Oberlin Blogs

Registration Blues

December 13, 2010

There are wonderful things about being a freshman. Registering for classes is not one of them. Unfortunately, unlike some people, I pulled the short straw and have had one of the most annoying registration experiences ever. I thought I'd share the experience as well as some lessons I've learned so that all of us can avoid the level of unnecessary stress I went through.

Registering for fall semester classes was not nearly as frustrating, though it had its low points. As incoming freshman, you get a Big Book of Forms, one of which asks you to register for one or two classes over the summer. I got lucky and got into my top two choices, Arabic 101 and a fantastic seminar called The Making of an Ayatollah which is one of the most fascinating classes I have taken (when I first met my advisor, she actually congratulated me for being one of the very few admitted for that class--that alone tells you how good this class is. I'll rhapsodise about this at length in another post). So when all my other top choices were taken, it wasn't quite such a big deal because I was already in two classes. What I wanted to take were Technique and Form in Fiction and History of the Middle East and North Africa; these were both full, so instead I signed up for Approaches to Western Art and Modern European History. Modern European History was at the same time as the Creative Writing class, and I figured that since I'd already placed myself on the waiting list, I'd just turn up on the first day and hopefully I'd get in, which is pretty much what everyone in my situation does.

In fact, I had every intention of doing this, except that the class is taught by Mr. Len Smith, who also happens to be the chair of the History Department, and I had to talk to him about transferring IB credits. I expected to have a pretty straightforward explanation of what materials I needed to present in order to receive my credits; instead, I ended up talking to him for almost an hour discussing the areas of history I had previously covered, the World Wars and French history, on which he is an authority in his own right. I'm a very teacher-centric person; that is, if I don't get along with the teacher, I generally will end up disliking the course, and if I really like my teacher, I will really like the course. Having been so impressed with Mr. Smith and having enjoyed our discussion so much, I decided it might be worth my while to stick it out in his class. I'm so, so glad I made this decision--Mr. Smith is one of the best history teachers I have ever had, and he taught the French Revolution (one of my favourite periods of history) so well. I can foresee taking history classes for the sole reason that he's teaching them--he's that good.

So I will say this in defence of the registration process: sometimes, when you don't get into the class you want and end up taking a second choice, you end up making a happy mistake because you find you really enjoy the course in ways you didn't expect. This has happened time and time again to people and I'm not by any means the first person, or even the first blogger, to have had this experience. That's not to say that it's by any means a bad thing to get into your first choice classes--it's certainly a lot less stressful. But I think it's nice when life surprises you like that.

One of the mistakes I made when registering for fall classes was that I didn't really have a lot of backups because I figured I'd get into at least 2 of my 10 or so top choices... what actually happened was that I had to make my decisions based on available spaces in classes, though both of the aforementioned classes were actually on my tentative list. So, when I was putting together my hopeful spring schedule, I made sure I had a backup for all of my classes. I spent hours, yes hours, searching for the best classes which would strike a balance between reading/writing-intensive classes, classes which fulfilled my graduation requirements but still looked interesting, and classes that I really wanted to take. I think I must have spent a week and a half putting together the perfect schedule, and I was pretty proud of it.

That was until I actually had to register. Guess what? I didn't get into a single one of my first, second, or even third choice classes. I absolutely kid you not; not ONE of my classes had an opening, for one reason or another. I spent that morning doing the following things: attempting (and failing) to lower my blood pressure level, sending frantic emails that read something like 'IF YOU ADMIT ME INTO YOUR CLASS I WILL BAKE YOU COOKIES/BE YOUR SLAVE/GIVE YOU MY FIRSTBORN CHILD,' and drinking copious amounts of tea.

This is really not a situation you want to find yourself in, because I can tell you now that it just stresses you out. I'm also the kind of person that can go into panic mode if something is stressing me out and I can't figure out how to deal with it, so here's a little shout-out to my friends, who dealt with my crankiness and let me rant about how terrible my life was, and my wonderful advisor, who responded very promptly to my panicked email and gave me some great options to tide me over until Add/Drop period in the spring.

