Academic Advising & Support
The Associate Deans are prepared to recommend academic exceptions where a student has clearly experienced a significant family or personal emergency, or a moderate to severe illness or medical condition that makes it difficult to keep up with coursework. In such circumstances, a student should contact a dean as soon as possible in order to discuss the situation.
Students experiencing illness or other health conditions should seek treatment at Student Wellness Services, where the condition can be assessed and treated, and (if appropriate) recommendations communicated to the Deans' Office. A student must grant permission for any communication from Student Wellness Services to the Deans' Office. The deans will not recommend extensions or other academic adjustments for medical reasons without supporting documentation from Student Wellness Services, or from other qualified health professionals. See the Student Wellness Services website for relevant policies around academic extensions for medical reasons. The deans will not support extensions or excuses for class absences that result from minor illnesses such as colds or allergies.
The associate deans can also talk with you about any personal concerns, and work with you in attempting to resolve them. They are also a good source of referral to other offices on campus (e.g. the Counseling Center, the Center for Diversity, etc.) who may be of assistance to you, as well.
As a matter of policy, the deans will not support extensions or excuses from class absences that result from participation in athletics or other campus clubs or activities. The deans will not support extensions or excuses for class absences that result from travel for interviews for graduate or professional school admission or for job applications. These commitments can be anticipated in advance. Student athletes and seniors who expect to travel for interviews should communicate directly with course instructors early in the term, to ensure that they understand relevant course policies around missed classes or late work. Student athletes who are having difficulty balancing academics and athletics, or who feel that course instructors are reluctant to accommodate their athletic commitments, should consult with the deans and with their coaches. As in all cases, academic exceptions are at the discretion of the course instructor.
Caltech is committed to maintaining a diverse academic community, and welcoming individuals with a broad spectrum of talents and experiences to its campus and programs. Students with disabilities, actively participating in all aspects of the Caltech experience, are an essential part of that diversity.
Caltech Accessibility Services for Students (CASS) will make every reasonable effort to provide academic adjustments and other reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with known disabilities, consistent with Caltech's obligations under applicable law. For further information, please see the CASS website.
ISP enables students to craft custom-tailored curricula—comprising Caltech courses, academic-year research, courses at other schools, or independent study courses—in collaboration with faculty advisors. An important change from the older Independent Studies Program is that the degree recipient can now propose a designated academic specialty on the transcript, for example, "B.S., Interdisciplinary Studies Program in X", where X could be "Biophysics", "Decision Neuroscience", "Environmental Science and Policy", or "Quantum Information Science", to borrow examples from previous Independent Studies Program majors.
The Curriculum Committee, a standing committee of the faculty, has overall responsibility for the program. In addition, each student has his or her own committee of at least two advisors, two of whom must be professorial faculty. Learning outcomes are determined on an individual basis with each student. Application materials may be obtained at the Dean of Undergraduate Students office or website, however the deans do not approve the program.
Criteria for ISP Curricula:
- The program must enable educational goals that cannot be achieved in any of the other available Options.
- In scope and depth, the program must be comparable to a normal undergraduate program.
How to Set Up an ISP Curriculum:
- Visit the ISP Curriculum Planner here.
- Construct a curriculum that satisfies the Core Institute Requirements (see Caltech Catalog for details) and that includes a total of at least 486 units of academic credit. These units can be in the form of other Caltech courses, academic-year research, courses at other schools, or independent study courses.
- Recruit at least two Professorial Faculty from at least two different degree-granting Options to serve as the ISP faculty committee. Refine the curriculum in collaboration with the faculty committee.
An overload is defined as registration for more than 48 units in a term for an undergraduate. This limit corresponds to five 9-unit classes plus a 3-unit non-academic class (PA, PE) or four 9-unit classes plus one 12-unit class. Classroom and laboratory courses are limited to 45 units for freshmen for the first two terms and the remaining three units should be used for frontier ("pizza") courses, PE, PA, or research.
