Two ways to reorganize registration

It’s 6:45 a.m., and you wake with a start to the irritating sound of your alarm clock going off. Your brain is still waking up, but you know you’ve got to be mentally prepared: You have a duty to complete. You have planned and plotted for this for days in advance, and even stayed up late the night before finalizing your plans. Will you be using a school computer, or will you use your own laptop? Which has the fastest Internet connection? What time is it again? It’s getting closer to 7 a.m. Have you copied and pasted your CRNs somewhere for quick access? Wait. What time is it?

It’s now 6:59 a.m., and the next few minutes you spend signing up for classes will determine the rest of your semester. Here at the College of William and Mary, we have become accustomed to the stressful nature of registration, but this process is antiquated in many ways. With certain changes, registration could become much easier.

One possible solution would be to start registration with a ranking system. Working out the details of this plan would be incredibly complicated — but that would be the case with any large-scale change. Prior to registration, all students would complete an online form where they would rank the courses they want to take in order from most to least wanted. For example, if I wanted to take five classes this semester I would rank those courses from one to five. On this same worksheet, students would indicate alternate sections of the courses if available and any other classes they would be interested in. Seniority would still prevail in preferences regarding course selection, but the idea is that a preliminary schedule would be generated electronically for each student and in that schedule each student would be guaranteed to get at least one of his top picks for classes — and hopefully more. After the generation of these preliminary schedules, the actual registration period would begin, where students would adjust their schedule in the same manner we do now. Then, of course, students would stalk Banner. This system is very similar to one the University of Chicago uses, which is just one of many other schools using methods more effective than ours. It may be a good idea to take a cue from some of our fellow colleges and universities.

Of course, not all improvements would have to re-work the fundamental structure of the system. For instance, making it mandatory for professors to provide a syllabus for their class, along with the course listing, prior to registration is a small change that could make a big difference. If students had access to syllabi at the beginning of the process, they would have the opportunity to compare classes and their various formats and schedules long before they enter the classroom. For many, seeing something on the syllabus that does not match their personal learning style (perhaps a class that has too many projects when the student prefers a flat format of three exams) is the determining factor for whether they stay in the class. If they decide to drop the class, their whole schedule may become undone; they may have to work from scratch to reorganize it. A mandatory syllabus could help the registration process run more smoothly and create a more transparent environment earlier for students and teachers alike.

Registration can be a nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be. These thoughts certainly aren’t meant to be exhaustive, and surely many others on campus have innovative ideas on how to make this a better system, but the first step is to start the conversation. We go to an old school, rich in history and tradition. This does not give us license to resist change.

Email Gabriella Hafner at


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