A Caltech education requires not just the depth of an option (major), but also considerable breadth in basic science, humanities, and social science. Caltech’s core curriculum prepares students for the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary research in science and technology and positions Caltech graduates for leadership roles in academia and industry. Significant study in the humanities and social sciences is an important component of Caltech’s core curriculum, giving our alumni the ability to navigate the societal, political, and economic factors that influence (and are influenced by) their work.
Caltech's core curriculum for students entering in fall 2012 includes:
- five terms of mathematics: calculus, ordinary differential equations, and infinite series; linear algebra; vectors and analytic geometry; calculus of several variables; probability
- five terms of physics: classical mechanics, electromagnetism, waves, quantum mechanics, statistical physics
- two terms of chemistry: lecture courses in general and quantitative chemistry
- one term of biology: a topical course introducing a variety of tools and concepts of modern biology
- freshman menu course: one term of astronomy, geology, environmental engineering and science, or energy science
- two terms of introductory lab courses: freshman chem lab, plus one other lab chosen from offerings in applied physics, biology, chemistry, engineering, or physics
- two terms of science communication: students research, write, and revise a 3,000-word paper on a science or engineering topic, which is then published in an online journal established for that purpose. Students work with a faculty mentor on the content of the paper and receive editorial guidance from science writing instructors.
- twelve terms of humanities courses: two terms emphasizing writing, two terms of introductory social-science courses, two terms of advanced humanities courses, and two terms of advanced social-science courses are required. The remaining four courses may be chosen from any of the humanities or social-science offerings. In 2007, there were 258 courses taught in humanities and social science division.
Placement exams are offered during the summer before enrollment in mathematics, physics, and writing to assure appropriate placement within courses in these disciplines.
In addition to the required core classes, freshmen are encouraged to participate in freshman seminar classes. Caltech offers a series of freshman seminars in which 10 to 15 freshmen and afaculty member explore in depth an exciting topic in the lab, around a table, or in the field. There are several offerings on a wide range of topics, including biomechanics, the Large HadronCollider, and the physics of music.