Core Curriculum Overview

Click here for chart of High School Exam Scores and what they fulfill in the Core Curriculum.

The NYU Shanghai academic experience is characterized by rigor, a global perspective, and a strong foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. Our Core Curriculum is one of the distinct features that defines the NYU Shanghai approach and makes it unique. Please click here to see what our students say about our Core Curriculum.

There are seven components to the NYU Shanghai core curriculum: Social foundations, Cultural Foundations, Writing, Mathematics, Science, Algorithmic Thinking, and Language.

1 & 2. Social and Cultural Foundations: Courses in the Social Foundations and Cultural Foundations sequences 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 and 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. 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.

  • Social Foundations: In the one-semester survey course Global Perspectives on Society, students will engage in the comparative study of primary works of social thought from across the globe. In addition, students need to take a disciplinary course of their choice from the category “Social Science Perspectives on China,” (which may include courses on Chinese political economy, philosophy and society). This course can be taken at any point in a student’s undergraduate career.
  • Cultural Foundations: Perspectives on the Humanities is a one-semester core curriculum requirement. In the fall of their second year at NYU Shanghai, students choose from a variety of Perspectives on the Humanities topics. These content-based writing seminars introduce students to the questions asked and methods used by a variety of disciplines in the humanities, including philosophy, history, and literature, among others. Perspective on the Humanities is also designed to reinforce and advance the writing and critical thinking skills begun in the first year writing seminar; in addition to satisfying one Cultural Foundations requirement, this course satisfies one of two writing requirements (see “Writing”). The first-year writing course is a prerequisite for Perspectives on the Humanities.

In addition, students need to complete the Cultural Foundations requirement with a disciplinary course of their choice from the category “Chinese Arts,” which may include courses in Chinese art and architecture, drama, film, literature, and music. This course can be taken at any point in their undergraduate career.

3. Writing: NYU Shanghai writing courses serve as an introduction to academic writing and inquiry at the university level. Students learn how to closely read academic, argumentative, and narrative texts, how to provide an interpretation supported by evidence, how to build logical arguments and develop research questions, and how to adapt their writing to different genres and audiences. In these courses, students come to see writing as a process, one that sharpens their thinking and allows them to pursue the questions that feel most urgent to them. The habits, dispositions, and skills taught in these classes may be transferred to communication in a variety of channels–academic, civic, business, personal, and creative. The capacities for critical analysis and nuanced self-expression developed in Writing Program classes will prove useful whatever a student’s future career.

Students must complete two one-semester writing courses. Writing as Inquiry, the first-year writing workshop, is offered during the spring of the first year. Students are placed in either Writing I or Writing II; in Writing I, students spend additional time focused on areas of rhetoric, grammar, and style that are relevant to second language learners. Students must complete Writing as Inquiry (receiving a  C or higher) before advancing to Perspectives on the Humanities, which is offered in the fall term of the sophomore year (Perspectives on the Humanities also satisfies one Cultural Foundations requirements; see “Social and Cultural Foundations”).  

4. 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 to thrive in today’s increasingly complex world. Students will have the opportunity at the beginning of their undergraduate career to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics through a placement test. Students that place out of a lower level core math class meet the requirement by taking a more advanced course according to placement exam results. The relevant exam scores which may be used to wholly or partially fulfill the Core Curriculum Mathematics requirement can be found here. No corresponding credit is awarded and test scores cannot be used to fulfill the prerequisite for upper-level courses in that area.

5. 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 humans are. The special feature of science is that its hypotheses can be tested under controlled conditions by appealing to evidence external to the inquirer. 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.

Students who are pursuing degrees in science disciplines—or who are taking the pre-health curriculum—will be required to take a rigorous, three-semester sequence of courses covering the fundamentals of basic science. 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. Biology, Neural Science, and Chemistry majors are not required to take Foundations of Physics III Honors and may substitute General Physics I & II for the Foundations of Physics I & II Honors courses. Physics majors are not required to take Foundations of Biology II. For more details, see the degree requirements of each major.

