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How to Answer the Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

NOV 17, 2019 • 8 min read

California Institute of Technology, better known as Caltech, is notoriously one of the most prestigious and well-known research universities in the world. To secure an acceptance letter to this prestigious institutions, an admissions officer will be looking for well-thought out essay responses.

Not sure how to answer this year’s supplemental essay prompts for Caltech? Read to learn how our expert essay mentors would respond.

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Short Essay 1: Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. (Your response for each experience/activity should range between 10-120 words.)

This essay is quite open-ended, which means you can be creative, but be sure not to stray too far from the point of the question: what about your life experiences make you want to study STEM?

Answers can include the personal and the academic. In fact, I recommend including a range of experiences/activities in order to give your application more texture.

Example 1: My sister and I were raised by a single father, and on the days when we wanted to go shopping or play dress up, instead we were forced to go help Dad at his dental clinic. Though I resented this when I was younger, by the time I reached high school, going to the clinic after school became one of my favorite ways to spend time with my Dad. I loved listening to his stories about botched-surgeries or (more often) difficult but successful operations, and was always picking his brain about the new x-rays he would bring in to examine patients. This is where my interest in biotechnology really took off.

Example 1 is a great way to give the reader an idea about your family, as well as your interest in STEM. It is personal, honest, and sincere.

Once you have this more personal example, you can delve into more academic examples: going to a coding conference in 6th grade, being in an honors class about the ethics of engineering in high school etc. The idea is to think about how your interests in STEM relate to you as a person and a student. Where did the interest start? How was it later fostered? What are your career goals?

Short Essay 2: Much like the life of a professional scientist or engineer, the life of a "Techer" relies heavily on collaboration. Knowing this, what do you hope to explore, innovate, or create with your Caltech peers? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

There are two elements to this question: how do you want to use your Caltech degree moving forward and how do you operate as a collaborator?

The majority of Caltech applicants are gifted, accomplished, and highly interested in tech; that does not mean they are all good team players. Here Caltech wants to know how you work with others. How do you operate in a team? Do you have an experience that demonstrates that? Are you the visionary type, the team organizer, the communicator, the builder?

Once you answer these questions, tie it into the kind of projects you hope to explore at Caltech. This can be a chance to do some research on the specific opportunities Caltech provides. Maybe you want to work with a specific Caltech professor or maybe you want to take part in a specific coding conference. Here is a good place to mention these kinds of projects.

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Short Essay 3: Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

As evidenced by this question, Caltech wants to make sure its students are hard-working, but also know how to have fun and spend time with friends. Don’t think too hard about this question. You don’t need to connect this to your academic pursuits - what do you actually do for fun?

Do you blow off steam by being a part of the track team? What is that dynamic like? Maybe you are teaching yourself ukulele? Or maybe your grandma has a fantastic sense of humor and you spend time with her at church every Sunday. Again, this should be personal, sincere, and appropriate.

Short Essay 4: The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech's community? (Your response should range between 250-400 words.)

This question, at first glance, seems to be asking specifically about racial or socioeconomic diversity; these topics are certainly appropriate for answering this question, but they are by no means the only way to approach it.

Caltech wants to make sure its student body has a diversity of thought. You can talk about how you solve problems, how you analyze evidence, how you synthesize ideas, or how you approach challenges. For example, maybe you are highly observant and noticed the source of water leakage in your house that no one else was able to. How does this make you a valuable addition to a team/community? Be sure you provide specific evidence or an anecdote. Then relate this concept to how you would contribute to the Caltech community.

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