Unofficial Orientation Series 2016: Drop/Add Tips and Tricks

This is an updated repost of Merry‘s 2014 post.

frustrated student at computer

This is part of our 2016 Unofficial Orientation Series. A quick reminder that you can check out the welcome post here and past years’ series here.

Disclaimer: While the tips introduced in this post can be applied universally, you should remember that your odds of getting into a class depend primarily not on your effort, but on the professor’s policies and how popular the class is. It’s pretty much impossible to convince a professor of an extremely popular class who simply won’t go over the limit to accept you into their class, even if you do everything right. But, trying can’t hurt, right?

Today’s installment of the Unofficial Orientation Series is mainly about the devil that is known as Drop/Add. If you don’t know what that is, the folks at the registrar’s office have provided this overview. During this period, students are able to add or drop pretty much any class to their schedule, regardless of the limits posed by pre-reg, such as class year distribution. I also highly recommend you check out this FAQ, also kindly prepared by the registrar’s office, as a way to get the basics down before proceeding. This post will not be doing much explaining of Drop/Add itself. It will, however, try to warn you, frosh, about the reality of this brutal race and offer some insights (read: randomly gathered knowledge that may have been the results of embarrassing behaviors of the author herself).

If reading long articles is not your thing, scroll down to the bottom for a step-by-step guide.

The first thing you need to know, after you enroll in the university, is about drop/add: it is brutal if pre-reg seriously messed you up, or you seriously messed up your pre-reg. By brutal, I’m not just referring to having to look up dozens of classes — that’s the easy part, often even fun. I’m referring to the simple fact that sometimes even if you nag the professor day and night in person and by email, participate and prove yourself worthy, or beg your advisor to put in a good word, or do everything else you can think of, your efforts will be wasted.

I mention this first because A) it is the reality, and B) you should, therefore, adjust your expectation accordingly, and C) you should know, for future reference, that pre-registration is the most important time to shape your schedule. So despite Wesleyan’s general atmosphere of spontaneity, it is in your academic interest to plan ahead.

Now that I’ve probably scared you into giving up, let’s get your hopes up again by talking about how, against all odds, you can wiggle your way into a class.

Since all other students have participated in a full pre-reg process, this may seem to put you at a disadvantage, although that is not actually the case. Even if the pre-reg process completely screws you over or leaves you with two classes there are still plenty of options to choose from. For instance, there are a ton of First Year Seminars (FYS) available which you can read more about here. While the school may recommend taking an FYS, they aren’t a requirement. So, if taking one is really stressing you out or messing up your plans, you can always opt out. On the flip side, you’re also welcome to take more than one FYS in a year or even in a semester. Another reason why new students shouldn’t stress too much about pre-reg is that most frosh take intro-level classes. These classes (especially those in sociology, psych, physics, etc.) are usually quite big and/or have many sections, and are geared towards first-year students so you have everyone’s blessing to be in those classes. As long as… you show up to the first class.

I cannot stress enough how important showing up to the first class of a semester is, whether you desperately want to get in or would like to keep that class in your schedule, or just as a general rule to leave a good impression. Showing up to the first class will let the professor know that you are trying to get in, and putting your name and face out there helps the professor remember you, which leads to better chances of getting in. A word of caution to those who don’t plan on showing up because they are already “enrolled”: it is of course not imperative that you show up to the first class, or classes at all for that matter, but professors do sometimes kick people out if the class is especially popular since they only want to accommodate the ones that show real interest. A few professors may even take offense of your absence, which will give your trouble one way or another.

In my experience, showing up to the first class pretty much guarantees you a spot if you want to get into classes with 100+ or Unlimited enrollment limits. (Learn how to read WesMaps.) But things are more complicated when you want to get in a smaller, seminar style and/or non-intro-level class when you are a freshmen. WesMaps’ Past Enrollment Probability may tell you that in the past students had less than 50% percent chance of getting in (that’s the lowest tier, BTW). What can you do to improve your odds of getting in?

First of all, don’t blindly pursue this one class just because it sounds generally interesting. (But generally, you should go for any class that catches your eye because we at Wes encourage exploration and going outside of your comfort zone.) If you spend all of your energy on this one super hard to get into class, you may miss out on a whole WesMaps of classes that are unexpectedly incredibly fun. So think about the reasons that make it sound interesting to you. Is it a field you would like to major in? Is it related to some experience in your past which you would like to find out more about? If you find your reason to commit your energy, tell it to the professor! Making it personal helps you stand out from all the people who are just waiting to get lucky.

After you’ve done the first step, don’t forget FOLLOW UP with email. Professors are incredibly busy during this time and you can’t blame them for forgetting a few things here and there. You just have to make sure that they don’t forget you. Here is a really good post by the Writing Workshop about how best to use email during Drop/Add to get into classes and the appropriate email etiquette. I will highlight this for you – be courteous but firm, and don’t spam. Nobody likes a spammer.

