Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 22, 2014.
My registration for Spring 2015 was on the stressful side. Registration opened at 8:30AM on registration day, which meant I had to register from work. Not a big deal, I’m normally at my desk by 8:15AM at the latest and it wouldn’t be a big deal if I took 10 minutes to get my classes sorted. As you might guess, registration day turned out to be one of the busiest days at work I’ve ever experienced, and by the time I got a breather to pick my classes none of my first, second or even third choices were open. As Spring 2015 is my second to last semester and my day job has precisely NOTHING to do with librarianship, this troubled me somewhat.
For one reason or another, you may also have experienced the stomach-clenching sensation of seeing all the classes you want or need fill up. Maybe you slept through registration, maybe you forgot, or maybe you’re just trying to get into a really popular class. Whatever the reason it sucks and it can totally mess with your head, inspiring visions of academic failure and zero job prospects, or just a good screaming session. The good news is there are steps to take to keep yourself out of this situation and make it better when it inevitably happens.
Have a plan:Your first step is a good defense. I wasn’t exaggerating w
hen I said that my third choices were full; I really had that many classes picked. You can do this on your own or in consultation with your advisor, but the key is to know what your next move will be when the dream class fills in 20 seconds. Obviously your first choices are core requirements, especially if they’re basic prerequisites for other important courses or if they aren’t going to be offered again while you’re in your program. After that, look for things that maybe aren’t required but fit what you want to do or fill gaps in your skills.
Sign up for something: Even if it’s not what you want, unless you’re going to take a semester off you need to be in classes to maintain your academic status and your financial aid. Wait too long for the goldilocks class and you might run into trouble. Remember, your program wouldn’t offer a class if it didn’t offer some benefit.
Get on that waitlist: So you’ve made your list, checked it twice, and you still got screwed. I’m sorry, it happened to me too. But stop fuming and get yourself on that waitlist. I’m on two waitlists right now, and I’m actually moving forward as people give up or get into other classes they wanted (really, I went from 33 to 2 on one of them). It’s not a guarantee that you’ll get into the class, but it definitely doesn’t hurt and it’s likely that other methods I’ll suggest in a moment will be unsuccessful if you haven’t taken this basic step.
Assess your options and consider how you can make them work for you: It’s unlikely that every single spot in every single class is taken, especially if you’re a full-time, in-person student. Are there courses you aren’t planning to take for a few semesters but could take now? Courses you maybe hadn’t considered but could be shaped to you interests with project and paper choices? If neither of my waitlists work out I’ll be taking a course that was supposed to be a final semester session, but will still work for this one.
Contact your advisor: They might have some insider info, like plans to run an additional session of a course you’re trying to take, and they will definitely have some advice on which remaining classes would be most useful. Sometimes hashing out your course plan with another person is all you need, and who better than your advisor. They can also back you up if you take the next option:
Contact the professor directly: I try not to pull this unless I have to, but there are times when it’s appropriate. If you need this class to graduate and you’re in your final semester, it’s totally valid to e-mail the professor, explain your situation and politely ask to be added to their roster. Some universities are also cool with students attending the first class and then asking the professor in-person if they will approve an add (you’ll probably need a form).
Consider taking a semester off: You may decide that there’s just no way to make this a useful semester. If that’s the case, consider saving your time and money by taking a semester off. This is a drastic, last-ditch step, and you might have to make it fairly early depending on your university’s leave requirements and your financial aid situation. But if you’re really not going to get anything out of the classes on offer and it won’t impact your graduation by more than a semester, it might be worth a shot. Note that I don’t mean vegetate on the couch for six months; just because you aren’t in class doesn’t mean you’re not a student. Take a Coursera, do an internship, whatever works, but build your skills and resume in some manner so that you can account for the gap and keep your brain working.
Now, I’d be lying to you if I said I used these techniques and got a semester I love. One of my classes is a requirement, so I might as well take it now, but I’m really hoping I get to drop the other in favor of one of my waitlisted classes. Ultimately picking courses is part preparation and part luck. It’s a little better in grad school than it was in college, but not by much. In the end all you can do is set your alarm, make a plan, hope for the best and work with what you get. Here’s hoping all of you got the classes you wanted!
 See what I did there?
Categories: Education & Curriculum