Caltech Tweaks Admission Requirement for Calculus, Physics, Chemistry Class

Caltech Main Entrance

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PASADENA (CNS) - In a major shift for one of the nation's most prestigious universities, Caltech announced Thursday it is dropping its longstanding admissions requirement for applicants to have completed calculus, chemistry and physics courses, noting that many students lack access to such curricula at their high schools.

Instead, Caltech will offer such students a chance to participate in free online courses, tutoring and a certification process through Khan Academy, culminating in an assessment exam that can be used for admission consideration.

"Our goal in admissions is to make barriers to access as low as possible for talented STEM students," Jared R. Leadbetter, professor of environmental microbiology and chair of the first-year admissions committee, said in a statement.

"The Caltech faculty recognize that one or more of the STEM courses that we require for admission may not be available to all students. The new policy aims to provide an avenue for such students to fill that gap in formal coursework by engaging in effective independent study of the relevant subject material."

Students who opt for the Khan Academy program will have to complete an exam and score at or above 90% to meet the Caltech course requirements. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test scores can also be used to meet the requirement.

The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the Caltech admission changes, reported that, according to federal data, only 65% of public high schools offered calculus classes in the 2017-18 school year, with the course access more limited in large cities and rural areas. Chemistry classes were offered at 88% of high school, but only 74% offered physics.

Caltech on Thursday also announced changes in the short-essay questions in the application, with the new questions "designed to provide applicants with the opportunity to convey how Caltech's values resonate with them."

The revised applications process also now includes guidelines regarding "the ethical use of AI (artificial intelligence) in Caltech applications."

"Per those guidelines, ethical uses of AI include using large language models like ChatGPT or Bard to generate questions to kick-start the brainstorming process, to review grammar and spelling, or to research the college application process," according to a university statement. "Unethical uses of AI include using these tools to draft essay responses."

"Equity at Caltech is about ensuring that we are continuously thinking about where talent lies and how we can make Caltech more accessible to the most brilliant STEM students in the world," Ashley Pallie, executive director of undergraduate admissions and chief admissions officer, said in a statement.

"We know that everyone has different educational opportunities, but a student's intellectual capacity should not be limited by the opportunities available at their local high school. The problems the world faces are greater than those limits, so Caltech Admissions is thinking beyond those limits too."

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