submit Caltech essays for this section if they truly feel the need to.
There is no word count listed on these Caltech essay prompts, so these Caltech supplemental essays should be concise. This isn’t the time to write a novel. Answer these Caltech supplemental essay prompts succinctly and comprehensively.
Caltech Essay Prompts #1
Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application if so, tell us about them here..
Successful essays to the previous optional Caltech supplemental essays are creative, captivating, and passionate . These final Caltech supplemental essays don’t need to tick the same boxes. These Caltech essays serve to fill any mysterious gaps in the rest of your Caltech application.
This Caltech supplemental essay specifically asks you to explain any extenuating circumstances that may be noticeable in the coursework noted in your application . If you’ve had access to all the STEM, AP, and IB courses, then there’s no need to respond to this prompt. However, if you attended a school with limited resources and offerings, then you should mention that here.
Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).
While these Caltech supplemental essays are included with the other Caltech essays, they’re not really essays. They actually want you to list your honors or awards related to STEM here.
Only respond to this Caltech supplemental essay if you have received STEM related honors or awards. Don’t set the scene of the science competition where you won first place. There are other Caltech supplemental essays where you can do that. Simply list your specific STEM accomplishments.
How much does Caltech care about essays?
Through the Caltech essays, the admissions committee gains a glimpse into who you are as a student, peer, scientist, and individual. Keep in mind that they don’t know what you don’t tell them. Look at your application as a whole—including your Common App essay —and think critically about whether you have included as many facets of yourself as you can. Your Caltech application requirements should do more than just check boxes; they should tell your story , showing why you belong at Caltech.
The Caltech ranking is #9 on U.S. News’ Best National Universities list. With the Caltech ranking so high, it makes sense that the Caltech acceptance rate is 4% . Every applicant will have an above average GPA and impressive extracurriculars. So, the Caltech supplemental essays are a chance to stand out . Successful Caltech supplemental essays will add to students’ application narratives. Planning how to get into Caltech involves thoughtfully and carefully answering the Caltech supplemental essays.
Beyond the numbers
The Caltech essay prompts seek to understand who you are rather than just what’s on your resume. This demonstrates the value of the Caltech essays. Since Caltech is test-blind until 2025, you should maximize each essay as an opportunity to help the admissions team get to know you. Test blind schools, unlike test-optional schools, don’t want any ACT/SAT test scores submitted. Basically, Caltech won’t even look at standardized test scores. However, they will pay close attention to the Caltech supplemental essays.
Check out this webinar to make sure you stand out as a STEM applicant.
Five Tips for Writing Caltech Essays
Writing comprehensive and meaningful Caltech essays doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We’ve compiled our top 5 tips for how to write Caltech essays that impress admissions.
Five Tips for Writing Caltech Essays:
#1- meet the deadlines.
This may seem obvious, but there’s no way that you will figure out how to get into Caltech if you don’t submit your Caltech application requirements by the deadlines . The Regular Decision deadline is January 3rd . The Restrictive Early Action deadline is November 1st . Learn more about applying Early Action in our article .
#2- Don’t rush the writing process
Yes, you know you have to write and submit your Caltech essays by the deadline. However, that doesn’t mean that you should be scrambling to brainstorm, draft, edit, and revise your Caltech supplemental essays the night before they’re due.
#3- Carefully choose your topics
This is why it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to write your Caltech supplemental essays. You only have one chance to impress the admissions committee. You should have various topics to choose from after brainstorming. Write essays on the topics that you are most passionate about.
#4- Get creative
The greatest scientists are extremely creative innovators. Use your essays to creatively write on the topics you’re given. As long as you comprehensively and thoughtfully answer the prompt, a creative writing style will only bolster your Caltech essays.
#5- Ask for help
You certainly don’t have to take on your Caltech essays completely alone. Have someone else look at your completed Caltech essays. While they should check mechanics, also ask them for feedback on what they’ve learned about you through your Caltech essays. When implementing their feedback, maintain your own voice and style.
Caltech Supplemental Essays — Final Thoughts
The Caltech supplemental essays are a key part of your application. The Caltech acceptance rate is low. Maximizing your admissions odds will take acing every part of the application process, including the Caltech supplemental essays.
