Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Padya Paramita

Writing the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

If you’re planning to apply to the California Institute of Technology, one of the key ways to distinguish yourself from fellow STEM-oriented applicants is to take full advantage of the Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021. Use the prompts provided by this competitive Pasadena institution to show how you hope to grow as a young scientist, and to describe the ways you would contribute to the Caltech campus.

The supplemental questions are designed to learn more about your interests and goals within STEM disciplines, as well as determine how you would fit in with the collaborative and creative Caltech campus. To guide you through the four Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021, I’ve outlined the prompts, the dos and don’ts of your responses, and more tips to ensure a successful essay-writing process.

Prompts for the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Prompt 1

Describe three experiences and/or activities that have helped develop your passion for a possible career in a STEM field. (10-120 words each)

The first question in the Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021 may just require a short response, but that doesn’t mean your answer is any less important. Think about ways to frame your three most significant activities related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Don’t be tempted by the minimum word count of “10” and just name the activities. You need to stand out from thousands of applicants who bring a lot of experience in STEM areas. In your answer, add a sentence showing how each one helped you realize that this is the field for you. If you have space, note how you have made an impact in the activity, whether you’ve involved a greater community, and how you hope to continue your STEM education in relevance to the activity. 

While you have been asked to describe three different activities, they should have some sort of connection to each other, as you don’t have enough space to go over multiple fields you enjoy. Colleges appreciate when your interests are specialized. Moreover, a connection between the three allows you to convey a more elaborate picture of yourself, letting admissions officers know exactly how you would contribute to Caltech. Think about what the combination of your chosen entries conveys about you. This could range from highlighting your teamwork skills to reflecting on your specific niche interest in STEM. Making sure your answers aren’t all over the place is a good way to stay organized when tackling multiple supplemental essays.


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Prompt 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? (250-400 words)

Even though this question doesn’t specifically ask “Why Caltech,” admissions officers want to know that you have made a well-informed decision in applying. Your essays should be tailored to Caltech - they shouldn’t be applicable to other STEM-focused colleges such as MIT or Harvey Mudd as well. The school wants to see that you’re an ambitious individual, and they want to learn how you work in a team and where your interests within STEM lie. 400 words should be enough to get your points across, but at the same time you have to use your allotted space wisely.

Think about your favorite topics within STEM and your biggest goals. How have you worked to achieve them so far? Mention experiences which reflect your collaboration skills. However, the majority of your essay should focus on how you hope to bring your skills to the Caltech campus, and how you hope to engage the Caltech community in your endeavors. Mention any specific courses, research opportunities, and programs that appeal to you, emphasizing how working alongside your peers in these initiatives can encourage growth and help you get closer to achieving your goals. Don’t miss out on the chance to let admissions officers see that you have done the research and know about the different opportunities available at the university. 

Prompt 3

Caltech students are often known for their sense of humor and creative pranks. What do you like to do for fun? (250-400 words)

The third prompt among the Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021 diverts from the academic approach. Admissions officers want to know how you would fit into the community. Since the question specifically mentions sense of humor and creative pranks, Caltech would appreciate any examples which showcase a playful side of you. Now if you’re not the number one jokester in your high school, that’s okay. You could still find ways to depict your humorous and creative side.

Pick one or two activities that you enjoy the most - and bring up any anecdotes that portray you as a fun and creative individual. Remember to stay away from activities that you think the admissions officers want to hear. If you don’t spend your free time drawing portraits or making films don’t write about that. Nor should you say that you enjoy eating and sleeping unless you have a very unique take on these everyday activities. Think about what you like to do when you have a long weekend, or what you do when you have the most fun with your friends. Find innovative ways to bring light to a side of you that isn’t mentioned in the rest of your application. 

Prompt 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)

The word “diversity” goes beyond your background. Yes, you can be diverse in your race and ethnicity, but you can also distinguish yourself through unique activities and experiences. Since most Caltech applicants are skilled in math and science, your answer to this question can help distinguish you from peers with similar academic interests. After all, Caltech doesn’t want every single student to bring the same attributes. To brainstorm experiences which separate you from the rest of the highly talented applicant pool, you need to jot down some standout experiences you’ve had. This could range from aspects of your identity such as your ethnicity or sexual orientation to an unusual extracurricular activity or hobby, such as calligraphy or competitive eating.

Don’t use up all of the allotted space describing the part of yourself that you’ve chosen to highlight. Discuss anecdotes which clarify to the admissions officers why this quality makes you exceptional. Finally, remember the prompt: Caltech wants to know how this trait can help you contribute to the campus. You should be specific in exactly how and where you are going to contribute, instead of broadly alluding to being a valuable Caltech community member. Will this part of you help you make standout additions to classroom discussions or extracurricular activities? Your essay should focus on connecting the way your perspective has been shaped to how you can make an impact on your fellow Techers.

Additional Tips to Answer the Caltech Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

  • Make Sure You’ve Done School Research - You may have noticed that the Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021 don’t ask an explicit “Why Caltech” question. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t thoroughly explore the Caltech website before sitting down to write your responses. You need to know what makes the school unique and which resources call out to you the most. This knowledge will come in handy when writing your essays, as you’ll know how to tailor them to demonstrate knowledge of programs and opportunities at this prestigious institution.
  • Prioritize Adding New Information About Yourself - The Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021 are geared for the reader to get to know you better. If you repeat topics you’ve already covered in your activities list or Common App personal statement, you’ll go against the whole purpose of these essays! Make sure answers to each prompt show a new side of you that admissions officers previously did not know. This helps add depth to your application, and convince the reader more and more that you could be a good fit for Caltech.
  • Be as Specific in Your Interests as Possible - Here’s the thing: everyone applying to Caltech is interested in science and math. Adding generic statements about your love for STEM as a whole is far from enough. STEM covers a huge array of topics, and each category is broad in itself. In writing your Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021, you need to find ways to iterate which specific part of STEM you’re passionate about. Don’t just say engineering or biology. Go deeper. Is it molecular biology? Is it marine engineering? Make sure you give admissions officers the chance to understand the depth of your curiosity and knowledge.

Caltech admissions officers want to know that you’re not just applying for the sake of attending any strong STEM school. Use the Caltech supplemental essays 2020-2021 to convince admissions officers that not only have you made a well-informed decision, but you would make valuable contributions if accepted to this selective institution.

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