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CalTech, My choice of school, but I need your help.

  1. Dec 11, 2004 #1
    Right now im a Junior in high school, and have a very special interest in physics, ranging from all different kinds of fields of applications, simply put I endulge in everything that can make my mind race with thought and questions. Now ive made a few mistakes in my high school experience like maybe not challenging myself to the fullest, im taking AP physcics B and next year im taking AP physics C and hopefully calculus, ive been going to summer physics camps and hope to attend one on stanford campus this summer. Ive been looking at schools and was recently in California looking at schools. I didnt get a chance to look at Caltech, but im very interested in that school, and have set my goal. I know this is an extremely hard, and focused school to get accepted into but I believe if i try my hardest, there is a chance. Now i dont know if anyone has had any experience here, or what, but can anyone here give me some guidance, what it takes to get in, helpings, or any advice, i have a real strong preference for this school and need as much help i can get, thank you for any adivce you can give me, i appreciate it all. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2004 #2
    Do a science fair project. It shows you have initiative and drive - see if you can get the ISF or better yet the Intel STS.
  4. Dec 12, 2004 #3
    you have a lot of aspiration, but i think focusing on a specific school for undergrad might not be the best idea. sure caltech is excellent, but you don't have to go there for undergrad to become a great physicist. when i was in high school, only one person in my class got into caltech. he got first place in some national math competition, barely missed presidential scholarship, and probably had 50-60 college credits by the time he graduated. anyways, he was top to begin with so getting into caltech was expected (his older brother went to caltech also).

    i, on the other hand, did worse than all of my peers. i did take calc ab, ap physics c, and 3 other ap social science classes. however i couldn't even get into uw madison. my first year was at another in-state college and transferred back this semester.

    i guess what i'm saying is have reasonable expectation. i'm not sure what state you're in, but i think all the UC schools are good. perhaps my expectations are rather low, but i don't think you need to go to mit, cmu, or caltech for undergrad. sorry if my post sounded discouraging since i didn't give any particular advice on how to get into caltech

    well i just asked a friend of mine who went to caltech. he told me its very difficult if you don't have 4.0 gpa. you need to show you're extradinary in some fashion (which is still rather vague). my friend actually served on the admission team for graduate students, but he doesn't know too much about undergrad. i hope that's a bit more useful than what i said above.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2004
  5. Dec 12, 2004 #4
    I have a few friends who have gotten into Caltech: they are all extraordinary in some way or another (if not in grades then with independent research or some such). It is interesting to note, however, that not one of them decided to actually go there, including a friend who got offered a full scholarship! I asked why and basically they each decided the school was much too grad student oriented and decided to go to undergrad elsewhere. Despite this most of them still plan on going there to graduate school.
    Now don't get me wrong, it's a great school and I'm sure there are a lot of kids there who are happy about being there. It's just I want to point out that there are a lot of great schools to go to and no matter where you end up there's always an oppritunity to learn.
  6. Dec 12, 2004 #5
    Well, certainly I am determined to try whatever it takes to get in, I know Caltech is not the only school, but im looking for a college on the west coast primarily, but am willing to look else where, ive looked at UC santa Barbra berkely, stanford, but for what i have in mind as my life goals, it just seems like caltech is the most determined school out there. I live in Idaho right now, and go to a decent high school, I may not have a 4.0 GPA, its always above 3.5 though, but I am on all my teachers good sides, i stop in regularly to talk to my physics teacher about the latest ideas, and studies, hes amazed that I have such a strong interest in physics, so I know I could get good recomendations from them. I know that colleges do not JUST look at GPA scores, but also SAT, ACT, summer activites and such, and i think thast where Ill have the advantage. There is one person from last years graduating class that got into caltech from my school, so I might go to the counselor and ask to see what things he accomplished, his SAT scores and such so I can have a good reference for what is needed. Can anyone suggest other schools with very strong physics, math, and engineering department? Whatever it takes I WILL try my best to show I have initiative and drive to get into a top notch school, I just need to know what it takes.
  7. Dec 12, 2004 #6
    You seem pretty focused and determined to get into Caltech. Good luck with the process.

    But, don't look over some other potential choices.
  8. Dec 12, 2004 #7
    Can you give me some good ideas as to some other school choices, preferably on the western half of the country. Ive been looking and theres so many, but none of them compare to the courses offered at some of the higher end schools.
  9. Dec 12, 2004 #8
    Hmm. . .I'm here at Reed (Portland OR), and we've a strong physics program, but we're also a liberal arts school, which means that they force us to spend all too much time on hateful required courses outside of the sciences. . .

    Great profs here, though - David Griffiths, for instance, who's author of 3 of the most widely used undergrad textbooks in E&M, QM and elementary physics. And this is a great place for undergrad opportunities (I'm a sophomore and I work as a NRC-licenced reactor operator at our 250 kW reactor).

