What is it Like to Attend California Institute of Technology?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Caroline is an MCAT tutor located in San Diego. She graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. Check out her review of her school:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Caroline: Caltech has a gorgeous campus! It is very small, only about a mile and a half in perimeter. It is definitely walkable, although many people own bikes (or longboards). There are also bus and train stops near campus if you need to use public transportation. Campus is fairly safe, partly due to its location in suburban Pasadena and partly due to the Honor Code, which states that students shall not take unfair advantage of others.

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Caroline: On the whole, professors, advisors and teaching assistants were very available. Even though research is a priority, many professors love teaching as well, and it really shows in their interactions with students. For example, one professor invited a group of students out to lunch once a month at the faculty dining club. Needless to say, those lunches were very popular!

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Caroline: Caltech has a house system, very similar to that of Harry Potter. We have eight houses, which are all fine houses. They have their own personalities and traditions, and, more importantly, are a wonderful way for students to form social networks. There is a lot of coursework, but something about pulling repeated all-nighters to work on sets together makes for a great bonding experience! It is not all work, however! We also have traditions like Ditch Day and the pranking culture that keeps campus life very lively.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Caroline: Majors such as Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics and Mathematics were all very popular. All majors have strong support networks built in. Advisors can offer career advice alongside the Career Center. Students frequently join research labs, as well, and their Principal Investigators are another source of support. I chose to study Biology and English. I started off with a strong inclination toward Biology, and I found that one of the best ways to learn about the human psyche was through literature. The humanities department may not be one of the more well-known parts of Caltech, but its faculty were extremely warm and supportive of students.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Caroline: In lieu of Greek life, we have a house system. Everyone gets sorted into a house at the start of freshman year. Because of the quirky antics within each house, freshmen usually get incorporated into their house social life very quickly. Caltech also has a support network, made up of upper class counselors, health advocates, resident assistants, and counselors.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Caroline: Many companies such as Google recruit at Caltech. Computer Science is, of course, a very popular major, but companies are also interested in Engineering and Applied Mathematics majors, as well. The Career Center is fairly helpful, although it is limited in resources.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Caroline: The dorm lounges are a popular place to hang out, although people usually study in the libraries or in the Student Activities Center, which is located in the basement of certain houses. There is usually plenty of space, and facilities are nice.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Caroline: Old Town Pasadena is about two miles away. There is plenty to do in downtown Pasadena, such as visiting restaurants and shopping. Many students who own cars frequently go out to Koreatown or downtown Los Angeles to spend time, as well. Because there is usually a heavy workload, off-campus excursions are limited, but students at Caltech work hard and play hard too!

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Caroline: We have about 225 students per year. It is a very small class, which gives you the chance to get to know everyone. Although I sometimes wished for the excitement of a larger class, I am glad to have had a more tightknit experience because of our small class size.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Caroline: “Let’s go back to first principles.” The professor went on to derive the resting potential of an average neuron using seawater concentrations of ions such as Na+ and K+. This was my first taste of neuroscience, and I have been addicted ever since. He taught us to contemplate at a molecular, cellular, and circuit level about basic neural functions. For the last homework assignment, he asked us to write what we thought were the biggest unanswered questions in neuroscience. Biology has a reputation for being based in memorization, but this professor pushed us to think and to question.

Check out Caroline’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.