How can I get admitted into CalTech?

  • #1
intellectual mutant
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Hi all. I am a part of the class of 2023 at a very excellent university (University of Michigan) and my dream is to become a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. My B.Sc. is in physics and I would like to either pursue physics or biophysics for graduate school. Can I get any advice on what to do to ensure my ability to get admitted there? It’s my dream to attend this institution. One of the issues I have is that my GPA is only 3.1 but I plan on taking the subjects GRE test to prove my mastery of the material.
 
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  • #2
I do not believe the subject tests will form a basis for you to be competitive against other applicants. Those applicants will almost certainly have a much better GPA and the same or better scores on the subject tests. You are going to need truly outstanding references and some exceptional research experience. Mastery of the material will be a given for any serious applicant to Caltech.
 
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  • #3
Perhaps you should consider your realistic options. A lot of advice availible here. Caltech Physics is not likely within the realistic part, dreams notwithstanding.
 
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  • #4
intellectual mutant said:
Hi all. I am a part of the class of 2023 at a very excellent university (University of Michigan) and my dream is to become a doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. My B.Sc. is in physics and I would like to either pursue physics or biophysics for graduate school. Can I get any advice on what to do to ensure my ability to get admitted there? It’s my dream to attend this institution. One of the issues I have is that my GPA is only 3.1 but I plan on taking the subjects GRE test to prove my mastery of the material.
* Perhaps you should take a step back. Let's start with different questions. What are your goals? Why do you think that becoming a PhD student at Cal Tech is the only way to achieve those goals?

* Your current situation is not clear to me. You say that you are part of the class of 2023, but you plan on taking the GREs. So you graduated in 2023, but did not apply to grad school, correct? What have you been doing since graduation?
 
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  • #5
There is a bit of an unjustified aura associated with prestigious institutions. Yes, Caltech is a good school, but there are many, many other great educational institutions that can teach you what you need to know.

The most important factor, IMO, is how hard you will work and will the institution support you in the areas you need help with. It isn't a prize to get admitted to a program that doesn't support what you need. You don't develop great quarterbacks by putting them in the Super Bowl because they really, really want that.

I was accepted as an undergrad at MIT, Caltech, and UCSD. I went to Caltech and don't have huge complaints, but I should have gone to UCSD. It would have been a better fit for me. Find the best fit. Do your research. Who will you work with? What will you do there? What were the qualifications of the students that got in?

As a slightly related exercise, look into all of the Nobel prize winners (or most any tenured Professor) at Caltech and find out where they were working when they did that work. Also, how many grad students do they actually supervise now? You need to look past the glittery exterior, that's not what you'll see from the inside.
 
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  • #6
intellectual mutant said:
Can I get any advice on what to do to ensure my ability to get admitted [to Cal Tech]?
"Ensure" is a strong word. Maybe you can develop a time machine and go back to your freshman year and do better in your undergrad studies. I'm sorry if that is harsh, but what @DaveE says about prestige is true:
DaveE said:
there are many, many other great educational institutions that can teach you what you need to know.
The sooner you come to terms with this the better off you will be.
 
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  • #7
To add....I looked at Caltech's web site and tried to count the number of graduate students doing biophysics. It's a little tricky because of the way Caltech is (or isn't) organized, but I get 11. That means they admit maybe 1.5 new students per year.

So you want one of one - perhaps two - slots in the world. That is going to be very, very difficult - even if you had a 4.0 GPA and glowing LORs, the target is still very very small.

As an aside, Michigan awards a BS, not a BSc, which is more common in Europe. Does it matter? Not really - except that even trivial mistakes may matter when you are shooting at a target this small.
 
  • #8
Vanadium 50 said:
It's a little tricky because of the way Caltech is (or isn't) organized,
LOL, spoken like a true MIT graduate... :smile:
 
  • #9
berkeman said:
spoken like a true MIT graduate..
A true MIT grad would say

"What do an MIT and a Caltech student have in common?"
"They both got into Caltech."
 
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  • #10
Vanadium 50 said:
A true MIT grad would say

"What do an MIT and a Caltech student have in common?"
"They both got into Caltech."
Sorry we had to go here but...
MIT total enrollment is about 12,000 students.
Caltech total enrollment is about 2,400 students.

I haven't done a survey, but my Bayesian prior assumption is that hundreds of MIT students are lying if they say they applied to and got into both. Nothing wrong with MIT, IMO, except for a minor inferiority complex, plus worse weather.

OTOH, I'm sure your football team is much better than ours.
 
  • #11
We had a cheer when the other school's football team scored:

That's all right
That's okay
You'll all work
For us someday!

Anyway....enough fun.

My point was that Caltech, being a small school, has departments that cover more ground that at larger schools (r.g. math, astronomy and physics together) and in addition they have, like many places, a number of programs/centers/institutes not necessarily associated with a single department. The organization makes it difficult to count noses working on any given topic, like biophysics.

But the exact number doesn't matter. A mean of 1, 1.5 or 2 students a year means the same thing - there are not many openings. Could even be zero in your year. Also, Caltech is small - if you happen to be interested in the research the few faculty are doing, great. If not, you're kind of stuck. Maybe Columbia or Northwester or even Rockefeller is the better choice.

That's another reason I think the OP needs to rethink his plan. "I want to work on X with Prof. Y and he's at Caltech" is a good reason to pick Caltech. "I want to go to Caltech" is not so much. ("Because they have turtles", perhaps?)
 
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  • #12
Thread is paused temporarily for some Moderation issues with the OP.
 
  • #13
It turns out that this OP is a sockpuppet of another member here at PF. We're still sorting things out, but this thread will stay closed. Thanks for all the good replies and advice in this thread.
 

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