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Several Ivies use a system similar to Penn's pre-registration and drop-period, but schools like Harvard and Yale use a "Shopping Period" instead.

Credit: Luke Chen

Some classes are notoriously hard to get into. “Psychology of Food,” a Benjamin Franklin Seminar taught by Professor Paul Rozin, requires an application essay. For other classes, the problem is demand — empty spots are snapped up as soon as they become available.

The deadline to add courses for Penn undergraduates is Feb. 1, two-and-a-half weeks into the semester. The majority of other schools in the Ivy League use a similar system, with pre-registration in the previous term and approximately two weeks of free add-drop starting with the first day of classes.

“I think the advance registration period is really designed to get students to think about the courses they’re taking the next semester way before they have to make a final decision,” said Rob Nelson, Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning at the Office of the Vice Provost for Education.

Harvard and Yale universities, however, have a different approach. Both schools begin the semester with a one to two week “shopping period,” where students are encouraged to visit classes they are interested in to build their final schedules. While Yale requires students to submit preliminary schedules by the first day of classes, Harvard requires no such formal enrollment until the end of the first week.

The shopping period system allows students to explore a broader number of courses and make final enrollment decisions based on personal experience. “I love this system because it allows you to get a feel for the professor, style of the class and anticipated workload before enrolling in the course,” Harvard sophomore Paige Kebe said, describing the shopping period as a sort of “trial run.”

The system has its drawbacks, however. The first week of class is often full of what the Harvard Crimson described as a, “hectic period” full of crowded classrooms and distracted students who “stumble out early” to catch other classes. Yale has faced similar problems.

“It’s a difficult period for students and teachers alike,” Yale sophomore Sergio Infante said. Infante also called shopping week “misleading,” as it may be difficult to predict the quality of a course based on one class.

According to former Yale College Dean Mary Miller, the “uncertainty” created by open enrollment makes it difficult for teachers to immediately delve into course material. At Penn, some students find themselves with the opposite problem; students who add courses later in the add period may find themselves struggling to catch up.

“I honestly think the add period is too long,” College junior Kevin McNeil said. “You can miss too much of the class and still be allowed to add it.”

Because of these competing reasons, the Council of Undergraduate Deans is looking into the timing and length of the add and drop periods, with an emphasis on the latter question, Nelson said. The council may choose to make add-drop end earlier or later, or even change the system altogether — though the adoption of a Harvard or Yale-esque shopping period does not seem to be on their agenda.

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