When you’ve done the two things above, don’t forget to ATTEND EVERY CLASS! Simply by showing up and listening and participating and working for the class, you are demonstrating your commitment to the class (and let’s not forget that you can learn quite a lot even from 4 sessions), and trust me, the professors will take notice. You will automatically move up on the “waiting list”. And in some cases, the professor might just ignore the limit and admit you into the class even when there isn’t technically a seat available. (I should also reiterate that many professors have seen enough cases over the years so they may not be moved by you at all.) Or if it really comes down to it, you can also check with the professor whether you can audit the class. Auditing is quite a flexible and genius option, but not every professor allows it. Essentially, you and the professor can come up with your own arrangement, which usually involves you participating in class and do some work, and at the end of the semester if the professor is satisfied with your performance, they will place “Audited, without credit” on your transcript. It is completely up to the professor whether they will allow auditing, and it is up to you to think about whether it is worth the extra time commitment.

If you ever find yourself in the position of having multiple classes that you are equally interested in taking but don’t all fit into your schedule, it can be hard to prioritize them. In these desperate (but lucky!!!) scenarios, it’s good to move beyond the subject matter the course and base your decision on its other aspects, such as:

A) The time the class starts–Some people are absurdly cheery in the morning, other are not. Be honest with yourself about what you think you can handle, and consider what kind of schedule would work best with your body clock.

B)  The kind of class it is–As someone who is very loyal to her strengths in the humanities, my advisor is constantly reminding me to balance my courses, and most of the time she is right. When you first get to college, it can be tempting to concentrate in a specific area of study that you might have been wanting to pursue for years. But for most people taking 4 reading or math-heavy classes can be a lot of work. Taking something outside that bubble is a good way to give your brain a break.

C) The way it works with the rest of your schedule–Consider how you want your classes distributed throughout the week. Would you rather have all your classes on some days and none on others? If a class makes a day seem especially hellish, maybe it’d be best to put your energy towards other options.

The last thing you need to know: yes, it sucks when all your methods fail and you just can’t take the class you want, but don’t let it get to you. You will soon learn that there is always a way at Wesleyan. The community is always here for you.

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR GETTING INTO CLASSES*:

  1. (Rank the class as No.1 during pre-reg.)
  2. Submit an enrollment request in your E-Portfolio before classes begin. (You can also send an email to the professor to give them a heads-up.)
  3. Show up to the first class and listen – to determine your own interest level and to make sure you know the basics of this class.
  4. Make sure you talk to the professor before or after class. Be polite, reasonable, but compelling when you explain why you want to take this class. (Frosh: Saying it is a prerequisite for your intended major almost always helps. Many Wes students come here with absolutely no idea what they want to major in, so the “major” card does gain you an edge. Don’t lie, but it is entirely reasonable to have two or more prospective majors. Or if it is an advanced classes that don’t usually admit first years, present all your credentials – AP scores, places in competitions, extracurricular time spent in the field, etc. – and fight for your place. Politely.)
  5. Follow up with email to gently remind the professor. Follow email etiquette. DON’T SPAM the professor when you don’t get a response immediately – many professor only check their emails at specific time/times of the day.
  6. Wait. And KEEP GOING TO THE CLASSES. Spots will be available when they are available. Just be there and be ready when it happens.
  7. Typically, by the time a seat becomes available, there won’t be that many students who have kept up throughout Drop/Add, so it will probably be yours. Yay! Or…
  8. If you don’t get in, don’t fret! This will make a much stronger case for next semester, especially if the same professor teaches the class.

* Again, remember: your odds of getting into a class depend primarily not on your effort, but on the professor’s policies and how popular the class is. Proceed with this in mind.

OTHER RANDOM TIPS THAT MIGHT HELP:

  1. Even if a class allows zero freshmen on WesMaps, you can still ask for the professor’s permission to take the class if you are interested. If there’s space, the professors would probably allow you into the class after warning you about the challenges, and will provide ample assistance throughout the semester just in case. You really can’t take a class if freshmen are crossed out – “X” – though.
  2. You should try to enroll in 4 full credit classes, because then if you find yourself unsatisfied with one of your classes, you can withdraw and still complete the semester. Wesleyan requires at least 3 full credit classes each semester for  you to be considered enrolled full-time.
  3. Should you find yourself wanting to take 5 or more full-credit classes, talk to your advisor. Some would raise your credit limit without any question, and some would be very strict about it. But reason with your advisor nonetheless. My first year advisor told me at first that she had never allowed a freshman to take more than 4 full-credit classes, but after some back-and-forth reasoning and a 500-word email, I convinced her. So I suppose the lesson is, if you know what you want to do, don’t be scared off by your advisor or any arbitrary rules.
  4. Closer to the beginning of the school year you may see some announcements on the class Facebook page about Student Forums, which are Pass/Fail classes designed and led by students along with a faculty advisor. While these courses can be taken for credit, there is a limit to how many student forum credits will actually count.
  5. Lastly, know that you will probably make some mistakes with pre-reg. That’s okay. The good/bad news is that you will have plenty of chances not to make those same mistakes in the future. You could be perfectly prepared and still not be exactly happy with what you receive, but the academic freedom you have as a frosh at Wes is really quite precious.

Good luck frosh! May the odds be ever in your favor.