Oberlin Blogs

Registering for Classes

November 16, 2019

Claire O’Brocta ’23

Have you ever tried to buy tickets to see a popular band or artist? (This could probably apply to theater or sporting events as well.)

It may or may not have worked out in your favor. If it has, congratulations! But for this scenario, let’s say you didn’t just get to buy the tickets and walk away. You’re trying to see a show that’s going to sell out fast, and you didn’t get one of those fancy presale codes, so you’re confined to general sale. You watch from the sidelines as presale chaos ensues, as all of the prime sections fill up one by one, right before your eyes. All you can do is hope that the seat you want is still there in a few days when it’s your turn to try.

After waiting for what seems like forever, general sale day arrives, and it’s finally your moment to snag the seat you’ve been fawning over. The issue this time is, there are just as many people as the other day, fighting over a significantly smaller ticket pool. Let the Hunger Games commence!

I’ve been through this situation before with concert tickets, and with registering for classes in college, the process is nearly identical. Registration goes in order of seniority, so as a second-year, my experience lies more on the general sale end of the registration timeline. Someday I’ll have a senior registration time, but even then, I’ll still have to compete with the other people in my class year (and no one really knows the exact algorithm that determines which slot we’ll get within our year). This is how it is for everyone at Oberlin*, so at least I’m not alone in my experiences! It’s all right though, because in the end it generally ends up okay. I’ve learned that it’s important to be as prepared as possible going in, so that if your registration doesn’t go according to plan, you have alternatives. To put that statement more in-depth, I’ve compiled a list of registration tips.

Tip #1: Do your research

I highly recommend dedicating a good chunk of time before you register to research. Ideally, this research should focus on the topics of which classes you need to take to graduate, when those classes are offered, and which professors teach them. 

The two main categories of classes you need to take in your first couple of years at Oberlin are those which satisfy distribution requirements, and those which count towards your majors, minors, and concentrations. If you’re in the College (or a double-degree), you need to take at least two classes in each of the College’s three divisions. These divisions consist of Natural Science and Math (NSMA), Arts and Humanities (ARHU), and Social and Behavioral Science (SSCI). You’ll also need to take two additional classes in whichever of those divisions your major does not belong to. Additionally, you have to satisfy the requirements for Cultural Diversity, Quantitative and Formal Reasoning, and Writing Intensives. In the Conservatory, your equivalent to the College’s distribution requirements would be four semesters each of Music Theory and Aural Skills, plus eight liberal arts classes in the College. Everyone in the Con has to take these, although if you’re a double-degree, the liberal arts classes will be more than covered by the twenty-two full courses worth of credits you’ll need from the College to graduate. The rest of the Con’s requirements generally differ based on major. There’s more information about all of this available online if you look into it, which is essentially my whole point here. Look into exactly what you need to take, and which classes satisfy these requirements. Go through this process for your specific major, as well as for the distributions. Advisors may be able to help you out with this, but the more work you do on your own, the smoother the advising process will be. Plus, the more you know about which classes you need to take in the long term, the more on-track you’ll feel.

Once you’ve figured out exactly what you need to take, the next step is figuring out when those classes are offered. Some classes only take place fall semester, while others only happen in the spring. Sometimes, a class will be a one-time thing, offered one semester, and then never again. Other times, a course may be offered in alternate years. All of this is important to consider, so you can best prioritize when to take everything. For example, I had the choice between taking introductory Chemistry or Statistics this semester. Chemistry 101 is only offered in the fall, while Statistics happens every semester, so I chose Chemistry. The time of day when classes are offered is also important to consider here. This is mostly up to personal preference; some people prefer many back to back classes, while others like their schedules spaced out. Preference of shorter classes that meet more frequently versus longer classes that take place fewer times a week also plays into this, as do sleeping habits. If you feel like you won’t be able to wake up for a 9 am class, it’d probably be best to avoid taking one. My advice is to consider as much of this as you possibly can, as well as time commitments for any external activities you might have (such as work, co-op shifts, clubs, or homework) to create the best possible balance for yourself.

The final element of research is professors. This is especially applicable to classes with multiple sections taught by different people. I recommend talking to students who have already taken the class you’re considering to get their opinion. Chances are, if it's a regularly occurring class, you’ll find someone (or at least someone who knows someone) who has had each professor before, so you can learn the pros and cons of all of them. I wouldn’t recommend getting stuck on the idea of taking a class with a specific professor, however, which brings me to my next piece of advice...

