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Top Tech Schools: MIT or Caltech?

Top Tech Schools: MIT or Caltech? main image

If you want to study at one of the leading tech schools in the US, chances are you’re making a choice between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology. From quantum physics to supercomputers, string theory to nuclear reactors, these are the places where the world’s best and brainiest gather to push back the frontiers of scientific and technological knowledge.

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But how do these top tech schools compare, and how can you decide whether MIT or Caltech would suit you best? Here’s a quick overview, with more detailed explanation below.

 

MIT

Caltech

  • Ranked first in the world overall
  • Ranked fourth by graduate employers and sixth by academics
  • 14th for faculty/student ratio
  • Eighth for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 36th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 70th for international students
  • Ranked fourth in the world overall
  • Ranked 77th by graduate employers and 22nd by academics
  • Third for faculty/student ratio
  • Fourth for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 126th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, 106th for international students
Subject strengths, based on the broad subject areas in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017

  • Ranked first in the world for engineering & technology
  • First for natural sciences
  • Sixth for social sciences & management
  • Fourth for life sciences & medicine
  • 16th for arts & humanities
  • Ranked 17th in the world for engineering & technology
  • Eighth for natural sciences
  • Joint 116th for social sciences & management
  • Joint 115th for life sciences & medicine
  • Joint 200th for arts & humanities
Location

  • Cambridge, Massachusetts, a university town close to Boston – one of the most historic cities in the US North East
  • More seasonal variation in weather
  • Pasadena, California, a university town close to Los Angeles – the second biggest city in the US
  • Sunshine and warmth pretty much year-round
Student community

  • 11,376 students (4,524 undergraduates and 6,852 postgraduates)
  • International students represent about 29% of students overall
  • 2,240 students (979 undergraduates and 1,261 postgraduates)
  • International students represent around 26% of students overall
Fees and funding

 

QS World University Rankings® 2018

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is pretty much unbeatable in the QS World University Rankings® – it’s been ranked the world’s number one for the past six years running. The California Institute of Technology is no slouch though, having climbed one place in the 2018 edition to now rank fourth in the world.

While MIT gets higher scores in the qualitative measures used to compile the rankings (two huge global surveys of academics and employers), Caltech comes out ahead on two of the quantitative measures used: faculty-student ratio and research citations per faculty member. In the 2018 edition of the ranking, Caltech is ranked fourth in the world for research citations per faculty member – reflecting the huge influence Caltech has in the research sector despite its small size.

In the latest rankings, the biggest gap between the two is in the percentage of international faculty members, where MIT has a sizeable lead. 

Subject strengths 

Both MIT and Caltech are well known as leading tech schools, and are particularly strong in the science and technology fields. Thanks to its prestigious Sloan School of Management, MIT also has a strong international reputation for social sciences and business-related courses.

These strengths are reflected in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017, which is based upon academic reputation, employer reputation and research citations. Despite its specialized focus, MIT features in the top 20 of each broad subject area in the subject rankings, including arts and humanities (16th).

Caltech doesn’t have quite such a strong all-round performance, though it still places within the world’s top 200 for every broad subject area – no small feat. Its strongest areas by far are natural sciences (eighth) and engineering and technology (17th).

As you can see in the table below, MIT boasts a large number of first place rankings (12 in all), especially in engineering and technology subjects, and features in 32 of the 46 different subject rankings. By comparison, Caltech only features in 18.

MIT and Caltech in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017

 

MIT

Caltech

Accounting & finance

2nd

--

Anthropology

50th

--

Architecture

1st

--

Art & design

2nd

--

Biological sciences

2nd

8th

Business & management

4th

101-150

Chemistry

1st

8th

Communication & media studies

22nd

--

Computer science & information systems

1st

27th

Earth & marine sciences

5th

7th

Economics

1st

=38th

Engineering (chemical)

1st

5th

Engineering (civil)

1st

51-100

Engineering (electrical)

1st

15th

Engineering (mechnical)

