Yale’s shopping period is winding down, but Harvard’s begins on Monday. Whereas administrators in New Haven have spent the last two weeks scrambling to accommodate interest in courses, those in Cambridge hope they already have an idea of what their students want to take.
Harvard required students to preregister for spring courses in November in an attempt to ease the challenges of assigning classrooms, allocating teaching fellows and buying textbooks, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Education Katherine Stanton said. She added that students can still shop and enroll in whichever courses they want. Yale administrators, who had not heard about Harvard’s new policy until they were contacted by the News, acknowledged that shopping period poses many logistical issues and said they will be watching to see how well Harvard’s policy works.
“I’d be interested to hear what the result of Harvard’s [policy] is, and I think we could possibly do something like that at Yale,” said John Meeske ’74, associate dean for student organizations and physical resources. “It could serve everyone better if we had a service like this.”
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But Harvard wasn’t the first to come up with a preregistration program. Meeske, who served as Yale College registrar until 1995, said Yale tried something similar in the early 1990s, requiring students to put spring courses they expected to take on their fall schedules. But there was “almost no relation” between the courses students listed and the ones they ended up taking, he said. Harvard asked students to submit spring schedules in November, as opposed to at the beginning of the year, and Meeske said such a policy might actually work.
“There is a better chance that the later it is, the more accurate it will be,” he said.
Yale collected the predicted courses with fall schedules in the 1990s because administrators did not want to collect an extra round of paperwork by hand, he said. But technology would now make the process much easier, he added.
Still, preregistration may not eliminate shopping woes in Cambridge.
Five Harvard students interviewed said they knew many people who took the pre-term planning forms seriously, but also some students who picked courses quickly and without much thought. They added that those who took preregistration seriously could end up with unexpected courses, since listing a seminar is not the same as applying to it and does not guarantee a spot.
Sophomore Joselyn Lai said she knew what she wanted to take, and that she plans to enroll in all the same courses that she listed last fall.
But junior Alison Avril was less confident that the system will prove effective.
“I think for the most part, people have forgotten that they did that and are trying to scramble to find classes,” she said. “A lot of people just put down joke classes.”
Whether or not preregistration at Harvard is foolproof, it might be an improvement over the current system. Yale Interim Registrar Eileen Quinn said shopping period complicates many of the services her office provides.
“We have to make initial [room] assignments based on past enrollments and end up having to make complicated changes, sometimes involving moving three courses to accommodate the unexpected enrollment in one course,” she said, adding that allocating teaching fellows also becomes difficult.
In addition, Graduate Student Assembly Chairman Paul Pearlman GRD ’12 said unpredictable enrollments leave teaching fellows uncertain about whether they will have a job each semester. This can be a financial burden, he added.
The uncertainties of shopping period also frustrate professors: Nine of 12 professors interviewed said they find shopping period taxing or disruptive.
Acting History Department Chairman Paul Freedman said he has mixed feelings about shopping period, and added that the constant flux of students causes difficulties.
“It’s difficult not knowing how many students will take your course,” he said. “Having people coming and going while you’re trying to teach the first and second class.”
Emmanuel Pauthe, a visiting professor in chemical engineering, said trying to convince students to take his course is stressful, adding that five students are taking his lecture.
But Pauthe’s trouble may not be solved by learning in advance how many students expect to take his course. While all nine students interviewed said they would not mind filling out a preregistration form, they also said they usually take at least one or two classese they weren’t planning to. In the case of Angie Shih ’14, a pre-term planning program would not have helped administrators.
“I ended up taking none of the classes I though I would,” she said.
Alda Pontes ’14 said not getting into seminars that she wanted necessitated that she find other classes.
In early June, Harvard students will submit courses they expect to take next fall.