Class registration is a part of Yale’s hidden curriculum, with its own fine prints and unspoken rules that could catch students unawares upon first glance. With the shopping period gone, the Editorial Board would like to urge Yale College to do more to preserve the principles of academic exploration and pursuit of curiosity that are bedrocks of a liberal arts education. We call upon Yale College to make the course registration process more transparent and accessible, especially for classes requiring applications and pre-registration. We also call on Yale College to extend the Add/Drop period by one week, so students may make more informed decisions about their schedule.
For many prospective students, shopping period served as a major point of appeal in choosing to apply to and attend Yale — a promise that the University would provide us with the greatest space possible to explore our interests, try new things and perhaps stumble upon new academic passions through happenstance. However, the current registration process breaks this promise, leaving students severely hindered in their capacity to expand their academic horizons.
When the College made the shift to Add/Drop in spring 2021, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun claimed that the new registration process would constitute a reframing of shopping period, not an elimination of it. However, there is very little evidence that the spirit of shopping period has persisted through the change. As the system exists currently, there is only one week between the start of classes and the end of Add/Drop. This means some classes only meet one time, or perhaps even not at all, before Add/Drop ends. Further, Add/Drop allows students to enroll in no more than 5.5 credits during the trial period without special permission from their Deans. This means that students not only have far fewer opportunities to actually attend the classes that interest them, they also have far fewer opportunities to even sign up for classes. All of the above means that the courses most outside a student’s comfort zone will be the first to go.
Students are expected to register for courses half a semester in advance, with little to no information to base these decisions on. Many classes do not have accurate listings for times and locations during course selection. Some classes are even being added to the registration site after course worksheets are due. This lack of information causes scheduling issues for students. Classes students had initially prioritized by adding to their early registration sheet may no longer fit into their schedule, putting them at risk of not being able to find other classes in time since most classes are overfilled by the Add/Drop period. The current system also restricts exploration through the convoluted structure of both a first-come, first-serve basis for certain courses while simultaneously allowing internal application structures for others.
The current registration system punishes students who do not have a concrete idea of what they want to study. With early applications for preference selection courses opening on Nov.1 and the registration worksheet opening on Nov. 14, the current registration timeline falls within Yale’s elongated “midterm season.” Many students have to scramble to research and apply to courses on top of studying for their exams. This issue is compounded by the fact that for underclassmen, many of their decisions on which courses they are interested in are not made until after the conclusion of the semester and they gauge their overall interest in a particular course or topic.
The pervasive sentiment among underclassmen has been that the new early registration system — which opens course registration sequentially by class year — inhibits their ability to experience courses that could be pivotal in reorienting their academic interests. Though underclassmen typically enroll in primarily larger survey-like courses, it is often the opportunity to engage with a few higher-level seminars that steer younger students towards one potential major over others, particularly in humanities and social science courses that carry less of an emphasis on sequence. Consequently, first-years and sophomores are incentivized to declare majors on SIS in advance to gain an advantage in registering for classes affiliated with that major. Advanced seminars often give priority to those studying related majors, and even circulate private sign-up forms to their major email list before the normal registration period begins. Students could even declare majors to get into particular classes, then undeclare and declare new majors to get into completely different classes each semester.
We understand that the new registration system has many benefits, especially for faculty. Some professors prefer this to the old shopping period because it gauges how much genuine interest there is in a class, which is important for hiring Teaching Assistants and designing classroom activities. Since class attendance did not settle until the end of shopping period as well, professors would lose out on two weeks of instruction time. However, this early registration system may also put extra pressure on faculty by forcing them to craft syllabi and course admission policies at the same time as teaching their current courses.
While respecting concerns from faculty, we can still create a more transparent course registration process to keep more of the benefits of shopping period. Extending the Add/Drop period by one week, for example, would allow students to make more informed decisions about the courses they are taking, but would likely not result in large admission changes. Faculty will have more time to fully show what their course is like to students and more accurately gauge their demonstrated interest at the same time. Departments must also respond to requests to increase enrollment in popular limited-enrollment subjects, such as creative writing, visual art and history seminars. Additionally, there could be more standardized measures put into place to ensure that students of all backgrounds have the ability to explore Yale’s curriculum while enabling professors to maintain intensity and rigor in smaller courses.
The course registration process sets the tone for the upcoming semester: it’s a time where the intellectual curiosity of Yalies shine. Some students download syllabi of courses they find interesting, others take courses from many different departments, and almost all become more excited about their academic journey ahead. We come to Yale with a love of learning, which the course registration system should encourage instead of abate. A more transparent and streamlined registration process will allow students to do what they do best: make informed choices to study what they want.