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Top Tech Schools: MIT or Caltech?

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated May 19, 2021 Updated May 19, 2021
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology are two of the top tech schools in the world. 
  • Both perform well across a range of indicators, but which one will you choose? Find out what sets these two excellent universities apart from each other.

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. 

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 

QS World University Rankings: USA 2021 

 

  • Ranked third in the USA  

  • Fourth in the USA for research  

  • Joint seventh for learning experience 

  • Joint ninth for diversity and internationalisation  

  • Third for employability 

  • Ranked 21st in the USA 

  • 15th in the USA for research  

  • First for learning experience  

  • 201-300 for diversity and internationalisation 

  • 22nd for employability 

Subject strengths, based on the broad subject areas in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

  • Ranked first in the world for engineering & technology 

  • First for architecture 

  • First for mathematics 

  • First for chemistry  

  • First for economics and econometrics  

  • First for linguistics 

  • Ranked 11th in the world for biological sciences 

  • 11th for chemistry 

  • 13th for electrical engineering 

  • 14th for engineering and technology  

  • 15th for mathematics 

Location 

Cambridge, Massachusetts, a university town close to Boston – one of the most historic cities in the US Northeast 

 

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 

11,520 students (4,530 undergraduates and 6,990 postgraduates) 

 

International students represent about 29 percent of students overall 

2,231 students (901 undergraduates and 1,330 postgraduates) 

 

International students also represent around 29 percent of students overall 

Fees and funding 

For 2021-22, annual tuition fees for undergraduates are $55,510 (£39,460), plus the Student Life fee: $368 (£260). 

 

Six out of 10 students receive some form of financial aid, with a need-blind admission policy for all students. 

For 2021-22, annual tuition fees for undergraduates are $54,570 (around £38,670), plus mandatory fees of $2,316 (£2,286). 

 

Almost 60 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid, while 98 percent of graduate students receive full financial support. 

QS World University Rankings: USA 2021 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology performs extremely well in the QS World University Rankings: USA, ranking third this year. The California Institute of Technology falls slightly behind MIT, in 21st. 

MIT scores better than Caltech across three of the four indicators in the USA rankings: research, diversity and internationalisation, and employability. However, Caltech outperforms MIT in learning experience, claiming the title of the best school in the USA for learning experience.  

In the latest USA rankings, the biggest gap between the two is in the diversity and internationalisation, 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 2021, which is based upon academic reputation, employer reputation and research citations. Despite its specialised focus, MIT features in the top 15 of each broad subject area in the subject rankings, including arts and humanities where it ranks joint 13th. 

Caltech doesn’t have quite such a strong all-round performance, though it still places within the world’s top 270 for every broad subject area – no small feat. Its strongest areas by far are natural sciences (seventh) and engineering and technology (14th). 

As you can see in the table below, MIT boasts many first-place rankings (12 in all), especially in engineering and technology subjects, and features in 34 of the 51 different subject rankings. By comparison, Caltech only features in 19 subjects. 

MIT and Caltech in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

 
 

MIT 

Caltech 

Accounting & finance 

2nd 

-- 

Anthropology 

Joint 41st 

-- 

Architecture 

1st 

-- 

Art & design 

4th 

-- 

Biological sciences 

2nd 

11th 

Business & management 

4th 

201-250 

Chemistry 

1st 

11th 

Communication & media studies 

13th 

-- 

Computer science & information systems 

1st 

22nd 

Earth & marine sciences 

2nd 

Joint 5th 

Economics 

1st 

Joint 38th 

Engineering (chemical) 

1st 

9th 

Engineering (civil) 

1st 

51-100 

Engineering (electrical) 

1st 

13th 

Engineering (mechanical) 

1st 

17th 

English language & literature 

26th 

201-250 

Environmental sciences 

3rd 

27th 

Geology 

3rd 

6th 

Geophysics 

Joint 3rd 

3rd 

History 

51-100 

-- 

Linguistics 

1st 

-- 

Mathematics 

1st 

15th 

Materials science 

2nd 

Joint 25th 

Medicine 

11th 

Joint 122nd 

Modern languages 

12th 

-- 

Performing arts 

51-100 

-- 

Philosophy 

Joint 41st 

151-200 

Physics & astronomy 

1st 

7th 

Politics 

Joint 14th 

-- 

Psychology 

9th 

-- 

Social policy & administration 

8th 

-- 

Sociology 

43rd 

-- 

Sports-related subjects 

51-100 

-- 

Statistics 

1st 

-- 

See the full QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 

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. This town is also home to Harvard University – making it 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 in the top 15 of the latest QS Best Student Cities ranking. 

Around 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 25th in the Best Student Cities ranking. 

One of the major bragging points for Caltech students over their north-eastern 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 autumn colours. 

Student community 

Though both top tech schools are on the smaller side for world-class universities, MIT’s 11,520-strong student body makes it roughly five times the size of Caltech’s 2,231. 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 percent of enrolments at both MIT and Caltech.  

At Caltech, the proportion of international students is much higher among graduate students, with 41 percent coming from outside the US, whereas only seven percent of undergraduates are international. 

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 $54,000-$57,000 (approximately £38,000-£40,000). 

When accommodation, living expenses, health insurance, extra fees, transport and study supplies are added on, the total figure for the year is likely to exceed US$79,900 (approx. £57,000). 

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 38 percent of its undergraduates receive scholarships or grants equal to or greater than the cost of their tuition, with 26 percent of students graduating debt-free.  

MIT 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 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid and approximately 98 percent of graduate students and 99 percent 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. 

Browse a range of scholarships to study in the US

This article was originally published in July 2013. It was last updated in May 2021 to include the latest data from the QS World University Rankings and other sources. 

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This article was originally published in June 2019 . It was last updated in May 2021

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Written by

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

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