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Oversubscribed Classes: Three Ways to Game the System

Your move, classmate...A little over a month ago, I wrote about my experiences in trying to get into the College’s oversubscribed classes. Today, I would like to let you know (as Paul Mirengoff at Powerline did here) that I am not alone in this effort.

Paul mentions that his daughter has also been turned away from classes, and he notes that a Government professor warned her about the problem in 2006. More recently, Jen Argote ‘10 broached the subject in a column for the Mirror pullout in The D (“I’m sure many of you feel my pain when I say I have been refused entry into countless classes since coming here… Basically, the problem is across the board — and always has been.”). Although Jen was writing a lighthearted article, she was dead serious about the difficulty of getting into classes and about her proposed solution: declaring a major you never intend to complete.

With the problem of oversubscription being a well known phenomenon, students have developed several creative ways of weaseling into classes. Jen’s example of falsely declaring a major or minor is one of them. It takes a little more forethought than say, one term, but if you put together a “plan” on how you’ll complete the required courses before graduation, a professor will sign your declaration card. Voilà ! You’re a major.

This could work for any department in which you’re interested in taking classes down the road. No one actually “checks up on you” or monitors how far along you are in completing your major/minor. Of course, if you’re trying to be honest and not cheat the system too much, declaring a major or minor can oblige you to take a number of other courses in a department that you may not have been interested in at all.

Another common technique is to seek out professors with whom you’ve taken classes before. Numerous professors have told me that when looking at students to add to their course from a waitlist — consisting of students who were not assigned the course via the Registrar, but who signed up in the department’s office to be considered for enrollment — the first and generally only thing they look for is whether or not a student has previously taken a course with them. Unfortunately, this means that in order to help secure your place in a popular class, you may need to take a less popular class with the same professor in order to hedge your bets in getting into the course you actually want.

Another possible option for students who badly want a course in the winter term of their senior year is to arrange their D-plan to complete all of their graduation requirements by the end of winter term (and not take classes in the spring). These students then tell a department that they are going to graduate after winter term and a particular class (often major/minor seminars) is the last course they need to graduate. The department then summarily orders the professor to accept these students first off of the waitlist. Admittedly, in most cases, these students are really only looking to drink away their last term at Dartmouth, or perhaps they are focusing all of their energies on finding a job, but this strategy is also used to get admitted to difficult-to-get-into courses. Students of this profile were my biggest competitors for access to the seminar that I finally did get into this term.

There are many ways that students game the system in order to take the classes they want. Wouldn’t it would be better to offer more and better classes in the most popular departments rather than push students towards these borderline strategies?

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