T wo months before I’ll step into my next semester courses, I already have my schedule. I know what classes I’ll take at what times in what buildings. But I have no clue if I’ve chosen the right courses.
I hate the add/drop period. It’s messy, it’s stressful and it pushes me to crane my neck in my poli sci lecture to watch the girl in front of me register for the Spanish section I’m trying to get into. Selecting classes is hard in the first place; nerdy as it sounds, I get academic FOMO. I don’t want to miss out on a phenomenal class, especially when the cause is Penn InTouch’s constant crashes. But besides brief meetings with our advisers, we receive no real guidance for picking courses. I found myself, somewhat aimlessly, just signing up for classes that sound interesting.
There’s an easy solution, and one other schools have been using for years. Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia and Stanford, among other top universities, have shopping periods: structured blocks of time to test out courses before enrollment. Yale, for example, defines its shopping period as a two-week stretch that “allows you to participate in courses that interest you without enrolling in them right away.” The university encourages students to sample classes and make more informed course selections. Penn should follow suit.
Over the past few weeks, friends have told me they think there’s a lack of intellectual curiosity at Penn. I don’t buy that. So many people here are genuinely passionate about what they study, and I see that manifest in class discussions. But while some schools allocate the week after winter break to shopping periods, we devote that time to rush. It’s a small step, but a shopping period would place more of an emphasis on learning for its own sake, rather than fulfilling pre-med/pre-law/Wharton requirements. A Harvard grad described his shopping period in a 2005 Atlantic article as having “... a boisterous quality to this stretch, a sense of intellectual possibility, as people pop in and out of lecture halls, grabbing syllabi and listening for twenty minutes or so before darting away to other classes.” We should work to create a similar environment at Penn.
Furthermore, as college students, we’re consumers of a product. Penn’s tuition is $47,668 a year. If the average student takes five courses a semester, that’s $4,766.80 per class. We wouldn’t buy a $4,000 dress without trying it on, and we shouldn’t have to register for courses without testing them out. There are so many courses I want to take and so little time; I want to ensure I get the best undergraduate experience I can. Why not let us preview classes for a week, instead of starting off with handing out syllabi? As a friend at Columbia told me, “The shopping period really eases my stress about picking the right classes in the first go, and it allows me to sample different subjects to see if I want to dedicate a semester to them.”
I understand that many students change around courses during the first few weeks, but it’s a difficult process. Some professors start teaching on the first day of class; it can be hard catching up with missed work. One of my friends tried to switch into a course this semester at the end of the add/drop period and was told she had missed too much of class to enroll. What’s more, the add/drop period often reinforces the emphasis of grades over learning: Most people use the add/drop period to drop classes they’re doing poorly in, instead of exploring academically. Many professors ensure they give their first assignments before the add/drop period ends so that low performers can switch out. Incidents like that defeat the purpose of having an add/drop period at all.
As it is now, the add/drop period discourages us from exploring intellectually, a problem that would be easily remedied with a structured shopping period . We have incredible academic resources at Penn. The administration should allow us to take full advantage of them. We deserve to make the best-educated decisions about our education. We deserve a shopping period.
Dani Blum is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” usually appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.