School Profile: Work Hard and Play Hard at the California Institute of Technology

If you have an impassioned desire to probe the far reaches of deep space, get chills at the thought of programming DNA for molecular robots, or long to one day win a Nobel Prize, then Caltech may be the school for you. California Institute of Technology, located in Pasadena, California, is a premier private research university whose mission it is to “expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education.”

When you go to the homepage of most colleges, the information you find there is about the logistics of the college. When you go to the California Institute of Technology website, the homepage presents beautiful color photos linked to news stories about all the things the school and those associated with it are accomplishing and discovering. There is a lot going on here! Caltech is also home to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which in itself is astounding. This school has a long history of accomplishments; they don’t just give lip service to their mission, they put 100% action behind it. Caltech alumni and faculty have amassed 32 Nobel Prizes among 31 recipients. Even Einstein dropped by campus for a visit in 1931. Their ongoing dedication to excellence in science and technology is unsurpassed.

Student housing at Caltech is one of the more unusual arrangements among elite colleges. The school has a house system where most of their 900+ undergraduate students live in on-campus houses. There are seven houses on campus divided into two groups. On the north end of campus are four 1920s Spanish-style houses named Blacker, Dabney, Fleming, and Ricketts. Students who live in those houses are referred to as Moles, Darbs, Flems, and Scurves. On the south end of the campus are three 1950s modern-style houses named Lloyd, Page, and Ruddock; their inhabitants are called Lloydies, Pageboys, and Rudds. All students are required to be associated with one of the seven houses. Incoming freshmen participate in “Rotation” the first week of school and visit each of the seven houses. They choose their top four; houses hold a kind of NFL draft situation to choose who will be in each house.

If your main goal in going to college is to play college sports, then this may not be the school for you. The Division III school has losing records in nearly every sport year after year. Aside from 1944 when the football team went undefeated during a season cut short by war with a team stacked with Stanford players, they have arguably one of the worst college football teams. One sports website joked Caltech students’ average IQ of 140 approached their weight – a great statistic for one of the best colleges in the nation, not so great for sports. Caltech, however, plays to their strength, which is brilliance. In 1961, they pulled off perhaps the greatest college prank ever at the Pasadena Rose Bowl when they tricked Washington Huskies fans into turning over flip-cards at halftime that spelled out CALTECH in front of 33 million TV viewers.

If you are lacking a sense of humor, Caltech is definitely not the place for you. It’s impossible to put this much brainpower in a single location and expect them not to use it for a little fun from time to time. Although the 1961 Rose Bowl prank was their most famous (so far), they have a long tradition of pranks, so much so that it has become part of their identity. In 1984, they manipulated the scoreboard to read Caltech and MIT as the opponents during the Rose Bowl game. In 1987, they changed the Hollywood sign to read Caltech on Hollywood’s 100th birthday. In 2005, they even flew across the country to longtime rival MIT and pranked incoming freshmen. In fact, you can read all about their long list of pranks in Legends of Caltech, Volumes I, II, and III. If you don’t have the time to read all three volumes, you can just watch the 1985 movie Real Genius, where Pacific Tech is loosely based on the school.

Brilliance, excellence, dedication, hard work, and a sense of humor are all you need to attend Caltech. Join others in changing the world for the better, while still remembering to have a little fun.

You’ll certainly need a high SAT score to get into Caltech too. We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter! Also, take a look at our profiles for The University of ChicagoPomona College, and Amherst College to see if those schools are a good fit for you.

By Colleen Hill