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Top Tech Schools: MIT or Caltech?

Top Tech Schools: MIT or Caltech? main image

If you want to study in the US at one of the world’s leading tech-focused institutions, chances are you're dreaming of either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or California Institute of Technology – MIT or Caltech. 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.

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 1st in the world overall
  • Rated 4th by graduate employers and 6th by academics
  • 12th for faculty/student ratio
  • 10th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 33rd in the world for percentage of international faculty members, and 65th for international students
  • Ranked 5th in the world overall
  • Rated 90th by graduate employers and 23rd by academics
  • 3rd for faculty/student ratio
  • 4th for research impact (citations per faculty member)
  • 136th in the world for percentage of international faculty members, 112th for international students
Subject strengths, based on the broad subject areas in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017

  • Ranked 1st in the world for engineering & technology
  • 1st for natural sciences
  • 6th for social sciences & management
  • 4th for life sciences & medicine
  • 16th for arts & humanities
  • Ranked 17th in the world for engineering & technology
  • 8th 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 and ‘happening’ 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

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

QS World University Rankings® 2016-17 

MIT

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 five years running. The California Institute of Technology is no slouch though, and retained its position of fifth in the world recently.

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 2016-2017 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 its largest lead. 

Subject strengths Subject strengths

Both 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 data. 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 (8th) 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
 MITCaltech
Accounting & finance2nd--
Anthropology50th--
Architecture1st--
Art & design2nd--
Biological sciences2nd8th
Business & management4th101-150
Chemistry1st8th
Communication & media studies22nd--
Computer science & information systems1st27th
Earth & marine sciences5th7th
Economics1st=38th
Engineering (chemical)1st5th
Engineering (civil)1st51-100
Engineering (electrical)1st15th
Engineering (mechnical)1st14th
English language & literature=29th151-200
Environmental sciences3rd=19th
History44th101-150
Linguistics1st--
Mathematics1st12th
Materials science1st20th
Medicine=12th51-100
Modern languages12th--
Performing arts=36th--
Philosophy=16th101-150
Physics & astronomy1st7th
Politics22nd--
Psychology=8th--
Social policy & administration7th--
Sociology=25th--
Sports-related subjects20th--
Statistics2nd--
See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2017

 

Location Los Angeles

Both top tech schools are located in small university towns within easy reach of a major city. MIT is 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 of which Massachusetts is a part of is famed worldwide for its beautiful fall colors.

Student community

Though both of these 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, a crack-team of around 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 Tuition fees

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.

Meanwhile Caltech reports that almost 60% of undergraduates receive financial aid, while 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 updated in April 2016 and again in March 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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