Shopping Period may see changes

Though Yalies may hold shopping period — the two weeks of course selection at the beginning of each semester — sacred, one administrator is lobbying her colleagues to amend what she said is a flawed process.

Associate Registrar Daria Vander Veer is pushing Yale College Dean Mary Miller to rethink the system, arguing that the chaos of shopping period detracts from the quality of instruction and complicates room assignments. And while professors and students alike defend shopping period as conducive to intellectual exploration, Miller said she would be open to considering some changes to the system.

“This is a very long-standing Yale practice, and changes to the system require a great deal of sensitivity,” Miller said. “But I think there may be ways to creatively structure shopping period that would be of benefit to students and faculty, and we need to think about it.”

For the registrar’s office, Vander Veer said, shopping period ushers in many problems. In the weeks before classes start, Vander Veer said she manually assigns each course to a classroom by herself, though with the aid of a computer program.

Before classes began this semester, the online course worksheets indicated that students had selected 52,000 courses — an average of about ten classes per student, Vander Veer explained.

Not being able to predict enrollment for each class means that she must base her decisions on past enrollment, and for new courses, she said she tries to make an educated guess. The problem, Vander Veer said, is that she often incorrectly judges what size room a course needs, leading to complaints from professors and numerous classroom shifts.

“The downside is the wear and tear not only on us, but on students as well,” Vander Veer said in an interview last Friday. “Classes where students can’t even get in the door during shopping period, and they just walk away. Books that sell out because people have no idea how big a class is going to be.”

Registrar Jill Carlton said she, too, thinks shopping period is not always conducive to teaching and learning, adding that she thinks there may be a better way to offer students flexibility in scheduling courses.

Some professors tend to simplify course material during the first few class sessions during shopping period, Vander Veer said, decreasing the quality of instruction.

Vander Veer said she has two ideas for adjusting shopping period. The first, she said, would be to shorten shopping period to a week, but adjust scheduling so that professors teaching two-hour seminars that only meet once a week would conduct two one-hour sessions, so students could shop two classes in the same time period.

Alternatively, she suggested, students could use the preference selection tool used for preregistration in English classes. In this scenario, students would choose their top five course choices prior to the start of the semester. These choices would not be binding, she said, and shopping period would proceed as usual, but the registrar’s office would have a better sense of enrollment.

“At least what we need is a revisitation of shopping period, to say, ‘Is it accomplishing what it’s supposed to be accomplishing?’ ” Vander Veer said. “And ask if there’s a way we can still keep the benefits but get rid of the heartache and headache and frustration that goes with it.”

Some professors said they do have to adjust their lectures to accommodate shopping period, but that it is not necessarily a negative thing.

Glenda Gilmore, the chair of the African-American Studies Department, said she has learned to plan her shopping period lectures to be more general, so that students who do not attend every class do not fall behind. Still, she said she finds shopping period valuable.

“I know that the students in my courses want to be there, and there’s nothing better than that feeling,” Gilmore said.

Ana Paulina Ochoa Espejo, a political science professor teaching “Moral Foundations of Politics” this semester, said professors may find teaching a revolving group of students — some of whom may stand up and leave in the middle of a lecture — difficult at first. But she too said she thinks shopping period allows students freedom of choice.

Vander Veer said she thinks much of the function of shopping period can be fulfilled by reading evaluations and syllabi. But students, such as Justin Petrillo ’11, said the classroom experience is a necessity.

“You might not have your interest [in a subject] sparked until you see a professor talk about it,” Petrillo said. “If you take that away then you reduce classes to a set of books, and you reduce learning to some narrow path that’s predefined.”


  • Y'09

    Pre-selection like what they have for intro English courses would definitely help for other courses like intro math/languages, but only if they post all the instructors' names so students can read the correct evaluations.

    Another thing that would help is having a single designation for seminars (e.g. put an S in the course number), which have the worst overcrowding issues during shopping period. The description doesn't always indicate if something is "limited enrollment" so right now you either have to look at the syllabus (which isn't always available) or guess from the number, but this could range from the 200s (e.g. in Poli Sci) to the 400s in most other departments. Also, it's never shown how many spots in a seminar are already "reserved" through departmental preregistration, which would help people figure out how much of a chance they have of getting into the class.

    Professors could also be more active about this - if they see they have more than enough junior/senior shoppers to fill a seminar that is supposed to be for upperclassmen, they should let freshmen/sophomores know that there really isn't a chance of them getting into the course that year. My senior essay seminar instructor did this after seeing 100+ on the shopping list, and even then the room was packed with juniors/seniors, so I can't even imagine what it would have been like with underclassmen. They could also have application procedures start before shopping period, like the college seminar applications do now.

    While they're at it, why not add more high-demand classes like bio labs? It's sad when not even junior majors can get into a lab that they need for graduation requirements because there are only 2 sections offered each week! (I'm not a bio major, but I've heard plenty of bio major friends' complaints).

  • y '10

    We definitely need preregistration for ALL seminars, but we also need MORE seminars. It's nearly impossible to get into seminars in some majors.

  • Wandering Aengus

    First Mory's, now shopping period. Can't we just embrace some semblance of tradition anymore?!

  • Yale 08

    God forbid we inconvenience the registrar's office by having the audacity to ask them to do their job.

  • Trumbull 08

    1) Intro level language classes: You either show up in the first two days, or you don't take the class. Seriously, the amount of work covered in those two days is overwhelming and I've seen people pick a language in the last days of shopping period and lag behind and entire semester because of it.