1st

14th

English language & literature

=29th

151-200

Environmental sciences

3rd

=19th

History

44th

101-150

Linguistics

1st

--

Mathematics

1st

12th

Materials science

1st

20th

Medicine

=12th

51-100

Modern languages

12th

--

Performing arts

=36th

--

Philosophy

=16th

101-150

Physics & astronomy

1st

7th

Politics

22nd

--

Psychology

=8th

--

Social policy & administration

7th

--

Sociology

=25th

--

Sports-related subjects

20th

--

Statistics

2nd

--

 

Pasadena

Location 

Both top tech schools are in small university towns within easy reach of a major city. MIT is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a university town of under 150,000 inhabitants which is also home to Harvard University – making this one of the world’s most prestigious hubs of academic tuition and research. Cambridge is close to Boston, one of the most culturally vibrant and historic cities in the Northeast US, which was ranked eighth in the latest QS Best Student Cities index.

Some 3,000 miles away, Caltech is in the Californian city of Pasadena, a university town of a similar size to Cambridge, and a stone’s throw from the second-largest city in the US, Los Angeles, which was ranked joint 47th in the Best Student Cities ranking.

One of the major bragging points for Caltech students over their Northeastern rivals is the climate – southern California enjoys sunshine and warmth all year round, while MIT students get hot summers but freezing winters. Then again, a little seasonal variation is not necessarily a bad thing, and the New England region is famed worldwide for its beautiful fall colors.

Student community

Though both top tech schools are on the smaller side for world-class universities, MIT’s 11,300-strong student body makes it roughly five times the size of Caltech’s 2,240. Both institutions have a greater number of postgraduates than undergraduates, reflecting their research-intensive focus.

Well-established among the world’s top tech schools, both attract applications from talented students all around the world, leading to highly diverse student bodies. International students account for around 29% of enrolments at MIT, compared to 26% at Caltech. 

Tuition fees and financial support 

US private universities charge some of the highest tuition fees in the world. At either MIT or Caltech, annual fees for most students (undergraduate and postgraduate, domestic and international) amount to around US$48,000-49,000. When accommodation, living expenses, health insurance, transport and study supplies are added on, the total figure for the year is likely to exceed US$66,000.

However, there is a substantial silver lining: MIT and Caltech offer some of the most generous financial aid packages among US universities – so, in reality, many students pay far less than these initial figures would suggest.

MIT says 91% of its undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, with the average scholarship amounting to $36,566, and seven out of 10 students graduating debt-free. The university is one of a handful of elite US institutions which offer need-blind admission for all undergraduate candidates, including those from outside the US. This means students’ ability to pay is not considered during the application process, and, once a place has been offered, the university pledges to contribute enough to make attendance possible.

Caltech reports that almost 60% of undergraduates receive financial aid and approximately 98% of graduate students and 99% of doctoral students receive full financial support, in the form of fellowships and assistantships. While Caltech’s need-blind policy does not extend to international students, it does have a commitment to help all US citizens and permanent residents meet the cost of attendance.

This article was originally published in March 2013. It was last updated in June 2017 to incorporate the latest data from the QS World University Rankings and other sources.

Additional reporting by Sabrina Collier

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including How Do Students Use Rankings?

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6 Comments

Hi,
I have just been graduated in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from a Public Engineering University & obtained CGPA 3.69 out of 4 in Bangladesh. I always dream to have my MS leading to Phd from a university like MIT, Caltech with the fin ancial support from the university.How can I avail of this support?
Agnila Barua

Hello, I'd recommend checking the official websites of MIT and Caltech for details on how to apply for their financial aid. You can read more advice on how to find and fund a PhD in this free pdf guide

Of course, these two are battling it out in my head to see which one will come out on top of my university choices (I'm an English citizen, by the way). I'm applying to both in a year, and getting into either is going to be tough, but deciding on one or the other is a precarious balance which is very difficult to break.

And I say Oxbridge suddenly feel weak. Oxford will probably be my first choice, though, assuming MIT and Caltech both reject me.

Best of luck with your applications Henry! Let us know if you need any advice. :) 

http://www.caltech.edu/news/caltech-again-named-worlds-top-university-times-higher-education-global-ranking-36908

Hi, i am Arunava from India, have completed M.Sc in chemistry with organic specialization. I have a keen interest in the field of synthetic organic chemistry mainly asymmetric synthesis. I wanna know the detail of universities which has been doing their research in this field and which provide full time scholarship for doctoral program.