Tip #2: Act as if every class you want is going to fill up

Don’t be tied to anything. Not a specific class, not a specific professor, nothing. Chances are, if you’re a first- or second-year especially, you’ll probably end up disappointed. Classes fill up fast. If you followed Tip #1 and did your research, you should hopefully be able to come up with alternatives if this happens to you. Last November, when I was registering for the spring semester, I tied myself to the 1:30 section of Music Theory II. Unfortunately, by my registration slot, it was full, so I signed up for the 2:30 section. Unless you are magically gifted with the greatest registration time in the universe, something like this will probably happen to you. I was lucky enough in this situation where there was another time I could take the class. The more confined your schedule is, though, whether it's due to specific classes you have to take in your major or outside obligations, the harder it will be to have flexibility on registration day, and the more alternatives you need to have. As a double-degree, I don’t have a lot of freedom, so I’ve always made sure to have as many versions of my potential schedule as possible planned out in case something doesn’t go my way. I like to use a website that allows me to visually map out potential schedules, so I can (very literally) see what my options look like. This makes it significantly easier to compare the options that I still have left when I don’t get my ideal schedule.

On the topic of not getting into a class you want to take, it’s also important to talk about the consent process. Some courses require consent, which is instructor approval for you to take a class. You can typically ask for consent through email, and the professor will let you know if you can take their class or not. Being prepared for a “no” when asking for consent is just as important as being prepared for a class to be full. In my first semester at Oberlin, I had my schedule all planned out until I got a “no” email from a professor I requested consent from. This prompted me to switch things around and reconsider some classes I had previously dismissed, as well as have another meeting with my advisor. Again, advisors are an excellent resource here at Oberlin, and are always there to help you out with this process if you’re struggling.

Tip #3: If all else fails, there’s always add/drop

To continue my concert ticket purchasing comparison, let’s say that when tickets went on sale, you didn’t get what you wanted. The only ticket you were able to get your hands on was a seat way up in the nosebleeds, in the back of the arena. Less than ideal. Luckily, when time passes and you begin to get closer and closer to the date of the actual concert, people realize they might not want to go to that specific show anymore, and they sell their tickets. This gives you one last opportunity to (potentially) get the seat you’ve been after all along! This is what add/drop is like at Oberlin.

Add/drop period happens during the first week and a half or so of classes each semester. This time period is exactly what it sounds like: people add classes, and people drop classes. There will be a lot of people moving their schedules around this week, so you need to be fast. As soon as that cheap pit ticket goes up on the resale site, you want to be the first to snatch it, right? Same goes for add/drop. Keep your eyes out, because you’ll never know when a spot will open up. 

This is also where the importance of waitlists comes into play. When a class is full, you can usually get on the waitlist for it, which will allow you to be one of the first people let into a class when someone else drops it. In Oberlin, some classes have automatic waitlists, and others don’t. For automatic waitlists, the registration website will specify how many waitlist spots are available underneath the number of spots in the class itself. You can register for a waitlist spot the same way you register for a class normally, and if a spot opens up, you’ll get an email. The spot will be reserved for you for a certain period of time, and if you don’t claim it, the spot will go to the next person on the list. This is how I got into my intro Economics class last spring, and it worked out very well! Other professors will maintain separate waitlists. To get on these, you can email the professor inquiring about their waitlist, or you can show up on the first day of class and get put on the list then. Many professors will cross people out on their waitlist if they fail to show up to class during add/drop, so make sure to attend every meeting if you’re set on registering. I recommend attending during add/drop even if the waitlist is automatic, mainly so you can get a feel for the class, and remove yourself from the waitlist if you decide the class isn’t for you.

Registration for Spring 2020 is wrapping up as I write this, and to be honest, my friends and I had an extremely mixed bag of results. Some of my friends got every single class they wanted on the first try, others weren’t so lucky. Many people are still waiting to get consent from their potential professors, and others are just hoping for spots to open up. As for my experience this go-around, I got some of what I wanted, but I am also on six different waitlists (half of which are for three separate sections of the same class). In the meantime, I’m registered for some classes I don’t necessarily want to take. Fortunately, spring semester doesn’t start for another two and a half months, so I have time to work out my schedule. Registration week may be stressful, but it tends to work out in the end (even if that end is a few months later!). In the meantime, what better to do than relive the chaos all over again? Harry Styles tickets go on sale this week, and thanks to the similar process, I can confidently say that class registration has prepared me well.


*There are a few cases where this isn’t true, such as for students with registration accommodations. These accommodations allow some students to register early. Such accommodations allow students more freedom to plan their schedule, so it works around external events such as doctor’s appointments.

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