ESE Graduate Application FAQ

When is the application deadline?

Please check the applications web site for up-to-date information. Generally beginning of January.

When will I hear about a decision?

Decisions are typically made by the end of January. We will provide information on our decision of admission via email.

How much does it cost to apply?

There is a cost of $100 to apply to graduate school at Caltech. Fee waivers are available as discussed next.

Is there a fee waiver? How can I request a fee waiver?

A fee waiver is available and we encourage anyone for whom the fee represents a burden to apply for one. The fee waiver is available within the online admissions system and is submitted to the Graduate Studies Office.

Does checking the fee waiver request influence my application for admission?

Absolutely not. Admissions committees and potential faculty advisers do not have access to information regarding fee waivers. If the fee, which supports the Graduate Admissions Office in processing the applications, represents a burden, please request the waiver without concern.

Is there a minimum GPA requirement for admissions?

There is no GPA requirement for admission but the GPA is a factor for admission (we are aware that average GPAs vary by institution).

Do I need to take the GRE to apply to ESE?

We are not accepting submission of GRE scores for application to our graduate program. Self-reported GRE scores will be redacted during application review.

What are the criteria for admission to Caltech?

There are many routes to Caltech including some that are considered ‘non-traditional’. No matter your route, we admit students who have some of the following accomplishments: have demonstrated, through their personal statement, that they are passionate in their decision to pursue a Ph.D.; have the academic background needed to be successful at Caltech (strong transcript in a rigorous curriculum that includes significant quantitative science and/or engineering coursework); previous research/scholarly experience; and, strong letters of recommendation from those who know you well and can speak to your ability to be successful at Caltech.

Which faculty members are accepting students for next year?

There is no list of professors who are accepting students as situations are often in flux. The ESE faculty welcome emails requesting information on the likelihood that there will be space in individual labs. This is also often a good way to learn about new research activities in ESE. Be aware that admissions are not done by individual faculty members but by faculty committees, so please refrain from asking about likelihoods of success. You can find a list of ESE faculty here.

Should I write to a faculty member if I am thinking about applying and have interest in the research in the specific lab?

Absolutely! That said, admissions to ESE are done by faculty committees — you will be admitted to a Caltech program but not directly into a Caltech laboratory. During your first year in residence you will have an opportunity to work in several labs and find one that fits your needs. So, as you develop your application make sure to think about several labs across the programs / Institute that you would like to explore. It is helpful to the admissions committee to mention in your application letter those faculty members that you feel could be suitable advisers for your research interests. Some faculty members have dual appointments in different options (even divisions), so it is best to contact them individually if you are unsure which option to apply to. You can find a list of ESE faculty here:

What should I write in my Statement of Purpose? How long should it be?

The Statement of Purpose should reflect your reasoning for applying to the PhD program in Environmental Science and Engineering at Caltech. Things you can and should include in your statement include:

  • Your motivations, your research interests and why you feel that ESE would be a suitable fit; this could include any faculty with whom you would like to work;
  • Any previous personal, educational, research, or professional experiences that qualifies you as a researcher;
  • Concrete examples of how you solved a challenging research or coursework problem;
  • Thoughts about your future career paths and why Caltech is a great choice for you;
  • Extenuating circumstances and how you have overcome any challenges that have impacted your career path thus far.

An ideal statement is brief (2 pages) and clearly written.

Am I allowed to defer an offer of admission?

Deferrals can be granted on a case-by-case basis after the student has been officially admitted.

Who should I contact with further logistical questions about applying?

For further questions, you can reach out to the Graduate Options Manager for GPS, Julie Lee.

Questions specific to international students:

Do I need an official translation for my transcript and recommendation letters?

If your recommenders are unable to write their letters in English or your transcript is not in English, please contact the Graduate Options Manager for GPS, Julie Lee (

What is a GPA? What should I do if my grades are on a different scale?

GPA is a Grade Point Average. We are experienced with scales from different countries, so there is nothing specific you need to do.

Is the TOEFL required?

For non-native speakers, there is a language test requirement but you will have a choice between TOEFL, IELTS, Pearsons, or Duolingo. In addition, Caltech offers English as a second language (ESL) courses for those who might benefit from improving their english skills. If there are reasons for why you can’t take a language test, please contact the Graduate Options Manager for GPS, Julie Lee ( and we will try to find an alternative solution if required.

What funding opportunities are available for international students?

This varies by what country you are from, but a lot of governments have fellowships that STEM students can apply for to pursue a PhD. Many of these fellowships can be used if you are studying in a foreign country, but you would need to check. Most US government fellowships are only available for US citizens or permanent residents, but there are some that are available for international students as well:

My professors don’t know how to write a recommendation letter. What should I tell them? What are you looking for?

Ultimately the admissions committee is trying to assess your potential to excel as a researcher. Ask your recommenders to write about not just about you as a student in a classroom, but also about your skills as a researcher, your prior research experience, or how your skills in the classroom can translate into skills in the lab.

If I am accepted, how much money do I need to start grad school?

In most cases, before starting your PhD you will need to pay for a visa, SEVIS fee, and travel to Pasadena. If you use Caltech housing and health insurance, those costs can be paid later in the academic term, after you start receiving your stipend. If you need help with start-up expenses, you can apply for a New Graduate Student Start-Up (NGSS) Loan of US$2500 that is disbursed in person during orientation.