News’ View: Shopping period reform

Shopping period is a study in contradictions. While we love the freedom it entails, its logistics can confound students and professors alike. The system works for almost all large lecture classes, which can accommodate shoppers throughout. But shopping period is at its very worst when it comes to seminars.

We’ve all felt pressure to jockey for spots in popular, enrollment-limited courses, as well as the disastrous stress of having to reshuffle an entire schedule after a professorial rejection in week two. With 20-plus spots open in all non-preregistered seminars, tiny classrooms burst at the seams as overhyped seminars fill with applicants more interested in reputation than syllabi. Exclusivity amplifies interest: After all, this is Yale.

Meanwhile, application processes vary wildly, from the infamous and ambiguous index card interest statement to short essays to a cut-and-dried calculus of seniority and major. Almost all seminars are closed to students who do not attend the first session; if you choose to go to your top two choices and are rejected, the ship sails for almost every other.

Without clear metrics for determining class admission, we are left confused, resorting to pleading e-mails and office hour visits. Shopping period becomes less exploration than aggravation. Even worse, most seminars can’t begin until rosters are winnowed down, cutting one or two full class sessions from our already short semesters.

Yale needs a better way of filling seminar seats. In lieu of an inefficient free-for-all, the University should institute a universal preregistration system for all seminars, following the example of the History and Political Science departments.

During the break, students should have the option of applying in advance to any seminar, submitting applications to a limited number. All seminar professors should be required to assign a majority of seats — say, 15 out of 20 — to preregistrants.

After acceptance decisions are announced, shopping period should begin with an add-drop period for seminars. If you found yourself preregistered for a seminar that sounded good over break but is awful in class, you could drop it and shop around to add another. Seat availability information should be available on OCS, so students can stay away from full seminars and head to under-enrolled ones.

Further, professors should be required to notify preregistered applicants by the beginning of shopping period. Those attempting to add during shopping period could be accepted on an ad hoc basis. Since rosters for popular seminars will already be set, the confusion of mid-shopping period applications and rejections would drop dramatically.

Universal preregistration followed by an add-drop period would clarify the mad rush of shopping period. Spots in coveted seminars would be claimed in advance more fairly through a standardized application process. Students could still shop around, allowing curious hopefuls to discover great new seminars. By employing course evaluations, past shopping knowledge, word-of-mouth and good syllabus sense, students could make crucial seminar enrollment decisions in advance.

Seminar preregistration forms, though varying across departments and professors, should include questions regarding interest, relevant course experience and outside qualifications, along with class year and major. The goal of the system would not be to tell professors how to select students for their classes, but rather, to ensure that students are selected in an earlier, simpler and fairer process.

Getting into seminars will always be competitive and occasionally disappointing; space is limited and professors are popular. But the current shopping period melee paradoxically limits choice and sparks stress.

We shouldn’t have to wait out a week of pleading and class attendance to hear a schedule-ruining “No.” With the bulk of seminar admissions decisions made in advance, followed by a flexible add-drop period, we will gain time and clarity. Universal preregistration will make a necessarily competitive process fairer and an inordinately stressful period far more manageable.

Comments

  • bandoneon

    This proposal should extend to all classes with size caps rather than just seminars…

    However, there is a huge problem with this proposed system. What makes the departmental seminar registrations work is that students are only admitted to ONE seminar, whereas that would be both undesirable and impossible under the proposed university-wide system. Students would just end up applying to as many seminars as possible beforehand; the good students will get accepted to many seminars, while the bad students may not get accepted to any. The feature of the old system being criticized in this paper – high “transaction costs” stemming from uncertainty – actually served to level the playing field between better and worse students because it made the cost of shopping seminars high enough so that the better students couldn’t monopolize the process. Of course, I’m operating under the assumption that Yale is not and does not want to be a meritocracy – it wants to help the less “well off” of its population, in all senses of the phrase. Har har har……