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Life at California Institute of Technology

11 September 2008 11 Comments

Hi All,

Its my pleasure to introduce my junior, Prakhar Mehrotra to talk about life at Caltech. Prakhar passed out NITT in 2007 with a mechanical engineer degree. He is a JNCASR scholar. Prakhar will answer some of the most frequently asked questions wrt to apping..

Coffee With Prakhar Mehrotra – Life @ Caltech

* Brief Intro about yourself..
Hi..I am Prakhar Mehrotra, doing my Phd on Ocean Dynamics and Turbulence at Graduate Aeronautical Laboratories(Galcit), California Institute of Technology(Caltech). I did my Bachelors in Mechanical Engg from NIT Trichy and Master’s in Aeronautics from Caltech. I will be joining Ecole Polytechnique, Paris for a specialized master’s in fluid mechanics in September’08.

* Entry Criteria:
Caltech has a very stringent entry requirements. The admission is based on a number of factors and not just ‘GPA’. Even if you have 10/10, it does not gurantee you admission to Caltech. Caltech looks for proven record of research at undergraduate level. However, this does not mean that you should have published 3-4 papers at the time of applying. At Caltech, I have seen three types of candidates getting admit (say X, Y & Z):

Profile of X
1) GPA: 9.5+
2) IITian: Yes
3) Department Rank: Top three
4) Fellowships: SURF (i.e had earlier visited caltech as an intern) or some other univs
5) Publications: 1 Journal paper published
6) Recommendations: Strong
7) Awards at National/International Level: Yes (Gold Medalist)
8) GRE: 1300+

Profile Y
1) GPA: 9+
2) IITian: No
3) Department Rank: Top three
4) Research: Spent his summers (after 2nd and 3rd year) at IIT’s and did research. Not earlier visited any foriegn univs
5) B.Tech Project: Selected a research topic similar to the field in which he is applying
6) Fellowships: Surge, JNCASR etc
7) Recommendations: Very Strong
8) Publications at time of appyng: Not yet. ( sent one paper to one of the journals for review)
9) Awards at National?international Level: Yes
10) GRE: 1300+

Profile Z
1) GPA: 7+
2) IITian: No
3) Research: Concentrated mostly on research. Spent all his vacations in some research labs in India
4) Publications: 2 Journal + 1 conference paper published, 1 journal paper under review. Attended 1 conference abroad
5) Recommendations: Strong
6) Fellowships: No. (Did all projects without any fellowship)
7) Awards at National Level: No
8) GRE: 1300+

So we see that there is no such rule that only 9 pointers get into Caltech. What above three candidates have in common is proven record of research. Also,Caltech hardly counts on your GRE score. At Caltech, most of the Indian students who got admitted have a following GRE score : Quants: 800 (must), Verbal: (520), AWA: 4.5

* Aid scenario – #number of ppl who come in with aid, chances of aid after coming in, more details on RA/TA/small work around campus.
At Caltech, the intake is very very low. For example, in master’s in aeronautics, the total intake is 10 students. So if you are admitted to Caltech, you will for sure get full fellowship + stipend. Also, you cannot apply directly for Phd. You have to do master’s at Caltech. So, if you have done MS from some other univ(say in India or anywhere else) you cannot apply for PhD at Caltech. You have to apply for master’s first.

* how much money should one shell out for the entire course if it completely unfunded..
I guess, this question does not apply if you get admitted to Caltech. In worst scenario, if at all caltech doesnt gives you funding (which is very rare), you need to spend around $40K a year. Also, one good thing at Caltech is that you can do any number of courses you wish and in any department, without paying anything extra. Caltech is a very small school with about 2500 grad students.

* What are the living expenses?
Pasadena is expensive. Most of grad students live in Caltech housings (which are cheap and best). The monthly expense come out to be around 1000$ pm (600-700$ room rent + food + extra)

* Career opportunities after the course?
Caltech grads mostly take up faculty positions in top univs. Few of them also join industry.

* Typical Money made during internships?
No idea…sorry.. 🙁

* How easy it is to switch departments?
Switching from Mech to Aero or vice versa is easy. It all depends on who your advisor is.

* switch from Phd to MS?
You can always leave after MS. There is no compulsion.

* Any other issues/ inputs which will be helpful
Caltech is a very prestigious school. It runs Jet Propulsion Lab(JPL) for NASA. (There was nothing like NASA when US launched Explorer-1. JPL which is one of the labs at Caltech launched Explorer – 1. Later, when NASA was formed, JPL became a part of NASA. Caltech still operates JPL. So, one advantage is that you get a chance to work on real missions which are going on at JPL)

Wish you all the best. For any questions, you can reach me at prakhar@caltech.edu, prakharmehrotra@gmail.com

Thanks a lot Prakhar.




  • Mohit said:

    hi thank for one of the gr8 interviews again ………..but here prakhar is a person who i know…..he told me that before ….caltech…..but now see everyone knows it

    for sunder….thanks interview of such an legitimate person

    for prakhar……dude u getting famous…..wow..now i wanna meet you ….

  • Jennfier said:

    Really great post. Have been out of the blogging loop for a few weeks.

    Really good info for any student wanting to persue this path. However regarding living expenses, I actually was surprised to read it’s only $1K a month! I would have assumed more. I think that is cheap. Living in upstate NY, I think students easily spend this much if not more for monthly expenses, especially because off campus living requires a carr.

  • Aditya Kulkarni said:

    thats interesting, thanks for good post

  • Rishabh Mehrotra said:

    Hi Prakhar bhaiya :)…Thnks 4 d post…will really help a lot of people….

  • M.P.Santhosh Kumar said:

    Thanks a lot. You dont know how much help this is for me at the right time. Thanks again

  • anjul khadria said:

    very very helpful post…thank you very much… 🙂

  • karthik said:

    i am a 1 year engineering student (electrical).i am intersted to do my masters in theoretical physics . what should i do to switch ?do universities like caltech take students like that?please reply

  • ramkumar said:

    hi am i eligible to do degree of aerospace engineer ..after doing my m.tech in mechanial in india…?with above criteria .. pls reply..

  • Aditya Pratap said:

    I am a student of IITR, metallurgy 4 sem, Got AIR 3514 in JEE2011, I will be able to get my gpa above 8.5 but that is it ,What should I do