Typical First-Year Schedule
As a Caltech student, you'll take a course load of 45–51 credits per 10-week term. That may sound like a lot, but if you think of a typical course as three hours of class time and six hours of homework per week, that's a nine-credit class. The net result is that most students at Caltech are enrolled in five to six classes each term, and the Institute divides the academic year into three 10-week terms, plus the option of a summer research term. You'll also live by our Honor Code.
All Caltech freshmen take the same core classes in their first year. Here is an example of a freshman schedule and unit load.
|Course||1st Term||2nd Term||3rd Term|
|Freshman Mathematics||9 units||9 units||9 units|
|Freshman Physics||9 units||9 units||9 units|
|General Chemistry||6 units||9 units||-|
|Principles of Biology||-||-||9 units|
|Fundamental Techniques of Experimental Chemistry (take 6 units in any term in first year)||(6 units)||(6 units)||(6 units)|
|Introductory courses in the humanities and social sciences||9 units||9 units||9 units|
|Introductory laboratory courses (units vary)||x||x||x|
|Menu course or additional electives (units vary)||x||x||x|
|Physical Education||3 units||3 units||3 units|
Additional Offerings for Freshmen
Caltech offers a series of freshman seminars in which 10 to 15 freshmen and a faculty member explore in depth an exciting topic in the lab, around a table, or in the field. These courses cover a wide range of topics, including earthquakes, gravitational waves, and the science of music. Instructors may allow upperclassmen to enroll in these seminars after the conclusion of the pre-registration period for the upcoming term.
Frontier Courses aka "Pizza Seminars"
Caltech also offers a series of "frontier courses" that involve a weekly presentation by a faculty member on a topic of current research. These courses often meet at lunch time and serve pizza; hence, students refer to the courses as "pizza courses." The frontier courses are an opportunity for students to meet the Caltech faculty and to hear about state-of-the-art research projects for the summer or academic year. There are a total of 10 frontier courses offered for freshmen in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, geology and planetary sciences, engineering, computer science, chemical engineering, bioengineering, and electrical engineering.
Currently there are three research tutorials for freshmen, one each in physics, biology, and chemistry. These tutorials have many of the same features as the freshman seminars. In physics, the research tutorial includes approximately seven freshmen and extends over three academic terms plus the summer. The purpose is to demonstrate how research opportunities arise, are evaluated, and are tested, and how the ideas that survive develop in larger projects. In biology and chemistry, the tutorials are offered in the winter and spring quarters and involve small group discussions on special areas or problems in biology, biotechnology, and chemistry.