If you actually clicked the link at the beginning of the post, you'll have read the lessons Ida learned as a result of her registration process. I thought I'd add a couple, because I wish I'd known these things earlier.

What I should have done was to have transferred credits from IB in order to put myself a little higher on the pecking order, because registration is based on how many credits you have. For one reason or another I didn't do that this semester, and as a result had one of the worst registration times and basically had to watch in agony as the available spaces in all my classes slowly dwindled down to 0 a whole day before I could even log in to register. If you're an AP student, you're lucky--you're told pretty clearly which classes you get to transfer credits for, how many credits you get, etc. Unfortunately for IB students, there's a little more legwork involved and you'll probably have to nag various people, from chairs of departments to the Office of the Registrar, in order to find out what you have to do. Whatever your situation, if you're an incoming freshman reading this, be proactive and make sure you make it a priority as soon as you arrive to start collecting those credits. You will thank me later when you get into your classes and get to sit back and relax while everyone around you is flailing around trying to figure out what to do.

Also, if you know it's a popular class like Creative Writing, Middle Eastern History, or the like, email the professor and make your interest known. Better still, rhapsodise to your advisor about how much you want to take the course. My advisor is basically awesome and actually talked to one of the professors whose course I had wanted to take and told her about how I had wanted to take the Middle Eastern History course and was not only taking Arabic but had also taken Professor Mahallati's Islam class. This puts me about three steps higher on the priority chain above freshmen and even sophomores hoping to take the class who didn't get in, because I have a documented interest in the subject material. Basically, professors are a lot more likely to admit you if you nag them (nicely) because they don't want to let in just anyone. If you're that passionate about it, do something about it. This is basically the only thing that's getting me through--I made it very clear to several professors that I was very interested in taking their classes, and got on their waitlists early. As a result, Add/Drop period is going to be a lot more helpful to me and I'm going to have a much easier time of it.

Finally, invest in a personal punching bag/a friend who can substitute said punching bag, because if you find yourself in the same situation, you're going to need it.

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Responses to this Entry

Len Smith is a GOD. He's totally the reason I became a history major. He taught my first year seminar on the French Revolution and I took the Modern European History survey course with him. By far one of the best professors (if not THE best) that I've had the privilege of taking class with during my time at Oberlin. Also, I definitely audited his class last semester on WWII because he was teaching it.

I promise that registration gets better! And know that if a class is on the larger side of things - basically, if it isn't a seminar - most professors will often open up extra spots if you really want to take the class. Just be persistent and keep showing up to the class in the beginning of the semester.

Posted by: Patrick on December 14, 2010 9:49 AM

I worked as an academic ambassador during orientation week in 2008 and 2009 for several of the first-semester registration slots, and much of my time was spent explaining that getting into full classes is not an impossibility and that classes that you don't expect may surprise you.

I'm glad to see that you have lived to tell the tale :D

Posted by: Ma'ayan on December 14, 2010 10:03 AM

Patrick-- This is very likely to be my story too. I can see it happening. I have a very bad feeling that I am going to end up being a history major just so I can justify attending every class he teaches in the next 3 and a half years.

Ma'ayan-- I was definitely one of the freshman kids who had to be calmed down by the academic ambassadors hahaha.

Posted by: Ruby on December 14, 2010 4:37 PM

I love this. We should do sibling posts more often.

Posted by: Ida on December 15, 2010 2:20 PM

Agreed!

Posted by: Ruby on December 15, 2010 2:51 PM

@Ruby: Don't think of ending up as a history major as a bad feeling. Think of it as a WONDERFUL feeling. It's been one of the best decisions that I've made during my time here. If you ever want to talk about the department, just let me know!

Posted by: Patrick on December 17, 2010 12:29 AM

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