James Larson

Around 5,000 miles away from New Haven, from his house in Hawaii, Jay Baptista ’23 woke up early one August morning to confusion.

Like many other students, Baptista had thought that Yale’s Online Course Selection would open up that day at 9 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time for students to sign up for lectures and sections, he said. In Hawaii, that meant Baptista woke up before 3 a.m. to score a virtual spot in his classes for the fall semester under a new pre-registration system piloted this year.

But morning came and went. OCS did not open until later that afternoon. And, even though he eventually got into most of the classes he wanted, Baptista said the experience left him puzzled.

“It seemed like there was a lot of confusion about when it would actually open,” he told the News last month. “The incongruencies between emails from the registrar and what SIS [said] really seemed to confuse me along with others about what was going on.”

This year, Yale’s traditional “shopping period” — a time during which students can “shop” different classes before finalizing their course lists — has undergone significant changes by College administrators in an effort to streamline the schedule-making process. This fall, faculty members were asked to post detailed course descriptions online weeks before the semester started. Registration for seminars began in early August, and students were required to submit a preliminary course schedule with up to 7.5 credits before classes began. The typical two-week-long shopping period is now just one week long for undergraduates.

The tweaks are part of a multi-year push to reform the shopping period, a subject of complaint among many students who say it adds unnecessary stress to the start of every semester, a January 2018 Yale College Council report showed.

Yale College Dean Marvin Chun said in a July announcement to students that the changes were “significant,” but also hoped they would make shopping easier.

“We are grateful to you for your patience and flexibility, and we are also grateful to the many Yale faculty and staff members across campus who have been working hard this summer to prepare for your arrival,” he wrote.

Still, according to recent interviews with six professors and two students, the recent shopping period reform has not been immune to hiccups.

Course demand statistics don’t always match up with pre-registration data, said French professor Ruth Koizim. Students who sealed their preliminary schedules with as many as seven classes made it as difficult as before to gauge how many graduate student assistants were needed in some lecture courses.

In an August email to the News, Chun said he regretted the confusion over the OCS opening time and added that students and instructors will have “much more certainty” during shopping period under this new system.

“I appreciate everyone’s understanding,” he wrote, “and I look forward to more feedback.”

More recently, on Wednesday, Chun told the News that pre-registration benefits both students by offering more flexibility, and faculty because it helps predict enrollment more accurately. He said that course enrollments are less likely to see large fluctuations under the new system.

“Having the information well before classes start ensures that we can place the most qualified teaching fellows in each course,” he wrote.

Long-time history professor John Merriman, who is teaching two lecture courses this fall, told the News that the new pre-registration system has left his Revolutionary France class with only around 25 enrolled students — a significant drop from the 115 who took the course two years prior, he said.

Merriman added that he usually depends on shopping period to pick up about a dozen additional students, but this semester’s limited window could make that less possible.

“It’s a disaster that it’s like this,” he said, “but what can [Yale] do about it?”

Although pandemic-related constraints made the changes necessary to implement this semester, according to a June 22 email from Chun, changes to the shopping period process will continue in the future. An April report from last year’s Committee on Advising, Placement and Enrollment, obtained by the News, recommends for pre-registration to come near the end of the previous semester, followed by a one-week shopping period at the start of the next one.

Chun told the News in June that many of CAPE’s specific recommendations will have to wait until the spring — or later — to be implemented.

Still, other faculty members told the News that shopping period has gone quite well. Koizim, who has used a pre-registration system for her introductory language classes for years, said her classes have filled up to a comfortable level after culling the waitlist.

“I’ve never had a problem with shopping period,” she said.

But to Merriman, who said the shopping period is an “essential part of the Yale experience,”  proposals that would limit or do away with the crucial time at the start of the semester are misguided.

“I think that’s a huge mistake,” he explained. “You can quote me on that.”

Back in Hawaii, Baptista told the News in a Friday email that shopping period is “still very strange.” Without the bustle of students in classes and in-person lectures characteristic of a normal start to the semester, he said, shopping hasn’t been very interesting. 

“I’m lucky enough to get into all the classes that have been capped, but it feels rather mundane now than it has been a year ago.”

Classes began for undergraduates on Aug. 31.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu