How does learning from the greatest technical minds of our time in balmy, California weather sound to you? If it sounds ideal, then you should consider spending your time as an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology.
If you’re reading this article, it’s for one of two reasons. First, you have just been accepted to Caltech (if this is the case, then congratulations!) and are looking for some sort of AP credit reference so you can figure out what to do with all of your test scores. Second, you are interested in applying to CalTech and want to know what AP classes will make you a competitive candidate.
In either situation, you have come to the right place. This article will walk you through everything you need to know about the Cal Tech AP credits policy. We will cover what AP classes you should take to get in and what you should aim to score on the AP exam to receive credit. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll also have a feel of the school’s general vibe, what it’s like to live there, and what sort of classes you will need to take to graduate.
Ready to get started?
Fast Facts about Cal Tech
• The California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech for short) is located just outside of Los Angeles in Pasadena, California.
• Cal Techis a private research university and was founded in 1891.
• The school’s colors are a sunny orange and a bright white, fitting for its balmy location.
• The sports teams play in the NCAA Division III and are known as the
According to the CollegeBoard as of 2015, Cal Tech has…
• 1,001 undergraduates
• 1,254 postgraduate students
• 241 first-time freshmen
Caltech also has a sizeable $2.119 billion endowment fund (this is huge for a school this size!) and highly competitive admissions rate of 8%.
In 2015, 6,507 students applied for 573 spots.
Based on these numbers, it is quite easy to tell that earning a place in the tight-knit Cal Tech community is difficult – but not impossible. Although fewer students apply to Cal Tech because of its specialized academic focus, its admission rate is on par with the Ivy League, making it extremely competitive. To get in, you will need to make yourself stand out from the other applicants.
This means meeting the admissions committee’s criteria, and then some. You will need high ACT or SAT scores, glowing teacher recommendations, a record of leadership in your extracurricular activities, and a strong high school transcript. To be considered strong in Cal Tech’s eyes, your transcript will need to not only show your interest and proclivity for math and science, but also be filled with great grades in AP courses.
But what are you supposed to do with these grades at Cal Tech? Were they just a tool to get you into the school, or can they actually further your education while you are there? Keep reading to find out!
Advanced Standing at Cal Tech
Before we cover the little details of the policy surrounding Cal Tech AP credits, we need to make sure you understand how to apply these credits once you arrive in Pasadena.
If you do well in your high school AP courses, you might be eligible for something called Advanced Standing.Basically, when you start at Cal Tech, you have zero credits, regardless of what you took in high school. But, at the discretion of the Dean and your academic advisor, you might be able to do any of the following things:
• Take a semester off and still graduate on time.
• Graduate a semester or even an entire academic year early.
• Skip lower-level classes to take more interesting ones.
If any of these options sound appealing to you, keep reading to find out how to achieve them.
Cal Tech’s AP Credits Policy
There are a few ways you can qualify for Advanced Standing while at Cal Tech. While excelling on an Advanced Placement test is the most obvious, the school also considers the following alternatives:
• International Baccalaureate (IB) higher level exams
• SAT subject tests
• Placement tests offered by some academic departments
So as you can see, even if your school did not offer APs, or an AP course in the subject you wish to test out of, you are not out of luck just yet.
However, Cal Tech has a different AP policy than most American colleges. Usually, schools will publish a list that says some like this: “If you received a 5 on the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam, then not only have you tested out of basic Spanish at our school, but you have also fulfilled the language requirement, so you don’t have to take any more Spanish at all if you don’t want to.” But Cal Tech isn’t like that.
Let’s hear it directly from them:
Caltech encourages all prospective undergraduate applicants to prepare by challenging themselves with the most rigorous course of study available, including the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. However, college credit for AP or IB classes is not automatic. Course credit and/or placement in an accelerated program is sometimes granted as deemed appropriate by the department faculty. The awarding of Caltech course credit takes place at the time of registration each fall.
So, if you end up at Cal Tech, you will need to inquire after each of your AP scores individually each fall to make sure you qualify. It would be a good idea to connect with the chair (i.e. the professor in charge) of each department that you plan to take a lot of classes in as soon as you can. This way, you have established a rapport with them and the AP credit transfer process will run more smoothly.
