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Caltech vs MIT: Which Is Better?

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Posted by Hannah Muniz | Oct 18, 2020 12:00:00 PM

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If you want to major in science, technology, or a related field, then you've likely heard of Caltech and MIT, two of the most prestigious technological institutes in the US. But is Caltech or MIT the better university? More importantly, which school will be a better fit for you?

In this complete Caltech vs MIT guide, we go over the main differences between Caltech and MIT, and introduce the critical factors you must consider when deciding whether Caltech or MIT is the right choice for you. But first, let's look at what types of schools Caltech and MIT actually are.


BREAKING: Caltech Application Changes Due to COVID-19

As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many colleges have made the decision to at least temporarily stop requiring SAT and ACT scores. In June 2020, California Institute of Technology announced that they will stop considering SAT and ACT scores of applicants for the next two admission cycles (those applying in fall 2020 and 2021). This means that, not only are SAT and ACT scores not required, but, even if you submit them, they won't be reviewed and they won't be considered as part of your application. (This is what we refer to as a "test blind" policy.)

Because of SAT and ACT cancellations, as well as the difficulty some students are having preparing or paying for the tests, Caltech made the decision to temporarily stop requiring standardized test scores to make admissions as fair and equitable as possible. Because test scores aren't being considered, there will be an increased emphasis on classes students took and the grades they received in them.


What Is Caltech?

The California Institute of Technology—commonly called Caltech—is a highly prestigious, private research university located in Pasadena, California. Established in 1891, Caltech specializes in science, engineering, and technology. The institution operates many big research facilities and astronomical observatories and has produced 38 Nobel Laureates.

A small university, Caltech has a total enrollment of 2,237 students, including 938 undergrads; it's also home to 300 faculty members.

There are six academic divisions at Caltech:

  • Division of Biology and Biological Engineering
  • Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
  • Division of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
  • Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy

Caltech offers 28 majors, 12 minors, and an Interdisciplinary Studies Program, which allows you to customize your curriculum by putting together a unique arrangement of courses at Caltech and other schools, research, and independent study.

At present, Caltech is ranked #9 by US News for best national universities. Its acceptance rate is just 6%, meaning that the school is extremely hard to get into.

Aside from academics, Caltech offers more than 100 student clubs and participates in 17 NCAA Division III sports.


What Is MIT?

Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is—like Caltech—a renowned private research university, with specializations in science and technology. It's based in Cambridge, Massachusetts—the same city where Harvard University is based—right next to Boston.

The university's mission is to promote research, discovery, and innovation. MIT staff, faculty, and alumni have won many awards, including 95 Nobel Prizes.

MIT is a medium-sized institution, with a total enrollment of 11,254 students, of which 4,361 are undergrads. The university also employs nearly 13,000 staff and faculty.

There are six schools that make up MIT:

  • School of Architecture and Planning
  • School of Engineering
  • School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
  • Sloan School of Management
  • School of Science
  • MIT Schwarzman College of Computing

By far the most popular school is the School of Engineering, which houses around 5,700 students (both undergrads and graduate students). Overall, 56 majors and 57 minors are available at MIT.

As a top-ranked university (ranked #4 by US News), MIT is extremely competitive, accepting only 7% of applicants every year.

Outside academics, MIT offers over 450 student organizations and 33 NCAA Division III sports.


body_caltech_campus_buildingMillikan Library at Caltech ( Commons)


Caltech vs MIT: Side-by-Side Comparison

Is Caltech better than MIT? Or is MIT better than Caltech?

In this section, we provide you with a complete comparison of Caltech vs MIT to give you a better sense of the key differences (and similarities!) between the two esteemed universities.

  Caltech MIT
Location Pasadena, CA Cambridge, MA
Public or Private? Private Private
Part of Ivy League? No No
Undergrad Enrollment 938 4,361
US News Ranking 9 4
Niche Grade A+ A+
Acceptance Rate 6% 7%
Average GPA 4.19 4.17
Average SAT/ACT Score SAT: 1545
ACT: 36
SAT: 1535
ACT: 35
Tuition & Fees $56,892 $53,790
Student-Faculty Ratio 3:1 3:1
# of Schools/Colleges 6 academic divisions 6 schools/colleges
# of Majors 28 56
Most Popular Majors Engineering, math, biology Engineering, comp sci, math
# of Student Clubs 100+ 450+
Sports NCAA Division III NCAA Division III
Median Starting Salary $83,200 $82,300
Overall Reputation A renowned technological university known for its scientific research, selectivity, and intimate student body An extremely prestigious technological university with top-quality academics, professors, and research




Caltech is based in Pasadena, California, about 11 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Pasadena offers a suburban setting and has a population of approximately 140,000 people.