Remember to be clear, concise , and specific while telling authentic stories in your essays. Reference STEM-related subjects as much as possible. However, do so in a natural manner. Use the essays as a chance to supplement the quantitative parts of your application such as your grades and GPA with qualitative attributes of who you are as a student, person, and peer.
This Caltech essay guide on was written by Sarah Kaminski. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeA d visor.com can support you in the college application process.
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Caltech Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts & Advice
September 14, 2022
With a 2.7% acceptance rate (yes, truly), Caltech is one of the most highly selective schools in the country. Amazingly, they have managed to operate as a test-blind institution throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so until 2025 . This means that they do not presently consider ACT or SAT results in the admissions process. As such, the Caltech admissions committee gives extra weight to the five supplemental essay prompts that they require from all applicants.
(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Caltech? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Caltech for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)
Before we dive right in and begin examining the five required and two optional 2023-24 Caltech essays, one quick note… the admissions committee has provided in-depth guidance for three of the five required essays , so we’ll keep our advice for those short and sweet.
Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #1 (required)
Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words)
(Note: you’ll select 1-2 areas of interest from a provided drop-down box on the application)
We all have a story of what drives us to pursue a certain academic pathway and career. How did your interest initially develop? What was the spark? How have you nurtured this passion and how has it evolved over time? If you desire to go into engineering, this is a chance to talk about everything from your childhood fascination with how things work to your participation in an award-winning robotics program at your high school. Share a compelling (and, of course, true!) narrative about how your love of your future area of study has blossomed to its present levels.
In other words, this essay should show evidence of intense hunger for knowledge that extends well outside of the classroom. How do you learn about your favorite subjects? What books have you read on the subject? Which podcasts have you listened to? What museums have you visited? What related experiences have you had?
You should also tie your passions into specific academic opportunities at Caltech including courses , professors , hands-on research programs , or any other aspects of your desired major that appeal most to you.
Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompts #2 & #3 (required)
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? (100-200 words for each experience)
Main note here—you won’t be writing about both experiences within the same response (phew!). Caltech provides a separate response area for each experience, so you’ll have 200 words for STEM Experience #1 and 200 words for STEM Experience #2.
Perhaps you experienced a fascinating challenge during your engineering internship, encountered a particularly thought-provoking topic during differential calculus, or relentlessly pursued an interest in black holes or topological physics. Whatever you choose—formal or informal, inside or outside the classroom—use this opportunity to share more about your chosen experience. What fascinated you about it, and why? How has it impacted you or enabled you to build particular skills? Whether it’s falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about the nature of time or consuming thousands of hours of podcasts on drone capabilities, this is a chance to illustrate the ways in which you are an obsessive learner with an endless thirst for information.
The admissions reader should emerge from reading this essay with the sense that you are a sincerely curious young person with a strong intellectual drive. If that curiosity can be tied to your intended area of study at Caltech, all the better!
Caltech Essays – Prompt #4 (required)
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? (200-250 words)
Caltech knows you’re not a PhD-level researcher or a Nobel laureate, so they’re not looking for anything earth-shattering here (unless, of course, you’ve accomplished something earth-shattering—in which case, please share). Instead, they’re simply trying to understand the ways in which you bring your creative, inventive, and/or innovative qualities to your day-to-day life. Essentially, this is a fun chance to show off that side of yourself. To do so, feel free to go beyond extracurricular activities and formal experiences—maybe you perfected a solar oven design that bakes perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookies without utilizing electricity, or offered to develop a website for your local thrift shop with online shopping options. The sky is the limit here!
Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #5 (required)
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. (200-400 words)
Here, Caltech provides you with three different values to choose from. Before you begin, make sure you familiarize yourself with Caltech’s full breakdown of their values . Then, choose one of the three noted above that 1) resonates most with you and 2) allows you to share more about your own personal experiences. Although you can select more than one, doing so may make it more difficult to craft a focused response, so keep that in mind as you write.
In addition, essays that wax poetic about the general importance of a chosen ideal—without connecting it to your own past experiences or future goals—will have approximately zero needle-moving value to the admissions committee. As such, rephrase each ideal as a question in order to identify the significance and depth of your associated experiences. For example, when have you had preconceptions challenged? How did you respond? When have you been confronted with the fact that yours (or your peers) opportunities have not been equal, and how did you handle it? Have you experienced how science can and should meaningfully improve the lives of others? How so?
Caltech Supplemental Essays – Prompt #6 & #7 (optional)
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)
- 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)
Caltech’s admissions committee is quite transparent about what they are and aren’t looking for, so this is one of those rare occasions when an optional essay is truly optional. As such, if there is something significant to share about your background, identity, or interests that hasn’t already been communicated elsewhere on the application, feel free to discuss it here, but do not feel compelled to respond if you’ll be grasping at straws to formulate an answer.
How important are the essays?
Overall, Caltech lists five factors as being “very important” to the admissions process. Those factors are: the rigor of your high school coursework, test scores (even though they are test blind, which is odd) recommendations, character/personal qualities, and your application essays. In fact, the essays are rated as being of greater importance than your GPA, class rank, or extracurricular activities!
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If you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Caltech and Common App essays , we encourage you to get a quote today.
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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Caltech Supplemental Essays
Deciding to go to the California Institute of Technology is the dawn of a new academic adventure! Caltech is a highly selective private research university with a 4% acceptance rate . With such a competitive application pool, your very best writing is required. In this guide, we’ll go over each prompt and help you break the Caltech essays down so you’ll know exactly what is being asked. Let’s get started!
The Caltech essays
Caltech’s supplemental essay prompts are a way for you to show the admission’s readers exactly who you are and why you should be part of the next undergraduate class. Even responding to the optional prompts (Essays #5 through #9 are optional) shows Caltech that you want to be there and are willing to go the extra mile to prove that. Remember, applicants should emphasize STEM in their essays as much as possible since that’s one of the primary focuses of Caltech.
Keep reading below to learn more about Caltech supplemental essay prompts!
“If you had to choose an area of interest or two today, what would you choose? Why did you choose that area of interest? (Max: 200 words)”
Applicants should see this prompt as an opportunity to discuss their passions in STEM or any other Caltech program. However, it’s important to discuss more than just what your desired major is; be sure to talk about how Caltech plays a part in whatever interests are shared. What’s so unique about this major/interest that you can’t stop thinking about it? Is it daring? Are you the only one in your family to do it? Use this essay to show your drive and initiative.
Questions to consider:
- Why do you want to study your major at Caltech?
- What is something unique about the majors that Caltech offers?
- What do you imagine when you think of studying your major at Caltech?
“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 is clear in this prompt that the focus is on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While your experiences might seem similar to other applicants, try to set yourself apart by incorporating a personal aspect to your essay. Explain to the reader where your love of STEM started or grew during your time in high school and how that might contribute to your desire to attend Caltech.
Applicants should also explain what they want to learn more about or explore further and why. Doing so further demonstrates your interest in Caltech if you’re able to make a connection between what you’re curious about and what you love about this specific university.
- Who motivated you to get involved in STEM? Was it a mentor or a family member?
- What about this experience made you want to pursue STEM at Caltech?
- What are you most curious or excited about in STEM?
“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)”
The definition of innovation is the introduction of something that’s never existed before. Remember, innovation doesn’t have to be some large, spectacular creation. Your innovation can be something new you’ve added to your life or doing something that you’ve never heard of. Even being the first person in your family to go to college could be a form of innovation–you just have to get creative!
- Are you the first person to do something in your family?
- Have you created something that you think is fresh or different?
- Do you consider yourself a trailblazer? Why?
“The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)”
Use this prompt to consider how your background and/or cultural experiences have shaped your life. Have you had a chance to experience other cultures and learn from them? Has your background empowered you to further pursue STEM? These are questions you should think about as you write your Caltech supplemental essay.
The world has advanced from a collection of ideas from various different sources, so it would be good to share how a collaborative effort from people different from yourself has allowed you to grow and learn new things. Try to show your open-minded side as well as your intelligent one.
- What opinions have you formed about the world as a result of your experiences?
- How does your background influence who you are today and who you hope to become?
- What is the difference between how you navigate the world and how other applicants might?
“ 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)”
This prompt should take the Caltech admissions office on an exploration of the unknown, aka you. You could approach this essay in a unique way and push conventional boundaries. Alternatively, you could take a straightforward approach that positions you as an ideal candidate. Either way, the goal is to differentiate yourself from all other applicants, especially since this is one of the first optional essays that Caltech offers.
- Why do you want to share this with the admissions office?
