On the second day of a class this semester, my professor announced to the room that while the course was capped at 40 students on the Courses@Brown website, the class’s department had instead decided to reduce the number of spots to 30. Since I was already registered for all four classes I wanted to take by the time she made this announcement, I had stopped shopping other courses and did not have a backup plan. Furthermore, this class is a concentration requirement for me.
Two days later, the course cap was raised to 45 students, and I was admitted. While I will now be able to take the course, I experienced a very stressful 48 hours as I waited to see if I would be kicked out of a class in which I thought I had secured a place.
Until this semester, I had always assumed pre-registration guaranteed a spot in a class. Since this is apparently not the case, administrators and professors should be transparent about the process of formal registration, and the University should officially require all professors to allow registered students to take the classes in which they are enrolled. More broadly, professors and administrators should recognize that shopping period is a stressful time for students and work toward alleviating that stress, rather than contributing to it.
I have witnessed times when students are barred from taking certain classes, such as creative writing courses, in which they had been pre-registered for months. Course descriptions often state that class makeup will be determined after a writing sample assessment; yet, courses often do not clarify whether pre-registering guarantees a spot, or at least an advantage. The description, “Class list will be reduced … after writing samples are reviewed during the first week of classes” does not make it clear that pre-registered students might be forced to give up their spot for others. This allows pre-registered students to feel a false sense of security, which especially hampers students who do not shop for a backup class.
If professors are not going to honor pre-registration, the Courses @Brown website should not allow students to pre-register for these courses at all. While teachers do have the right to decide who is in their course — whether it is prioritizing concentrators in their department or those they believe have worthy writing samples — the uncertainty of pre-registration places undue stress on students and causes them to scramble to find replacement courses.
Beyond professors’ occasional failure to recognize pre-registration, the Courses @ Brown website also does not always reflect the reality of some courses’ capacities. For example, there are instances in which professors state, during shopping period, that first-years and second-years should not even attempt to take the course because of popularity among juniors and seniors, even for classes that appear uncapped on CAB. It is no secret that students often prioritize capped classes during registrations to secure their spot, and misleading them about course caps leaves them blindsided and with fewer options.
Courses should always accurately demarcate whether they have a cap; leading the student body to believe otherwise causes unnecessary stress and contradicts the ethos of shopping period. I understand sometimes room capacity limits class size; yet, this should be reflected as soon as it becomes clear the room will fill. If professors want their course to be small, that course cap should be added before pre-registration.
I recognize there may be factors that I am not aware of, and I can imagine shopping period is stressful for professors and administrators as well. From a student’s perspective though, gaps in communication during shopping period are frustrating and stressful as we attempt to build our schedules for the year. As such, professors and department administrators should work together to decide the parameters of the course before pre-registration— is the course capped? Is pre-registration allowed? Is the course restricted to students in certain semesters? Then, administrators should make sure Courses @ Brown reflects this reality. Additionally, the University administration should create a new policy to officially guarantee spots for all registered students in future semesters.
Shopping period can be stressful and chaotic for all; properly using CAB to communicate course parameters and guaranteeing spots to registered students can go a long way to alleviate this stress.
Rebecca Aman ’20 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.