Arriving to a packed classroom and scrambling to find an empty chair is an all too common experience for students vying for slots in Yale College seminars.
In the case of seminars and a select few lecture classes, students interested in the course material can be thwarted by departmental policies aimed at sifting through the masses who crowd in during shopping period. Seminar placement differs widely based on individual departmental policies; in some cases, admittance into classes is solely up to the discretion of the professor, while in other departments, preregistration, junior or senior status, or statements of interest are the determining factors. Some directors of undergraduate study said their departments are looking into adding more seminar courses in coming years to accommodate the number of students seeking to enroll in them.
Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said there are no Yale-wide policies associated with seminar enrollment. Admission into courses is handled centrally through the DUS’s office in some departments, while other departments leave decisions — such as whether to require writing samples, auditions or prerequisite courses — completely to the professors.
“Each of these methods or restrictions has its justification, and of course each works well for some students in particular circumstances, not so well for students in other circumstances,” Gordon said in an e-mail. “So a senior English major enjoys the preference that she or he might have for admission to a senior seminar in the English Department, but finds it disadvantageous that she or he cannot easily get into a limited-enrollment course in, say, political science or history.”
David Cameron, director of undergraduate studies for political science, said the department instituted a preregistration system for its seminars in the spring of 2005 because many students and faculty members were displeased with the chaos and uncertainty that inevitably occurred during shopping period.
“We have a large number of majors relative to the number of faculty in the department … we have a senior seminar requirement, and most of our majors write their senior essay in a seminar,” Cameron said in an e-mail. “Put all that together and we had many seminars for which the demand for places far exceeded the number available.”
Cameron said preregistration in political science is “partial and voluntary” — students write statements for up to four seminars in which they want to be preregistered, and professors can preregister up to 12 students in a seminar. At the end of the process, students can only be preregistered in two courses. Still, large numbers sometimes prevent students from preregistering in any seminars, which is something the department’s Undergraduate Advising Committee will attempt to address in the future, Cameron said.
English major Stephanie Wu ’07 said it has been difficult for her to get into popular classes in a department with no preregistration system, but she does not think instituting such a system would necessarily be a good idea. She has typically been admitted into the courses she really wanted to take by e-mailing the professors in advance, she said, often with an amusing Top 10 list of reasons why she should get in. But Wu did say students would benefit from having more options from which to choose.
“I personally like seminars a lot better,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I chose Yale over other schools.”
History major Matt Gabbard ’07 said the history department’s preregistration system is effective in distributing the demand for seminars among students in the major, and that most students he knows who took advantage of the option were admitted to their first-choice courses. He said students in the major get two opportunities to preregister, which most use during their junior year, so often times it is difficult to find a place in a seminar as a sophomore or even as a senior. But Gabbard said the department does offer enough seminars to satisfy the needs of the majority of students.
Economics DUS Qazi Azam said economics seminars are limited to juniors and seniors majoring in economics, economics and mathematics, or ethics, politics and economics. Azam said he thinks the department currently offers enough seminars to undergraduates, though students often complain about the difficulty of getting into them.
Juniors and seniors can continue shopping for seminars until the end of this week.