As residential college deans told first years for the first time a few weeks ago, most Yale students take between 4 and 5.5 credits each semester. Flipping between four- and five-course semesters allows students to complete Yale College’s 36-credit requirement comfortably by the end of their senior year. Ambitious students wanting to take six credits require special approval from the dean.
The norms and rules are fairly clear. Still, my CourseTable, on the days before move in, had 19 courses on it. And scrolling through the profiles of my Facebook friends, I noticed that worksheets with 40 or 50 courses were not uncommon. Students, trying to satisfy diverse academic passions or meet distributional requirements, looked across disciplines to consider any and all courses that vaguely piqued their interests, aligning several backups in case they fail to get into their top-choice seminars.
Welcome to shopping period: When credit rules becomes temporarily irrelevant, student uncertainty about possible academic tracks reaches an uncomfortable peak and all hell breaks loose on GCal as students attempt to shop anywhere between three and 15 classes a day.
Naturally, Yale students are interdisciplinary creatures. Not only is having multiple interests exciting, but we were also taught that it could potentially strengthen our college, graduate school and job applications, that it would add value to our increasingly-important “personal brand.” As a political science major with an interest in dance, shopping “Dance and Popular Black Culture” was initially an exciting prospect for me. But shopping became more stressful when classes like “Introduction to Writing Poetry” required a competitive application from which few very exceptionally talented poets emerged successful. It was worse when “Introduction to Graphic Design” required students to purchase brand new supplies for an art project required for an application to the class, and even worse when “American Musical Theater History” only accepted students who sent emails demonstrating interest before shopping period even began.
Over time, shopping period has become a battle to squeeze past the increasingly narrow entry point for courses that are supposedly “introductory” or teach subjects of interest that aren’t the entire focal point of a student’s academic career. Seminar “recruiting” is an increasingly relevant aspect of shopping period as one’s Yale career progresses, in which global affairs professors receive enthusiastic multiparagraph emails from students detailing relevant background and accomplishments in hopes of winning one of the few spots for over 70 shoppers. For writing classes, students are often forced to describe traumatic experiences that win them capital in the application process. During shopping period, it seems some of us spent as much time shopping as we did networking and applying just to enter classes.
Application processes give some students structural advantages over others: This is a hot-button issue in national media surrounding college admissions and the job market. How did coursework — what we take to expose us to new interests and prepare us for future admissions and recruiting processes — co-opt its own version of competitive and exclusive application procedures? How did shopping period become a contest of resume-touting that privileges students with particular backgrounds and successes?
Don’t get me wrong — the students who are uniquely talented and experienced with a certain subject will do very well in the relevant seminars to which they applied. The fault does not lie with the impressive students who apply, but it does with the lack of inclusiveness in seminars and introductory courses for a wide variety of academic disciplines at Yale.
As a result, shopping period has become, for many students, a time of realization that many introductory classes or interesting subjects are absolutely inaccessible. Not all classes should not be applicationless, but hiring more professors, creating a few more sections and thinking of other, more effective solutions to ensure that the approximately 5,500 Yale undergraduates can study what interests them is something that Yale administrators and faculty members should be taking on, especially given the recent increase in undergraduate class size. Such work is necessary in preparing students for an increasingly specialized but simultaneously brand-oriented and analysis-focused job market. It is fundamental to the provision of the liberal arts education that Yale prides itself on offering.
I personally do not take issue with the concept of shopping period itself; I think it allows students, in theory, to make choices about courses after seeing them firsthand. But in practice, oversubscribed classes turn shopping period into an opportunity for instructors to seek diverse and distressing methods of evaluating a student’s suitability to the course before exams or paper deadlines even near. So, to my fellow Yalies, cherish the seminars and introductory classes you’ve successfully entered — you never know what chaos next semester’s shopping period will bring.
Kushal Dev is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .