This week, UT students will begin a new semester and new classes — classes they selected last October. Because the UT student body is so large, most classes are now closed or waitlisted, leaving minimal room for students to alter their schedules once classes begin. As a result, many students may find themselves stuck in unsatisfying classes based on a decision made several months earlier. Schools such as Yale University and Brown University deal with registration differently, allowing students to sample courses before making their final selections in a process known as the “shopping period.”
Many institutions, like our own, have an add/drop period during registration that, in practice, limits students to make only essential changes to their course schedules once classes begin. At UT, the add/drop period ends Jan. 20, the fourth day of class. The two-week shopping period, however, allows students flexibility to tentatively set their schedule. During these two weeks, students sample classes they preselected, sitting in on various courses to get a feel for the professor, the subject matter and the class organization before committing themselves to a schedule. Classes run on a normal schedule during these two weeks with assignments dispensed as usual. After the shopping period ends, students select four or five classes in which to enroll, able to design a personalized schedule that truly suits them. At schools such as Brown, students may add and drop classes for free during this period but must pay a small fee to drop classes after the two weeks.
A system like the shopping period, where students are expected to explore different courses before determining the one that is the best fit, fosters a greater sense of freedom in course selection that schools with add/drop periods lack. Because shifting classes is difficult at the beginning of the semester, students often restrict themselves to safe choices for classes, thereby missing out on unique and enlightening courses they were not entirely sure about solely based on the online description. Though a course’s old syllabus and reading list can be found online, online professor evaluations are often not reliable, and not all professors or courses are evaluated in each online forum. Many times, the choice between two similar courses comes down to the professor, and this choice cannot be made definitively through the Internet alone. Witnessing a professor’s teaching style and his or her plans for a class firsthand is a more beneficial way to select the best class for you.
While some might argue that the add/drop period allows students to change their schedule to their liking or need, the period is short. Many students refuse to drop classes for fear of losing spots, limiting mobility for other students in the course catalogue. Some students also attempt to work the system by hoarding classes they are still deciding on, thus taking class spots from interested students. The shopping period puts everyone on an equal footing while they sample classes.
Some schools that feature the shopping period bemoan the competitive and cutthroat culture it breeds among students vying to get into small classes. However, at a school with an undergraduate population of 38,420 in 2010, UT students are already familiar with fighting for class spots. A shopping period could ease some of this difficulty at UT, as students will be able to choose classes they personally like, rather than registering for courses based on hearsay.
UT students would benefit from a similar registration system, offering them greater flexibility to follow their academic curiosity and to find the classes that best suit their learning styles.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.