Total Undergraduate Enrollment: 948
Institutional Type: Private
Curricular Flexibility: Somewhat Flexible
Academic Rating: 5
Geological and Planetary Sciences
1. Goldman Sachs
2. Southern California Edison
5. Information Technology
1. Northrop Grumman
4. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
1. Los Angeles
2. San Francisco
3. New York City
5. San Diego
College Scorecard (Early Career): $85,900
EOP (Early Career): $83,000
PayScale (Mid-Career): $151,600
The setting of television’s Big Bang Theory, the California Institute of Technology is, as suggested by the show’s focus on a group of socially-awkward physicists, a collection of some of the most brilliant science and engineering minds in the world. Situated in gorgeous Pasadena, California, Caltech enrolls a mere 948 undergraduates, affectionately known as “Techers,” very few of whom got a single question wrong on the math portion of the SAT. As tough as it is to gain admission, coursework at the school is perhaps an even more rigorous and consuming process.
The university’s common core is, not surprisingly, STEM-heavy with requirements that include FreshmanMathematics, Freshman Physics, Freshman Chemistry, and Freshman Biology. However, students also must conquer 36 units of the humanities and social sciences, nine units of physical education, and one course in scientific communication in which undergrads write a paper for submission to a peer-reviewed academic journal. There are six academic divisions: biology and biological engineering; chemistry and chemical engineering; engineering and applied science; geological and planetary sciences; the humanities and social sciences; and physics, mathematics, and astronomy, each with more options for specialized concentrations. Across all divisions, there are thirty-two distinct
majors. Possessing an absurdly favorable 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio, plenty of individualized attention is up for grabs. Class sizes are not quite as tiny as the student-to-faculty ratio might suggest, but 68 percent of courses enroll fewer than twenty students, and 30 percent enroll fewer than ten. Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) enjoy wide participation with 80 percent of undergraduates partaking, and 20 percent of that group going on to publish their results. Six approved study abroad programs are available at Cambridge University, University College London, University of Edinburgh, Copenhagen University, the University of Melbourne, and Ecole Polytechnique in France. Engineering is the most popular major, accounting for 36 percent of all degrees conferred. Computer and information science (26 percent), the physical sciences (20 percent), and mathematics (11 percent) also have strong representation. Grads find a high level of success in obtaining prestigious scholarships for graduate study including Watson, Fulbright, and Hertz Fellowships. The school also sees an incredible number of students win National Science Foundation Fellowships (the head of the organization received her PhD from Caltech).
Given its small undergraduate population, campus is a spacious 124 acres, and 85 percent elect to live in one of the university’s eleven residences; freshmen are required to do so. Greek life was long ago banished in favor of a coeducational residential house system. Each house has its own vibe and traditions, and students go through a two-week rotation period (in place of a pledging process) to find the best fit. On the athletics front, the Beavers field nine men’s and nine women’s teams to compete in intercollegiate sports, mostly at the NCAA Division III level, although they are more noted for insanely long losing streaks than anything else (the baseball team once lost 228 straight games). Four-fifths of undergrads participate in some kind of organized athletics, and the high rate of involvement isn’t limited to sports. Roughly 65 percent of students also play a musical instrument, and many join one of the more than one hundred student-run organizations on campus. There are plenty of pre- professional and tech-oriented club options as well as groups like Magic: The Gathering Club or the Anime Society. While students generally report that academic pursuits plus a club or two generally take up 100 percent of their waking hours at Caltech, gorgeous Pasadena and nearby downtown Los Angeles provide limitless opportunities for those seeking some degree of socialization.
The Caltech Career Development Center has five full-time professional staff members working on career counseling, internship coordination, and employer recruiting. That equates to a 189:1 student-to-advisor ratio, which is among the best of any university featured in this guide. Caltech hosts two large career fairs per year, one in October and one in January. Anywhere from 150-200 companies attend those fairs, which is a massive number when considering the school has fewer than 1,000 undergraduates. Small events take place pretty much weekly, and samples of those regular offerings include visits from the likes of Harvard Business School, Bain & Company, Yahoo, and the Google Women’s Focus Group.
Caltech students have little trouble procuring summer internships in engineering, computer science, or business/finance. Unlike most schools where undergrads compete for internships at top companies, the top companies typically have to compete to attract Caltech students. (Its website offers advice for companies in that regard.) Similarly, on-campus recruiting is strong with companies constantly visiting campus to try to snag young talent. That list includes NASA, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Oracle, and SpaceX. Based on its low student-to-counselor ratio, prodigious on-campus recruiting efforts, placement of more math/science PhD candidates than any university in the country, and unmatched starting salaries for graduates, Caltech’s Career Development Center easily earns the highest praise from the AP Guru staff.
Caltech is a rare school that sees six-figure average starting salaries for its graduates; the last year’s class figure was $106,000. Over 60 percent of recent grads go directly into the workforce and find homes at tech giants such as Google, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook. Engineering students are routinely courted by the likes of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and Northrup Grumman. The school also has a strong alumni representation at NASA. Those who go the academic/research route ultimately end up on the faculty at schools such as Stanford, MIT, USC, and Caltech itself. Networking as a Caltech alum is a dream. The university has 22,000 alumni, many of whom are leaders in the tech world including seventeen living Nobel Prize winners and countless founders/execs of major corporations.
Not surprisingly, the largest number of alumni remain in California, settling into careers in Silicon Valley. A healthy 35 percent of those receiving their diplomas continue directly on the higher education path, immediately entering graduate school. Caltech is the number one producer of math/science PhDs in the country. Many continue their education at Caltech or other elite STEM graduate programs.
After attaining graduate degrees, careers in research and higher education are popular pursuits. While engineering is where the largest number of grads eventually land, higher education is a close second.
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