Meanwhile, MIT is located far across the country in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that's part of the Boston metropolitan area. The population of Cambridge is approximately 100,000 people, and it offers a suburban, college-town setting similar to what Pasadena provides. It's also home to Harvard University.


The main differences lie in the climates and cultures of California vs Massachusetts: whereas SoCal is a warm and summery place known for its laid-back, beachy vibes and Hollywood lifestyle, Massachusetts—in particular Boston—is a more historic, intellectual area known for its performing arts scene, harsh winters, and New England cuisine and dialect.


University Type

Both Caltech and MIT are private universities (as opposed to public universities), meaning they are privately funded through things such as tuition, endowments, and donations. In addition, neither school belongs to the Ivy League.

To learn more about the differences between private and public colleges, check out our guide.



MIT is the larger of the two, with a total undergraduate enrollment of 4,361 students (compared with Caltech's 938 undergraduates). In terms of total enrollment (undergrads + graduate students), MIT is home to 11,254 students, whereas Caltech has only 2,237 students.

We can therefore say that MIT is a medium-sized school and Caltech is a very small school.


Rankings and Grades

Caltech and MIT are both prestigious science and technology universities, which means that they're similarly regarded when it comes to university rankings; however, MIT typically beats Caltech on most ranking lists.

Here are the current rankings for Caltech and MIT from multiple sources:

  US News Forbes Niche Times Higher Education
Caltech 9 8 8 4
MIT 4 4 1 5


As you can see here, whereas MIT normally ranks in the top five universities, Caltech usually ranks in the top 10 spots (although it does edge MIT out in the ;Times High Education rankings).

Additionally, both institutions received an A+ grade on Niche, indicating that students here are very satisfied with their experiences.



Both MIT and Caltech have very low acceptance rates. MIT's is 7%, while Caltech's is a fraction lower at 6%. This means that only six or seven out of every 100 students who apply will get accepted at each school. Therefore, to raise your chances of getting into either Caltech or MIT, you'll need to have an impressive application, with a high GPA and strong test scores.

Caltech and MIT are similarly competitive. The average GPA of applicants is 4.19 at Caltech and 4.17 at MIT, so you will need to have all or mostly As.

As for standardized test scores, Caltech averages are slightly higher than those at MIT, despite MIT's higher rankings. At Caltech, the average SAT score is a1545 and the average ACT score is a perfect 36. At MIT, the average SAT score is 1535 and the average ACT score is 35.


body_mit_campus_buildingRay and Maria Stata Center at MIT (Nathan Rupert/Flickr)


Tuition and Fees

One huge factor for most students is cost. Caltech and MIT cost nearly the same amount: while Caltech is $56,892 per year, MIT is $53,790. That's a lot of cash!

Fortunately, both universities offer pretty good financial aid; however, MIT has a better financial package overall in that it only gives out student loans as part of your financial aid package if your family makes more than $90,000. Meanwhile, Caltech gives out a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study, so it's possible that you'll graduate with a bit of debt from here.

Neither MIT nor Caltech gives out merit scholarships, just need-based ones. If you're interested in applying for merit-based scholarships, check out these top external scholarships for seniors.


Student-Faculty Ratio

Student-faculty ratios show how many students there are per professor at a school. Lower ratios indicate that there are fewer students for every professor and are therefore better because they ensure you'll have ample one-on-one time with each of your teachers.

Both Caltech and MIT have highly impressive 3:1 student-faculty ratios, meaning there are only three students per professor at each school.


Schools and Academics

Caltech has six academic divisions (instead of separate schools/colleges), and MIT has six schools, so both institutions are relatively the same size regarding departments. Notably, MIT is home to an architecture school and business school, neither of which Caltech has.

As for majors, MIT offers twice as many majors as Caltech does (56 majors at MIT vs 28 at Caltech), so if you're looking for variety, MIT is the better choice. Because both institutions are engineering- and technology-focused, the most popular majors at each university are pretty much identical and include fields such as engineering, math, computer science, and biology.



