This is part of our 2019 Unofficial Orientation Series. A quick reminder (although, you really don’t need one anymore) that you can check out the welcome post 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 (and, also, maybe how lucky you are). 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 absolutely everything right. But, trying can’t hurt, right?
Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Unofficial Orientation. The focus of today’s episode will be mainly on the devil known as drop/add. If you don’t know what that is (seriously, how do you not know what that is yet?), 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 (however, your faculty advisor will have to approve an extension in your credit limit if you go above 4 credits). 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, innocent, unassuming frosh, about the reality of this brutal race and offer some insights (read: randomly gathered knowledge that may have been the results of embarrassing behaviours of the author (and past authors)).
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 about drop/add is that 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 perform a satanic ritual, your efforts will be wasted.
I mention this first because it is the harsh truth, and you should, therefore, adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, you should know, for future reference, that pre-registration is the most important time to shape your schedule. (I learned this the hard way) I know Wesleyan’s general atmosphere is one that is of ‘spontaneity’ and ‘flexibility’, but you’re not going to think that when pre-reg royally screws you over, and you have to pin all your hopes and dreams on drop/add.
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, 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. Since, FYS are only available to freshman, your odds of wiggling your way into one is significantly higher. 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. If, like me, you prefer problem sets over readings, you don’t have to force yourself to take an FYS. 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 generally take intro-level classes. These classes are usually quite big and/or have many sections, and are geared towards first-year students, so you have everyone’s blessings 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 the 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. (Also, come on, do you really want to skip class on your first week?) 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. To bump your chances of getting into the class, try talking to the professor after class, and make your case.
A word of caution to those who get too cocky and don’t plan on showing up on the first day because they are already ‘enrolled’ in the class: according to the EPC statement on attendance, professors may kick you out. If the class is especially popular, professors may give away your slot to someone who did show up on the first day, and expressed real interest in the class. Professors could also take offence of your absence, and, trust me, that will come back to bite you when you need that extension on an overdue midterm paper.
In my experience, showing up to the first class pretty much guarantees you a spot if you want to get into classes with 100+ seats. But things are more complicated when you want to get in a smaller, seminar-style and/or non-intro-level class. 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 any one class just because it sounds generally interesting. (But generally, you should go for any class that catches your eye because we here at Wes encourage ~exploration~ and ~experimentation~) 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 hard 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? Is it something you’re extremely passionate about? Tell your professor about it! If your reason for wanting to take the class is personal and close to you, you may stand out from all the other people trying to get in.
Don’t forget to 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. Be courteous but firm in your email. Highlight your personal reason for wanting to take the class. But don’t spam. Nobody likes a spammer.
When you’ve done the two things above, don’t forget to attend every class during drop/add! Simply by showing up, listening and participating in the class, you’re demonstrating your commitment to the class (and let’s not forget that you can learn quite a lot from just four sessions), and trust me, the professors will notice that. You will automatically move up on the “waiting list”. 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! (However, several professors have seen enough cases over the years to not be moved by your intense commitment or passionate reason for wanting to take the class). Most frosh don’t know about this, but if all else fails, you can ask to audit the class. Auditing is quite a flexible 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 doing 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 and base your decision on its other aspects, such as:
- The time the class starts – Some people are absurdly cheery in the morning (I will never understand how), and others are not. I know most of you think you can wake up at 8:00am every morning (you did it for the last four years in high school anyway!), but trust me, it’s harder than it was in high school. Be honest with yourself about what you think you can handle, and consider what kind of schedule would work best with your body clock.
- The kind of class it is – this is probably the most important aspect for me. Consider the nature of the class and its assignments. The ‘Examination and Assignments’ section will generally provide you with an insight into the kind of class it is. In most cases, it is wise to balance your courses, and try to take some reading-heavy classes, and some math-heavy classes. When you first get to college, it can be tempting to concentrate on a specific area of study that you might have been wanting to pursue for years, and while doing so, you may find yourself in all four reading or math-heavy classes. Taking something outside of that bubble is a good way to give your poor brain a break. However, if you are like me, and cannot read more than 3 sentences without zoning out, reading-heavy classes may not be the best move. So, take what you’re comfortable with, and what you are more likely to enjoy.
- The way it works with the rest of your schedule – consider how you want your classes distributed throughout each day and each week. Would you rather have all your classes on some days and none on others? Would you rather have all afternoon classes? If a class makes a day seem especially hellish, maybe it’d be best to put your energy towards other options. Additionally, if you have two classes back-to-back, ask yourself if you’d need more than a 10-minute break between them, or if your brain would be able to switch gears between classes. Some classes may also have mandatory TA sessions or lab sessions – make sure to consider them whilst curating your perfect schedule.
- The location of the class – this is the most trivial aspect of them all, but is something that should be considered when you have two classes back-to-back with just a 10-minute break between them. In my freshman fall, when I was just as naive and unassuming as you, I took a class at Russell House that ended at 2:40pm, and a class at Exley that started at 2:50pm. After a semester of frantically running from Russell to Exley in record time, I learned my mistakes and know better now.
This is also a good time to emphasize the importance of having back-up options. In case you are unable to get into a particular class, make sure you have a back-up class you can turn your efforts towards. You don’t want to be left with fewer credits than you wanted at the end of drop/add.
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 or have the perfect schedule, but don’t let it get to you. You have four years here – you will have plenty of opportunities to take the classes you want, young grasshopper.
Here’s the tl;dr for all you lazy frosh:
STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR GETTING INTO CLASSES:
- Rank the class as No.1 during pre-reg.
- Submit an enrollment request on Wesmaps even before classes begin. (You can also send an email to the professor to give them a heads-up.)
- Show up to the first class! Determine your level of interest in the class, your eligibility to take it, and your probability of getting into it.
- 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 class that doesn’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.)
- Follow up with an email to gently remind the professor. Be courteous, yet firm. Do. Not. Spam. The. Professor. You may not get a response immediately, be patient.
- Show up to class. Don’t be tempted to skip class during drop/add. (easier said than done, I know) If/When seats open up, you’ve got to be there.
- 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.
- 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, BUT HELPFUL, TIPS:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. If you think you can do it, go for it! Don’t be intimidated by your advisor or some arbitrary rules. However, keep in mind, the ‘Rule of Seven’ (if you don’t know about it now, you will by the end of orientation, I promise)
- Closer to the beginning of the school year you may see some announcements on the WesAdmits 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 towards graduation. (The same applies to PHED classes)
- Lastly, know that you will probably make some mistakes with pre-reg and drop/add. That’s okay. The good news is that you will have plenty of chances not to make those mistakes in the future. You could prepare way ahead of time, and plan every detail meticulously, and still not be completely happy (are any of us ever truly, completely happy, though?) with what you receive, but the academic freedom you have as a frosh at Wes is really quite precious. Cherish it.
Good luck, frosh!