Students may take up to 51 units after the first two terms (inclusive) but it requires their advisor's approval. To take more units than 51, students will need to petition the undergraduate deans, with the expectation that permission will be granted only in exceptional cases. Such cases might include:
- A student who wishes to add research units
- A student who wishes to add the Health or Peer Advocate class, or extra PE course
- An overload is required to complete the student's option requirements (rare)
This policy is aimed at having no effect on currently recommended courses of studies in all majors, while putting a very high bar for taking 6 full-time classes simultaneously. (Guidelines for Overloads)
A student who wishes to carry an overload in any term must obtain the approval of his or her advisor and of the dean or associate dean of undergraduate students. Petitions for overloads will be accepted no later than the Friday before the last day for adding classes in any term.
The deans are happy to provide recommendations for students. It is best to make an appointment with a dean to discuss your request and to let the dean get to know you. It is very helpful to provide a written resume of your experience and activities.
The associate deans can provide tutors for you (Peer Tutoring), talk with you about your study habits, and may be able to help you develop more effective ways to approach your work. They proactively reach out at midterms to students with midterm deficiencies, and collaborate with faculty and advisors to support student progress.
Students who need to be reinstated by UASH, or are planning any kind of petition, are advised to meet with one of the associate deans before petitioning the committee. A dean can read a draft of your petition and advise you about your appearance before the committee. It is also important to get your advisor's statement of support and signature on the petition. The associate deans can reinstate a student after the first ineligibility, although they will often refer this to UASH.
Click here to find out more about UASH.
For students who have experienced significant adversity over the course of a term, and have been working with the Undergraduate Deans' office, or can provide documentation of their situation- the deans can recommend an "I" grade if the student has already completed the majority of the work in the class. Per the Caltech catalog, "the grade I is given only in case of sickness or other emergency that justifies non-completion of the work at the usual time. It is given at the discretion of the instructor, after approval by the dean or associate dean of students." If a student is ill or has another reason that might justify the use of an I, the student is responsible for contacting the deans before the faculty member turns in grades.
It is important to keep in mind that Incompletes can often trigger an ineligibility, if the work is not completed and graded by the first day of the following term, and the student has therefore not posted 27 passing units. This is an issue that should be discussed with an associate dean before any final decisions are made.
If you are struggling with a course and need extra help, the Undergraduate Deans' office can provide tutors for you at no charge. We hire tutors who have done well in the courses you may find challenging. The tutors keep track of the hours they work and are then paid by the Deans' Office.
Peer tutoring is intended to supplement lecture, precept, lab and office hours and not replicate or replace them. Tutoring is most effective when a student is actively engaged in the course and comes prepared to a session. This requires students to first integrate information presented in class and texts, so that they possess the conceptual knowledge necessary to effectively engage the problem sets or other assignments. They also need to have done enough of the work to identify their conceptual questions.
Tutors are there to help with concepts, offer guiding questions and pointers, and not to provide answers or to check them. Please be especially mindful of the Honor Code as you engage in tutoring. All coursework you produce and turn in must be your own work. This is not a collaboration—the product must be entirely yours.
Please visit Find a Tutor to find an individual tutor. Please note that you must be on campus in order to use this search. If you cannot identify someone who can help for your particular course, please contact Beth Larranaga (firstname.lastname@example.org) to help.
If you find that your tutor is unhelpful or unresponsive, please let us know.
Tutor Description and Qualification Form
Tutor Training Module
TutorStudent Employee Data Form
An underload is registration for fewer than 36 units, and should be approved before add day of the term in question. Underloads for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors must be approved by an associate dean of undergraduate students. Seniors who wish to underload must submit a senior underload petition and a course plan for graduation the following June that does not require an overload in any term. Underloads will not receive a tuition reduction unless the CASS office is involved. Students receiving financial aid should note that underloads will often result in a reduction of financial aid. International students and NCAA athletes should also consult with ISP or the athletic department about implications of underloads.
(See Guidelines for Underloads)
Students who need to go under 27 units after add day may do so with the approval of an associate dean one time during their Caltech career, without triggering an ineligibility for the term. Any further post add-day underloads may make the student ineligible, and the dean may recommend alternative options.