Our Curriculum (Class of 2017)

Ever since Cicero, the Roman statesman, coined the phrase “artes liberales,” the liberal arts and sciences have been the touchstone of excellence in education for all individuals, regardless of their professional aspirations. This is because these studies liberate an individual from narrow vocational concerns and can free the mind to be creative. Today this educational approach focuses on direct and critical engagement with the great ideas of the past and the present, on the development of the essential skills of analysis and communication, and on gaining in-depth knowledge of one or more disciplines. A shared background in the liberal arts and sciences also has the power to transform a diverse group of students into a real community organized around the life of the mind.

Our aim is to give NYU Shanghai students a strong globally oriented foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. This curriculum will help students develop the ability to think analytically, read critically, and write effectively. It will also cultivate their creativity in solving problems, their tolerance for ambiguity, and their respect for diversity of opinion and the exchange of ideas. Finally, through the core curriculum, the majors, and the international experience of studying in NYU's global network, students will learn to recognize themselves as part of a global community. The crucial role that China plays in that global community will be emphasized throughout the curriculum.


To graduate from NYU Shanghai, you will complete 128 credits of course work, distributed among core general education requirements, major requirements, and electives. While English is the language of instruction at NYU Shanghai, proficiency in Chinese is also required of all students by the time they graduate. The precise level of proficiency expected depends on the major course of study. Nonnative Chinese speakers will benefit from multiple modalities of language instruction that will enable them to meet their needs and aspirations.

Typically, you will complete the core curriculum during your first two years and the bulk of your major requirements your second two years. 

Core Curriculum

There are five components to the NYU Shanghai core curriculum: social and cultural foundations, writing, language, mathematics, and science. In each of these areas, the needs of each student will be carefully assessed upon arrival, and a program of study will be developed to address them.

  1. SOCIAL AND CULTURAL FOUNDATIONS: Courses in the social and cultural foundations sequence will provide students with a thematic framework within which to study influential works of diverse cultures from the beginnings of history to the present and from global as well as interdisciplinary perspectives. Students will reflect on fundamental and enduring questions about what it means to be human and how we as individuals live in society. In conjunction with the writing program (see No. 2 below), social and cultural foundations courses will teach students to ask critical questions, find unstated assumptions, assess arguments, and offer creative interpretations of the great works and ideas of the past, especially as they live on in the present.

    Required Courses: Social and cultural foundations each have two components: a) a two-semester survey course, and b) a disciplinary course on China.

    Social Foundations: In the two-semester survey course Global Perspectives on Society, students will engage in the comparative study of primary works of social thought from across the globe. The course addresses ways that writers in different times and cultures have sought to situate humans within the universe and to promote ideal standards for human behavior. Each week students will be expected to engage one primary text and one secondary text. The expectation is that Global Perspectives on Society will be taken in the first year.

    Students will complete the social foundations requirement with a disciplinary course of their choice from the category Social Science Perspectives on China, which includes courses that focus on China’s development over the past 30 years. This course can be taken at any point in a student’s undergraduate career.

    Cultural Foundations: In Global Perspectives on Culture, also a two-semester course, students will be introduced to works of literature, film, and the visual and musical arts in the major genres, from different periods and traditions (largely in translation), again from a global perspective. The course will be further enhanced by a cocurricular program in which students and faculty will explore works of artistic expression in the great city of Shanghai. The expectation is that Global Perspectives on Culture will be taken in the second year.

    Students will complete the cultural foundations requirement with a disciplinary course of their choice from the category Chinese Arts, which includes courses in Chinese art and architecture, drama, film, literature, and music. As with the courses in Social Science Perspectives on China, students may take their Chinese Arts course at any point in their undergraduate career.

  2. MATHEMATICS: Considered by many to be the universal language, mathematics provides logical and analytical tools necessary for tackling many of the important problems of our time. Quantitative skills are essential for work in the sciences and the social sciences, and they also have applications in the humanities. They are also critical to one’s ability to function and thrive in today’s increasingly complex world. By the time they graduate, all NYU Shanghai students will possess a high level of mathematical proficiency.

    Required Courses or Proficiencies: Students will have the opportunity at the beginning of their undergraduate career to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics through a placement test. Those who are shown to be suitably proficient will be deemed to have fulfilled this requirement, though they will still be encouraged to continue their study of mathematics by taking advanced-level courses. Students majoring in the sciences, engineering, and economics will take at least two mathematics courses: The first is a calculus course; the second is an integrated course on mathematics of networks and dynamics, a course in multivariable calculus and differential equations, linear algebra, or probability and statistics. Other students will fulfill this requirement by at least one course in either quantitative reasoning or calculus. Science and engineering students will be required to take specific mathematics courses for their majors. Finally, mathematics majors will take a set of highly advanced courses in mathematics.

    Further information on mathematics placement at NYU Shanghai may be found here.

  3. SCIENCE: Scientific knowledge and inquiry are central to human society, and science and technology play an increasingly important role in our lives. At the heart of the natural sciences is a quest to understand the universe and who we are as humans. A hallmark of science is that its hypotheses can be tested under controlled conditions by appealing to evidence. Thus, science provides a consistent framework for proposing ideas and testing potential answers to these questions. NYU Shanghai students will become conversant with the intellectual methods and analytical techniques that define modern science.

    Required Courses: The science requirement varies depending on the background and interests of the student, as follows:

    Students who are pursuing degrees in science disciplines—or who are taking the pre-health curriculum—will be required to take Foundations of Science, a rigorous three-semester sequence of courses covering the fundamentals of basic science. Those pursuing degrees in the mathematics and engineering major are required to take two of the three semesters in the sequence. These courses present foundational concepts from the various science disciplines in an integrated way. Emphasis is placed on science as a process (from hypothesis development to testing and experimentation), on data collection, and on drawing conclusions. All of the courses in this sequence have a project-based laboratory component. In its totality, this sequence is the equivalent of full-year introductory courses in physics, chemistry, and biology. To accommodate the requirements of schools of the health professions, NYU Shanghai distinctly reports grades in physics, chemistry, and biology under Foundations of Science on a student’s transcript.

    Students who are not pursuing science as a major but have a strong interest and advanced abilities in science may take the first two semesters of the Foundations of Science sequence.

    Other students will fulfill the science requirement by taking two courses that will provide a basic understanding of scientific analytical techniques. One will be a laboratory-based course from the category Experimental Discovery in the Natural World, which includes courses such as the Domain of Crystals, Mutations and Disease, and the Molecules of Life. The other will be a nonlaboratory-based course from the category Science, Society, and History, which includes courses such as Atom and Energy, State and Fate of the Earth, and Social Issues in the New Biosciences.

  4. WRITING: NYU Shanghai students will attain a high level of sophistication in their writing and will be able to communicate effectively in a wide range of contexts. Students will develop proficiency in rhetorical and analytical modes of writing (comparison/contrast, exposition, cause/effect, description, analysis, argumentation, and definition). These skills will be fostered not through a separate writing course (e.g., the typical freshman composition course) but rather through a “writing in the disciplines” approach that integrates writing instruction into required core courses. In addition, this intensive and integrative approach to writing is not relegated only to the outset of a student’s college career but extends across the entire first two years (four semesters).

    Required Courses: NYU Shanghai students will participate in writing workshops offered in conjunction with the two-semester survey courses Global Perspectives on Society and Global Perspectives on Culture (see No. 1 above) and taught by experts in expository writing. Students in these workshops will develop fundamental writing skills through frequent assignments in which they will reflect on the materials that they study in the survey courses. Since students normally will take Global Perspectives on Society in the first year and Global Perspectives on Culture in the second year, they will have four consecutive semesters of writing instruction. Students’ readiness to participate in the regular writing workshop sequence will be assessed during orientation, and their developing proficiency will be tested throughout their undergraduate career.

  5. LANGUAGE: Language study is central to the educational mission of NYU as a university with an expansive global network. NYU Shanghai’s location and cosmopolitan student population make it all the more important for students to have access to innovative, flexible, and effective means for learning a language. Our goal is for all NYU Shanghai students to be fluent in English, the language of instruction, and for nonnative Chinese speakers to develop as much proficiency in Chinese, the language of their community, as their major course of study allows.

    Required Courses or Proficiencies: In the summer before their first year, students will receive some language instruction as part of their orientation program (see above). This will be an opportunity for Chinese and other international students to perfect their spoken and written English skills and for non-Chinese students to have a basic introduction to spoken Chinese. Most students will have room in their schedules for formal Chinese language courses, and these students will benefit from a full set of courses, from the elementary level to the most advanced level. For students who are unable to take courses in Chinese because of heavy requirements in their major (e.g., STEM students), there will be multiple modalities of instruction that take advantage of the latest pedagogical and technological developments. These will include formal intensive course work during the summer session, language labs, online study, and cocurricular language coaching with immersion experiences.

  6. MAJORS AND MINORS: NYU Shanghai will offer its students an array of majors and minors/concentrations, which will be phased in over time. Those that will be offered initially are in subject areas where we anticipate the greatest demand and also in the areas that NYU has world-class faculty, major research strength, and international distinction. These include the following:

Social Sciences
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)


Core Curriculum Courses

I. Social Foundations—Three Classes

A. Global Perspectives on Society I (fall) and II (spring)—two classes
B. Social Science Perspectives on China (one class)
Not every course listed is taught every semester, and in any given semester, other courses may be offered that fulfill this requirement.

Sample Courses:
The Rise of Modern China
China’s Development in a Comparative Perspective
Traditional Chinese Wisdom and Its Transformation in Modern Times
Intellectual History of China

II. Cultural Foundations—Three Classes

A. Global Perspectives on Culture I (fall) and II (spring)—two classes
B. Chinese Arts (one class)
Not every course listed is taught every semester, and in any given semester, other courses may be offered that fulfill this requirement.

Sample Courses:
Chinese Art and the Modern World
Chinese Cinema
Contemporary Chinese Literature
Chinese Music from Antiquity to the Present
Chinese Theatrical Traditions
Contemporary Chinese Art in Shanghai

III. Mathematics—Varies by Major (see above)

Core Math Courses:
Quantitative Reasoning
Honors Calculus
Multivariable Calculus
Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations
Networks and Dynamics
Linear Algebra
Probability and Statistics

IV. Science—Varies by Major (see above)

Core Science Courses:
Foundations of Science Courses
Foundations of Science I  (1+2)
Foundations of Science II (3+4)
Foundations of Science III (5+6)

Experimental Discovery in the Natural World Courses:
The Domain of Crystals
Mutations and Disease
Brain and Behavior
The Molecules of Life

Science, Technology, and Society Courses:
The Atom and Energy
Life in the Universe
Interconnected: The History and Theory of Networks
State and Fate of the Earth
Social Issues in the New Biosciences

V. Writing

Writing instruction at NYU Shanghai will be delivered in twice-weekly writing workshops, taught by experts in expository writing and linked to the first-year course Global Perspectives on Society and the second-year course Global Perspectives on Culture. The works studied in these survey courses will be the primary focus of the essays that students will be asked to write in the workshops.

VI. Language—Varies by Student’s Language Level and Major

Chinese Language Courses:
Elementary Chinese I
Elementary Chinese II
Intermediate Chinese I
Intermediate Chinese II
Advanced Chinese I
Advanced Chinese II
Elementary Chinese for Advanced Beginners
Intermediate Chinese for Advanced Beginners
Classical Chinese I
Classical Chinese II