- How will this aspect of your identity make your application stand out?
- What should be the key takeaway from this optional essay?
Also see: How to write an essay about yourself
“ 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)”
As an optional prompt, it may be tempting to skip over this essay. However, completing it can make your application more interesting while showing that you’re willing to go the extra mile to attend Caltech. Telling the admissions office about a unique interest or hobby reveals a lot about your personality and whether you fit in at the university. You could be especially interested in plants and bugs, which might show that your love of science goes deeper than just in the classroom. The same can be true for any other activity that you find joy in.
The word count for this prompt is relatively short, but don’t over-generalize your interests. Just saying a particular aspect of STEM isn’t going to cut it, so try to dig a little deeper to highlight something different and new to your application.
- What is an activity that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else in your application?
- What does this interest or hobby say about you and your personality?
- Why do you enjoy this experience?
“ 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)”
This prompt is for applicants that have multiple unique hobbies or interests. If you completed the initial prompt mentioned above, then don’t feel pressured to write about another hobby if you can’t think of one right away. However, you’ll have to simplify this interest a lot more than the first, so be sure to pick the most important one for the longer prompt.
- Why do you want to write about this additional hobby?
- Does this interest build on your first one and the rest of your application?
“ Optional: Have you had any extenuating circumstances regarding your coursework (such as limited course selection or disruptions) not described elsewhere in your application? If so, tell us about them here.”
Everyone doesn’t have the same journey when it comes to pursuing education. Sometimes, we hit bumps in the road, and Caltech offers this prompt for you to explain your story. Applicants don’t have to share every detail of their circumstances, but disclose enough that Caltech can understand what the conditions at the time were and how they affected you. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and transparent since doing so shows that you’re taking your application seriously. It can also prove your tenacity and determination if you include how you overcame this difficulty in your life and how you’ll continue to progress.
- Is there anything that you feel you need to explain about your grades or courses?
- Was there anything notable and impactful that affected your school performance?
- How have you grown or what did you learn from this experience?
“ Optional: Some Caltech applicants engage in STEM competitions locally, nationally, and internationally (such as AIME, Science Olympiad, International Science Olympiads.) If you have received any STEM honors or awards, list them here (and scores, if applicable).”
Use this prompt as your opportunity to share your STEM accomplishments with Caltech. Don’t be afraid to include all the awards that you’re proud of! Let your accomplishments speak for themselves, and try not to exaggerate.
There also isn’t a word limit, which can tempt you to go on and on for page after page. So, show Caltech that you still have tricks up your sleeve by giving them a small piece of what’s next. This means knowing when to bring an end to your essay, even if you haven’t listed every award.
- What are some of the awards I’ve won throughout high school?
- Why do I want Caltech to know about this specific award?
- How does this award relate to attending Caltech?
Final thoughts for applicants
As you wrap up your Caltech essays, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind. One of the most important things is noticing word count for each prompt. A majority of the prompts are 100-200 words with only a few exceptions. This means it’s ideal to get to the main point of your essay as soon as possible.
Potential Caltech students should also take time to read through each essay submission to check for errors or any weird issues with the flow and readability of your essays. It can be helpful to ask your teachers, peers, or family members to read over your submission and get feedback to improve on your writing and storytelling skills. The world wasn’t built in a day, so don’t overwhelm yourself! There are resources here to help.
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write amazing caltech essays.
The California Institute of Technology—or Caltech, as it's more commonly known—is a highly exclusive college. If you want to join the Beavers, you'll need not just top grades and standardized test scores, but strong writing supplements to support them as well.
Caltech accepts around 6% of students who apply, making it an extremely competitive school . The more you know about the Caltech essay prompts before you start, the better prepared you are to answer them.
Read on to learn about 2021's essay prompts, as well as some tips and tricks for maximizing their potential to impress!
Feature Image: Canon.vs.nikon /Wikimedia Commons
BREAKING: Caltech Application Changes Due to COVID-19
As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many colleges have made the decision to at least temporarily stop requiring SAT and ACT scores. In June 2020, California Institute of Technology announced that they will stop considering SAT and ACT scores of applicants for the next two admission cycles (those applying in fall 2020, 2021, and 2022). This means that, not only are SAT and ACT scores not required, but, even if you submit them, they won't be reviewed and they won't be considered as part of your application. (This is what we refer to as a "test blind" policy.) Additionally, international students can now meet Caltech's English proficiency requirement by submitting either TOEFL or Duolingo scores.
Because of SAT and ACT cancellations , as well as the difficulty some students are having preparing or paying for the tests, Caltech made the decision to temporarily stop requiring standardized test scores to make admissions as fair and equitable as possible. Because test scores aren't being considered, there will be an increased emphasis on classes students took and the grades they received in them.
What Do I Need to Know About the Caltech Essays?
Caltech accepts four different applications: Coalition, Common App, Powered by Scoir, and Questbridge. In addition to the required Coalition, Common Application, and powered by Scoir essays, Caltech also requires three short essays. ( Questbridge applicants only need to write these if they become Match Finalists and have ranked Caltech.)
You’ll write one required academic question and three required short answer questions, but you’ll also have the option to answer three supplemental short answer questions and one supplemental academic question, if you want.
Altogether, you'll be writing up to 1100 words for the required essays, and 300 words for the optional short answer questions. These essays are fairly short, so you'll want to spend a good amount of time honing your argument to its most efficient. Start early so you have plenty of time to plan, refine, revise, and proof before you submit!
Do a little preparation and you can look this happy when writing your Caltech essays, too!
What Are the Caltech Essay Prompts?
The Caltech essay prompts are fairly standard, though each one is tailored to the college's specifications. You'll see the usual "Overcoming Obstacles” and “Defining Your Fit” essay questions, but always keep in mind that you're applying to Caltech specifically, and your essays should reflect that.
Required Academic Question
Because of the rigorous core course 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? Why did you choose that area of interest? (Max: 200 words)
The first essay asks you share your academic passion (or passions), and how you discovered them. Many colleges understand that students change their majors throughout the course of their careers, and Caltech doesn’t want you to have to choose a major until you’re a sophomore. But they still want you to have a good idea of what you want to focus on and why it matters to you.
The key here is to be specific about your area of interest. Note that they don’t mention a major, but instead an overall field. In other words, now isn’t the time to say that you want to major in biology because you’ve always done well in school. Instead, focus on something more specific, like a problem you want to solve or an experience that changed the way you see your career. Maybe your physical science egg-drop challenge inspired a desire to create safer structures, or maybe a field trip to a NASA location made you realize you had to be in that control room one day.
Whatever the case, be as specific as you can with what you want to study, and remember that multiple majors could get you there. For example, visiting NASA could have inspired you to study mathematics, physics, or engineering. There are multiple paths to reach the same goal; do your homework, look at the different programs Caltech offers, and choose one or two that align with your dream.
Caltech is, in their own words, “an unapologetic STEM institution.” Whatever you do, make sure that your chosen area fits within these parameters.
Required Short Answer Question #1
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)
This prompt is asking you to discuss something you're passionate about. Your interests and activities outside of school and work can reveal a lot about the kind of person you are. As such, this prompt is a great opportunity to show how you exhibit the characteristics of the perfect Caltech candidate in your life experiences that don’t show up in your test scores and GPA.
Hopefully, thinking of a topic for this essay will be easy for you. You should write about a situation, story, or topic that gets you so engrossed and excited that it’s tough to tear yourself away from learning about it! Whether that’s reading up on the psychology of conspiracy theories or bird watching with your little brother, the most important thing is that you choose something that you’re deeply interested in. When you do that, admissions counselors will be able to feel your passion too!
Even though you probably could write pages and pages about the topic you choose, it’s important to keep things clear and concise here. Remember: you only have 200 words per topic to work with! To keep your essay focused, tell the story of how these experiences piqued your curiosity into the subject (or subjects) you’ve chosen to write about. You can describe your learning process, even if it’s quirky or unconventional. This is your chance to show Caltech how you choose to expand your mind when left to your own devices.
And that’s the most important thing to emphasize in your essay. Caltech is looking for students who don’t stop learning when the semester ends. The people who make a difference in the world are passionate, lifelong learners. This essay is your chance to show off your niche interests and prove to Caltech that you’re a lifelong learner too.
This guy would fit right in at Caltech.
