For New Students

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This section is especially for new graduate students starting at Caltech.

Before Coming to Caltech

Caltech Housing

For full details, see also the Housing section.

Housing Reservation

Most first-year graduate students live in on-campus housing. Applications for on-campus housing are sent out with the admission letter. All first-year graduate students are guaranteed on-campus housing if it is requested by the deadline. If you apply for on-campus housing, you should receive a confirmation letter or email with a room assignment before coming. If you plan to arrive after business hours or on a weekend, call the Housing Office (626-395-6176) in advance to arrange for after-hours check-in through the Security Office (626-395-4701).

Graduate Student Housing

On-campus housing options include on-campus furnished apartments (Catalina Apartments) or off-campus furnished and unfurnished apartments. See the Housing section.

Shipping Information

Instructions for mail and shipping packages to Caltech can be found in your housing confirmation letter. Packages shipped through United Parcel Service or similar carriers will be received by Caltech Central Receiving. Packages should not arrive on campus more than one week before your arrival. For up to date information on how to address parcels coming to Caltech as well as how to send mail from Caltech, please see Caltech Mail Services

Upon your arrival at Caltech, check for your parcels at the Caltech Receiving Dock, 391 S. Holliston (x4893). You can also send items to your department mail box. Ask your department secretary or a student in the department for your building's mail code. Address packages to:

(your name)
1200 E California Blvd
MC (Your mail code)
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States

Off Campus Housing

While the Catalina Apartments are a convenient and affordable housing option, they do not allow pets. Many older or married students may also choose to live off campus while at Caltech. There are many houses for rent within walking or biking distance of campus. The quickest way to locate an apartment or house for rent is to use services like Padmapper which aggregates listings from craigslist and other websites. In addition, the Caltech Marketplace occasionally has postings for housing but is mostly filled with moving-out furniture sales.

How to Get to Caltech

Also see: Transportation

From Los Angeles Airport (LAX)


There is a huge selection of shuttle services to and from LAX. It’s best to stick with reliable companies if you want to get to Pasadena in a reasonable length of time. Many companies provide 24 hour service. To get a shuttle, exit the baggage claim area and look for the GREEN overhead “LONG DISTANCE VANS” sign. Find one of the shuttle coordinators (those in red or blue coats carrying radios) to call a shuttle for you. Tell the driver you are going to Caltech; if you are asked for an address or intersection, Wilson and California is the southwest corner of campus and San Pasqual and Wilson is a normal stop for SuperShuttle. The fare to a residence about $30. The ground transportation desk in the baggage claim area of the terminals provides information on companies and their destinations. Super Shuttle (800)-BLUE-VAN offers a Caltech discount price, but you have to be dropped off at certain pre-designated locations. S1 is located at the south end of the Holliston parking structure, S2 is north of Moore Lab by Chester, S3 is in the parking lot at the southeast corner of 450 S. Catalina (close to the Graduate Housing Office) and S4 is in the turnaround south of Arms Lab and off of California. [http:// Prime Time Shuttle] (800)-RED-VANS started a discount program for Caltech students as well if you are dropped on campus, Remember to show Caltech ID for the discount fare.

Metro Flyaway

The cheapest option may be to take the LAX-to-Union Station Flyaway bus for $8 and then reach Pasadena via the Gold Line. The metro stops are about a mile from Caltech so you would still have to walk, find a bus, or get a ride from a friend.

From Burbank Airport


Shuttle service is available from a multitude of companies. Tell the driver you are going to Caltech; if you are asked for an address or intersection, Wilson and California is the southwest corner of campus.

Parking at Caltech

Visitors are required to display a paid permit if their vehicle is parked on campus between the hours of 7am-5pm, Mon-Fri. Visitor permits are available at automated pay stations at some parking lots. See For long-term parking, please refer to the Driving section in Transportation.

Check-In and Orientation

International Student Check-In

(Skip this section if you are an American citizen). International students must check in with the International Student Programs office. ISP is open for check-in during their walk-in office hours, Monday to Friday 1pm to 4pm, except during the week of International Student Orientation. For more information on what you need for international check-in, see their check-in website.

International students must also attend International Student Orientation, which happens during the week before the general Graduate Student Orientation.

Finally, some international students must also participate in English as a Second Language (ESL) screening, which takes place on Registration Day (the Monday of Graduate Student Orientation week).

