Spring Registration: Hopes of a Lost Freshman
By Stella Honey Yoon '14
After what feels like an unending trickle of assignments, sectionals, papers and midterms that has graced my two months at Amherst (has it been two months already?), it surprises me that in less than three weeks, I will be picking my second batch of classes as a freshman. While that may sound as if it were a benign batch of cookies, I have long lost the naiveté of a first-year who thinks that registering for classes is in any way easy.

Amherst students go through the frenzied period of course registrations every semester. While the College offers a banquet of diverse courses to take, the choice isn’t easy at all. There are so many basic logistical concerns to consider. Why does “Drawing I” conflict with every single “Elementary French” section? Do I really want to end my Fridays with a class that end at 4 p.m.? And will I really be able to make it to the eight-o-clock calculus class? (Many students later grudgingly admit ‘no’ as they face the harsh reality of torpor and laziness.) Cautious, ignorant freshman like myself have no experience, or information on our beloved professors: which English professors are interesting? Which ones give out harsh grades? Are any of them good for easy As? (As before, the answer seems to be a disappointed ‘no’ yet again.) A compilation of words like writing-intensive and weekly assessments do not give us a sense of what is expected of us every night, or how back-breaking our workloads would be until we actually experience it for ourselves.

And then there is the question of deciding on a major. While upperclassmen tell the first-years not to stress out about majors yet, we know well enough that while it is good to explore it will also be useful to have a certain track in mind, to make the other three years a little easier. Those who are absolutely sure on their neuroscience major often wonder if they really have to belabor themselves with too many math and sciences courses, or if they will have room to fit in an oddball of music or history among their otherwise strenuous schedule. For those who have no idea what their major will be, broadening their already acres-wide fields of interests after having taken a class in religion, women’s studies, meditation and a first-year seminar on prostitutes creates further troubles. I employ a little exaggeration to simply say, all in all, for many students, and especially for freshmen, the whole process is full of uncertainty and second-guessing.

Unfortunately, Amherst’s course registration policies do not help ameliorate the situation. In fact, the irregular running of pre-registration and the add-drop period only worsens the confusion. As a freshman who had just learned about the add-drop period, I was confused by the various responses from upperclassmen regarding “So how do I know if I’m actually in or not?” On one hand there were people telling me “pre-registration doesn’t count at all,” to others telling me “if you don’t get in during pre-reg, you’re out.” I found out there was no single answer to this question. Almost every class I had registered for had a different policy. In one, I was flat-out rejected because I hadn’t pre-registered. In another, the professor took everyone that turned up for the first one or two weeks. Another gave us an assignment that “weeded out” those who actually were serious about taking the class, and another ran on a lottery system where the professor chose specific people from everyone who turned up on the first day. While professors each have pertinent reasons as to why they made such decisions, 17 different ways of dealing with pre-registration and add-drop confuses and frustrates many students. If there were clearer policy on the weight of pre-registration and add-drop that ran across departments and classes, both students and professors may have an easier time figuring out the system and getting the most out of it.

Secondly, the process of manual registration, while taking us back to the nostalgic ’80s is inconvenient and time-consuming in this digital age. I found flocks of students hurriedly running in and out of Converse Hall, Arms Music Centre and Merrill Science Center, trying to get their slips signed by various faculty members and advisors and then manage to hand it in on time. The complicated codes for each subject are confusing and are bound to be mistaken by either the students or the advisor. If the College kept the pre-registration process strictly digital it would enable students to sign up online and without having to totter across buildings and searching for their missing advisors in vain, and let approval and arrangements be made online as well. This digitalization would reduce possible mistakes, increase productivity and make this period of pre-registering and add-dropping a happier time for both students and faculty.

While classes at Amherst have been great, I am less confident about the efficacy of our course registration system. The confusion that a lack of clarity and heightened inefficiency of the system cause a lost freshman is greater than expected. While it is too late for drastic changes for the upcoming pre-registration period, it would do much good for the school if the system were reviewed and improved. I hope that in the future, there won’t be as many confused freshmen helplessly wondering what on earth to make of a system that only becomes clear with many years of experience and a few mistakes.

Issue 07, Submitted 2010-10-27 04:15:37