Applying to Caltech 2021-2022
Applicants are required to submit their application and supporting materials online by the following deadlines:
- Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics - December 1
- Bioengineering - November 15
- Biology - November 22
- Computation and Neural Systems - December 1
- Neurobiology - December 1
Once your application has been submitted, you will not be able to modify supporting documents, so please proofread your materials thoroughly before submission.
Apply Online - https://www.applyweb.com/caltgapp
Nuts and Bolts
The sections below contain some of the basic information about applying to Caltech. You can find even more details on the Caltech Graduate Office admissions webpage.
Applicants must have completed a bachelor's degree or the equivalent before beginning graduate study. Applicants who already hold a Ph.D. degree will not be considered for a second Ph.D. degree. Transcripts from each college or university attended, three letters of recommendation, a CV, and the applicant's statement of purpose are required components of the application and are carefully and equally weighed during the evaluation process. GRE tests (general and advanced subject) are not required and scores will not be considered for admission. Applicants are expected to read, write and speak English and comprehend the spoken language. Although not required for admission, for applicants whose native language is not English or who have not received a degree from a university or college where English is the primary language of instruction, it is important to demonstrate a strong capability in English. This can be done by self-reporting scores from the Educational Testing Service (TOEFL), Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic), the Cambridge Examinations and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or other services that provide a certified English-language proficiency examination.
To successfully complete the online application process, you must:
- Create a free account with CollegeNET to submit the application form online.
- Include payment of the application fee or submit a fee waiver request. (Waiver is included in the application)
- Upload a Statement of Purpose. Tips
- Upload an official electronic copy of your transcripts or online grade reports issued by your college or university. Updated grade reports for terms in progress are not required. Students who have been admitted and plan to attend Caltech will be required to submit an official copy of all transcripts from the Registrar's Office prior to enrollment.
- Register three individuals from whom you will request letters of recommendation.
- Upload a CV or Resume. Tips
In addition to a completed application form, applicants are required to submit several additional supporting documents. These include:
- STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Provide a brief statement of your scientific and professional interests and objectives. Include a description of your past accomplishments that are not evident from the examination of other documents submitted. Report, if applicable, on any research in progress. The statement must be written by the applicant in English. It must not be written in another language and translated for the applicant by another person.
- LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
Three letters of recommendation from individuals familiar with your academic and/or work performance are required for all applicants.
Transcripts from all colleges or universities attended are required. Transcripts may be sent directly from the Registrar of the institution you attended or transcripts issued directly to the applicant, and so marked, are acceptable, and can be submitted online following the electronic submission process. If you attended Caltech as an undergraduate, you must request an official transcript from the Office of the Registrar. We cannot obtain one on your behalf. Please provide an explanation of any nonstandard grading systems. International transcripts or records of all courses, seminars, and examinations, including grades, scores, grading scales, and conferrals of degrees, must be in English. All translations must be complete versions of the original records. An official transcript documenting the award of an undergraduate degree is required prior to enrollment in the graduate program at Caltech.
- RESUME OR CURRICULUM VITAE
Attach a CV or resume that includes the following, if applicable:
(1) Teaching, professional, and vocational experience (include military service, but omit summer or part-time work not relevant to your professional goals)
(2) Research experience
(3) Major academic recognitions, honors, and memberships in scientific, professional and honorary societies
(4) Professional activities
(5) Significant extracurricular activities
(6) Conference presentations
(7) Titles of publications, major papers, or theses authored or co-authored; if published provide citation. Do not upload the entire document as the admissions committee often does not have the time to read a large file. It is preferred that you either list or provide links or a URL where publications can be located.
Transcripts should be submitted online following the electronic submission process. For the purpose of applying, official, sealed copies of your transcripts are not required and scanned copies of an original transcript or university generated web printouts are accepted. Please note, however, that any electronic submissions must be official copies from the school or college attended. Hand‐typed listings of courses prepared by the applicant will not be considered. If admitted, official transcripts documenting attendance at each college and university and the degrees awarded will be required prior to enrollment in the graduate program at Caltech. If you attended Caltech as an undergraduate or as a graduate student in the past, you must request an official transcript from the Office of the Registrar. We cannot obtain one on your behalf. If you are currently enrolled, you may upload an unofficial copy of your transcript via REGIS. For nonstandard or international grading systems, please provide an official university key or legend with your transcript upload. International transcripts or records of all courses, seminars, and examinations, including grades, scores, grading scales, and conferrals of degrees, must be in English. All translations must be complete and certified versions of the original records.
