Applying to Caltech & the Wennberg laboratory

We seek to build a diverse and creative community of scholars in our laboratory and in our programs - so please apply

Here are a few common questions I get about navigating the application process. Please contact me ( as you develop your application.  

1. To what graduate Program (Option) should I apply? Most of the students in our lab enter Caltech via either the Chemistry or Environmental Science and Engineering (ESE) Options. These Options define the basic structure of the academic program: what classes are to be taught and taken and what ‘gates’ must be navigated. Unlike most schools, however, students often find research labs afield from the core faculty in their Option. Even though I do not have a formal role in the Chemistry Division, I teach courses in Chemistry and many of my students are Chemists. So, to answer this question, you should look carefully at the application requirements, courses, and gates to decide which program to apply to. Again, contact me if you wish to discuss.  

2. Should I write to you if I am thinking about applying and have interest in the research in the lab?  Absolutely! That said, admissions to both ESE and Chemistry are done by faculty committees — you will be admitted 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. 

3. What is the lab culture?  To get the scuttlebutt, I recommend you reach out to the lab members. That said, please come and help us create an exceptional place for doing great science and finding joy in doing so.  

4. Is it expensive to live in Pasadena?  Yes, unfortunately. We do, however, offer all admitted students a stipend and health insurance that should cover most needs. Again, I recommend you reach out to the lab members to learn more. 

5. Does checking the fee waiver request influence my application for admission? Absolutely Not. The faculty on the admissions committees do not know whether you paid the fee (or care). If the fee (which supports the Graduate Admissions Office in processing the applications) represents a burden go ahead and request the waiver without concern.  

6. In the end, 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 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 experience; and, strong letters of recommendation from those who know you well and can speak to your ability to be successful at Caltech.  

© Paul Wennberg 2021