For many Yale students, the best thing about shopping period is when it’s over. But when the schedules are turned in, the textbooks are returned, and the bluebooks are closed, the frenzy of choosing classes does not always come to a close. Anyone who has dropped a course knows just how easy it is, but adding a class is a completely different story.
Once registered, a student is allowed to withdraw from a course at any time until reading period begins. If the student formally withdraws before midterm, the course will not be listed on his or her transcript. If dropped after midterm, a “W” meaning “withdrew” will appear.
To formally withdraw, the student must submit a course change notice to his or her residential college dean and may be subject to a processing fee of up to $20, which students are allowed to bursar.
Tina Ramos ’07 dropped “Macroeconomics 116” in the 2004 spring semester. She said she had no problem dropping the course two days before midterm.
“I went to my dean and said, ‘If I don’t drop out of this class, I will jump from the fourth floor of Farnam.’ I had no problem,” Ramos said.
Rebecca Siegel ’07 did not even speak to the dean before dropping a course. Siegel said withdrawing could not have been easier.
“I literally didn’t have to speak to anyone. I signed a form,” Siegel said.
In contrast, Siegel noted how difficult it is to add a course.
“It’s easier to get permission to take six classes and drop one later than to take five and add one,” she said.
Although residential college deans would not reveal the exact numbers of students who add or drop courses after schedules are submitted, numerous deans said it is common for students to withdraw from classes but extremely rare for a student to successfully add a course after the deadline.
After this deadline, regulations state that a new course cannot be added unless permission is granted by the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing, presided over by the Yale College Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker.
A student must submit a petition first to the residential college dean and then to the committee, where the student must explain his or her case for adding a course and have the petition signed by the professors affected. Schenker said that no student should assume a request will be granted simply because the faculty member supports the prospective class addition.
“Mindful of issues of equity, the committee does not approve requests that amount to a mere extension of the shopping period, nor those that are not timely,” Schenker said in an e-mail. “Approved adds are not frequent; they are exceptional.”
Stephen Lassonde, dean of Calhoun College, also said committee approval is rare.
“To add a course, it must be for a reason that allows you to graduate,” he said. One example Lassonde included was when a student overlooks a requirement of a major.
Schenker said there is not a list of acceptable reasons to add a course post-deadline.
“Each case is considered on its own merit, which is why a student must explain in a petition why she should be allowed more time to elect a course when the thousands of other students in Yale College are held to the deadline for the submission of the course schedule,” he said in an e-mail.
If students balk at Yale’s reticence to allow course additions, they can attribute the policy to the fact Yale has a shopping period.
“The reason we make it so difficult [to add a class] is because there would otherwise be no end to shopping period,” Lassonde said, adding that the current system is unlikely to change unless the shopping period is eliminated.
Both Schenker and Lassonde say they think the process is a good one and are not aware of any plans for change.
“It creates absolute consistency,” Lassonde said. “It makes everyone play by the same rules, but also allows for exceptions.”
For the most part, however, students think otherwise. Mark Mannion ’05 said he was disappointed when he tried to add a class shortly after shopping period ended and learned how difficult it would be.
“The system is really annoying,” Mannion said.
Other students were similarly deterred from pursuing the process, unaware of the policy before entering their dean’s office.
While many students agree that the system seems inflexible, they also think the shopping period offers more than enough time to decide on a schedule.
Anya Kaplan-Seem ’08 made the decision to drop Directed Studies, a freshman program of study that has three set courses, on the weekend before schedules were due. When she turned in her final schedule, she had listed two classes that she had not yet attended. Kaplan-Seem said she did this with the knowledge that it would be impossible to make such a change after schedules were due.
“I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to drop [Directed Studies] after schedules were due, so I set a limit for myself — I need to make this decision by Saturday,” she said.