Caltech has a rigorous academic program with many requirements in all fields of science, as well as a reasonable humanities and social sciences requirement. Every student has to take one term of biology, two terms of general chemistry, one term of chemistry lab, five terms of math, five terms of physics, one "menu" class which is on a topic other than the student's major, one other freshman lab, a science writing class, and a presentation class specific to one's field. Students do have a choice of tracks—the analytical or practical—for three out of five math and physics classes. The analytical track focuses more on rigorous proofs, while the practical track focuses more on application and computation, though theory is not ignored altogether. Caltech also requires two freshman and two upper-level humanities courses, two freshman and two upper-level social science classes, and four additional humanities or social science electives.
Caltech's academics have much to do with the brilliant teaching faculty. Many professors are research scientists first and teachers second, creating a conflict of interest. The feeling from some profs is that they shouldn't have to teach, and they feel forced into it by the administration. This is not to say that all professors hate teaching. On the contrary, most Caltech professors are very animated about their respective fields and are bursting with information they want to convey to a new generation. Students need to have a certain amount of discipline to overcome obstacles, such as the occasional boring lecture. TAs are often more useful than professors, especially in large classes where the professor might as well be a holographic projection at the other end of the room. It is safe to say that Caltech graduates are thoroughly prepared for their respective fields once all is said and done.