Even by the high and demanding standards of elite schools, California Institute of Technology is tough. Exhibit A: The bottom 25% of recently admitted students scored about 1490 on their SATs—higher than at Harvard, MIT, or Stanford. Freshmen take their first-year courses pass-fail to ease into the school, but after that, professors (including five Nobel Prize winners) are notoriously hard graders. No easy A’s here.
Along with the challenging workload comes great research opportunities, a hallmark of the school. Internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located near Caltech’s Pasadena campus, are a prime example. The result: Caltech is one of the nation’s top producers of science and engineering Ph.Ds, according to the National Science Foundation. And Techies tend to go on to great jobs, reporting salaries averaging more than $68,000 within five years of getting their degree, a premium over the average of other elite tech schools.
Caltech isn’t known for its athletics or social life. The men’s Division III basketball team, for instance, had a 310-game losing streak from 1985 through 2011. Male students outnumber females by 2:1. But the school's six residential houses pick up the slack. Each throws at least one big party a year, often complete with theatre-style sets.