    2) Preregistration for seminars: I HATE preregistrations. On one hand, I hate taking up a slot for a class when I'm not 100% of taking it. Often times I've seen that most of the classes with prereg options end up with at least 1 or 2 open slots because people who were waitlisted or turned down hastily look for other classes to fill up their schedule and those who did some who did register drop the class during shopping period. That said, as a standard policy, seniors get first pick (unless it's a class they are only giving once, in which case year is irrelevant), and those who shopped the class once and didn't get picked should get priority next time they try joining it.

    Also, capping large classes sucks. Especially since most of these take until THE LAST EFFING DAY of shopping period to figure out exactly how many people are vying for a spot and how many they are screwing over.

  • Y11

    No work during shopping week (except for languages).

    I'd say that would about do it.

  • --

    great.. so now we have to suffer because the registrar is too busy doing its job?

    hire an assistant

  • Stiles '10

    Who should be trusted regarding the effects of shopping period on an educational experience? Students and professors? Or an overworked registrar?
    When I think about the reasons I am glad to be at Yale, shopping period, as it exists, is on the top of the list.

  • Anonymous

    Registrar's office is trying to save themselves from work. Don't kowtow to their laziness.

  • Jen

    I agree with the last student quoted in this article - many of my favorite classes while at Yale were things I never thought I'd be interested in but decided to take because I showed up on a whim during shopping period and had my interest sparked! Whatever changes are made need to make it so that students can still explore in this way.

  • Anonymous

    DO NOT SHORTEN SHOPPING PERIOD. It's always a rush at the end to get seminars and sections straightened out as it is.

    I think big changes would ultimately make students unhappy. If the registrar is having a lot of trouble placing students, there could be an option on OCS where you could rate the lecture courses you add to your schedule, like the papers you fill out in class: How likely are you to take this course? Definitely, probably, maybe. You can update it as the shopping period progresses. The registrar will have constant access to the number of students who will "definitely" take a course, will be able to see that as it changes, and be able to assign rooms accordingly. Honestly, it sounds like more attention should be paid to making the registrar's job easier--getting better software, or having more people doing the task, or even, as I've already suggested, updating the OCS interface to make students' preferences more apparent. I think ultimately most people are happy with shopping period the way it is, despite its flaws.

  • Bill Summers

    Please be a bit more sympathetic to the folks in the Registrar's office.. as one who has a lot of dealings with them over the years, they do a good job… I know they are putting in 12 hour days on the weekends at the beginning of the term to keep juggling the moving targets of enrollments and finding nearly non-existent space for classes that are all bunched in the popular times (Tu-W-Th)mid to late in the day. Not only does unpredictable enrollments frustrate the Registrar, the uncertainty in enrollments means it is difficult to plan for TAs… there is not an infinite pool of qualified TAs from which to draw at the last minute (witness the stress this year is staffing Vikings!)

    Several tweaks of the system might help, however. Better information as to which courses will have limited enrollments might help students know how to plan their shopping strategies. Clear indications about pre-registrations for seminars would help. Also, better planning and (especially) advising about meeting distribution requirements before the last semester would provide a lot more peace of mind for some students. Even large courses cannot often take unlimited numbers and so students who "need" a given course to graduate need more contingency planning. Some way for instructors to interact with the registration process is needed. While the daily availability of Section Statistics on the OCI site is helpful and informative, it is difficult to respond to developing demands in flexible and creative ways.

    Finally, I agree with commentator #2 that we need more seminars…

  • Anonymous

    Just like students must endure the stress and chaos of midterms and finals, the registrar office must endure the stress and chaos of shopping period. It comes with the jon--sorry. We each have our own form of stress. Deal.

  • Anonymous

    Shopping period has been extremely valuable for me. I mean, seeing a syllabus is one thing, but hearing someone talk, and getting a sense of the professor's approach is a completely different thing.
    I think the registrar's convenience should not be a deciding factor here. I mean, if a preregistration will help the registrar's office, I would certainly support that. But that's as far as I would go.

  • yale '10

    i need shopping period

  • MC 08

    Shopping period is not only a unique and valued tradition, it's a vital part of the Yale experience. It absolutely enhances academics, since the relatively small loss of having one or two more general lectures at the beginning of a course - by the way, not all profs do this, and many of those who do would do it even if shopping period didn't exist - is more than compensated for by the fact that students actually, you know, like and want to be in their classes.

    Then again, we do have the other side of the debate, which is… that the registrar's job is hard for two weeks. Let me tell you, there are some debates where one side's perspective really doesn't merit taking into account, and this is one. I'm not trying to be mean - if there's something we can do to simplify the process without detracting from it (and stating non-binding preferences might fall into that category), then why not. But shortening it to a week? That shouldn't even be under consideration.

    And while we're at it, where's the Yale College Council? They ought to be howling about this.

  • Recent Alum

    The first proposed alternative for reform sounds more than reasonable: reduce shopping period to one week, but have two seminars during that first week so that everyone can shop two classes at the same time slot. No one is talking about abolishing shopping period. I already had planned for a four-year course of study before I even arrived to Yale as a freshman (I ended up taking completely different classes for the most part, but my point is that students need to plan a bit ahead of time.)

  • Nerd Patrol

    #17: "I already had planned for a four-year course of study before I even arrived to Yale as a freshman (I ended up taking completely different classes for the most part, but my point is that students need to plan a bit ahead of time.)"

    Shut up, nerd. I would steal your lunch money if I knew who you were.

  • Anonymous

    #17- Planning your college experience before you've arrived is absurd. The idea is that you are going to learn and change as a person, and your interests and values will change along with you. Yes, maybe setting goals for the semester before shopping period could be good, but shorting shopping period would be a disaster, and holding people to those original goals if they change would be contrary to the the educational values that drew me to Yale.

  • Anonymous

    methinks #17 is a premed. A premed WOULD do that. But its understandable since you don't have much of an option. You don't really use shopping period except for distributional requirements.

  • Word

    To #18: WORD.