Zoe Berg, Staff Photographer
In a March 2021 email to undergraduate students, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun announced a new registration timeline for the fall 2021 term. Under the new system, course preregistration for a given term will take place during the previous semester, with an add/drop period beginning before the new term and ending after the first week of classes. First years, reinstated students, new Eli Whitney students and transfer students will register for fall 2021 classes during the add/drop period.
The changes are a shift from the traditional registration process, in which students registered for courses in the weeks directly preceding a semester. The new add/drop period at the beginning of the term also contrasts with the long-standing “shopping period” — a two-week window during which students “shopped” different classes before finalizing their schedules. Although classes can still be adjusted during the add/drop period, some students feel that the new registration process encourages them to have their schedules mostly finalized before the term begins.
The early registration system — which, according to Chun, has been in Yale’s plans for over five years and aligns the University with many of its peer institutions — was originally scheduled to begin with preregistration for the 2021-22 academic year. But because the COVID-19 pandemic brought additional uncertainties and enrollment fluctuations, the new system was implemented early for the spring 2021 term.
“We are responding to long-standing requests from students and from faculty to have a process that gives students more certainty about which classes they are in or not,” Chun told the News in March. “In particular, it matters the most for limited enrollment classes. In the past, when we tried to do it at the beginning of the term, it was very rushed, stressful and somewhat disorganized because everyone was on their own timelines. Another big part of early registration is to organize and align registration so that everyone can count on having the best information available.”
In a March 2021 email sent to faculty, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley noted that the early registration system will allow faculty to have a “true break” from registration and advising-related work during the summer.
But some students criticized the changes, arguing that the timing of the new system conflicts with finals season and housing draws and unfairly requires course decisions to be made months in advance.
“Most students do not know what their living and learning circumstances will be in a month, let alone six,” Honor Thompson ’22 wrote to the News in March. “It is extremely unreasonable to ask us to make these decisions this far in advance. Additionally, the proposed timeline overlaps unacceptably with finals period, only adding to the stress most students are feeling during this unprecedented time.”
Some alumni also took to social media to express their concerns over the reform of the traditional shopping period — which many remembered with fondness and saw as embodying Yale’s values of intellectual freedom and exploration. Abby Kantor Smith ’03 and Minsun Cha ’17 both told the News in March that they frequently discussed shopping period with prospective students during alumni interviews.
Chun noted that the new system is meant to improve the course shopping process.
“The idea behind early registration is to give you a head start with [class] exploration, not to curtail it, and to reduce stress, not to add to it,” Chun wrote in a March student-wide email. “Students have long described the shopping period as stressful, uncertain and frustrating … Early registration makes it possible to add capacity to meet preliminary demand, and to give you a good sense now about availability next semester.”
In response to complaints about the timeline of the new registration process, Chun announced a one-week extension of the early registration deadline for fall 2021 — moving the date from May 28 to June 4. Finals period for the spring 2021 term ended on May 19.
Additionally, the application period for limited enrollment courses for the fall 2021 term — which initially ran from April 6 to April 21 — was extended to end on May 24. However, some departments — including english, economics and political science — stuck to the original timeline.
Then-Yale College Council Vice President Reilly Johnson ’22 told the News in April that the timeline extensions were “a step in the right direction,” but noted that courses with application deadlines before the end of finals would still contribute to student stress.
Other students expressed their frustrations with what they claimed was an increase of applications for limited enrollment classes, as well as professors requiring students to confirm their spots in classes months in advance. Still, others shared their difficulties registering for classes with syllabi not yet posted.
Many professors also found the new process confusing, though some noted that the sense of confusion was to be expected during the rollout of a new system. Francis Writer in Residence Anne Fadiman wrote to the News in May that early registration can be “tough” for creative writing courses, as students have to choose writing samples and write statements of interest during the “busiest part of the semester.”
Other professors applauded the new system, arguing that the traditional shopping period leads to unpredictable class sizes and uncommitted students during the first two weeks of class.
“The last time I taught [Great Hoaxes and Fantasies in Archaeology] with shopping (Spring 2020), I had a classroom for 20 and more than 100 shoppers who showed up on the first day of class,” William Honeychurch, associate professor of anthropology and director of undergraduate studies for the major, wrote in a March 2021 email to the News. “As a result, the first day of class and even subsequent class time was very unproductive — I would say wasted — and I spent the first two weeks confronted with deciding whether to get a new room or trying to figure out how to cut students and I do not enjoy cutting students. I want students who are genuinely interested in archaeology to be able to take my class. In the end, most shoppers dropped out and so my take-away impression as usual was: what’s the point of this?”
Still, Gendler acknowledged that while the new preregistration system provides additional time for class planning, there are advantages to the traditional shopping period not found in the new model — such as spontaneous course shopping and a longer period to add and drop classes.
She added that the University is open to reconsidering the details of the early registration process for future years.
“If the particular preregistration system that we are trying this year doesn’t end up achieving the goals [of introducing students to new classes and allowing for adjustments], we’ll tinker with the mechanism in such a way that we bring these things into balance,” Gendler said in May.
Classes for the fall 2021 term are scheduled to begin on Sept. 1.