Other students will fulfill the science requirement by taking 8 credits from at least two of three categories that provide a basic understanding of scientific analytical techniques, the role of science and technology in society, and algorithmic thinking. The first category, “Experimental Discovery in the Natural World”, is composed of laboratory- or experiment-based courses. The second category includes non-laboratory-based courses and is called “Science, Technology and Society.” The third category encompasses computational methods courses and is called “Algorithmic Thinking.” To fulfill a category, you must take at least one 3- or 4-credit course or two 2-credit courses in the same category.

The relevant exam scores which may be used to wholly or partially fulfill the Core Curriculum Science requirement can be found here. No corresponding credit is awarded and test scores cannot be used to fulfill the prerequisite for upper-level courses in that area.

6. Algorithmic Thinking: Algorithmic Thinking courses have a hands-on programming component and cover basic programming concepts. All students must complete at least two credits of courses from the Algorithmic Thinking category, either as part of, or in addition to, the course(s) they take to fulfill the Core Curriculum Science requirement. The relevant exam scores which may be used to wholly or partially fulfill the Core Curriculum Algorithmic Thinking requirement can be found here. No corresponding credit is awarded and test scores cannot be used to fulfill the prerequisite for upper-level courses in that area.

7. Language: Language study is central to the educational mission of NYU’s global network. All NYU Shanghai students will command the highest levels of proficiency in academic English, the language of instruction, as can be expected for undergraduates in the world’s top liberal arts universities. Chinese speakers who did not attend an English language medium high school are required to meet a minimum requirement of successful completion of 8 credits of EAP in their first two years, following a two-semester sequence from EAP 100 to EAP 101. 

Students who did not attend a Chinese language medium high school are encouraged to develop as much proficiency in Chinese as their major course of study allows with a minimum requirement of successful completion of the intermediate two level of Chinese or equivalent competency demonstrated through a placement exam.

Required courses or proficiencies for Chinese: In the summer before their first year, non-native Chinese speaking students will be placed in a Chinese language level. Students will have room in their schedules for formal Chinese-language courses, and will benefit from a full set of courses, from the elementary level to the most advanced level. Students who are unable to take 4 credit courses in Chinese in their first two years because of heavy requirements of other courses will be able to take 2 credit version of the Chinese classes.

Required courses or proficiencies for English: The English for Academic Purposes Program at NYU Shanghai is an essential gateway into the liberal arts experience. Student success in the liberal arts curriculum depends on high-level English literacy that goes beyond the language skills practiced in traditional language courses. To meet this goal, NYU Shanghai offers English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses, which are designed as semester-long seminars with various interdisciplinary themes. These courses develop students’ ability to communicate in English in a variety of contexts, connecting their understanding of the academic context with situations and experiences beyond the walls of the university, communicating academic knowledge to both academic and non-academic audiences, and communicating effectively across cultural boundary lines. The focus on using language and academic discourse skills in interdisciplinary contexts leads also to an increase in a student’s ability to transfer knowledge and skills from one context to another. Students develop a necessary foundation for skillful participation in English language discourse that prepares them to negotiate and respond to the constant changes in many areas of their studies and life in general.

Chinese speakers who did not attend an English medium high school are required to take 8 credits of EAP in their first two years, following a two-semester sequence from EAP 100 to EAP 101. EAP 100 must be completed in the first year; most students will complete a 4-credit EAP 100 seminar in the fall term and an EAP 101 seminar in the spring term. A small number of students taking course sequences in the sciences will be eligible to take two 2-credit EAP 100 seminar in the first year and complete EAP 101 the following year. Advisors will alert students if they are eligible for the 2-credit seminar. Students must successfully complete EAP 101 before the end of their second year and before they study away. Students who demonstrate exceptionally strong competence on all learning outcomes as they complete EAP 100 may be recommended by faculty for exemption from EAP 101. Exemptions are rare and most students should expect to complete 8 credits. 

Download a Core Curriculum Chart here.