We weren’t thinking about next semester, but we are now.
On March 8, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun announced to undergraduates that a beloved Yale tradition, shopping period, will undergo a dramatic overhaul, shifting the registration period for classes months ahead — to April, no less.
Shopping period has established itself as a much-appreciated cornerstone of a Yale education for generations. At the start of each semester, students buzz around campus, popping in and out of classrooms for the unique experience of trying out courses. If that neat political science course didn’t turn out to be what you had expected, you could swap it out for that psychology course everyone’s been raving about. Or maybe your roommate can’t stop talking about the ethnicity, race and migration lecture they just attended, so you decide to give it a shot as well. You might walk into a random classroom and leave with a newfound passion.
Yale touts its devotion to a liberal arts education, one that encourages students to explore various disciplines throughout their academic career. Shopping period is the epitome of this promise — the ability to explore, experiment and discover. For ten precious days, students were reassured that they could wander outside of their comfort zone, their major or their particular discipline of study, knowing that if need be, they could always backtrack.
Shopping period doesn’t just allow us to try new courses — it helps assure that we’ll be satisfied with them. Haven’t we all walked into a class that we thought would be fascinating, only to find the professor’s lecturing style unbearable? And meanwhile, haven’t we all been pleasantly surprised by courses that seemed lackluster at first glance? The beauty of shopping period is that we don’t just have to rely on syllabi and CourseTable metrics — which often are more superficial than substantive. Instead, we can directly experience the professor’s teaching and determine if it fits us.
Shopping period also alleviates the pressures on first years and undeclared sophomores — and honestly, anyone who hasn’t planned their Yale career down to the tee. Rather than being overly concerned with securing a seat in a departmental seminar, this 10-day grace period encouraged us to sample a variety of courses. And for students returning from an eye-opening summer experience that brought new interests and passions, shopping period allows them to explore instead of sticking to what they enjoyed six months ago.
But most importantly, the heart of shopping period is about the joy of learning. Shopping period allows us to admire the sheer range of courses we could take and begin to understand the vast knowledge a Yale education could provide. The culture of huddling together, bluebooks at the ready is proof of this celebration. Shopping period is a unifying experience, too. While some students shop 15 courses and others shop six, we all partake in the occasion, a communal bonding over academic exploration. Few other colleges cultivate such a culture of exploration — indeed, many people are attracted to Yale because of its shopping period, which reflected a larger commitment to intellectual curiosity.
We recognize that shopping period was not a perfect system. For one, there were inconsistencies across departments. Moreover, not everyone could take the classes they wanted to — and the presence of applications is a worthy debate in and of itself. For some classes, being a junior or senior in the major was enough, but others required excessively lengthy statements of interest. Deadlines were scattered across weeks, and notifications were even less uniform.
But the Yale administration has co-opted those legitimate student concerns to create a system that primarily benefits administrators and faculty over students. Let us be clear: we believe that shopping period is a crucial aspect of our undergraduate education.
If the intention is truly to benefit both students and faculty, we offer the following alternative: first, shift pre-registration to the start of August instead of April, and second, preserve shopping period’s original length of two weeks instead of reducing it to one.
For the first point, students are wholly unprepared to think about an upcoming semester — especially as Yale has yet to announce its fall term plans — while in the throes of another. We are studying for midterms, keeping up with extracurriculars, formulating summer plans and, of course, navigating life in a pandemic. Expecting us to create potential course schedules and apply for seminars (which often have writing-intensive applications) is laughable.
Granted, the proposed pre-registration process, which lasts eight weeks and extends past final exams, is a notable improvement upon the fall term. Still, the most burdensome part for many students — applying to seminars with no guarantee of a standardized process — concludes on April 26, well before the end of the semester.
The faculty and administration do express valid concerns about the current shopping period system. But an earlier August timeline, as compared to the current system, would still provide faculty members more time to hire enough staff members for large courses and seminar instructors to consider applications before the semester begins. Furthermore, it would ensure that students can sit down with more time on their hands and thoroughly consider their course schedules. At the end of the day, there are opportunities to address faculty concerns without sacrificing a beloved tradition.
If shopping period ends, Yale can expect more students to stick with well-known majors. Yale can expect less academic exploration, and certainly less interdisciplinary work. And ultimately, Yale can expect a deterioration of the liberal arts education it has long promised to offer.