Caltech vs Stanford: Which Is Better for You in 2022?

For many years, Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology have been two of the biggest names when it comes to higher education. Thus, it is not surprising that thousands of brilliant students eventually have to decide between them.

So which university should you go to, Caltech or Stanford?

While Caltech is strongly geared towards research, Stanford has a solid reputation in Engineering, CS, and Economics. Overall, Caltech is a good option for those interested in a scientific career, whereas Stanford is a better fit for people looking to work in Silicon Valley or create their own startups.

However, there are many different factors that come into play when choosing a college. In order to make the right choice, it is important to be well informed and carefully evaluate every single variable.

And that’s what we are going to do in this article. We are going to start by taking a quick overview of both universities. After that, we’ll analyze the key factors that may influence your decision, such as reputation, admissions statistics, cost of attendance, and even the salaries that graduates are likely to earn.

So if that sounds interesting to you, let’s dive right in!

Overview of Caltech.

California Institute of Technology

Founded in 1891, the California Institute of Technology is one of the most respected universities in the world. As of 2021, the Institute had 40 Nobel laureates, including legendary scientists like Richard Feynman, Robert Millikan, along with Linus Pauling.

But what makes this achievement even more impressive is that Caltech is a small university. It typically enrolls less than one thousand undergrads per year, yet the number of laureates is really high for its size. So this is an indicator of the high caliber of its alumni.

The Insitute is well-known for its research quality and is formed by the following Academic Divisions:

  • Biology & Biological Engineering.
  • Chemistry & Chemical Engineering.
  • Engineering & Applied Science.
  • Geological & Planetary Sciences.
  • Humanities & Social Sciences.
  • Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy.

It is important to point out that approximately 90% of Caltech students participate in different research projects as part of their academic program. So if you’re interested in starting a scientific career, this would be an excellent environment to be in.

Caltech is also widely known for its strong ties with NASA. In fact, the campus is home to five NASA facilities. Moreover, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JTL) — which is the leading U.S. center for space exploration — is managed by the Institute.

Overview of Stanford.

Stanford University

With almost 140 years of existence, Stanford University has a solid reputation in fields like Computer Science, Engineering, as well as Economics. Its privileged location, in the northwest part of Silicon Valley, makes it an attractive option for high-level students looking to pursue a career in a high-tech company.

So far, 34 Stanford members have won the Nobel Prize since its foundation. Chemistry, Physics, and Economic Sciences are the categories that gave Stanford most of its laureates. However, there are also two graduates that won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. This gives an idea of how strong it is in diverse areas.

The university is divided into seven schools:

  • The Graduate School of Business.
  • School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
  • Graduate School of Education.
  • School of Engineering.
  • School of Humanities & Sciences.
  • School of Law.
  • School of Medicine

One important fact to point out is that Stanford really encourages its students to become entrepreneurs and create their own startups. In fact, companies like Google, Instagram, Coursera, and Netflix were created by Stanford alumni.

To the present day, Stanford graduates have founded approximately 18,000 companies. These firms together generate an annual revenue of over 2.7 trillion USD, which is comparable to the 7th largest economy in the world.

Prestige and Rankings.

When it comes to reputation, both Stanford and the California Institute of Technology are among the best institutions in the world, which can be confirmed by the most recent rankings.

Rankings are a useful tool if you want to take a glance at a school’s performance. And while your choice shouldn’t be based entirely on these numbers, they are still a good starting point in the decision-making process.

These are the latest rankings from the most reliable sources:

QS World University Rankings42
Times Higher Education42

However, looking at these simple numbers is not really that helpful. They only show you the school’s performance at this moment, causing you to miss the forest for the trees. Besides, rankings tend to vary depending on the methodology used by the company.

So in order to tackle this issue, we are going to take the average of the last years and show you the historical trend. This is far better if you want to get the most out of the data.

Below is a historical chart with the average rankings for both Caltech and Stanford:

Caltech vs Stanford: Average rankings chard
Average rankings calculated with data from Times Higher Education and QS Top Universities

Now you have a wider view of what’s going on. Every chart tells you a story. And what we can see here is that both colleges have followed a similar trajectory over the last years. Nonetheless, Stanford has performed better, according to these rankings.

In 2014, both schools stood at an average position of 5.5. In addition, they both showed a significant increase in their average rank between 2014 and 2016. Although Caltech had a small dip in 2019, it rebounded to position 4 in 2021.

On the other hand, Stanford plateaued at around 2.5 for many years, but in 2021 it reached an average ranking of 2, which is its highest-ever value.

Overall, both schools have performed extremely well in international rankings. In fact, their position in 2021 is better than it was eight years ago, as you can tell from the graph. However, Stanford is the one that climbed the most.


Now let’s take a look at the admissions statistics. This is one of the most interesting parts, as it will tell you how selective these schools are. Besides, you’ll be able to gauge your odds of acceptance before applying.

The table below roughly summarizes the admissions information according to the most recent reports:

Acceptance rate6.42%4.34%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

But just like we did previously, we’re not going to focus just on raw numbers. Instead, we are going to analyze trends, so you can better understand what to expect and prepare for your goal.

Would you like to know if these schools have gotten more difficult to get into? Are you wondering if you’ll need a higher SAT score next year? Well, those are exactly the questions that we can answer by analyzing trends.

Acceptance rate.

Selectivity is one of the main characteristics that both Caltech and Stanford have in common. Every year there are thousands of applicants competing for a place, but only a few of them manage to get accepted. So in this section, we are going to explain this behavior in more detail.

For this purpose, it is useful to analyze the acceptance rate for both schools. Take a look at the graph below. What can you notice?

Acceptance rate chart for both Caltech and Stanford
Acceptance rates calculated with admissions data from the National Center for Education Statistics

The graph shows that the acceptance rate at both schools has decreased over time. Although Stanford has a lower acceptance rate than Caltech, the latter had a more significant reduction.

It is important to point out that both universities reported their lowest values in the 2019-2020 cycle.

To summarize:

  • Stanford’s acceptance rate dipped from 5.09% to 4.34% between 2014 and 2019.
  • The California Institute of Technology registered a more rapid decline, as its acceptance rate went from 8.83% to 6.42% over the same 5-year period.
  • Although Stanford has registered lower values, Caltech could eventually catch up if its acceptance rate keeps going down at a faster rate.

With an increasing number of applicants every year, it is expected that the acceptance rate at both schools will keep reaching lower values. So whether you choose Caltech or Stanford, you need to be prepared to face an extreme level of competition.

Test Scores.

The table below illustrates the score ranges for the 2019-2020 period:

(25th – 75th percentiles)
(25th – 75th percentiles)
SAT Math790 – 800740 – 800
SAT Reading740 – 760700 – 770
ACT Composite35 – 3632 – 35
Admitted students who enrolled typically had scores in these ranges. Source: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

The table alone may be a little bit helpful. However, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you want to know if these schools are getting harder to get into, you’ll need to observe how these scores have changed over time. And that’s what you are about to find out.

So stay here because this information is crucial if you want to increase your odds of acceptance.

In order to track this variation, we are going to plot the 25th percentile scores for both colleges. Depending on their behavior, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect.

Update 2021. Due to the current situation, Caltech already announced that they won’t be considering SAT or ACT scores for this cycle. If you’re applying in 2021, your application will be evaluated with more emphasis on your highschool grades.

SAT Math.

The graph below illustrates how the SAT Math scores have changed over the last years:

From this graph, you can tell that both Caltech and Stanford are requiring higher scores as years go by. In fact, the California Institute of Technology reports a score of 790 for the last two periods. Extremely high considering that this is just the 25th percentile value.

In regards to Stanford, the 25th percentile score was 700 in 2016. However, after just three years, it climbed to 740. In fact, you probably noticed that this growth had a linear behavior since 2017.

As of now, Stanford University requires lower SAT Math scores than Caltech, but this is likely to change soon. Since the number of applicants is increasing consistently over time, Stanford’s scores could eventually be as high as Caltech’s.

SAT Reading.

Below is the chart that demonstrates how the SAT Reading scores for both schools have varied since 2016:

As you can see, these reading scores are not as high as the math scores. However, Stanford had a gradual increase between 2016 and 2018. The SAT Reading score at this university went from 680 to 700 during that period. After that, it has remained stable at 700.

On the other hand, the 25th percentile score at Caltech for the 2019-2020 period didn’t vary with respect to 2016-2017. Nevertheless, it hit its maximum at 750, so it could reach the same level in the near future.

When it comes to SAT Reading, we can see again that the California Institute of Technology requires a higher score than Stanford. Nonetheless, the difference between both scores is getting shorter.

Although these changes haven’t been so dramatic, you can expect that the SAT reading scores will be gradually getting higher. So be prepared.

Cost of Attendance, Net Price and Financial Aid.

The following table contains the reported Cost of Attendance (COA) for both Caltech and Stanford. The COA is a quick estimation of the amounts that you would spend annually without receiving any kind of aid. This includes tuition and fees, as well as other student expenses, such as room and board, books, and so on:

Tuition and fees$52,362$51,534
Books and supplies$1,323$1,455
Room and board (on-campus)$18,399$18,778
Cost of attendance$72,084$71,587
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Net Price and Average Amount of Aid.

The total cost of attendance is similar for both schools. However, it can be reduced dramatically after receiving aid via grants or scholarships. And that’s what we’ll analyze in this section. So let’s get right to it!

  • For the 2018-2019 period, Caltech first-time students received an average aid of $44,646.
  • Similarly, Stanford freshmen got an average aid of $54,808 over the same period.

By subtracting the average financial aid from the total cost of attendance we can calculate the Average Net Price for both colleges:

Cost of Attendance$72,084$71,587
Average Amount of Aid$44,646$54,808
Average Net Price$27,438$16,779

The Average Net Price refers to the amount that students would annually spend, on average, after receiving grant or scholarship aid.

And the chart below will let you visualize how both schools’ net price has varied over time:

From the chart, we can tell that the Average Net Price at Caltech has been increasing consistently for the last two cycles. On the other hand, Stanford’s net price is even lower than it was in 2012. Actually, it hasn’t been above $18,000 since 2015.

However, remember that net prices can dramatically change from one student to another, as it is highly dependent on family income. In the following table we’ll analyze this parameter by income level:

Net Price
Net Price
$0 – $30,000$5,456$-1,387
$30,001 – $48,000$3,756$1,145
$48,001 – $75,000$8,042$1,959
$75,001 – $100,000$12,788$10,361
$100,001 and more$48,851$45,693
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: The Net-Prices presented in this article are just informational and may vary substantially depending on your personal situation. For a more accurate estimate, you can use the Net Price Calculator of the corresponding school. You’ll find the links at the end of the post.

Percentage of Students Receiving Aid.

So far, we know what the total cost of attendance is and how it can be reduced by receiving financial aid. But now you are about to know which of these universities provides aid to a higher percentage of students.

In the chart below we can see the percentage of first-time students that have received aid over the last years:

Percentage of first-time students that were awarded grant or scholarship aid
Percentages calculated with data from the National Center for Education Statistics

During the 2015-2016 cycle, Caltech students received aid at a higher proportion; 58.09% vs 47.85% in Stanford.

However, things have dramatically changed ever since. Every year, the percentage of first-time students receiving aid has been consistently getting higher at Stanford University. In fact, it’s close to 56% according to the latest data.

On the other hand, the California Institute of Technology had a huge dip, going from 58.09% in 2015 to 48.51% in 2017. A decrease of almost 10 points in two years.

However, in the last reported cycle (2018-2019), Caltech had a good recovery and almost 55% of its first-year students were receiving aid.

At the time of this writing, both schools are almost at the same level in regards to this variable. Nonetheless, the Average Net Price is substantially lower at Stanford, so it would typically be considered more affordable.

But keep in mind that Net Price is highly variable depending on the student’s circumstances. So I strongly recommend you use the official Net Price Calculators that both Caltech and Stanford provide on their websites.

Expected Salaries.

So far, we’ve deeply covered the main topics that you need to know to pick the right university. And in this part, we’ll analyze how much you can expect to earn after you graduate. So keep reading because this will be paramount.

When it comes to salaries, both Caltech and Stanford are among the institutions with the highest-earning graduates. The table below shows their corresponding median earnings according to CNBC:

Median salary
(0-5 years of experience)
Median salary
(+10 years of experience)
Salary average
(early and mid-career)
Source: The top US colleges that pay off the most. CNBC.

As you can see, the data is pretty similar for both colleges, but Caltech graduates are likely to earn more within the first years after graduation.

For Caltech graduates with 0 to 5 years of experience, CNBC reports a median salary of $83,400, which is 9.02% higher than Stanford’s $76,500. However, after 10 years of experience, there is no significant difference between them. In other words, Stanford graduates see a more rapid increase in their salary as they gain experience.

Expected Salaries by Major (Two Years after Graduation).

We can get in more detail if we analyze the expected salaries by specific majors. Although the California Institute of Technology rarely publishes this information, the US Department of Education reports the following median salaries for Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science alumni.

These salaries correspond to the median earnings two years after graduation.

Computer Science.

Median salary$155,297$136,499
Computer Science median salaries two years after graduation. Source: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

According to the US Department of education, Computer Science graduates from these institutions are likely to earn above $130,000 two years after graduation.

The California Institute of Technology reports the highest earnings for this particular major. Its median salary of $155,297 is 13.77% higher than Stanford’s $136,499.

Mechanical Engineering.

Median salary$83,177$78,343
Mechanical Engineering median salaries two years after graduation. Source: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

From the previous table, we can see that two years after graduation, Mechanical Engineers from Caltech earn around 6.17% more than Mechanical Engineers from Stanford.

Keep in mind that, while it is true that Caltech graduates are more likely to earn higher salaries in their first years, Stanford’s Average Net Price is significantly lower.

Key Takeaways.

In summary:

  • When it comes to international rankings, both Stanford and the California Institute of Technology are among the top universities. Stanford has had better rankings in the last years, but Caltech is pretty close.
  • Caltech is an excellent option for scientific research. It has a high number of Nobel laureates with respect to its size. Besides, around 90% of its students take part in research projects.
  • The California Institute of Technology is home to five NASA facilities. Moreover, it manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located just a few miles from the institute.
  • Stanford has been the alma mater of many Nobel laureates and there are former students that co-founded popular companies.
  • Stanford University is located in the northwest part of Silicon Valley, which can be an advantage for students looking to work at a high-tech company.
  • Both universities are extremely selective. Historical data shows their acceptance rate going down, while SAT scores keep increasing every cycle.
  • Stanford is typically more affordable. Its Average Net Price has been fluctuating below $17,300 in the last years.
  • On the other hand, Caltech has reported higher net prices recently; $27,438 is the maximum value registered.
  • However, these amounts may vary substantially depending on your situation. Always use the net price calculators provided by the institutions.
  • Over 54% of first-time students receive grant or scholarship aid at both universities.
  • Caltech students seem to earn more during their first years after graduation. But Stanford graduates catch up as they gain experience.

Additional Resources.