Reducing admission standards at CalTech

Teresa Watanabe:

Kimberly Miranda is the brainy daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and the first in her family to attend college. But she almost didn’t make it to the California Institute of Technology.

Her Redwood City school didn’t offer algebra in eighth grade, which threw her off the progression of high school math classes leading to calculus — a long-standing Caltech admission requirement. Miranda managed to double up on math courses in sophomore year to reach calculus as a senior, but not all students have the wherewithal — or support — to take that path. 

And scores of students don’t even have that chance, because more than one-third of the nation’s high schools don’t offer calculus, and many also lack physics and chemistry classes, two other Caltech admission requirements. For years, the institute, a global powerhouse of science, technology, engineering and math education, fielded hundreds of calls each year from distraught students and parents about the issue. But Caltech held firm, making no exceptions, even for “absolutely astounding” applicants, as one faculty member put it. 

Now Caltech, in the name of equity, is shifting gears. In a groundbreaking step, the campus announced Thursday that it will drop admission requirements for calculus, physics and chemistry courses for students who don’t have access to them and offer alternative paths to prove mastery of the material. 

“Brilliant students exist in every single part of this world and in every single community, and this idea that families have to choose the future of their kids and where they’re going to go for college based on their ZIP Code seemed so unfair,” said Ashley Pallie, Caltech’s executive director of undergraduate admissions. “We need to continue opening this door of opportunity.”