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    How to Respond to the 2023/2024 Caltech Supplemental Essays

    By Varonika Ware

    Varonika Ware is a content writer at Scholarships360. Varonika earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications at Louisiana State University. During her time at LSU, she worked with the Center of Academic Success to create the weekly Success Sunday newsletter. Varonika also interned at the Louisiana Department of Insurance in the Public Affairs office with some of her graphics appearing in local news articles.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: October 16th, 2023
    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!

    Prompt #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? (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?

    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? (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. 

    Questions to consider:

    • 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?

    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? (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! 

    Questions to consider:

    • 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?

    Prompt #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? (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.

    Questions to consider:

    • 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?

    Prompt #5

    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. 

    Questions to consider:

    • 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

    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 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. 

    Questions to consider:

    • 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? 

    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! (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.

    Questions to consider:

    • Why do you want to write about this additional hobby?
    • Does this interest build on your first one and the rest of your application?

    Prompt #8

    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.

    Questions to consider:

    • 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?

    Prompt #9

    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.

    Questions to consider:

    • 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.

    Additional resources

    Since you’re considering pursuing higher education, it’s important to have all the resources you can get at your fingertips. Check out some of these Scholarships360 links to learn more!

    Remember to apply for all the scholarships you qualify for while you are eligible! 

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