DiscoTech: A Reflection

The numbers are in! We’ve got just over 267 committed freshmen in Caltech’s Class of 2027. A number of factors went into building the structure of next year’s incoming class, including a continuing Test-Optional policy, the newly implemented Restricted Early Action process to increase yield %, an exciting and in-person Caltech Up Close, as well as both DiscoTech and Caltech In A Day (CIAD) to lure admits to commit. This poses a number of hurdles for housing capacity, dining options, and lecture hall space for frosh core amongst others. But hey, as a member of the class of ‘25 with a similarly over-enrolled total of about 270, I’m not in the position to complain. “The undergrad classes are not getting bigger by any design or intention. Many more students unpredictably came than expected,” Gilmartin assured us. “But as we struggle to manage this, hopefully we will see that these are students that decided to come to Caltech more intentionally and more well informed. I hope when it comes to rotation, there will be more of a sense of excitement and engagement,” he added. A significant number of Techers regard recruitment efforts like DiscoTech with bitterness, finding it painful to imagine these new admits arriving to campus in the fall as enrolled students, blind-sighted by promises of fun prank culture, fun-yet-challenging STEM classes, and plentiful research opportunities – only to be hit with the reality of a campus culture slowly being picked apart, a learning environment that burns out a significant portion of students within their first year, and general dissatisfaction reflected by student surveys. Those Techers may be relieved to know that coordinators of DiscoTech and Caltech In A Day made a clear emphasis on the strenuousness of the university. “Caltech is a special and specific college experience. Students are pushed to their limits to become the scientists they are meant to be. DiscoTech is meant to showcase what Caltech is about to our admitted students, and help them determine if this is the kind of experience they’re looking for. We want to make sure they make a clear and informed decision when accepting or declining their admission,” said Nicholas Lee, Assistant Director of Admissions. This year’s DiscoTech saw many new changes compared to last year’s DiscoTech and previous pre-Covid years’ admit events. Admissions Officers (AOs) like Lee are now looking into refining those changes and assessing where things landed. Thomas Cleveland (Math ‘25, Unaffiliated), a host for Caltech In A Day, recalled taking his protofrosh to a Ph 101 (Order-of-Magnitude Physics) lecture, showing him Ph 7 (Physics Laboratory) experiments, libraries, and general campus life. Being a host was “overall a good experience. I didn’t drown in responsibilities, and my protofrosh was a great match,” said Cleveland. Noam Rabinovitz, a CIAD protofrosh, reflected on his overall impression of school. “It’s a place for people who really really like STEM to be challenged at the highest level, but with support from some of the most brilliant people on Earth. It’s a place where people are free to express their love for science with everyone around them; where the work is so intense that people find themselves collaborating heavily and, in turn, bonding with others over their work. Also turtles,” he added. The activities of the day included meeting his AO and host, meeting professors and Financial Aid officers, attending lectures, and campus tours, Noam concluded that his overall experience had a variety of highlights. “Caltech is hiding tons of cool science behind every one of its doors, and it definitely feels like a place where the intensity of the curriculum finally matches that of my desire to learn. On the other hand, while attending a lecture, I felt like an actual student, especially when my host’s TA casually made note of the radioactive material next to me. The reality of moving across the country to a place with a radically different culture hit me pretty hard.” Ethan Labelson (‘26, Blacker/Dabney), a DiscoTech host, also had a positive experience despite sharing a “pretty tight” room with his protofrosh, recalling that his protofrosh and he had a common interest in Electrical Engineering. Labelson was an active volunteer in Hovse DiscoTech events, showing off projects and other Mole activities™ to the visitors. Similar events were held across the North and South Houses and Avery to exemplify the personality of each house and community on campus. Nat Hernandez, a DiscoTech protofrosh, participated in EcosySTEMs, a fully funded program to fly in admits for DiscoTech. “It was overwhelming as far as the culture goes,” she said, recalling her first impression of Caltech. “I thought students would have no social life because of work. I liked the campus the first time I visited but I didn’t think it was the prettiest campus I had seen. Although I did come to love it over the four days. It really is for a very specific type of person.” Over the course of her time visiting Caltech, Nat and other admits were taken to “mini lectures” with every department, attended planned lunch events, competed in an egg drop contest, explored campus, and went to Griffith Observatory.

Hernandez emphasized the sense of community that protofrosh created together. “The highlight of my experience at DiscoTech was house dinner because I think sharing a meal as a community brings everyone together (as does throwing bread). I really got some insight into house life.” Overall, the work that administrators, academic departments, individual professors, and current students put into making DiscoTech possible was a definite success. Now, we just have to wait ‘til the fall to formally introduce ourselves to our new classmates. Remember to pick up your T-shirts and merch from the Admissions Office if you volunteered!