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MIT Course Catalog 2014-2015

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Undergraduate Education

Academic Programs

The undergraduate programs at MIT are designed to help students develop the knowledge and capabilities needed to meet the challenges of modern society. An MIT education joins the power of a specific discipline to a concern for social values and goals. In addition to developing expertise in a given field, undergraduates are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities for broad learning at MIT, and to become creative, intellectual leaders and problem solvers, whose passion for learning is lifelong.

Central to the MIT undergraduate experience is the concept that a four-year residential college requires a full-time academic program. An MIT degree represents not only a specified number of credit units and a collection of subjects, but an intensity and continuity of involvement in an academic enterprise and an immersion in the culture of MIT as well. In general, MIT is not an appropriate place to pursue an undergraduate education on an extended, part-time basis.

MIT students base their studies on a core of subjects in science, mathematics, and the humanities, arts, and social sciences (the General Institute Requirements). They major in the physical or biological sciences, in management science, in architecture or urban studies and planning, in an area of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, or in one of the engineering fields. In the first year, many students take subjects from a variety of options in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and humanities, arts, and social sciences. During the second year, students generally continue their studies with subjects meeting various Institute requirements and beginning subjects in departmental programs. In the third and fourth years, students focus on the departmental programs.

There is also time for students to take elective subjects each year. These elective opportunities allow students to follow social interests or to enrich their educational backgrounds. Students may also use elective time to prepare for study in a professional field such as medicine or law or to begin work toward graduate study. Students may also pursue minors in many fields.

One of the most exciting features of undergraduate education at MIT is the opportunity for students to join with faculty in ongoing research projects. For example, experiences in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) encourage intellectual commitment and self-direction, and often provide a focus for students' undergraduate studies. During the Independent Activities Period in January, students can spend time in workshops, independent research projects, intensive subjects and seminars, field trips, lecture series, and other activities that do not easily fit into the traditional academic calendar.

To complete work for a bachelor's degree in any Course (major), each student must fulfill the General Institute Requirements and must complete the departmental program specified by that Course. Details on General Institute Requirements and on selecting a major course of study are discussed later in this section.

The program for the SB takes four years of full-time study for most students. Of the freshmen who entered between 2003 and 2007, the percentage of students who received their degrees within six years of entrance was about 93 percent.

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Freshman Year

During the first year at MIT, students lay the foundation for their college education. First-year students may accommodate their individual preparation and learning styles by choosing among a variety of ways to complete the core subjects and prepare for further undergraduate study.

To begin fulfilling the General Institute Requirements (described later in this section), freshmen choose subjects in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics to fulfill the science core, and select from a wide range of subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS subjects). Students have various options for satisfying the first year of the Communication Requirement.

A normal program for the first year includes completion of four or five of the six science core subjects in mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry, and two of the eight HASS subjects, including a Communication-Intensive subject. Students may round out their programs with electives, often including Freshman Advising Seminars (led by the students' advisors). Some freshmen also elect to become involved in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, described later in this section.

Entering students with degree credit for one or more of the science core requirements may substitute more advanced subjects or may take electives or Restricted Electives in Science and Technology (REST) Requirement subjects. Procedures for obtaining degree credit at entrance are described in the Admissions section.

Students may also enroll in one of the special freshman learning communities: the Concourse Program, the Experimental Study Group, the Media Arts and Sciences Freshman Program, and Terrascope. These learning communities have their own faculty, meeting places, and methods of operation. In these programs, students make progress comparable to that of other freshmen, but the manner in which individual Institute requirements are met varies from program to program and among students within each program. In all four programs there is an especially high level of student-faculty interaction.

Concourse Program

Concourse is a small community of students and faculty dedicated to exploring the fundamental questions at the heart of all serious human inquiry. The program offers small classes with rigorous instruction in the science and math General Institute Requirements, as well as in the humanities. In the humanities curriculum and Freshman Advising Seminar, we raise questions and encourage debate about human nature, ethics, the proper role of science in society, and the possibilities for human well-being. Concourse provides the advantages of a small program while retaining the vast range of opportunities offered by the Institute as a whole. Concourse students have close interactions with instructors and fellow students and benefit from prominent guest speakers in diverse fields from MIT and elsewhere. The intimacy of the community allows teaching faculty from a number of different disciplines to gather in one place, enabling formal and informal cross-disciplinary exploration. The approach is that of a scholarly community with intense participation and support by faculty, staff, student tutors, and freshmen. The curriculum is demanding and challenging.

The program’s facilities lie at the heart of the MIT campus and consist of a dedicated classroom and lounge, complete with kitchen and seminar room. Students and faculty meet frequently in the 24/7 lounge, not only for study but also for discussions, class tutorials, weekly Friday lunches, and student-led events. All Concourse students are required to sign up for the Freshman Advising Seminar and in the fall to take at least two additional subjects within Concourse, including one humanities subject. Please see the Concourse website for more details and instructions for applying.

For more information, contact Paula Cogliano, Room 16-127, 617-253-3200. A detailed description of the program can be found at

Experimental Study Group

The Experimental Study Group (ESG) is a close-knit academic program geared primarily toward motivated first-year students who wish to take an active part in their MIT education. Each year 50 freshmen, nine staff members, and 25 upperclass instructors (most of whom were in ESG as freshmen) participate in the program. Staff members are selected for their teaching ability and strong interest in community-based education and are drawn from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

In place of lectures and large classes, ESG students participate in small interactive classes (typically fewer than 12 students), discussion-based seminars, study groups, and tutorials. Almost all the core subjects in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics are offered through ESG, as well as an experimental CI-HW writing class which combines writing and product design. Although ESG can be a full-time activity for freshmen, students may take one or two subjects outside of ESG, including a Freshman Advising Seminar.

ESG's small classes are structured to be active learning environments with plenty of opportunity for lively discussion, question-and-answer sessions, student presentations, and peer-led problem-solving sessions. ESG also promotes educational innovation by encouraging staff and students to design and teach experimental 6-unit seminars that combine theory and practice. Seminars offered this past year include diverse topics such as The Chemistry of Sports, Producing Educational Videos, Psychopharmacology, The Art and Science of Happiness, and Introduction to Trading.

ESG's centrally located facility is comprised of 14 rooms (including a central lounge and a newly renovated kitchen) where classes are held and weekly activities are offered, such as luncheons and dinners, guest speakers, and evening study sessions. Students and staff also plan regular outings for the freshmen such as hiking and skiing trips and visits to local museums and attractions.

For more information about ESG, contact Dr. Holly Sweet, associate director, Room 24-612, 617-253-7786,, or visit

Media Arts and Sciences Freshman Program

The Program in Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) offers a special freshman program emphasizing research at MIT's internationally known Media Laboratory. In the freshman program, instructors connect research topics in the Media Laboratory to core physics and chemistry subjects, and students learn firsthand how research is carried out.

The Program in Media Arts and Sciences is part of the School of Architecture and Planning. It is housed in the Media Laboratory, which carries on advanced research in the invention and creative use of technology to enhance communication and expression. (For more information on Media Arts and Sciences, see Part 2; for more information on the Media Laboratory, see Interdisciplinary Research and Study in Part 3.)

Up to 24 freshmen in the MAS Freshman Program are introduced to the learning-by-apprenticeship mode that characterizes MAS. During the fall term, students may choose to take part in one of several MAS Freshman Advising Seminars, and take MAS.110 Fundamentals of Computational Media Design, with hands-on design exercises looking at the intersection between expression and technology. In the spring term they take MAS.111 Introduction to Doing Research in Media Arts and Sciences, which includes documenting and presenting research results. In conjunction with MAS.111, all students participate through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in one of the research projects at the Media Laboratory. (For descriptions of the MAS subjects, see the online MIT Subject Listing & Schedule,; a description of UROP can be found later in this section.)

Researchers from the Media Laboratory teach recitation or tutorial sections in the fall for subjects 8.01 and 3.091 and in the spring for 8.02, in which they emphasize connections between the fundamentals of physics and chemistry and ongoing research at the Media Laboratory. Students take the lectures for these subjects, as well as lectures and recitations in other core and elective subjects, with other freshmen. (For descriptions of these subjects, see the online MIT Subject Listing & Schedule,

For information, please contact program director Dr. V. Michael Bove, Jr., 617-253-0334,, or visit


Terrascope is a learning community with curricula designed to give students the tools to address important, complex problems that require integrative, multidisciplinary solutions. Students work as part of an interdisciplinary team to solve problems related to the Earth’s environment and sustainability and that offer a unique way to explore the feedbacks that characterize the behavior of complex dynamical systems.

During the fall term, Terrascope students enroll in 12.000 Solving Complex Problems (9 units), a popular subject that explores how teams of scientists and engineers approach difficult problems that require multidisciplinary approaches. Solutions are published on a class website and participants defend their work before a panel of outside experts. This final presentation is broadcast live over the internet.

In the spring, 1.016 Design for Complex Environmental Issues (9 units) allows students and a team to develop and expand some of the solutions proposed in the fall. SP.360 Terrascope Radio (12 units) fulfills a Communication Requirement (CI-H credit) as students produce a professional-quality radio program on the year’s subject.

Students fulfill General Institute Requirements by attending mainstream core subjects with other first-year students.

Terrascope students are advised by faculty and staff affiliated with the program. Fieldwork and close interactions with researchers and others are an important part of the Terrascope experience. Terrascope students attend weekly lunch seminars during which researchers and others speak about their work. Students in the program can choose to participate in a weeklong field trip over spring break to a site related to the year’s work. Past locations have included Abu Dhabi, Alaska, the Amazon rainforest, Arizona, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Iceland, and New Orleans.

Terrascope offers students a variety of exclusive facilities, including classroom and study space, a kitchen, and a lounge.

For more information, or to apply for the program, visit

Seminar XL

Seminar XL is a collaborative undergraduate learning experience in which groups of four to six students meet for 90 minutes twice per week to share their understanding of course concepts and problem-solving methods. Each group is guided by a facilitator who is a research scientist, a graduate student, or an upperclass undergraduate student who previously earned an A in the course. Although the Office of Minority Education (OME) historically has sponsored the program for first-year students, OME encourages upperclass students to enroll as well. First-year students can receive course credit provided they attend at least 80 percent of the working group sessions, while upperclass students must register as listeners.

After the fifth week, interested students may enroll in Seminar XL Limited Edition (LE), which operates two 90-minute working group sessions per week, as does the regular Seminar XL. Past students have also stated that they benefited greatly from this program.

For more information about Seminar XL, Seminar XL LE, and other OME services, visit the Office of Minority Education, Room 4-107, 617-253-5010, or visit

First-year Academics

The preceding overview conveys the nature and scope of the academic options for first-year students. Incoming freshmen are referred to for detailed information on academics, the advisory system, and support services.

Freshman Grading

In the first term and IAP, freshmen are graded on a pass or no-record basis. They receive grades of P, D, or F in all subjects they take, where P indicates C or better performance (C- with modifier used within MIT). Freshmen receive no credit for subjects with D or F grades and these subjects do not appear on their transcripts.

In the second term, freshmen are graded on an A, B, C, or no-record basis. They continue to receive no credit for subjects with D or F grades, which do not appear on their transcripts. The A, B, or C grades are used in calculating students' term and cumulative ratings.

Freshman grading is designed to ease the transition from high school by giving students time to adjust to factors like increased workloads and variations in academic preparation. Students are encouraged to improve time-management skills and develop more mature attitudes about learning. A, B, and C grades are used during the second term so that freshmen can begin the progression to regular A-F grading in the sophomore year.

Use of Hidden Grades

MIT’s educational policy is to provide “hidden” grades to students for educational and advising purposes only. MIT will not release hidden grades to any outside organization or individual, and these grades are never included on an external transcript. For more information, see the First Year website.

Credit Limit for Freshmen

A freshman may not register or receive credit for subjects totaling more than 54 units in the fall term and 57 units in the spring term. The Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) rarely grants requests to exceed the credit limit. (Only in the fall term may freshmen exceed the 54-unit credit limit by 3 units to take 12.000 Solving Complex Problems or by 6 units to take Seminar XL.) Credit earned for passing an Advanced Standing Examination will be counted toward the term credit limit unless the exam is taken either in the September or February examination period. ROTC subjects (listed in the online MIT Subject Listing & Schedule, are excluded from this credit limit. Note that all MIT students are limited to 12 units during the Independent Activities Period in January.

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Major Course of Study

Whether or not they enter with plans for a specific field of study, all students are encouraged to examine with an open mind the wide range of Courses (majors) available at the Institute. Students may attend departmental orientation programs to talk with faculty and others with experience in fields of potential interest. They should select electives that will help them think about possible majors. The Independent Activities Period in January, described later in this section, provides students with opportunities to investigate different fields. For many students, this consideration of fields will reinforce existing convictions, while for others it will open up new avenues of interest. MIT may, however, limit enrollment in particular fields of study to balance resources with student interest.

Each student entering MIT is assigned an advisor who assists the student in designing an effective program of study. The selection of elective subjects is an important consideration, one that students should discuss in depth with their advisors.

All undergraduate degree programs combine the study of basic principles with practical applications. This combination helps to motivate the lifelong learning necessary for professional competence.

Students usually choose a Course (major) at the end of the first year, though they need not do so until the end of the second year. There is sufficient overlap and flexibility so that selection or change of Course can be made with relative ease in the second year.

All undergraduate and graduate academic programs, as well as faculty listings for each of the Institute's departments, are described fully in Parts 2 and 3.

Information on undergraduate registration may be found in Academic Procedures and Institute Regulations in Part 1.


Electives may be used for several different purposes. For example, students who are undecided about their eventual majors may decide to use some portion of their electives to explore the various departments or fields they are considering. Students more certain of their academic and professional goals may choose to use electives to explore areas of secondary interest. Still other students focus first on departmental or General Institute Requirements, deferring subjects of a more supplemental nature until a later year. The study of a language may also be started or continued.

Freshmen should select electives that best suit their individual needs. There are several hundred subjects without prerequisites that are especially appropriate for first-year students. However, in general, any subject offered by the Institute is open to all students, provided they satisfy the prerequisites.

Double Majors

Students may earn a bachelor's degree with two majors by successfully completing the GIRs and the departmental requirements for each major. To add a second major, a student must apply to the Committee on Curricula (COC) by Add Date of his or her penultimate term. Applications submitted after this deadline will be considered by the COC at its discretion on a case-by-case basis.

A double major program should be completed in a four- or five-year period and should be planned in advance. A student's plan for completing both majors must be outlined in the application to the COC. The application must also include the expected completion date for the degree, and it must be approved by both programs. Students should consult Student Financial Services regarding any impact that pursuing a double major might have on their eligibility for MIT or federal financial aid, particularly if they anticipate needing more than eight semesters to complete their studies.

Students must select a second major in a different area from the primary major. Students pursuing a double major may also complete up to two minors, but a minor may not be taken in the same area as either of the major programs.

Only registered undergraduates who have completed at least three terms at MIT, including at least one term with a declared major, may apply. Transfer students must complete at least two terms at MIT, including at least one term with a declared major. Students with cumulative averages below 4.0 will not be considered except in exceptional cases. A student who has previously earned a bachelor's degree with a single major may not return to complete a second major.

For details on eligibility, deadlines, and procedures, see the COC website,

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The objective of a minor is to provide a depth of understanding and expertise to an area outside of, or complementary to, a student's major. This depth and expertise must be sufficient to enable the student to appreciate the complexities and issues that are central to the minor, and to perform at a level sufficient to solve realistic problems and/or to make a contribution to the field. A number of programs in science, engineering, architecture, management, and the humanities, arts, and social sciences offer minors. Several interdisciplinary minors, including an Institute-wide minor in energy studies, are also available; for further information on interdisciplinary minors, see the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Programs and Minors section in Part 3.

Students who successfully complete minors will have their fields of study specified on their transcripts as part of their Bachelor of Science degrees, thus giving public recognition of this focused work. Minors may be pursued within the following framework.

The general guidelines for a minor program are as follows:

Minors are currently available in the fields listed below. Programs marked with an asterisk are HASS minors, which may be built on the concentration component of the HASS General Institute Requirement. Of the six subjects required for a HASS minor, at most five may count toward the eight-subject HASS Requirement. Of these five, at most one may count toward satisfying the distribution component of the HASS Requirement. Programs marked with a dagger are described in the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Programs and Minors section in Part 3.

More information on departmental minors appears in Part 2.

African and African Diaspora Studies*†
Ancient and Medieval Studies*†
Applied International Studies*†
Art, Culture, and Technology*
Asian and Asian Diaspora Studies*†
Atmospheric Chemistry†
Biomedical Engineering†
Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Civil Engineering
Comparative Media Studies*
Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Energy Studies†
Environmental Engineering Science
History of Architecture and Art*
International Development*
Latin American and Latino Studies*†
Management Science
Materials Science and Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Middle Eastern Studies*†
Nuclear Science and Engineering
Political Science*
Public Policy*†
Russian and Eurasian Studies*†
Science, Technology, and Society*
Theater Arts*
Toxicology and Environmental Health
Urban Studies and Planning*
Women's and Gender Studies*†

For additional information, instructions, and applications, students should contact the undergraduate office in their field of interest, or the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming in Room 7-104. Information about HASS minors is available in the Office of the Dean, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (Room 4-240) or at

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