Frequently Asked Questions for Admitted Students
Acceptance and Registration
Due to its membership in the Council of Graduate Schools, Caltech adheres to the deadline of April 15. If you have already accepted another offer, you are asked to withdraw that acceptance before accepting Caltech's offer. Extensions to the deadline may be granted in limited situations, and you should contact the admitting option to make the request.
The first day of classes for the Fall term 2023 begins on September 26, 2023. Please refer to the Academic Calendar for all of the important dates for the year.
Most PhD students arrive at the start of the Fall term. However, students may arrive on campus to begin research as early as the first day of the summer term. Early arrivals will be appointed as non-degree special students for the summer term and will enroll in 36 units of research. Non-degree special students are eligible for housing, a stipend, and will be billed for health insurance unless otherwise approved for a waiver (see below for waiver information). Please note that as a non-degree student the units will not count towards the PhD degree requirements.
To request an early arrival, students must have a faculty sponsor who will be responsible for paying the stipend and assigning a research grade. Please contact the Option Representative of the admitting option directly to determine if an early arrival is possible.
Deferrals are decided by the admitting option and if granted, are usually for one year. Deferrals of less than one year will depend upon the academic program; in some graduate options, first-year courses are sequential and it is not possible to matriculate mid-year. In some cases, a deferral of two years is possible and requests should be made directly to the admitting option. Deferred students will receive a revised admission offer and are asked to submit transcripts for any academic work undertaken during the deferral period. Typical reasons for deferral include attending a study abroad program, performing required military service, gaining work experience in your field that will benefit your PhD studies, visa delays, and personal/family obligations.
Many academic programs will have visiting days or an open house for admitted students where you can meet with faculty, current graduate students, and fellow admits. Please contact your admitting option to find out if an in-person visit is planned. Some academic programs will also host virtual visits and you can contact your academic program for details.
The main orientation, which is required for all graduate students, will take place from September 18 - 20, 2023. International students will participate in an additional orientation organized by International Student Programs (ISP) the week prior.
Institute policy for the PhD program requires a minimum of three years (12 terms) of enrollment; the average time-to-degree for PhD students is 5 - 6 years. For those academic programs that offer a terminal MS degree (Aeronautics, Electrical Engineering, and Space Engineering), the MS requirements can be completed in one academic year (9 months), but in some cases may be extended.
Faculty and Advising
Initially, most new graduate students are assigned a temporary advisor until they can find a permanent advisor. Graduate students select their advisor, and this is an important decision. In some graduate options, rotations in research labs help students find a good match (see below). In addition to finding a match to research interests, it is important to find an advisor whose advising style fits your work preferences. It may be helpful to ask a potential advisor the following questions:
How would you describe your advising style?
Are students in your group directly advised by you, or are they typically supervised by a senior member of the group?
How often do you meet with your students, and in what format?
What are your expectations for the PhD degree?
What opportunities are there in your group to practice science writing/presentation skills?
How do you feel about graduate student involvement in mentoring/outreach activities?
How do you typically provide feedback to students on their research progress?
In some graduate options, rotations are designed to introduce students to faculty research groups that match their scientific interests. Some options expect a student to rotate with up to three groups during the first year. To find out whether your graduate option utilizes rotations, we suggest you contact your option representative or review the relevant websites for the particular options/divisions.
Caltech has one of the nation's lowest student-to-faculty ratios, with 300 professorial faculty members offering a rigorous curriculum and access to varied learning opportunities and hands-on research to approximately 1,000 undergraduates and 1,400 graduate students.
Stipend Support, Financial Resources, Costs, and Tuition and Fees
Assuming a student is making satisfactory progress towards their degree, including securing a research advisor and satisfying program requirements, funding will continue throughout the graduate program. Caltech's stipend offer will never be less than the base stipend of the year in which you entered, and is expected to increase consistent with the cost of living. Once a student joins a research group, the advisor will often provide the primary funding, unless the student has an external award (i.e., NSF).
Caltech normally provides full financial support throughout the graduate program for PhD students, but most of the funding sources require work authorization. As a consequence, matriculation into the PhD program requires evidence of work authorization, unless special compensation can be arranged with the admitting option.
All students are required by law to complete Form I-9 within three business days of the start of employment. Caltech collects information for Form I-9 electronically and instructions will be emailed in the summer. The documentation required for Section 2 must be reviewed for authenticity by Human Resources (or ISP in the case of international students). Examples of acceptable documents can be found on page 8 here.
All graduate students are enrolled in Caltech's health insurance plan by default and expected to pay the student contribution. The rates are heavily subsidized by the Institute and students are billed for a small portion of the overall cost. Students who wish to opt out must apply for a waiver and meet the waiver requirements. Approximately 80% of the costs for health insurance are paid by Caltech, and the remainder is billed to students three times each year (see below for current rates paid by students). Dental and vision insurance are optional.
Terms of Coverage
Fall term = September 1 - December 31
Winter term = January 1 - April 30
Spring/Summer terms = May 1 - August 31
Rates for 2022-23
Health insurance (single student*) = $238/per term or $714 annually
Dental insurance (single student*) = $135 annually
Vision (student + dependents) = $31.80 annually
*Coverage for dependents is available at additional cost.
For more information on the health, dental and vision plans and costs, please refer to Student Benefits.