Three letters of recommendation from individuals familiar with your academics, research and/or work performance are required for all applicants. We prefer that you utilize the system functionality to register your reference writer following the online instructions. Once you register your reference writer, he or she will automatically be sent an email with instructions on how to upload a letter on your behalf. Applicants can view which letters have been received via the online checklist. Recommendation letters should address the following information:
- How well is the applicant known and in what capacity?
- Does the applicant have the intellectual capability, experimental ability, fundamental training, creativity, and motivation to be successful as a student at Caltech?
- Would the applicant be encouraged to do doctoral research under the recommender's supervision?
- If English is not the native language, how well does the applicant read, write, and converse in English?
- How does the applicant compare to any previous students who have come to Caltech for their graduate work?
Hints and Advice
Applying to graduate school can be mystifying, since you may not know what faculty are looking for when we read your application. Here are a few tips on the types of things that we are looking for in the different parts of your application.
- Start working on your CV. Tips
- Figure out what tests you need to take:
If your first or native language is not English and you don't have a degree from a US institution, you may need to demonstrate English proficiency with the TOEFL , PTE Academic , or IELTS
- Letters of Recommendation (three required):
Ask past research supervisors, academic advisors, and professors who know you well to write your letters of recommendation.
- Fellowships and Essays:
Apply for Fellowships - National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF) Deadline 10/18/2021
- Work on your Essay and Statement of Purpose - Tips
- Send your Transcripts
- Make sure your recommendation letters have been submitted. You will receive a notification from Caltech when a letter has been submitted on your behalf. If they are not in yet, gently remind your letter writers.
- Send your application. Deadlines are as follows:
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics - December 1
Bioengineering - November 15
Biology - November 22
Computation and Neural Systems - December 1
Neurobiology - December 1
- School Visit:
Selected students will be contacted by the Option Manager for a trip to Caltech's campus, in which you will meet with select faculty and learn more about Caltech.
- Who to ask?
- Best: past research supervisors
- Good: academic advisors or professors who know you well
- Not ideal: professors who don't know you well (even if you got
an A in a class they taught)
- How to ask?
- Ask early! They might be able to suggest places to apply
- Explicitly ask if they can write you a "strong" letter
- Once you've decided where to apply, send your letter writers info:
- A list of places and deadlines to send letters (update regularly!)
- Your CV/résumé and a copy of your transcript, along with whatever extra information they ask for
- If you have any extenuating circumstances that might explain other parts of your application, consider asking your recommenders to mention them in their letters
- Don't think you'll get a fellowship? Apply anyway, if you can. It never hurts, and it's really useful when writing other applications.
- For US citizens, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) is a great opportunity. The application is due October 18, 2021 for life sciences.
- For more tips on applying for the NSF GRFP, check out this useful website. Even if you don't apply, you might want to check out the great example essays hosted here.
- Caltech maintains a list of list of external graduate fellowships that you can apply for. Take a look!
- Express your career goals and research interests
- Briefly describe any past research, emphasizing your contributions
- Explain why a particular program is a good fit for you
- Name drop professors who you might want to work with
- Ask people to look over your statement!
- Especially ask grad students, postdocs, and/or professors
- Get a friend to check for clarity and grammar
- Send your Statement of Purpose to your letter writers once you have drafts
- Be overly flowery—it's not an undergraduate application essay!
You can find more tips here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to questions that we often get from graduate students who are applying to Caltech.
Caltech is unique in many ways. We encourage applicants to visit the Caltech and BBE website and talk to current members of Caltech to familiarize themselves with what makes special and to see if they can envision themselves as members of the Caltech community for the next few years of their lives. Knowing what you are looking for (size, research interests and focus, location, extracurricular opportunities, etc.) will help you compare different schools and decide where you want to apply. Most of our programs have a visit in January/February during which those who are selected can learn more about Caltech and its members and ask questions. Accordingly, if the overall philosophy and research directions seem to align with your personality, we encourage you to apply and experience Caltech for yourself before making a decision.
There are many different graduate programs at Caltech (which we call "options"). Which option you are in determines what courses you are required to take, the structure of rotations, examinations and teach requirements, and the name that goes on your degree.
There are many options that BBE faculty participate in, including:
- Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics (BMB)
- Bioengineering (BE)
- Biology (Bi)
- Computation and Neural Systems (CNS)
- Geobiology (GeoBio)
- Medical Engineering (MedE)
- Neurobiology (NB)
- Social and Decision Neuroscience (SDN)
Follow the links and have a look to see which is the best match for your background and interests!
Caltech only allows applicants to specify one program they wish to apply for. Applications in BBE are viewed by a program-specific committee to evaluate fit between the applicants and the specific program. As such, we encourage applicants to familiarize themselves with the different programs and choose the best fit based on their research interests.
No. We look at the whole application and the applicant when we make our admissions decisions and believe that many different paths can lead to a fascination with the biological sciences and engineering. We would love to learn about your path and encourage you to tell us about it in your Statement of Purpose.
Yes. In fact, we encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Caltech is very interdisciplinary and we like to build our labs with expertise from diverse field. It is common for a BBE lab have students from diverse backgrounds (from field biology, through computer science and engineering to theoretical math and even the humanities). Some students change direction during the application process, while others find themselves getting excited about new approaches once they start working on a topic. If your background is very different from the "conventional" paths students take towards a given program, we encourage you to elaborate on how you decided to change fields and how you think your background might benefit your future studies.
Students are encouraged to keep their interests broad when applying to grad school. In fact, we hope that students don't remain stuck in their undergraduate research field just because they feel more familiar with it. While we expect students to have thought about what fields they are interested in and why, we know that interests change, especially upon exposure to new research environments. In our experience, a great fraction of students coming to Caltech change their interests upon talking to faculty and current graduate students and attending classes. The Caltech graduate experience provides a unique opportunity to familiarize yourself with many fields within biology and biological engineering, as well as in other disciplines. In fact, students admitted to any BBE graduate program are free to work with any faculty member at Caltech as their research advisor.
The application fee is $75. However, we do not want this to deter anyone from applying to Caltech. Those to whom this would provide a serious financial burden are encouraged to request a fee waiver (included in the application). Fee waivers are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Caltech students are fully funded by the division during their first year and their faculty sponsor thereafter. As such, students receive a stipend, affordable health care and do not have to pay their tuition. First year grad students are guaranteed campus housing, while in later years campus housing is available to many students based on a lottery system.
No. Most of our applicants do not have fellowships and many have not applied for one. Students who are admitted to our programs are guaranteed their stipend and do not themselves have to pay tuition. We do, however, encourage eligible students to apply for external funding. We also have some Caltech internal fellowships available for students who are accepted into the program. Students generally get nominated for these by the admissions committees.
Many of our applicants have had previous research experience either during their undergraduate studies or after in industrial settings. Previous research experiences provide a great opportunity for students to decide whether they would like to spend the next few years in a research setting. It also helps us better evaluate the students' chances of succeeding in graduate school. Previous research is often not in fields aligned with the program students apply to and that is fine. In fact, considering the interdisciplinary atmosphere at Caltech, we thrive to recruit students from diverse scientific backgrounds and with diverse experiences.
We understand that some students had limited or no opportunities to conduct research and we do take this into consideration during the evaluation process . Students who had limited opportunities to conduct research are advised to explain their life/educational situation in their personal statement to help us put their background into perspective.
No. You will have ample opportunity to meet faculty during your campus visit and upon starting your graduate studies. However, we encourage students to look at faculty research while preparing their application to see if they can envision working with numerous faculty on campus. Listing a few faculty and why you are interested in working with them in your personal statement provides us with information about your motivation to join the program and indicates that you have invested time to think about your future. However, it is perfectly fine to be uncertain about which faculty or fields you find interesting.
Programs will get back to applicants who are selected for further interviews (online or in-person) between mid-December and mid-January). Depending on the program you applied to, you may have a short online pre-selection sometime in December or be invited directly to the visit (scheduled between mid-January and the end of February, depending on the program). Depending on the pandemic, the visit might be in person or online. Either way, it will provide opportunities to meet faculty and current grad students and to learn more about the program, the division and Caltech. Admissions decisions are sent out around mid/late February.
Students who have not been admitted will be notified shortly thereafter.
Generally, Caltech does not provide feedback on applications. In extremely rare instances we do communicate to students when we feel that they might have missed acceptance because of not presenting themself well in their application/during interviews.
We invite students to visit Caltech prior to making a final decision on admissions, so you will have a chance to meet with faculty and graduate students.
You can find this information on the BBE diversity page (under "Demographics").