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Admissions Accepted at Caltech - what should I do to be best prepared?

  1. Jan 2, 2018 #1
    I am a high school senior.

    I applied Early Action to Caltech and got accepted. I want to study math and physics there. I'm pretty excited but also want to make sure I am ready when I get there. I'm still waiting on hearing from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Berkeley as I only applied to them in the regular round, but I'm kinda leaning towards Caltech.

    I just finished taking an analysis course at a local liberal arts college known for its math and physics rigor and I am registered to take a linear algebra class there in spring. The analysis class was obviously proof-based, so I think I have a pretty good grounding in writing proofs.

    I know that Caltech is known for its rigor and difficulty. I'm not worried about it too much but at the same time, I want to be as prepared as possible, as I have some time over the next 6 months to devote to some extra study.

    Any advice from anyone who has been to Caltech? I have heard over and over that it is going to be hard work for anyone getting there, regardless of their readiness, but I feel that's all the more reason to be as prepared as possible.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2018 #2


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    Congratulations! That is very impressive.

    About the only advice I can offer is to be sure that you have seen the movie "Real Genius" before you get to campus. It's a documentary about student life at Caltech.

    Enjoy! :smile:
  4. Jan 2, 2018 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    The best advice I can give is to know your limits and don't try to graduate in ten minutes by taking 100 classes at once.
  5. Jan 2, 2018 #4
    Sounds like you're already on the right track by taking some college courses already.

    When I was in high school I took dual-enrollment chemistry (the only college courses that my high school offered), and that definitely helped me out by providing me with a small taste of what a college course was like.

    In your final high school semester I'd really recommend that you develop good study habits if you haven't already. Even if you really know the material, set aside a few hours each night to go over it and work practice problems. This is what really came back to bite me in college. I was used to getting straight A's in high school with little to no studying, and that doesn't fly in college. Develop good study habits now, instead of waiting until while you're in college so you don't tank your GPA early.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 2, 2018
  6. Jan 2, 2018 #5
    Thanks for all the advice! I'll definitely check out the movie.

    As far as work ethic, yeah, I am trying to build in the discipline. The college class I took in the fall (analysis) really helped because the instructor would give homework twice a week, so I pretty much had to spend every night working on problems. But I know Caltech will be the same, except for 5 classes simultaneously. My big weakness (or maybe just lack of experience) is planning out a longer range ( 1 week-ish) schedule for multiple classes. I need to get into the habit of doing that in this semester in my high school, so I have my Google calendar populated with when the assignments are due, what I going to work on every evening, etc. I think that may be overkill for HS, but it will definitely get me in the right frame of mind for college.

    Thanks for all the advice! My dad's an engineer, so he's also giving me his thoughts on how to plan and execute against a schedule, something he has to do all the time in his job.
  7. Jan 2, 2018 #6


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    Since you have a lot more time out of class in college I think it’s good to figure out when and where you are the most productive so you can get into a routine. For some people that’s an evening in the library, for others it’s 3 am in their dorm. You should be flexible in terms of deciding what to work on when since the work load for each class is less predictable than in high school, i.e. if you have a really difficult problem set in one of your classes that week.
  8. Jan 2, 2018 #7


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    I suggest working through as much as possible of tom apostol's calculus books, vols 1 and 2, working problems.
  9. Jan 3, 2018 #8
    Thanks! Yes, I grabbed my dad's copy of Apostol. Luckily he doesn't throw anything away. It's the first edition from when he was in school, but I figure it will be ok. Because of my course on analysis, I am not having the kind of shock factor that he said he had when he first opened it lol...
  10. Jan 3, 2018 #9


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    Read Feynman's Lectures - enough said.

  11. Jan 3, 2018 #10


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    I don't know if you will react the same way when you are off at school, but each semester when I would go to the bookstore to buy my textbooks, I would page through each of them in the store, and I would get goosebumps looking ahead to what I was going to learn in the next few months. I loved how much my knowledge would expand so soon, and really looked forward to studying the material so I could understand it.

    Have fun at school, and do great things with your wonderful intellectual gifts. :smile:
  12. Jan 4, 2018 #11
    I too have a lot of fun with any new book I receive. For Christmas, my dad got me the entire 3 volume set of The Theoretical Minimum series by Leonard Susskind - I can't put them down!

    I also got David Griffith's "Intro to Electrodynamics" and I have made my way through about 3/4 of the book. Since I understand it is followed in the freshman Physics course at Caltech, hopefully I'll be prepared. Taking multivariable calculus in my junior year in high school really helped.

    I also picked up some of my dad's old mechanics books and taught myself the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalisms. Once I am through the Susskind book on QM, I hope I can at least get a brief exposure to Griffiths' Quantum Mechanics before the summer is over.
  13. Jan 9, 2018 #12


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    I'm a Techer, although from too long ago (mid 1970s) to have specific knowledge of what things are like now. But I've kept in touch and have met recent graduates, so I'm not completely ignorant.

    You've gotten some good advice. Be aware that Caltech doesn't admit students who can't handle the work, so you can pretty much assume that applies to you. All you'll need to be successful is humility and discipline. You'll find lots of people there who are better than you at everything, which you probably haven't seen yet in your academic life. You'll no longer be the best one you know at the things you're good at. If you find that awesome rather than discouraging you'll do great. You'll also find lots of distractions, but so long as you have good work habits and take care of business you'll be fine. But it's easy to lose focus, and the work is relentless -- once you fall behind it's hard to catch up.

    The best way not to fall behind is to always be ahead. Read and work ahead so every lecture you go to is review for you. Don't bother with the lectures if you find they aren't helpful. Use office hours and TAs relentlessly; if you're up on the work just go to chat about their work. You'll learn a ton and it will help you understand if the academic life is for you. Grab the summer opportunities. Do SURF if it looks interesting to you.

    But if you aren't jazzed at the idea of being a scientist don't go to Caltech. It's a narrow education, and a ton of work. Unless you mostly enjoy the work it will just be a pointless slog. In general, Caltech graduates say it's the hardest thing they ever did in their life. Many don't graduate (I didn't, lacking both humility and discipline). But it's a great experience if you're up for it, and you'll meet a bunch of great people. My wife, who did graduate from Caltech, never used her degree. None of our kids went to Caltech. I've almost never recommended going to Caltech to any students I've known (and I've known quite a few who would have made good Techers). It's a kind of unusual place, well suited to a particular set of people. If you're one of them, definitely go there. I'm quite happy I did.
  14. Jan 9, 2018 #13
    Thanks for that note!

    I am looking forward to working with others who at a higher level than me. I have always heard that the atmosphere is not competitive, so the interaction can only help, I think. One good thing is that I will have a college-level course on analysis and one on linear algebra under my belt before I finish high school, and I took multivariable calculus as a junior, so hopefully, the Math 1a material will not be too unfamiliar. I am sure it will be hard work and challenging, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. The one thing that I need to do is to be a bit more independent. I'm depending on my parents a bit too much right now and counting on their nagging me to keep me on schedule. That's got to end. I have 6 months to work on it. :)
  15. Jan 9, 2018 #14


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    Yup, internalizing and automating the good parts of your parents is a large part of growing up. Good luck! You'll do fine wherever you decide to go.
  16. Jan 10, 2018 #15
    Congrats. I had a friend who went there and he said the hardest part was accepting the fact that he was no longer always the smartest kid in the room. As for what he did between high school and college, nothing academic. We traveled through western Europe together with some other friends from high school.
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