Most graduate students are expected to TA at some point in their graduate program. Some options require teaching as part of the curriculum. All incoming students are required to attend the annual Teaching Conference as part of Orientation, so you will have access to resources and training.
Caltech has several resources for graduate students with families, including paid pregnancy and bonding leave, a parent support program fund, dependent health care reimbursements, a childcare assistance program, and a tuition assistance program at the Children's Center. For more information on these and other resources, please visit Graduate Student Parents.
Students are paid monthly on or around the 26th of each month, depending upon the pay period. If the 26th falls on a holiday or a Sunday, payment will be made earlier in the week. Stipends are considered taxable income, but under current IRS regulations, tuition is not taxable. Tax rates will vary depending upon a student's individual taxable income, available tax treaties for foreign nationals, and other qualifying exemptions.
Students who receive an external fellowship should notify the Graduate Studies Office, and include a copy of the award letter if available. The original offer will then be revised to incorporate this award and a commensurate offer will be sent. In some cases, students may be allowed to defer their awards and/or combine this with the original offer, but these decisions are dependent upon availability of funds and the terms of the award. Students receiving external fellowships should consult with their graduate option about the best course of action. Students will never receive a lesser overall financial package upon receiving an external fellowship.
Pasadena and Southern California in general are expensive areas in which to live. However, Caltech's stipend is intended to cover basic living expenses for the area, including housing, meals, utilities, transportation and personal expenses. Students who are able to live in on-campus housing, which is subsidized, will likely have money to save. Refer to the Estimated Budget for more information on expected expenses.
Housing and Residential Experience
Caltech provides a variety of on-campus housing options available to incoming graduate students. All new graduate students are guaranteed housing in their first year and can choose a living experience that best fits their needs. Just under half of Caltech's graduate student population lives in campus housing. The new student housing application period opens on April 15, 2023 and closes April 30, 2023.
After the first year, students are asked to join a housing lottery and the results of the lottery will be announced two months before the contract end date, so that students who are not able to secure on-campus housing can find alternate living arrangements. For additional information on Caltech's housing options and the lottery process for returning students, please refer to the Graduate Housing website.
Pets are not allowed in campus housing. A pet is defined as any animal in your residential space that is not a registered Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal.
The prohibition of pets does not include emotional support animals or service animals. These animals go through a different approval process. Students need to register through Caltech's Accessibility Services for Students (CASS) for special accommodations.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Caltech is committed to providing reasonable support to students with disabilities by providing academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and services and other disability-related accommodations consistent with legal requirements. Caltech will engage in an interactive process with students requesting accommodations to determine whether the accommodations are reasonable. This process is administered by Caltech's Accessibility and Services for Students (CASS) staff and may include input from academic advisors, faculty members, the Director of Wellness Services and, if necessary, outside experts.
Students who have questions about the process for requesting accommodations, including eligibility requirements, are encouraged to consult with CASS. When appropriate, CASS may provide referrals for additional testing and/or evaluations. Testing is not offered through campus resources.
International Student Programs (ISP) is ready to assist international students after they have accepted the Institute's admission offer. As the definitive immigration resource for international students, ISP is responsible for advising students on all immigration-related matters, such as visa acquisition, employment authorization, extensions of stay, and more. In addition, ISP provides programs that assist international students in adjusting to life in the United States. ISP plans and promotes events that celebrate international education and cultures of the world, address cross-cultural adjustment, and provide opportunities for international students to establish a sense of community at Caltech.
Campus and Student Life
Caltech offers a balanced program of individual and group activities through a variety of intercollegiate, physical education, club, intramural, and informal recreation activities intended to meet the needs of all members of the community. Caltech Athletics values first and foremost a healthy, excellent and balanced education for each student in our programs. Further we strive to educate the entire Caltech community toward excellent personal health and a balanced life approach through diverse programming. Membership for students is covered by the mandatory student fees, and a spouse/partner and family members can join for a small annual fee. Please check Athletics for more information and current rates.
Caltech's student government for graduate students is known as the Graduate Student Council (GSC). The goal of the GSC is to maximize the quality of life for graduate students. On the GSC website you can find a calendar of GSC-promoted social events, including the monthly social hour (GUSH) and quarterly term parties. The GSC weekly announcements are sent every Monday to help keep you informed about what's going on around campus. All Caltech graduate students are welcome to attend any of the monthly meetings regarding academics, advocacy, and social programming. Though small, Caltech is a rich and vibrant community. Interesting things are going on all the time and we encourage you to take advantage of all that is happening.
Caltech is dedicated to supporting all aspects of graduate students' lives. If there is a program that you'd like to see, or other suggestions that you have, visit the GSC website.
In and around Pasadena, there's something for everyone. Pasadena is nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains and day trips can include a visit to the mountains for casual and serious hiking, skiing in the winter months, beautiful beaches, and desert landscapes. For those who prefer city life, there's an abundance of restaurants, museums and cultural activities, sporting venues, and entertainment hotspots.
In general, yes, but like most campuses we experience the occasional minor security concerns like theft and scams. We have an onsite security presence 24/7. Pasadena, similar to other cities has its share of less desirable locations and it is always wise to be aware of your surroundings and use caution when walking alone. For more information, please see Caltech's Annual Security and Fire Safety report.