    So yeah, I really love the quality education you can get in the sciences here, but, because Reed's a liberal arts school, I'll have to work my ass off if I want to learn all of what someone working towards a B.S. from a top non-libarts school would have time to. Applying to Reed for physics is a pretty good idea because the quality of instruction here is great (and Reed also ranks very well with grad schools), but if there was the choice of a really good technical school (like the aforementioned MIT or Caltech), I'd certainly opt for one of those instead
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2004
  10. Dec 12, 2004 #9
    Thanksalot guys, i appreciate it all, I will continue to reach for my goal, but I will also look into other schools as well, anymore guidance is welcomed and appreciated... oh ya, does anyone know of any awesome summer physics/math programs?

    thanks alot guys.
  11. Dec 13, 2004 #10


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    OK... I bit my tongue (actually, I bit my typing fingers) from replying to this thread early on. However, I think this is where I come in and spoil the fun. :)

    It is commendable that one wants to go to the "best" schools for an undergraduate college education. There is nothing wrong with that, so let's be clear on that point right off the bat.

    The problem becomes if one is either obsessed with wanting to go to all these "brand-name" schools, and/or overlooking other equally worthy, but less well-known schools. I will state without hesitation that there is a VERY good chance that all those "research prestigue", amazing experimental facilities, huge research grants, etc, etc. that a university has, you as an undergraduate will see very little of! So do NOT be seduced with all of these. You may not get to reap all of their benefits!

    What you should be focusing on is the education aspects of it. Do they have professors that are also good teachers? An excellent teacher and an excellent researcher often are not the same person. Does the department puts a lot of emphasis on the instruction aspect? Do they train their Teaching Assistants? In other words, focus on the quality of EDUCATION you will be getting at that school! This is the foremost important aspect of the next 4 years of your life! It is of no use to tout that a school has its own particle accelerator when you are getting crappy instructors that are making you hate that classical mechanics class.

    So look beyond those brand-name schools. There are MANY schools, big and small, well-known and not well-known, that can give excellent, first rate physics instructions. If these schools lack big-time research, then apply for summer internships at various DOE Labs! I've described this in detail in one of my essays in my Journal. So there is no excuse for anyone from a small school to say that they lack the opportunitues of those students in the bigger schools of being involved in "real" physics research.

    Moral of the story: Undergraduate education matters less on how prestigious a school you go to. It does matter where you go for your graduate school. But for an undergraduate instruction, it matters more on the quality of the education and instruction that you will be getting, not on how much or how big of a research program a school has.

  12. Dec 13, 2004 #11
    Can anyone refer me to some good summer programs I can attend? I really have nothing to do during the summer so id like to attend a few of them, my friend goes to one down in Denver at DU, but it requires some special achievments..... there is one offered at Stanford wich looks pretty interesting, but are there any other?? I appreciate all the answers you guys have given me so far..

    Take it easy.
  13. Dec 14, 2004 #12
    Here's Cal-Tech's admissions stats from US News:

    Admissions Requirements
    High school completion requirement: High school diploma or equivalent is not required
    General college-preparatory program: Required

    Distribution of high school units required and/or recommended*
    Units Required Units Recommended
    English 3 4
    Mathematics 4 N/A
    Science 2 N/A
    Lab 1 N/A
    Foreign language N/A N/A
    Social studies 1 N/A
    History 1 N/A
    Academic electives N/A N/A
    Total academic units N/A N/A
    *One unit equals one year of study or its equivalent.

    Campus visit: Recommended
    Admissions interview: Neither required nor recommended
    Off-campus interview: Not available

    Does the college use SAT or ACT scores in admissions decisions for first-time, first-year applicants? Yes
    SAT/ACT requirements: Neither SAT nor ACT required.
    SAT I/ACT scores must be received by: December 31
    Tests accepted for Fall 2006 entering class: the new SAT, the new ACT
    SAT II scores must be received by: December 31

    Open admission policy? No

    What is the relative importance of specific academic factors in admission decisions?
    Secondary school record: Very important
    Class rank: Considered
    Recommendation(s): Very important
    Standardized test scores: Considered
    Essay: Very important

    What is the relative importance of specific nonacademic factors in admission decisions?
    Interview: Not considered
    Extracurricular activities: Considered
    Talent/ability: Considered
    Character/personal qualities: Very important
    Alumni/ae relation: Not considered
    Geographical residence: Not considered
    State residency: Not considered
    Religious affiliation/commitment: Not considered
    Minority status: Considered
    Volunteer work: Considered
    Work experience: Considered

    For more admissions information on California Institute of Technology, see also:
    Disabled students, International students, Transfer students

    2003-2004 Admissions Statistics
    Selectivity: Most Selective
    Overall acceptance rate: 17%
    Early-decision acceptance rate: N/A
    Early-action acceptance rate: 28%
    Acceptance rate (excluding early-action and early-decision students): 14%

    Applications, acceptances, enrolled

    Total applicants: 3,071
    Total acceptances: 520
    Total freshman enrollment: 191

