Shopping period kind of sucks. But we can fix it by killing a little part of it — ending shopping for seminars. Before you get alarmed, let me backtrack a bit.
In a recent report published by the Yale College Council, which analyzed data from a survey of 1300 students, 70 percent of respondents said that shopping period was a “major period of stress.” Eight hundred and fifty-two students attributed that stress to “the pre-registration process for classes,” 804 to the “waitlist process for oversubscribed courses,” 794 to “the necessity for doing homework in those classes” during shopping period and 521 to “the lack of posted syllabi.”
And thus, this semester’s shopping period reforms were born. Class rosters within 48 hours of the first class! Syllabi before the semester starts! Criteria for admittance on the syllabi themselves! Problem solved.
Sadly, this was not the case. In an interview with the News in December, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun confirmed that there were no enforcement mechanisms to compel professors to comply with his new suggestions, which led to a whole lot of professors completely ignoring the reforms.
That meant that you probably still ended up as one of the schmucks going through the five stages of grief for the idealized version of your schedule over the first five days of shopping period. A few of these “horror stories” were reported in a recent News article, depicting how many students were left scrambling to find an interesting seminar that had an attainable spot open, only to find that that spot may not have been as attainable as they had had hoped.
While the confusion surrounding which seminars we have a legitimate shot at getting into affects everyone, sophomores in particular have to play a complicated strategy game for the first two weeks of classes, budgeting their time to attend a broad swath of coveted classes in the hopes of snagging one or two spots (or even one on the waitlist). Why does this matter? Well, if shopping period is designed to help students explore their academic interests, then it is failing these students. When you don’t know what your options are or what you have a real shot at, then you begin to prioritize applications over choices.
Imagine you’re at a grocery store, and you’re looking to buy lunch. The catch is that you don’t know if an item is in stock until you bring a store model to the cashier, one at a time. You’d have to prioritize picking up as many models as you can to see if they’re in stock instead of spending time figuring out what you actually want to purchase. Now, what if the store abandoned this ridiculous model and just kept their stock on the shelves for all to see? Knowing what was available (or not available) would make it a whole lot easier to think through your options and be on your way. By knowing our choices before having to pick, we could optimize our time deciding what our preferences are.
So what does this actually look like? Instead of shopping period being a free-for-all, extend pre-registration to all seminars prior to the beginning of shopping period rather than a select few. There would be two rounds of applications — a centralized pre-registration for declared majors for the initial spots, and then a second short application open to all students to fill up the remaining spots and a waitlist. If you don’t get into the class or onto the waitlist, you would know that there’s little to no chance that you’d end up in the course. While disappointing, it would leave you free to shop lectures or unfilled seminars without regret.
Instead of our deciding first whether we want to take a course and then the professor deciding if they want us, we would be flipping the order — asking the professor if they want us first to eliminate any unnecessary anguish. We wouldn’t be the first school to implement a system like this. Columbia, for one, requires students to register a full schedule before they arrive on campus while maintaining a two week add/drop period.
But wouldn’t professors be inundated with applications from overeager students who while previously restrained by time and space from applying to every class in sight, could now apply to every course offered? That’s true — however, students would have a capped number of seminars they could apply to. That number could be adjusted to be equivalent, more or less than the number they can feasibly shop with the current system.
But wouldn’t we have to fill out more applications to seminars, a tedious process that no one wants to go through? Well, you already have to fill out short surveys and notecards for professors during shopping period when you attend the first class. All I’m suggesting is that you submit the same information a few weeks earlier, which arguably would be less stressful. It doesn’t take going to the first class to jot down our major, class year and why we’re interested in the course.
Finally, there’s the question of seniority — doesn’t this hurt seniors who are taking their last Yale classes? Not really. Seniors won’t lose out on available options in this system; they’d just have to choose what classes to look into a little earlier. It would merely serve as a relief for those lower on the totem pole.
Shopping period, without a doubt, is valuable and a defining aspect of Yale College. However, it isn’t providing the freedom that it was designed for. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Right now, though? It kind of sucks.
Jacob Hutt is a sophomore in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .