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The California Institute of Technology

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I graduated back in '02.BrightEngineering Department
I graduated back in '02. Caltech is one of those schools that looking back at your experience, you are quite fond of the uniqueness and zaniness of the experience, but during the time there, you longed to be elsewhere.

Almost everyone you will meet from 'tech will give their two cents about the social life there: a skewed male-female ratio, nerdy and eccentric students, etc. As far as the ratio goes, if you are a guy, you're going to be in for some tough times with the women for the next 4 years. All the desirable girls are usually picked up within the first 1/2 of freshman year, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. My buddies and I were able to meet girls outside of school, however, since 'tech is within walking distance of PCC, and driving distance of UCLA. But all in all, on-campus dating is a nightmare, that not only creates frustration for the guys, but creates this weird social divide amongst the women that I cannot fully describe nor comprehend (This would be a good thesis topic for some of you sociology majors out there.

The rest of the partying that you would associate with any college environment is actually quite intact at Caltech. At least once every year, each "house" within campus will host a mega-party, complete with a custom-built structure that students will spend weeks of their academic term building. Also, expect friendly but nerdy conversation in whichever dorm you live in. I should stress that the dorm situation at Caltech is quite unique: each "house" at 'tech has a unique personality ( the hippie/druggie house, the sadistic house, the mostly christian house, the sporty house, etc.) that you will soon adopt as your own, whether you want to or not ( I was in the hippie/druggie). Once selected into one of these houses, a majority of the students will essentially confine themselves with this one group of people for the rest of their four years. So be careful about which house you choose to live in.

The type of people you'd meet as a student at Caltech are who I'd deem as the "outcasts" from your high school: the nerds, the hippies, the anti-socials, the quiet. Very rarely will you find the average dresses-trendy, basketball playing (if boy), wears a lot of makeup (if girl) student that comprises most larger universities. And I have a feeling that the admissions committee does this on-purpose; they select the unique applicants because they're usually the most creative.

And creativity is definitely a part of Caltech that you'd notice immediately. Students are allowed to draw "art" on their dorm rooms, and build weird structures for parties and senior puzzles, etc. And that's the single greatest social aspect about Caltech: that the administration supports the students both socially and academically to express themselves and foster new ideas.

You have a great amount of leeway at Caltech to do whatever you want, whenever you want. At Caltech, you are treated by the administration as a child by his hippie parents, with lots of care, attention, and freedom to find your own path. There's plenty of opportunities to do research, to take interesting classes without worrying about grades, and to take tests at home when YOU have time to do them. All of which is awesome. Now if only there were more girls here :).

Oh, one more thing. The classes are hard, but they teach you a lot. So be prepared to work your ass off, but get a world-class education because of it. You'll get treated with a lot of respect when you come out, too :)

4th Year Male -- Class 2002
Campus Aesthetics: A+, Social Life: D+
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The most important thing that Caltech taught meMechanical Engineering
The most important thing that Caltech taught me was a solid work ethic, good problem solving algorithms, and an understanding of my own limits (which aren't as much as I thought they were!) After the extraordinary challenge of classes at Caltech (what other place is going to require every single student to take quantum physics and linear algebra?) the rest of life has been a breeze... granted, I have only been out for 5 years, but those 5 years have included graduate work at MIT, working at a small engineering company that faced extreme funding issues, and getting married, amongst other things. I feel like after having finished Caltech, I can take on pretty much whatever I want.
Alumnus Male -- Class 2000
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The half-frat/half-dorm housing system is not great forSuper BrilliantUndecided
The half-frat/half-dorm housing system is not great for everyone; if your personality doesn't "click" with one of the dorms, you might be out of luck. The advising system is haphazard at best, and does nothing for undecided students. Some of the dorms are disgusting, filthy, and depressing. Some of the students are disgusting, filthy, and depressing. On the whole, the students are the most fascinating people you could ever want to meet. The psychological counseling service is no longer free--watch for psycho killers. There was an in-house survey that 24% of students regularly used marijuana, and 10% had used hallucinogens. Many of the students are extremely bitter. A lot of freshmen want to be physics majors but aren't able to hack it. This leads to broken dreams. The administration is getting increasingly unreasonable, and is taking away many freedoms and priveleges. I think the honor code is abused; I'm not sure to what extent. Some students are not friendly and won't answer if you say "Hi, how are you?" right in front of their face. The high stress leads to strange social behavior; I dealt with some pathological liars. Some of the profs have an amazing attitude and philosophy toward teaching. This will be a mind-blowingly challenging school for people from small, rural high schools. Dating at Caltech: For girls, the odds are good, but the goods are odd. For guys, the odds are terrible and the goods are all screwed up.
2nd Year Female -- Class 2003
Collaboration/Competitive: A+, University Resource Use/ spending: D-
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