Marissa Fretes: Before classes begin, a week to shop

The first day of class can be stressful. You’re scrambling around trying to memorize a new schedule, meet new professors and new faces.

But most of all, you’re scared. Because the first day provides one of the best chances for students to walk into a classroom, sit through half of a lecture and realize they are not meant to be there.

Then you want to drop the class and take another. But you already bought the $130 textbook. Or you know that even if you drop, you’re going to be behind, maybe 50 pages or so, in another class right from the start. So you stay in the class because it just isn’t worth the effort to switch.

This crisis would not arise, however, if the University implemented a shopping period into the beginning of the semester.

At many Ivy League universities and liberal arts colleges, there is a shopping period instead of a preregistration and add/drop period. During shopping week, each professor teaches a sample class – a no-pressure-to-stay, no-textbooks-required lecture that serves as an example of what the course will be like.

From there, students decide if it is right for them. Afterward, students create their schedules based on what they liked and disliked.

The shopping period is popular, as it allows students to make sure classes and professors appeal to their learning styles. The professors, then, also benefit because students are engaged from the start.

The system has created first-week confusion at schools like Harvard, because the nature of a shopping period prevents accurate enrollment predictions and room assignments. Popular classes overflow with students itching to get a taste of the course, and some students are stuck trying to listen to lectures from the hallway.

This is something the University understandably fears. Forrest Maltzman, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning, said of the system currently in place, “One advantage of the add/drop period is that students have access to Blackboard, and it makes it easier to facilitate first week professor communication with their class. Another advantage is that it ensures that more students than room capacity permits don’t show up.”

But this is why a system more like Brown University’s would work here. Instead of holding shopping week before registration, students register for several classes they’re interested in. They sign up for more credits than they would actually take so that, come the first week, students are able to go to classes, attend sample lectures and narrow down their choices to create a final schedule.

This altered system would remove the faults of shopping periods at other schools: By keeping registration, the University would still be able to predict class sizes, calculate enrollment caps and give accurate room assignments.

Some of the best schools in the country utilize a shopping period – putting a system in place here would put us, symbolically, on their level.

With a shopping week, students would be more motivated to attend and perform well in classes that engage them – what’s better than that?

After all, the first week doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Marissa Fretes, a freshman majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

This column was updated on January 23, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Harvard College is bigger than GW. The school’s total enrollment is smaller than GW’s.

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