You better shop around, but for classes?

The prospect of selecting just four or five classes for the fall term from the nearly 2,000 listed in the Yale College Programs of Study — aka the “Blue Book” — may seem daunting. But a wonderful Yale institution called shopping period may help ease the pain.

For the first two weeks of fall term classes, you can attend as many classes as you choose because registration for classes and sections does not occur until afterward.

Two weeks seems like a long time, but they sometimes go by very quickly, and though there’s tons of advice out there lots of it will be strange, useless or even contradictory. But it’s best to hear from as wide a range of sources as possible. You’ll even talk to your freshman counselors and other upperclassmen at “Blue Book parties” — and yes, they actually are called that.

There also is an opportunity to start shopping early, as Yale mails out Blue Books to all students in early- to mid-August. If you want to start even sooner — or if the summer months make you long for the glow of the computer screen — www.yale.edu/courseinfo/search.html has the online version. The Internet is useful for searching for specific subjects or professors, but many enjoy flipping through the paper version and marking interesting classes, often stumbling across something unexpected.

Although distribution requirements are important, most students do not find these requirements overly onerous. Yale classes are classified into one of four “groups.” For freshman year, the only rule is that you must complete two classes in Group I or II, and two in Group III or IV.

Group I includes languages and literatures of all types; Group II is arts, history and philosophy. Group III includes the social sciences, and Group IV comprises all of the hard quantitative sciences and mathematics.

If you are among the herd of humanities majors, the Blue Book lists a range of Group IV classes specified as “Intended for students not majoring in science.” With a little advanced planning, there’s little reason that a Group IV class will be permanently destructive to your self-esteem or grade point average.

Also, many freshmen take classes above the 100 level. If you need to get through prerequisites for higher classes, freshman year is a good time to get them done, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t at least try to nudge yourself into a seminar.

Professors use a range of methods to choose which interested students will get into their seminars. Although many tend to exclude freshmen on the grounds that you will have plenty of time to try again, that isn’t universally true, and you could always get lucky.

Once you get to the class you’re shopping and check out the syllabus to see if you like the reading, it also helps to check out whether grading comes principally from exams, problem sets or papers.

And once section times are announced — even if they are pre-assigned — many students visit several to compare teaching assistants. But many students say the most important thing may be to follow your gut instinct about a professor — the biggest difference between a class you’ll love and a class to which you’ll have to drag yourself is usually not the amount of reading or the difficulty of problem sets, but whether the lectures are exciting. There are many good professors, so seek them out.

Despite its many advantages, shopping period comes with a warning — professors will keep teaching the class and assigning homework, regardless of whether you know if you’re staying in it.

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