All Students

When you first arrive at Caltech, you should check in with the Housing Office (if you applied for institute housing), the Graduate Office, and your option secretary. IMSS can set up your email account as soon as you enroll, so you can arrange for it to be working when you arrive in the fall. All graduate students are automatically signed up for health and dental insurance. There is an option to waive Caltech student health insurance if you have an alternate option (e.g. staying on your parents plans or a spouse's employer plan) that meets the university requirements. Information about these programs will be sent to you within the first couple weeks of school.


If you have on-campus housing, you should first check in at the Graduate Housing Office at 414 S. Holliston, on the first floor of the Center for Student Services building (Building 86) during regular business hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday). During check-in, you will receive your room keys and will be informed of your housing assignment (if there has been any change since your housing confirmation letter was sent out). You will sign a housing contract and will be given information brochures about housing policies and services. It is highly recommended that you read through the brochures carefully, as Caltech housing offers a lot of convenient services.


Your option secretary will give you a campus mailbox and give you the forms needed to get a key to your option’s building(s). Check with your option secretary and find out what other forms you have to fill out, who your advisor is (in many options, you are assigned a temporary advisor until you choose an advisor), and what additional check in requirements, such as placement exams, your option has. Some options or departments hold a welcome party for new students this can be a good opportunity to meet senior students.

Graduate Office

You should check in with the Graduate Office ( (230-87, second floor of the Center for Student Services) when you arrive. If you are arriving earlier in the summer, you might not finish the process until Registration Day. See their Incoming Students page for detailed instructions on this check-in process. That page also provides details on the New Graduate Student Startup loan, which might be helpful to offset expenses until the first paycheck.

Registrar's Office / ID Card

The Registrar's office is on the first floor of the Center for Student Services building and this is where you will complete enrollment and pick up your Caltech ID card if you are arriving prior to Registration Day.

Registration Day

Registration Day is the Monday of Graduate Student Orientation week. All students (American and International) register with the Graduate Office on the Monday of the all-school orientation week and complete the Graduate Office check-in. You can get information about Caltech libraries, pick up some goodies and your ID card if you did not check in with the Registrar's Office earlier.

Survival Guide

Where to Get Help

While settling down you might have questions or experience difficulties in adjusting. Talking to other students, new or senior, might help. Here are some places on campus you should know about in case you need help on different issues.


If you have any questions or problems regarding academics, you should turn to your department/option representative or the Graduate Office. If the problem is serious, you might talk to the Dean of Graduate Studies directly.


When you first arrive at Caltech, bring sufficient cash to last until your out-of-state or international checks clear in your checking account. In a pinch, students can borrow up to $50 interest-free for 30 days from the Caltech Y (x6163). The Graduate Office also offers the New Graduate Student Startup (NGSS), which is a no-interest, no-fee loan [1]. The Financial Aid Office (x6280) and Graduate Office (x6346) can also help you if you’re experiencing financial difficulties. They have information about several types of loans and scholarships for which you may be eligible.


For personal problems, you can talk to your Resident Associates, the Residential Life Coordinator, the Counseling Center, the Center for Diversity, the Graduate Office, or the Graduate Student Council.


If you have questions or concerns regarding safety, contact Caltech Security (x4701) right away. (x4701) is their non-emergency number so do not hesitate to call if you have a concern. If you feel unsafe walking somewhere at night, you can call (x4701) and ask them to give you a ride. They have staff on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For on-campus emergencies, you can reach Caltech Security at (x5000). In fact, 911 calls from campus phones get rerouted through the security office. If you are using a cellphone, you can reach security at (626) 395-5000. In the event of an emergency, security will work to guide emergency personnel to you as efficiently as possible.

Getting Settled


Driver’s License/ID Card

A California driver’s license or identification card (if you do not drive) can be obtained at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The closest DMV office to Caltech is at 49 South Rosemead Blvd, Pasadena (at Colorado and Rosemead), (800) 777-0133. You may need a passport or birth certificate in addition to your out-of-state license. You can make an appointment online for almost everything. Appointments are highly recommended because it allows you to skip the line, which is often 2 hours or longer. It is a good idea to make an appointment as early as possible, as the closest appointment is often 4-8 weeks away. The website also has additional information for new California residents, including the driver’s manual and practice tests.

