You may have first heard about shopping period from a Yale admissions officer speaking at an event with 100 other prospective students. You may have heard about it on a tour from a current student describing how it helped them discover their true passion. If you’re like one of my friends from high school, you may have heard about it when it made an appearance on the popular TV show “Gilmore Girls.”

Now you’re a student at Yale. Congratulations on that, by the way. Shopping period may have been a central reason why you wanted to come here, or it may have been a side attraction that you didn’t focus on much. But whichever it was, you’re about to go through eight rounds of it over the next four years. If you’re wondering what to expect and how to navigate it, allow me to offer a little bit of insight into what it’s like. Sort of like an old wise man, if you will, or perhaps a crash test dummy.

The Good

You can shop as many classes as you want. As advertised, shopping period can be helpful in figuring out what courses are right for you. Not sure about which math class to take? I wasn’t. The first two days of shopping period made the choice abundantly clear. Didn’t get into a seminar you’re interested in? You can email the professor or show up on the first day and hope to get off the waiting list. That’s happened to me at least three times in two semesters. Want to try out a new subject to see if it’s to your liking? That’s what shopping period is all about.

You can (and will) be surprised by what you find. Some classes that looked good on paper might turn out to be the wrong fit. My second semester, when choosing between two writing classes, I decided against the one that I might have initially chosen in favor of the one where I liked the professor more. I went on to create some of the best writing of my life in that class. These are all things that you hear advertised about shopping period, and all of them are true.

The Bad

You won’t get into some classes. This isn’t unique to Yale, but it can be especially rough in the context of shopping period, when your plans can be constantly changing. I’ve gotten off three waitlists in two semesters. But I’ve also been informed upon emailing a professor that not only was the class already full, the waitlist was already full, too.

You will probably find yourself stressed. You might find 10, even 15 classes that seem interesting. You are allowed to shop all of them. But if you do (as I did), be prepared for a crazy couple of days. There’s a reason you’re only ever supposed to take four or five classes at a time. Even the logistics of going to 10 classes can be a lot. That’s to say nothing of the stress of figuring out if you’ll ever get off the waitlist.

The Ugly

You can have trouble getting from class to class. Say you’ve set most of your schedule and you’re choosing between two different courses for your final slot. Those courses might be one right after the other, or worse, they might overlap. They might be in the same building, but they also might be on opposite sides of campus. Especially as a first year (and yes, I speak from experience) you can easily find yourself sprinting from Watson to LC in under 15 minutes, which I can assure you (unless you are a track athlete or own a bicycle) is not nearly enough time.

Some courses will be packed. This last semester, as many as 671 people shopped a single course. As many as 81 shopped a single seminar. It isn’t hard to find descriptions, either online or just from friends, of small rooms packed to bursting, or of entire lecture halls overflowing with students. This won’t last the full semester, of course. But it can be an uncomfortable first few days. As much as we’re all craving human contact in the midst of quarantine, no one wants to spend 75 minutes standing through the first session of a constitutional law seminar.

How to Navigate It

Have a sense of what you want and a few good options for how to get that. Things can change, but it’s important to have a place to start from. If you know you need to take a Quantitative Reasoning credit, find a few courses you’re interested in and shop those. Then pick one. A great deal of the stress goes away if you can have a plan going in.

All the basic information you need on courses can be found at You can supplement that by looking at, which shows you how past students have rated courses, in terms of the course itself, the professor and the workload. My first semester, I knew I wanted to take a first-year seminar. I ended up pulling the syllabi for over a dozen different options up on my computer. Am I recommending that? Sort of. You don’t have to drive yourself crazy, but the sooner you can start looking at courses, the better sense you can get of what you want to do.

At the end of the day, there is no right number of classes to shop. Aside from the fact that people have different decision-making processes, everyone comes into each semester in a different place. You might be a STEM major trying to balance electives with your intro courses. You might be a Directed Studies student looking for one extra class to not overload your schedule. You might have absolutely no idea what your major is and just be looking to try something new while you start fulfilling distributional requirements. It isn’t about shopping the “right number” of classes, it’s about shopping enough classes to get the information you need.

And finally, as much as possible, don’t stress too much. On just my second day of classes, I was planning to shop a creative writing course, hoping to get off the waitlist. But, feeling completely exhausted, I decided I didn’t care enough about attending a class I wasn’t even guaranteed to get into and went back to my dorm. I have no regrets about that. Shopping period isn’t a trial or a requirement it’s a tool you get to use to help you build a schedule that is better for you. It can take some getting used to, but as long as you come in prepared, you’ll be fine.

Good luck with your first semester, and welcome to Yale.


Bradley Nowacek |