California Institute of Technology Top Questions

What should every freshman at your school know before they start?


Do not be so cocky. You may think you are so grown up, so mature. You aren't, I promise you. Maybe you are the top now, but college is a whole new game, a lot harder game. You have leveled up in life, and you need to get yourself ready for the next level of difficulty. The point of college is to learn. Sure, colleges advertise their academics, emphasizing how rigorous and demanding your classes will be, spouting GPAs and student:professor ratios and graduate school admittance rates, but the truth is that the most important lessons will be discovered outside the classroom. You will learn how to fail and how to pick yourself up from this failure. Even if you are the absolute champion of something in high school, there will probably be someone here who is better than you. You should also realize how very naive you are. Perhaps you have had a particularly interesting life, and perhaps you have had a lot of interesting experiences. Here though, in college, you will be exposed to things whose existance you weren't even aware of. New food, crazy skills, weird regional traditions - college has it all.


i would tell myself to look into more scholarships and obtain grant money with the help of my high school counslers instead of just putting it off. also i would advise myself to take more college classes than i did while i was in high school because they were free classes as long as i passed. if i had done these two things i could be a college sophmore by now instead of working two jobs. these two pieces of advice would have made it easier to make the transition between high school and college easier because i wouldnt have waited so long and gotten stuck working as much as i do.


Arguably the most important transition that one must make upon entering college seems, at first glance, rather ancillary. While often overlooked, scheduling/time-management is one of the most important new skills that must be learned in making the transition out of high school. The majority of high school students lead rigid, structured lives, academically; class schedules are planned, home work is due relatively soon after it is assigned, and, at least in most cases, one's parents are there to assist (though some might say nag). College, on the other hand, is entirely new territory; now, often for the first time in a student's life, one is forced to approach assignments and scheduling effectively alone. This can be daunting at first, and many students suffer from taking an overly casual approach and falling behind accordingly. However, equally dangerous is overreacting to this new landscape. One must be careful not to procrastinate and put off work until the last minute, but it is equally as important to not become lost in the work. Don't fall behind, but take the time to enjoy yourself on occasion; take an hour off work and clear your mind.


Go to a school you can afford. Even if the school you want and got into is the best school you could want to go to, if you can't afford it, you may have to take time off to work, and it will take a long while. Also, you aren't going to get that scholarship if you don't work hard. Really.


If you want a career in scientific research, this is, by far and without a doubt, the best school for undergrad (and probably grad too). The faculty are the best in the world and since the faculty/student ratio is so good, you'll talk to them and probably do a few projects with them. Once you graduate, everyone knows your profs because they're the top in their fields. Often times companies will hire a Caltech grad regardless of GPA just because the student is likely brilliant.


Make sure you understand what it is you are interested in first. Going to a small, highly focused school, I have many friends who regretted their decision of attending Caltech. If you are not sure of what you want to do in the future, go to a place that will offer you the flexibility to move - otherwise going to a small and focused school may be the best for you in your chosen field. Such schools are great in offering you the exact tools and training you need to build an impressive resume for your area of interest. If you go to such a school and realize that you don't really like engineering (for example), college will turn out to be a nightmare, making you want to transfer, burn out and drop out.


Talk to a full range of students at the schools that are of interest. Listen to the things that they like and dislike about their school and evaluate them objectively against the things that the student wants out of the college experience. Along with choosing a school for a good reputation it is almost more important to choose the school where the student will fit the best.


Parents should read up as much as possible to learn more about the schools, eg. the curriculum as well as campus life in formal and informal settings. They should also try to communicate with their kids throughtout the years prior to college so as know their kids better and thus be effective in guiding their kids to the right school, in regard to academic, social aspect and the personality of the individual student. College is a very fomative time of a person's life. Friendship is also very important consideration. Encourage your child to try more variety of classes before college so that one can explore their inclinations instead of being too narrow too early and limit one's choice leading to regrets as the student grows and changes their views or interests or career path. Listen more and instruct less. Discuss and keep an open mind. Love them and make sure they know you love them and would support them no matter what they do and where they are.


Visit schools. Meet people. Talk to students, not just the tour guides, but regular students sitting around and working. Don't believe everything you see at a campus prefrosh/preview weekend - they're putting on a show to attract you. You cannot gauge a school based solely on what you read in books or see on TV. Also, don't go to the most pretegious school you get accepted into just on that alone. It's extremely important to find the right fit. Going to a school based on some arbitrary rankings is the biggest mistake you can make. Be sure that you know what you're getting into, and that the school fits your personality. Once you get to college, have fun. Be focused, and work hard, but make sure you have fun. These years should be the best years of your life. The memories and friends you make here will last forever. Cherish the moments, and don't squander all of your time doing only one thing. Explore, experiment, and experience new things. Challenge yourself to do something bold and new every day. Work hard, play hard. Get the most you can out of your education.


Go where you want, but don't be close-minded about what you plan to do with your life.


Visit, visit, visit the college before you attend. I cannot emphasize that enough. There is something about a school that you only get from walking around the campus and talking to the students. Something that just cannot be realized through a description online or a book excerpt. Senior year in high school, I was accepted to Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology. Everyone (including myself) automatically assumed that I would attend Stanford in the Fall. Because I am from Ohio, I was not going to fly all the way across the country to confirm that I loved Stanford. Luckily, both schools offered to pay for my plane ticket out to visit . Having the typical case of senioritis, I took the free California vacation and visited the schools. As you already know by this survey, I ended up at Caltech. When I stepped foot on their campus, I felt a certain click with the people. It felt like home. Unfortunately, Stanford, while it is still a great school, just wasn't for me. To make the most out of college, you have to love living there, not just studying. So live there, before making the plunge.


Visiting every school possible is key to finding the right college because there is a tremendous difference between the brochures and guide descriptions and what life is actually like. Meet students and see if you want to be like them. If you have strong interests going in, inquire about the programs that you will take advantage of. You can't expect college to be like high school. Classes will be harder and run very differently. You are older, more mature, and no longer live with your parents. Take advantage of your new responsibilities by exploring new things and having fun, because perhaps the best things about college are the tremendous opportunities to enjoy life. There is a heavy expectation that during your college years, you discover something that you want to do for the rest of your life, so at the very least keep an open mind in and out of the classroom. There are many chances to put in hard work and reap a great benefit, find yours. Live your college years like they are the best in your life, and grow into the adult you want to become.


Major in something that inspires you.


Do your research. Start with a strong list of things you want out of a college. This ranges for all things, not just the academic qualifications of the college. Look into its athletics, clubs, social scene and area surrounding the college. You may find a place that's perfect, but could you really go to college where the average temperature in january is below freezing? Have a list of colleges by the fall of senior year. Have one or two fall back schools that you KNOW you'll get into. Also include several "reach schools", schools that are a reach for you to get accepted to. Get started on applications early. You get better at the essays as you go along. Its difficult at first, so I suggest saving the important ones for last, unless you're really bad at procrastinating, in which case, a rushed essay is worse. When you get to college try new things! People, clubs, activities are on a whole new level from high school, don't be so scared that you keep from missing out on one of your greatest adventures in life. Give anything a shot, who knows? You may find your niche.


College isn't just about learning skills for a job; it is also a chance for you to truly discover yourself. Try to find an institution that will help you focus and develop your passions. Instead of asking yourself "Is this college prestigious enough?" or "How many of my friends will be going to this college?", ask yourself "What are my opportunities here? How can I pursue what I am interested in?" If you can find a college that is able to nurture you as you grow as a student, prestige and friends won't matter. As a happy and motivated student, you will be able to outshine the average student both socially and academically and you'll enjoy doing it.


Making the best choice for one's college not only depends on what one wants to study but also on the prospective college's size and faculty. A college's size is of critical importance in making one's decision. A small college has the benefits of less crowded classes, an emphasis on individual attention to each student, and of allowing students to make close friends with their peers. A large college, on the other hand, usually has more extracurricular activities, clubs, and academic programs available for its students. One has to assess the advantages and disadvantages of both these alternatives in order to make the best possible choice. Although many people overlook it, the quality of the faculty at an university is highly correlated the quality of one's experience in college. Bad professors will simply tell students what to read to be prepared for a test. Good professors will teach the material thoroughly. Great professors will not only arouse interest over the material, but will also involve students into the subject being taught. Having excellent professors will enhance a student's experience at college by making academic work seem less overwhelming, but instead, more enjoyable.