    Proportion of freshman enrolled from early action and early decision: 31%

    Male applicants: 2,407
    Male acceptances: 337
    Male freshman enrollment: 127

    Female applicants: 664
    Female acceptances: 183
    Female freshman enrollment: 64

    Students that applied here may also have applied to:
    Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California–Berkeley

    Out-of-state freshmen: 60%

    Qualified applicants placed on waiting list: 386
    Applicants accepting a place on waiting list: 315
    Students enrolled from waiting list: 45

    2003-2004 Freshman Class Profile

    Class rank (top 10, 25, 50)

    Top 10 percent of high school class: 94%
    Top 25 percent of high school class: 100%
    Top 50 percent of high school class: 100%

    First-year students submitting high school class standing: 63%
    Average high school GPA: N/A

    First-year students submitting GPA: N/A

    First-year students submitting SAT scores: 100%
    SAT I scores (25/75 percentile):
    Verbal: 700 – 780
    Math: 760 – 800
    Combined: 1460 – 1580

    Percent of first-time, first-year students enrolled in Fall 2003 with scores in each range:
    SAT I Verbal SAT I Math
    700-800 77.0% 96.3%
    600-699 17.3% 3.7%
    500-599 5.7% N/A
    400-499 N/A N/A
    300-399 N/A N/A
    200-299 N/A N/A
  14. Dec 14, 2004 #13


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    Good luck on your app, it looks like we'll be competing with each other for a spot there (im a junior as well). At the moment, cal tech is my first choice, 2nd u of m, then mit, then georgia tech, then university of alabama (in state school, has decent elec eng, and i could get a ****load of money/credit from them)

    It seems you are trying to do so, but make sure you take as high math and physics as possible for you. Im in physics C now, im finishing BC calculus this term, then i'll move onto diffeq, multivariable, complex analysis, number theory, as well as a couple other upper maths. I've also had intro elec eng, digit elec, linear alg, and will have astrophysics, quantum phys, robotics, lasers and holo, mechanical eng., and probably another phys class or two. However, i suck ass at standardized tests (got a 193 on the psat :yuck: ) and i probly won't do that hot on act/sat. I keep mostly A's, ive gotten 2 b's so far in high school (comp lits 1 & 2 :( ), but math phys i keep a's. So i have no idea what cal tech will think. Anyone have any ideas?

    (sorry for the blatant thread hijack, but what they say might help you a bit as well in some way or other as well :tongue2: )
  15. Dec 14, 2004 #14
    hmmm which high school are you in??? it seems to offer lot of courses :p
  16. Dec 14, 2004 #15
    jesus, with all of those classes youve taken, it makes me sound like a retard..... I dont know, i may not have all of those youve taken but what I do have is a real strong interest and learning capability in physics, and I belive thast what it takes...Learning requires two things, love of the topic, and persistence. My school offers nothing compared to those classes, only APb and APc physics, and calculus as a senior. Thats why I am going to be taking alot of summer programs this coming summer... Wich anyone has yet to answer my question, what are some good summer programs offered?

    thanks guys.
  17. Dec 14, 2004 #16


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    alabama school of math and science, boarding school. and yeah, there are a lot of courses here, but that IS all of the math/phys classes, so after those i'll run out of classes :(

    and mindbogler, your right, it takes a lot of determination (and help) to learn physics. If you stop when you get frustrated, you might not make it through the first chapter.

    and sorry, i don't know any summer programs, even where i live...
  18. Dec 16, 2004 #17


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    You should spread yourself around a bit in my opinion. Stanford, UC Santa Barbara and Berkely all have top ten physics departments in the country (and don't have as insane admission requirements as CalTech, plus you'll probably have a funner social life going to those schools).
  19. Dec 16, 2004 #18
    is it like a magnet school? damn i wanted to jion one such school where quite a few math/science courses would be offered.
  20. Dec 16, 2004 #19


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    Its a public school, but you have to be accepted to it. Unfortunately, the school is accepting worse and worse students :mad:
  21. Dec 20, 2004 #20
    I'm a phys grad student at Caltech. I know/taught some undergrads. It's a very tough school for undergrad phys majors, especially since you're competing against some very bright individuals. Also - in classes like junior year quantum mechanics, there are a lot of grad students in the class and you'll be graded on the same curve, making it even tougher. If you major in bio or geology, then it's not as bad - in fact, a good number of entering students come in intending to do physics, but have to set their sights lower after they face the reality of the situation.

    Berkeley is a much easier school to get into for undergrad, but it has terrific reputation so that if you play your cards right, you'll get into a good grad school. I would take a serious look at it.

    If you're not really really good, then I'd recommend going to an easier school, getting better grades, having a bit more free time to enjoy yourself, and then attending a nice grad school.

    No need to punish yourself for 4 years at Caltech. And at the end of it all, you might still not have good enough grades to get into top grad school. Also - the teaching at Caltech isn't particularly outstanding, in general.
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