Editorial: Shopping periods would allow greater course choice

As a university with roots in the liberal arts, Tufts encourages students to enroll in a variety of classes and formulate a multidisciplinary curriculum.  Students frequently opt to begin each semester with a varied schedule. The first weeks of classes act as an unofficial “shopping” period for students who sign up for more classes than they intend to ultimately complete. 

This habit can hurt many members of the student body. While juniors and seniors in the School of Arts and Sciences and Engineering students reap the benefits of priority in the course registration process, many AS&E  first-years and sophomores begin the semester with a schedule they find sub-optimal.

Students who enroll in more classes than they intend to complete have the benefit of the full 10 weeks of the drop period to decide whether to drop a class. However, those who want to add a course have a shorter window to do so. In the 2019 spring semester, AS&E students can add classes until Jan 30; they can drop them without record of enrollment until April 3.   Students who want to drop a class may end up doing so after the “add” deadline. However, students interested in adding the class may be unable to do so.

An official “shopping period,” as implemented at other schools, would be a workable solution to enrollment imbalances and dismal schedules.

Here’s how it works: Students choose certain classes to “shop,” and are able to attend a number of classes without officially committing. At the end of a short (generally two-week) period, students choose the classes in which they wish to officially enroll and those they wish to drop. Students of all class years are able to try out the courses they want to take.

Brown University, for example, employs a shopping period for its students. According to its website, “shopping period provides students the ability to explore subject matters in line with their interests.”  In the two-week shopping period, students unenrolled in a given course have access to that course’s Canvas site, allowing them to explore the workload and tailor schedules to their personal needs.    

An official shopping period would benefit many students. Students who sign up for more classes than they can sustain would have a grace period to decide which courses to take. Students enrolled in courses which usually fill up would get to try out the course for the first few classes, without having to play catch up after getting off the wait-list. Further, students who have not shown interest a broad variety of courses may feel more inclined to try a diverse curriculum. This effort is in keeping with Tufts commitment to a well-rounded education.