Required Short Answer Question #2
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)
This question is a great way for you to show off your skills! Maybe your insight helped your school’s robotics team take home first place, or maybe you found a way to streamline some part of your family’s day-to-day routine. You have a lot of options here, but make sure to keep your topic focused on STEM-related subjects. This is an excellent topic for a problem-and-solution essay: after all, your innovation will have improved a situation, right? You only have 250 words, so you’ll need to make them count! Caltech wants to see how your mind works : why were you driven to your chosen innovation? Were there any obstacles? What was the end result, and how was it received?
Remember: you'll need to give the admissions counselors enough information that they can understand your innovation and its impact. Be sure to answer both parts of this question so that you're fully addressing the prompt.
It probably wasn't one of these kids who wrote these successful Caltech essays.
Required Short Answer Question #3
The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (Min: 200 / Max: 250)
This is your chance to show Caltech what makes you tick, and how you’ve become who you are. Think back on the formative experiences in your life: your home, your family, your cultural background. How have they shaped you into who you are now and what you want? Show Caltech how you see the world, and why.
As always, you should remember to gear this toward STEM as much as you can: Caltech isn’t kidding when they tell you to “lean all the way in on the STEMiest of STEMmy topics.” The trick here is to show how your own lived experiences have informed your interest and perspective on the STEM subject that you’re most drawn to. Maybe you come from a family of artists, and their sense of aesthetics informs the way you design and present your projects. Maybe you have a different cultural background than most of your peers, which influences your thought processes.
Be sure to tell a story here so that you can connect with admissions counselors. For example, was there a formative experience in your childhood or youth that made you realize you stand out from your peers in some way? Was a family member or cultural tradition particularly influential?
CalTech Short Answer Questions
Along with longer essays, you'll also have to tackle a few short answer responses, too. We'll break them down below!
Supplemental Short Answer Question #1
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)
This is a pretty broad prompt! Unlike Required Question 3, which asks about your background, or Supplemental Question 2, which asks about your hobbies, this is about your identity, which includes both of those things and more! You have a lot of options here: think of past experiences that made you realize more about who you are and what you stand for. Maybe you stood up to a bully. Maybe you went stargazing with family or friends, and found yourself overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe. Just like with the other prompts, remember to be as specific as possible, and give examples.
Supplemental Short Answer Question #2
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)
This is a great prompt to answer, because it gives you the chance to show the admissions counselors more about who you are not just as a budding scholar but as a person. Here’s a chance to open up about, say, your passion for rock climbing or your increasingly-large collection of succulents. You only have 100 words, but try to go into as much detail as possible about how your hobby makes you feel. This is the place to be descriptive, and to show rather than tell.
Supplemental Short Answer Question #3
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)
You've probably got more than one hobby you love. This is your chance to share that with admissions counselors at CalTech. You don't have much space, but help your readers understand why you're passionate about the hobby you choose.
Caltech Essays That Worked
All this information is great, but it can still be tricky to understand exactly what Caltech wants to know until you've seen it demonstrated. Check out this accepted essay—and some tips from someone who took a serious risk—to learn more about what Caltech hopes to see in your essay!
Even though the example essays below respond to old essay prompts, there’s still a lot you can learn from them about how to write successful Caltech essays.
Martin Alternburg's Essay
I cross over the bridge into Minnesota. Out of my three sports, cross country is definitely my worst — but I continue to be hooked on it. Unlike swimming and track, my motivation to run is heavily intrinsic. I live for the long runs I take on by myself. While they rarely happen during our season, we were assigned a long run to complete over our first weekend of cross country. In reality, I was supposed to go six miles, but felt eight gave me more time to explore the home I had just returned to. My mind begins to wander as I once again find my rhythm. My train of thought while running is similar to the way one thinks in the minutes before sleep — except one has more control over how these thoughts progress and what tangents they move off of. While special relativity would be the "proper" thing to think about, especially at MITES, I revive the violin repertoire I had turned away from for so long and begin playing it in my head. I'm now at the edge of town in between the cornfields. The streaming floodlights on the open road give me a sense of lonely curiosity, reminiscent of the opening lines of Wieniawski's first violin concerto. I come up with adaptations of the melody in my head, experimenting with an atonality similar to Stravinsky's.
Martin Altenburg's essay is well-structured, using the narrative of a morning run to demonstrate all the things that run through his head, and, more importantly, all the unique traits that make him who he is.