In general, drivers with licenses from other US states can trade in their out-of-state license for a California's driver license after passing the written test. International driver licenses are not accepted in California and international students will have to take the California written test as well as the practical driving test. See the link above for new California residents for more details.

Auto Registration and Insurance

See the DMV's guide. If you are bringing a car from another state to California, you have 20 days (after you arrive) to register it here. There are penalty fees for late registration.

It is first necessary to get a smog check (which can be performed by most local mechanics) and auto insurance. For information on auto insurance, refer to the Transportation section.

Social Security Card

International students will receive instructions on how to obtain a Social Security card during international student orientation.


There are several banks within walking distance of Caltech. For more information, refer to the listing under Shops and Services: Banking. Note for international students: You do not need to wait for a SSN to open a bank account. You only need ID (e.g. passport) and a US address.


Although every student's tax situation is different, in general, our stipends are taxed at the federal level (IRS) as well as the state level. This Wikipedia page has a useful breakdown of the US federal tax brackets and the deductions you can claim. To avoid having to pay a ton of taxes each April when you file your return, fill out a Tax Withholding form (available from Human Resources). Most Caltech students will pay about 10% to 12% of their stipend in taxes.

Note for International students: Your first five years on F-1 or J-1 status do not count towards Resident Alien status so you will likely be filing as a non-resident alien (NRA). NRAs cannot claim the standard deduction. In addition, most international students have taxes withheld by Caltech at the 14% rate so you might get some money back when you file your return.

Caltech provides free tax software to prepare your return. You will get information on how to access this software each year.

Cell Phone

In the United States, most cell phone plans are nationwide so you can call or text any number in the nation without extra charges.

For international students, you might run into issues if you do not have a credit history in the US. However, bring your I-20 or DS-2019 and many companies will make an exception for you.

Connecting Basic Utilities

Catalina Apartments takes care of setting up electric, water and trash. For those living off campus in Pasadena, you’ll need to contact Pasadena Water and Power or 626-744-4005 and Southern California Gas or 800-427-2200. You’ll have to pay a deposit on both services.

Internet (incredibly fast ethernet, mediocre wifi) is provided in the Catalina Apartments (for a $20 monthly fee). For off-campus information, see Services.

Shopping for Furniture, Linens & Kitchenware

One quick option for basic necessities for home use is Target, 777 E. Colorado Blvd. Other options are the two supermarkets within walking distance - Pavilions and Ralph’s (mentioned in the next section), who also sell merchandise for daily and kitchen use. Also the Caltech Marketplace has many postings for furniture and home goods. For more shops in diverse categories, see the Local Recommendations sections.

Food and Grocery

There is a separate section for food facilities on and off campus. This paragraph will only highlight places that most new Caltech students frequent soon after they arrive.


Chandler is a popular option for lunch (approximately $8-$10 per meal). It is also open for breakfast, but not for dinner except during the summer. Across from Chandler is the Red Door Cafe, where you can get coffee, tea, and bakery items. Next to Chandler is the C-Store (a small convenience store), where you can get snacks, drinks, some medicines, etc. without walking off campus. The Broad Cafe is at the northwest corner of campus and serves coffee and pastries similar to the red door. They have sandwiches for lunch and bottled drinks.

One very popular food source at Caltech is Ernie's Al Fresco, which is a Mexican food truck that serves students and staff. Almost everything is $5. Ernie's is in front of Cahill around 10am, is by the Center for Student Services from 11:45am to 1:30pm, and is back in front of Cahill around 2pm.


For grocery shopping, within walking distance there is Pavilions, at the corner of California and Lake. Across California from Pavilions is Fresh and Easy, a simplified grocery market. Trader Joe’s has a location on the corner of Lake and Del Mar (above Macy’s), and is a very popular option for Caltech students. Ralph’s at Lake and Walnut is an alternative that some people consider more affordable than Pavilions, but is a longer walk. Refer to the Grocery, Bakery, and Specialty Markets section for details about these facilities and more choices.

Caltech’s and JPL’s Phone Systems

This section summarizes the key points on how to make calls with campus phones. For complete information about the campus phone system, refer to the Caltech Personnel Directory or check online at

Calls within Caltech

Dial the four-digit extension. On-campus directory assistance is obtained by dialing 0.

Calls to JPL

Dial 777, wait for the dial tone, then dial the 5 digit extension.

DMV: license validity / registration Taxes: withholding info