Essay Scoop: How to Answer Caltech’s Essays

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Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

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If are passionate about science or engineering, Caltech should probably be on your list of schools! The California Institute of Technology (Caltech’s full name) remains a nationally-ranked STEM school, located on the sunny west coast. However, to call this school home, you have to earn admission first. Today we’ll review each essay prompt to help you ace every one. See our guidance below for how to address Caltech’s essays for the 2016-17 application cycle.

Prompts for Caltech’s essays:

Please list three books, along with their authors, that have been particularly meaningful to you. For each book, please include a sentence explaining their influence upon you. Please note that your response is not limited to math, science or school-assigned texts.

(200 characters max per book)

Caltech is known for its peculiar prompt approach that pushes applicants to evaluate and imbue reflection into experiences they recount. Additionally, Caltech is interested in your profile beyond academics. They want to get a sense of the person’s mindset and perspective beyond academics. This prompt is designed to test your ability to distill meaning from literature and apply it to your life. Through two lines of writing, you’ll need to explain an aspect of the book that has influenced you.

  • Book 1:
    • Influence upon you (200 characters max)
  • Book 2:
    • Influence upon you (200 characters max)
  • Book 3:
    • Influence upon you (200 characters max)
Members of the Caltech community live, learn, and work within an Honor System with one simple guideline; ‘No member shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.’ While seemingly simple, questions of ethics, honesty and integrity are sometimes puzzling. Share a difficult situation that has challenged you. What was your response, and how did you arrive at a solution?

(200 word max)

At first this seems like a tricky proposition; is it asking you to share a time you observed or participated in some sort of dishonest act? Well, Caltech is more interested in the line of reasoning behind your opinion rather than just the opinion itself. This is an attempt to push responses beyond a simple “right or wrong” binary, in favor of showcasing your personal thought process.

Caltech students have long been known for their quirky sense of humor, whether it be through planning creative pranks, building elaborate party sets, or even the year-long preparation that goes into our annual Ditch Day. Please describe an unusual way in which you have fun.

(200 word max)

Beyond your hobbies and recreational preferences lies a specific moment or type of moment that excites you or brings you enjoyment. You don’t just play video games or eat candy, you have your own unique approach to gameplay or your own unique way of eating gummy bears. Showcase your love for the unconventional; it’s what makes you fun. Being quirky is almost a must for a school like Caltech so do not be afraid to choose a topic that is very specific or “out there.”

In an increasingly global and interdependent society, there is a need for diversity in thought, background, and experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech’s community?

(200 word max)

In addition to your academic interest and a problem you hope to solve, this prompt seeks a personal contribution to the intellectual spirit of the university. You can focus on the interdisciplinary nature of your studies to demonstrate your personal take. The content of the idea is less important than the beliefs you espouse and your understanding of how concepts link.

Scientific exploration clearly excites you. Beyond our 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio and our intense focus on research opportunities, how do you believe Caltech will best fuel your intellectual curiosity and help you meet your goals?

(500 word max)

This prompt takes a more refined approach to the typical “Why Us” question by being more upfront in its expectations of your interests and can serve as a model for your responses elsewhere. You’ll need to walk the reader through your vision for the numerous opportunities Caltech has to offer through its academic programs, professors, courses, clubs, or traditions. A typical “Why Us” ask you to focus on a skill or lesson each resource you list provides and how it contributes to your goals for the future. This question asks the same but with an additional emphasis on the cultural aspects that help catalyze intellectual pursuits.


That concludes our review of Caltech’s essays this year! If you have further questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to Empowerly. You really don’t have to struggle through your writing alone. We have a whole community of experts and cutting edge resources to help you find your best fit school

Questions? Let us know!