The tension in the air is palpable as we wait outside the classroom. There are fewer than 10 of us. As we wait out the half-hour before class begins, more students wander and hover anxiously around the door.
Soon, the first class ends and we slip in, wasting no time snatching a seat around the table. By the time the professor arrives, there are at least a hundred of us in the room and even more waiting outside in the hallway. The seminar is meant to accommodate fewer than 20 people.
This particular piece of information was not on the syllabus.
This scenario is commonplace at Yale. Throughout my eight semesters at Yale, I’ve had to fight and finagle my way into seminars. In theory, shopping period should be relatively simple. You divide your time between the Yale Blue Book, Online Course Selection (OCS) and CourseTable. You read through the syllabi of the classes you want to take. If you like the class, then you add the course to your schedule and shop it. This practice is not only encouraged, but enforced: Yale students who do not put at least three courses on their OCS the night before shopping period begins are fined 50 dollars.
On OCS and Yale Blue Book, there usually isn’t much indication that a course may be difficult to get into. Sometimes courses are labeled as a “starred course,” or with the caveat “Permission required by the instructor.” Aside from these small asterisks, there is no other way to reasonably deduce which students will be given preference when a professor decides who is granted admission to the course.
The result of this is the aforementioned scenario: a classroom, filled beyond capacity with more than twice the number of students who will receive a spot. I’ve been in situations where underclassmen, immediately after arriving, are turned away. This leaves for a frustrated, anxious student body. We are on the waiting end of emails, we are frantically filling out questionnaires during class and we are constantly checking Canvas rosters to see if we might have a chance of admission.
This is a problem that has soured shopping period for many students at Yale. In fact, this issue was highlighted in “University should improve shopping period,” an article in the News by Matt Wansley’07. This article was published in September 2004, almost 14 years ago, and almost nothing has changed since then.
Personally, I believe there are two changes that need to be implemented in order to improve the shopping period experience.
First, professors should be mandated to disclose information about who the course is open to and the course’s capacity. Too few professors do this currently. If this information isn’t on the syllabus, it should be posted on the course listing itself. If a student is aware that a class is less likely to accept them based on their major or year, it prevents them from shopping the class in the first place unless they have a strong desire to. This would rectify the overcrowding issue. But, even more importantly, this is a matter of courtesy. It isn’t fair to students who are already spending long days trekking across campus, missing classes they wanted to shop, to stand uncomfortably in a class that is inaccessible to them. If students are fined for not performing a series of clicks for their OCS worksheets, there should be requirements for professors to be transparent about their courses.
Second, there should be an implementation in OCS, for starred courses, that allows students to preregister for them before the first day of class. This is already in place for some courses. Students should be able to see if they are guaranteed admission or are put on a waitlist. At other universities, this tool is used for registration on a first-come, first-served basis. If the course requires an application, applications could be collected by a certain date and the roster should be sent to students before the first meeting. It is also important that departments heavily publicize which of their courses require an application, instead of just posting it on their department website. Allowing students to see who is on the waitlist and who is guaranteed admission will also aid the decision process.
Shopping period really is a unique part of the Yale experience. It shouldn’t be rife with this much tension and uncertainty. There’s hope in the fact that currently, the Yale College Council is taking steps to improve this experience, and I applaud them for it. Here’s hoping that the fog can be lifted by 2032.
Adwoa Buadu is a senior in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .