The heading of the Yale College Undergraudate Admissions “Learning at Yale” webpage reads in an inviting typewriter font, “A Liberal Arts Education.” The first sentence proclaims, “Yale is committed to the idea of a liberal arts education through which students think and learn across disciplines, literally liberating or freeing the mind to its fullest potential.” Yale claims to facilitate this through its famous shopping period. But then, why are the first couple weeks of the semester some of the most stressful weeks for most students?
Upon reaching the halfway mark in my Yale career, I realized that time was running out for me to take the classes on my bucket list. When else could I take a class on the evolution of reproductive biology? Or learn the basics of screenwriting? I delved into the depths of Yale Online Course Selection — rest in peace, Yale Blue Book — rejuvenated by the possibilities. Until, to my dismay, I sifted through the complicated and deterring admissions processes for these classes. I had to submit a writing portfolio to simply consider the idea of creative writing. I had to send gracious emails and have research experience to take a niche science course reserved for a handful of students. I had to wait until senior year to take all of my preferred, but high-demand, classes.
Our undergraduate career, especially a liberal arts one, is a time of exploration and learning. We shouldn’t need work experience or an admissions essay to convince professors that we are worthy of their classes. A strong interest in and thirst for knowledge should be reason enough to take a course. For most of us, Yale is the last chance we will get to take classes just because they sound fascinating or are taught by world-renowned scholars. Many of us chose Yale over full rides at other schools to be in an environment that nourishes our curious instincts and embraces the advantages of taking classes that have absolutely nothing to do with our career goals. The beauty of this liberal arts education is the ability to make connections between fields that we never thought were compatible and pursue classes for the sake of learning.
Understandably, upper-level courses are reserved for students in those disciplines. However, the struggle of course selection is not limited to classes outside one’s concentration. As I skimmed syllabi of required classes for my major, I noticed instructions that implied I had to still compete for the course, as if the competitive admissions process into this University were not selective enough. The lack of communication across majors or even within majors makes preregistration unreliable, with some students getting access to three or four courses early on while others get none. An easy solution would be to compare rosters or standardize the registration process among majors, rather than making preregistration due as early as June, long before class selection even officially begins.
It comes to a point where shopping is no longer a privilege, but a necessity. Without a guarantee of a few classes from the start, unless you are lucky enough to be a preregistered upper-level student, it is necessary to juggle numerous seminars to increase your chances of being accepted into one. Thus, shopping period becomes more of a gamble than a search for what classes are right for you. Many first years and sophomores end up shopping an exorbitant number of classes just so they can hope to be accepted into one seminar. Oftentimes, the stress of shopping can taint a class and even pit classmates against one another before classes have really begun. The problem with shopping period is that without a standardized system of admission into classes, it is impossible to reconcile the spontaneity of finding hidden gem classes that should characterize shopping period with the need to compete for classes as much as two months in advance.
Naturally, some classes do need to be limited in size, and in some cases could be smaller. However, when Yale expands its class to include 200 more deserving students per year vying for almost the same number of seminars, faculty members must teach more classes to accommodate everyone, not just expand existing lectures. Not only that, but Yale should create a fair, standardized system of admission to which all professors and departments must adhere. Some change is required to make shopping period and course selection a meaningful experience for students of all majors and years.
At the end of the day, we are all taking Yale classes. And occasionally the classes that were at the bottom of my list ended up being the best classes I’ve ever taken. However, there are easy steps to make the process of selecting classes much less stressful and even enjoyable. As a liberal arts institution, it is Yale’s duty to ensure that students have an opportunity to expand their horizons with a fair class selection process.
Hala El Solh is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .