In mid-October, the Caltech Undergraduate Admissions Office held their annual Caltech Up Close (CUC) event. This year the program accepted 194 high school seniors, nearly double the 103 present the previous year.
According to the Undergraduate Admissions website, the program is designed for “students of exceptional promise and will focus on the experiences of students from historically underserved backgrounds in STEM.” Selected participants have opportunities to “Explore Caltech’s campus; Connect with campus community members, including faculty and current students; discover undergrad academics, research and internships, as well as student life; Grasp admissions and financial aid processes; and experience a glimpse of life in Southern California.”
ADMISSIONS OFFICE’S GOALS FOR THE PROGRAM
The Tech interviewed Nic Lee, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Coordinator of the CUC program, about how it went from the Admissions perspective. “The students had a lot of fun,” he said. “We have endless gratitude for all the hosts and ambassadors who made it possible.”
“The broader goal of the Admissions Office is to bring the best and brightest students to campus, and build a collaborative, connected community,” Lee shared. “[The Caltech Up Close] program aligns well with this goal.”
When asked about the large increase in the number of students admitted to CUC, Lee responded, “while the goal has stayed the same, the program has evolved a lot. We had 30 students in 2013, around 60 in 2019, 100 last year, and then 200 this year.”
According to Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions Ashley Pallie, a very generous donation was made by Richard Merkin, member of Caltech’s Board of Trustees, for the intentionally broad purpose of increasing outreach and recruitment for diverse populations. She added, “We saw that [hosting] 200 was possible [at DiscoTech last year], and we want to reach as many people as possible, so why wouldn’t we? …We want to give students enough information about Caltech to make a sound, clear, intentional decision.”
THE AMBASSADORS’ AND HOSTS’ EXPERIENCE
During the CUC program, the high school students are hosted by and stay in the rooms of current Caltech students. Traditionally hosts are members of the sophomore, junior, and senior class, however this year the call for hosts was sent to all undergraduates, including frosh. While this is an exciting opportunity for high school students, it is also a crucial period for the new frosh class, as they are just settling into their classes and finishing rotation. Lee explained that finding hosts is not easy, and that the office wanted to “tap into the frosh hosting capacity.”_ _This reliance on frosh hosting capacity, while advantageous for host matching, may have detracted from the experience of being a freshman and the opportunity to comfortably settle into life at Caltech.
The initial email about host sign ups did not include any mention of compensation for students time and space. However, later communication offered hosts a $20 Amazon gift card.
“I think the biggest issue is that the number of high school students visiting is determined before the number of undergrads that are willing to host them is, which leads to the mad scramble at the end to find a room for all of them,” said Dabney Hovse President Tomás Wexler (ME 24’). “Until they realized that more hosts were needed, undergrads were also expected to host without any sort of compensation, which is not fair to the students who are offering their time and living space to one or more strangers.”
The Admissions Office originally intended there to be no more than two CUC students hosted in any one room (with the exception of Bechtel suites). Chi Cap (Ay ‘25, Dabney), one of the Admissions Ambassadors in charge of matching CUC students to hosts, shared that the CUC student to host ratio is around 2:1. However, there was inevitably some imbalance, and some rooms like Cap’s triple dorm room in Dabney Hovse ended up hosting three students.
During the matching process, Cap shared that she felt anxious about constantly reaching out to the office for answers, and she was not sure if there was a plan should they not find enough hosts to match. Several admissions ambassadors stayed up past midnight two days before the CUC program desperately trying to convince their friends to host more CUC students, but eventually hosts were found for everyone. No one was assigned to host more people than they explicitly agreed to.
Lee explained that there was a backup plan in case there weren’t enough hosts, which was to host them in the Pasadena Hilton. There was precedent for this, as DiscoTech for the Class of 2026 was hosted at the Hilton due to COVID restrictions.
In Braun, which has some of the smallest rooms on campus, at least one pair of hosts hosted 3 people in their single-turned-double. The rooms in Braun are approximately 120 square feet, with barely enough floor space to walk around comfortably. These conditions are generally considered to be a tight squeeze for two students to live in under normal conditions, much less five. Mars Arechavala (MechE ‘26, Blacker), who lives in a double room in Braun, stated that “this room is literally built to be a single, and [during Caltech Up Close it] will have 5 people [total] in it, which will definitely be uncomfortable.”
In addition to concerns over space and privacy, some students had concerns over the behavior of the participants. Page House President Rik Bose stated his concerns that some CUC participants in Page were disrespectful of their hosts’ space, leaving hygiene products out or taking hosts’ items without asking. “I know this was a problem last year, which is why people don’t want to repeat-host,” said Bose.
In response, on the second morning of the program, Admissions staff explicitly reiterated to all CUC participants the expectations for their behavior as guests. Additionally, Lee assured that Admissions staff will make more effort to ensure students are accountable for their behavior next year.
So why host the CUC participants in student rooms? According to Lee, “students can get to see the houses and experience the culture […], since living here is the authentic and honest experience. in terms of the living arrangements: logistically much easier, and cost-wise.” Many other college fly in programs also host participants in the dorm rooms with hosts. Also, for current students, Lee pointed out that hosting can be “an opportunity for Caltech students to be a part of showing off and meeting future peers and classmates. Sometimes that even includes telling CUC participants ‘I don’t know if you’re going to like it here.’ In short, you get to be a part of the recruitment process.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Caltech Up Close is meant to be a lighthearted preview on Caltech’s programs, academics, and student life for young, impressionable high schoolers. The CUC program had many events for participants including campus tours, lab tours, and even a beach trip. Changes to the size of the CUC student body affect not only the number of hosts needed to accommodate their stay. Behind the scenes of CUC planning were Caltech students who worked late into the night to ensure these high schoolers had a place to stay, and more Caltech students who gave up their privacy for three nights to host. The jump from 103 to 200 also is not a trivial one for an institution of Caltech’s size, which is designed to be intimate and small. However, according to Lee: “it’s likely that there will be 200 CUC participants next year.”
“200 definitely seems to be the limit. we’re waiting for data to get feedback from hosts, etc. to assess whether we need to adjust — size, format [etc.].” The post program survey run by the Admissions Office revealed that CUC participants enjoyed their time, and the experience was just as good as the previous years.