Housing and Dining

House System

Undergraduate life, both academic and social, revolves around the eight student "Houses"—which are fairly unusual as college residences go. They're not dorms or fraternities but "self-governing living groups." The houses bring students from all class years and backgrounds together under one roof. The house system elevates collegiate housing way beyond the standard residential hall. It provides you with your first set of friends as a student at Caltech, which can be one of the most daunting aspects of going to college. The social and academic support from Caltech's house system transforms your peers at Caltech into a second family. Seven of the houses are exclusively for undergraduates, with the eighth house welcoming a blend of undergrads, graduate students, and faculty-in-residence. 

At Caltech, we require freshmen to live on campus. After freshman year, students may live off campus if they wish, but about 86 percent of undergrads become very attached to their houses and choose to live in Caltech-affiliated housing throughout their undergrad years. Even students who move off campus usually keep a house affiliation and go back "home" for parties or the occasional dinner, enjoying the venerable Caltech tradition of sit-down house dinners served by student waiters.

Incoming freshmen get to know the different houses—each of which has a distinct personality and its own traditions—during a selection process known as Rotation. Almost everyone gets assigned to their first- or second-choice house, and no one is required to live in a house they don't like.


"Dinner is served!" Literally: every weeknight you'll have a family-style sit-down dinner with your housemates. Students can eat breakfast and lunch at Chandler Café, the Red Door Marketplace, the Café at Broad, or their house's Open Kitchen. On weekends, these resources are still open for breakfast and lunch, and you're on your own to explore the offerings of Pasadena or your own culinary skills for dinner.

Caltech students are serious about food! In fact, there is an entire student committee dedicated to making sure students are happy with their dining selections.

Caltech food facts:

  • An eclectic mix of high-quality food is available for lunch every weekday at Chandler Café.
  • A family-style, waited dinner is served every weeknight in the student houses. 
  • Student residence kitchens remain open between meals so that students can get sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, salads, cereal, or other snacks.
  • Vegetarian and vegan entrees are available at every meal.
  • Caltech Dining Services (CDS) strives to meet all special dietary requirements. From kosher food to gluten free, from halal food to the paleo diet—the dining team can handle it all.
  • CDS is also committed to sustainability, providing compostable to-go containers and composting all food waste from its kitchens. 
  • To ensure quality, CDS management eats the dinners that are served to the students every night; if the CDS team doesn't want to eat it, they won't serve it.