As a freshman at Yale, there are only a few things more exciting than picking courses; with 2,000-plus classes in that Bluebook, the possibilities are nearly endless. You start salivating over Marvin Chun’s “Intro to Psychology” and John Gaddis’ “Cold War.” But wait! Those are the huge lecture classes with more than 200 people; that’s not what you want. You want the full experience of undergraduate liberal arts; you want to share Chun and Gaddis with only 17 other students. So you go for the latter’s seminar, “What History Teaches.” The smaller classes inevitably seem the most alluring. You’ve heard upperclassman rhapsodize over how much they matured as writers with weekly drafts and papers in ENGL 114/120. Your advisor tells you that learning to write well is the most important thing college will teach. (Also, getting a WR credit isn’t too shabby.)
And so, my frosh brethren and I rush to preregister on OCS as soon as the site opens, jumping into a fanatic spree of mouse clicking, and selections are quickly made. How great would it be to take MATH 120 with a professor who speaks proper English!
But then, mere hours later, you check back on OCS to find messages etched in bright, blood red font: you were not granted any of your preferences. As you’re engulfed by a mixture of disappointment and fury, you mutter words that cannot be printed in the News — about the lottery and administration. How can Yale deny you this opportunity so swiftly and mercilessly?!
These thoughts have inevitably crossed the minds of many freshmen in the past few days. “It’s really aggravating,” William Freedberg ’15 told me. William was denied entry to every seminar for which he registered. “You’d think that at a place like Yale, we’d be able to take classes that weren’t offered in high school.” (As his suitemate, I can vouch for even more colorful language, not for publication.) Andrew Ma ’15 also didn’t mince words: “It sucks,” he put simply.
During the first days of shopping period, I heard many freshmen telling stories of being booted out of classes they attended with hopes of getting on a waitlist. During my “Violence & Justice in America” freshman seminar, only four of the 15 extra people who showed up were enrolled — and of course, other seminars are much worse. Picking out classes to shop initially was difficult enough; going through the process a second time, awash in dejection, can’t possibly be a positive experience for those new to Yale.
But as much as it “sucks,” I’m beginning to realize that not getting into a freshman, writing or math seminar is not a total disaster. The popularity of these courses lies in their limited enrollment; interactions between student and professor can be strengthened in a fashion that does not normally occur in lectures. But even in larger classes, this kind of effect can still be achieved, but only if one takes the initiative. Most professors do take questions during lecture, so getting to class early to sit in the front rows would open up opportunities to pick your teacher’s brain, much as one would in a seminar. Also, professors have office hours, where they are available for one-on-one discussions about the course material. And of course, many of these professors’ seminars will also be offered in the spring, and those who were able to take one in the fall cannot ordinarily do so again. By showing interest early and not losing too much hope when losing out on a spot, a freshman can find an “in” for a future one.
There’s also another solution for those locked out of seminars, but it requires a bit of nerve. Some upper-level courses don’t have many people taking them anyway; were a freshman willing and able to do so, he could take an upper-level class and dodge the intro swarm. For example, those who missed out on an AMST seminar could easily take AMST 222, “World Documentary,” which has only 18 people enrolled as of print date and no prerequisites. Many more of these classes exist.
The inability to take a seminar after finally getting to Yale may be absolutely infuriating for many freshmen. After all, so much about undergraduate education revolves around the interaction between professors and students. That said, there seem to be ways around the situation, which may not be as bad as it seems. More importantly, freshmen need to understand that this is a necessary evil of having more students than there are professors available to teach. With a little flexibility and some guts, your first academic year at Yale can still rock after the sting of rejection.
And while you’re at it, check out LING 132, “Intro to Phonological Analysis.” Only 22 people are in it, and its evaluations speak for themselves.
Ike Lee is a freshman in Ezra Stiles college.