From just these two paragraphs, we know he's a runner, that he's driven, that he strives for more than he thinks he's capable of, and that he knows music and composition. Because the essay is in a narrative format, we're able to follow this line of thinking and have it all wrapped up neatly at the end. We're drawn in by energetic and purposeful writing that also delivers us all the information we need.
Throughout the essay, Altenburg discusses his interests and his growth. His strategic use of locations in his hometown allows readers to understand where he comes from both literally and figuratively, especially the part about his beliefs and how the community he's grown up in have impacted them. All this is valuable information to an admissions office, who wants to see how you see yourself and why.
One thing to note about this essay is that it doesn't include any reference to Caltech. In fact, Altenburg used the same essay to apply to—and get into—eight different Ivy Leagues as well as some other schools. The essay was likely written as part of the Common or Coalition Application rather than as part of Altenburg's Caltech supplement, hence the lack of specificity. Your essays for the Caltech supplement should contain more specificity than this, as these essays are unique to Caltech and want to know exactly what draws you to that school above others.
Michelle Fan's Essay Reflection
"How do you believe Caltech will best fuel your intellectual curiosity and help you meet your goals?" If I had a few weeks, I might have done enough research to namedrop a few professors, rave about the strength of their computer science programs, and come up with a compelling story about all my professional goals. But I didn't have those few weeks, so I told them the unembellished, wholehearted truth: I said I have no idea what I want to do in life. All I knew was that I liked making calculator games and explosions and wanted to participate in the bread-throwing, water-dumping congregations otherwise known as Caltech house dinners. As it turns out, being yourself actually works. Shocker, I know. Colleges really do want to like you for you.
Michelle Fan doesn't post her Caltech essay directly, but she does talk about her process and what she discovered between her highly planned essays and the ones she wrote the day they were due.
Fan points out that her last-minute essays, the ones that she wrote from her heart rather than from her head, are the ones that got accepted. Though I definitely don't advocate for waiting until the same day that your essay is due to start writing it, it's a good message to keep in mind—when you're faced with an imminent deadline and you just need to get something out, your writing is probably more genuine than if you've been editing and revising it for ages.
But the big takeaway here should not be to wait until the last second to write your essay (please, don't do that!). The real lesson is that you should write in a way that is true to yourself, not a way that you think will impress admissions offices. You should be authentic and genuine, letting your personality and interests tell Caltech why you're a good fit.
If your essay looks like this, that's a good thing!
4 Key Tips for Writing a Caltech Essay
Like all college essays, there are some general things to keep in mind when working on your Caltech writing supplement. The earlier you get started, the better—take a little time to make sure that your essay is as polished as possible!
Brainstorming before you start writing will help you pick a topic that's both meaningful and impressive. Jotting down a list of ideas for each topic, no matter how silly they might feel at first impression, gives you options. Spend a little time away from your options so that you can pick the one that you feel most strongly about with less bias!
#2: Get People to Read Your Essays for You
Feedback is an important tool as a writer. Getting someone else to look at your work—preferably someone who will be honest about its shortcomings—will help you find logical holes, weird phrasing, and other errors that may creep into your work. When you feel like your essays are as polished as you can make them is a good time to hand them off to someone else. Remember, you don't have to make every change they suggest exactly as they suggest it, but if your reader is confused about something, see what you can do to make it clearer!
#3: Edit and Revise
Take that feedback you got from your reader and turn it into gold. Again, don't feel like their suggestions are always the right move, but do consider what's causing their confusion or dislike for parts of your essays. Fix them in your own voice, and re-read your essay, especially out loud, to catch any additional errors. The more time you can spend revising, the better!
#4: Be Authentic
Always remember that you're not just trying to impress Caltech with a bunch of statistics—you're trying to impress them as you. That means always staying true to yourself and striving for authenticity. Give Caltech an essay that showcases what it means to be you, not an essay that gives them what you think that they want to hear.
Need an even more in-depth guide to how to write a college essay ? Those tips will help you write a stellar essay from start to finish!
A strong essay is just one part of a successful Caltech application. Also look into Caltech's SAT scores and GPA requirements so you can draft an effective academic plan!
Before you send in your Caltech application, it's a smart idea to figure out how much money it's going to cost you to attend. How do Caltech's financial aid offerings measure up to tuition costs?
Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.
Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.
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