But, if you still want some sort of frame of reference, you might want to check out our article on MIT AP Credits to see what these types of schools look for.
Ideally, the following AP Courses would look good on your Cal Tech application and demonstrate that you excel in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
• AP Biology
• AP Chemistry
• AP Computer Science
• AP Calculus AB
• AP Calculus BC
• AP Environmental Science
• AP Physics 1
• AP Physics 2
• AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
• AP Physics C: Mechanics
• AP Statistics
Cal Tech’s Undergraduate Academic Requirements
Cal Tech has a detailed core curriculum to ensure that its students are well versed in many different fields. While you can read the plan in detail here, we will break down the highlights below.
Students at Cal Tech must take the following courses to graduate:
• Three terms of math
• Three terms of physics
• Two terms of chemistry
• One term of biology
• Two lab courses
• Twelve terms of humanities and social sciences
• One term of scientific communication
• Three terms of physical education classes
We know this might seem like a lot, but Cal Tech has a great reputation for guiding its students in the right direction. You will start on these classes at the beginning of your freshman year, and since 91% of students graduate in 4 years, you can have confidence that it’s completely doable.
As you work on these core requirements, you will also be required to choose an option (what Cal Tech calls a major) at the end of your freshman year. You can find a list of options here.
Cal Tech’s Campus Vibe
Because of its proximity to Los Angeles, there is never a shortage of things to do at and around Cal Tech. You can go to film festivals in town, attend a TV taping, eat the best food at the coolest restaurants, or even spend a day lounging on the beach.
On campus, you have the option to join more than 100 clubs.They cover everything from religious and faith-based organizations to groups that bond over community service, the environment, extracurricular interests, and food. There is truly something for everyone.
University of California Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Azusa Pacific University, Biola University, Mills College, and many more are all nearby. So making friendships (and rivalries!) across school lines will be a breeze. You might even end up near a friend or two from home who doesn’t go to Cal Tech, which can help with transitioning into college.
All first year students are required to live on campus, but the majority of upperclassmen still decide to stick around, which fosters a great sense of community.
A Quick Review
Remember the following key things when reviewing Cal Tech’s AP Credit policy:
• Cal Tech accepts AP scores for credit.
• The score requirements vary by department.
• You must inquire about your eligibility for advanced credit each time you register for classes.
• You can use your AP credits to “accelerate” your Cal Tech education.
• With the professor’s permission, you can use your AP credits to take higher-level classes sooner.
The final most important thing to remember is that even if you can’t apply your AP credits towards your Cal Tech degree, you will likely not be admitted in the first place if you don’t take them at all.
What are the next steps?
If you are not currently taking any AP classes, then your next step needs to be to sign up for a couple. If you don’t know where to start, you should read our list of the hardest AP classes here, and the easiest classes here, so you know exactly how to plan your schedule.
Next, you should take a look at our article on when to start studying for the AP exams, so you know how to pace your studying during the semester. Then, make sure to read our article that’s filled to the brim with tips and tricks on how to study for AP exams, so you can get the score you need.
If you are already enrolled in a few AP classes and need help, we have you covered. We can help you get through AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, and AP United States History – as well as everything in between. If you ever need help on your homework, make sure to stop by.
If you take AP classes and your school uses the weighted GPA system, it will have an effect on your GPA. Because of this, make sure to read all about the weighted GPA and how it works here, and if colleges consider weighted or unweighted GPAs during the admissions process.
Good luck out there!
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After you submit your Common Application with the Caltech Member Questions, we will send you a link to your Caltech Application Portal. You may upload additional materials (e.g., a research paper, poster, supplemental information)* through the Portal. Please submit supplemental materials only through your Portal. Once you upload a document, rest assured that we have it. There is no need email it to us after you have uploaded it.
About two weeks after your application deadline, you will be able to see which required application materials we have received. If something is missing, please get it to us immediately. We cannot review incomplete applications. Please note that supplemental items will not appear on your Portal.
*Please note that we neither require nor review art and music supplements. This doesn't mean we aren't interested in your talents beyond STEM! You are still welcome to tell us about your art and music activities in your application.