Undergrad life, both academic and social, revolves around the eight student Houses (or Hovses, as it’s sometimes spelled here). The Houses are pretty unusual, if not unique, as college residences go. They’re not dorms, and they’re not frats; a closer description might be "self-governing living groups." The Houses are also the setting for a venerable Tech tradition: sit-down dinners served by student waiters.
Caltech’s four original student Houses—Blacker, Dabney, Fleming, and Ricketts—built in 1931, were modeled on the student residences at Oxford University. Three more Houses—Lloyd, Page, and Ruddock—were added in 1960. Each House accommodates 65 to 100 students from all four classes, freshman through senior, and each has a residence adviser living on the premises. An eighth residence, Avery House, was built in 1996; it houses a mix of undergrads, grad students, faculty, and the occasional distinguished visitor.
Freshmen are required to live on campus and are guaranteed housing in one of the eight undergraduate Houses. After freshman year, students may live off campus if they wish; but some 80 percent of undergrads become very attached to their House and choose to live there 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.
Incoming freshmen pick their houses through a process known as Rotation. During Rotation week, which takes place right after New Student Orientation, freshmen eat meals and attend social activities in each of the Houses, to get an idea of the special character of each. At the end of the week, freshmen submit their House preferences in ranked order to the student committee in charge of reviewing rankings and placing freshmen in the Houses. 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. Housing placements are nonbinding; it’s entirely possible to change Houses or to live in one House and also be a "social" member of one or more other Houses.