MIT offers more than 450 student clubs, whereas Caltech offers around 100 clubs (which is still a decent number but pales in comparison to what MIT has to offer).

Sports-wise, both Caltech and MIT are part of the NCAA Division III.


Median Starting Salary of Alumni

Because MIT and Caltech are engineering and technology schools—i.e., specializations that often make people a lot of money—graduates from both schools have very high median starting salaries. Caltech grads can expect to make around $83,200, while MIT grads can expect to make just slightly less at $82,300.



Is Caltech or MIT a Better Fit for You? 4 Key Factors

Is Caltech better than MIT for you? Or is MIT more of a match? To figure out whether you should apply to Caltech vs MIT (or neither, or both!), consider these four critical factors.


#1: Location

First, think about the location of each school and where you can easily envision yourself thriving, academically and socially. Whereas Caltech is based in Pasadena, California, next to the huge, bustling city of Los Angeles, MIT is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next to Boston, a major city (but not nearly as huge as is LA).

Although both campuses offer intimate, suburban environments, Los Angeles and Boston differ greatly in terms of culture, population, and climate.

If possible, try to visit the campuses of both Caltech and MIT (or the one you're more interested in!) to help you determine whether the student atmosphere and region as a whole will be a good fit for you.


#2: Size

Another key factor is the size of the student body.

Whereas MIT has a total enrollment of about 11,200 students, Caltech has only roughly 2,200 students—and these numbers include both undergrads and graduate students. As you can see, MIT is notably bigger than Caltech.

If you'd prefer a bigger, more diverse environment, then MIT might be a better fit for you, as it's got more students and extracurriculars. If you'd rather have a more intimate setting where you can get to know most, or possibly all, of your peers, Caltech would probably be the ideal choice.


#3: Academic Programs

You should also consider what majors each school offers and what you plan to study. Remember that MIT has twice as many major options as Caltech has (56 majors at MIT vs 28 at Caltech), so if you're not sure exactly what you want to study, MIT will probably be the better choice as it offers more fields and specializations to choose from.

It's equally important to think about whether your chosen major is offered at either Caltech or MIT since the two schools don't have the same majors. In fact, MIT offers a much broader array of humanities, arts, and social sciences degrees than does Caltech, which focuses more stringently on science and technology programs. For example, you could major in German or music at MIT but not at Caltech.

Check out the list of majors at MIT and the list of majors at Caltech to get started.


#4: Costs and Financial Aid

Although Caltech and MIT cost nearly the same amount in tuition and fees, you'll have to consider other factors as well, such as cost of living, meal plans, and transportation fees, which can vary dramatically between cities.

You should also look into what kinds of financial aid each university offers. Currently, both Caltech and MIT vow to meet 100% of students' financial need.

MIT offers some of the best financial aid: it's need-blind and doesn't give out any loans (only grants and scholarships) if your family income is less than $90,000. In 2019-20, the average need-based scholarship from MIT was $47,593, meaning admitted applicants only had to pay a few thousand dollars out of pocket on average.

While Caltech meets 100% of financial need and is also need-blind (need-sensitive for international students), the university doesn't currently have any policies that limit or eliminate student loans. So if you're hoping to get ample financial aid, you'll have a better shot at avoiding loans with MIT.


Recap: Is Caltech Better Than MIT? Or Is MIT Better?

Caltech vs MIT: two of the best science and engineering schools in the world. Whereas Caltech is a smaller, top-10 university based in Pasadena, California, MIT is a larger, top-5 university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Now, the real question is not whether Caltech or MIT is better overall, but rather this: is Caltech or MIT a better fit for you? To answer this, you'll need to consider all the critical differences between the two institutions, including their locations, sizes, majors, and costs/financial aid.

Once you've done that, you can then get started on applying to MIT, Caltech, or both!


What's Next?

Whether you're applying to Caltech or MIT, you'll need to have great essays to get accepted. Learn how to craft your best essays ever with our guides to the Caltech essays and the MIT essays.

Part of getting into a top school like Caltech or MIT is having an amazing SAT/ACT score. Our guides walk you through everything you must do to get a perfect SAT score or perfect ACT score.

Trying to decide between MIT and Harvard? Then check out our complete comparison guide to the differences between these two highly ranked schools.


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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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