Class struggles: A guide to getting into full courses

College Classes

By Max Baumgarten

Getting into college was the first step. Congratulations and all, but the battle has just begun, my friend. Now you have to deal with a whole new crop of headaches, such as (a.) knowing what clubs to join, (b.) trying to cut off contact with that awkward hallmate, and (c.) figuring out what classes to take. In no time at all you’ll realize that your best bet is to find clubs that dish out free food and you may find that telling your hallmate “je ne parle pas anglais” is the only way to maintain your sanity. However, there is no straightforward formula to help you decide which classes to take.

Unlike in high school, you actually get to pick your courses. Ideally, this freedom should work to your benefit. You can just hear about a course that piques some personal interest or fulfills an academic requirement, go online and enroll in it, then show up for class for day one, right? Unfortunately, that‘s not how the real world works.

Even though your college offers a few attention-grabbing courses (after all, one of the reasons you picked your school was because they had a class called Mo Money Mo Problems: Economics and Rap Music from Notorious B.I.G. to Kanye West), it isn’t all that easy to get into these gems. While students are more likely to run into problems at large public schools, no undergraduate is immune to enrollment issues. Professors, grad students, and department administrators hear sob stories like yours all the time, so they’re used to crushing students’ dreams of getting into that ideal course. Get ready to hear the phrases, “ohhh, that class is full,” “you don’t have enough credits for that course,” or “you have too many credits to take this class.” While rejection can be disheartening, keep your head up. You can still sneak your way into that too-popular-for-its-own-good course; you just need to know the proper techniques. Put to the test by yours truly, the following tips will give you the old one-up on the competition. 

1. The waitlist is your friend

. Actually, the waitlist is more like a good acquaintance who will occasionally do you a favor. So don’t be scared of the waitlist, take advantage of it. Just because you’re listed as number 55 on the waitlist for some large prerequisite course like “Introduction to Psychology,” that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get into it. There’s a very good chance that 55 people will drop out of the class within a week or two, and – BAM - that spot is all yours. One last tip (but you didn’t hear this from me): waitlists are rarely finite. The right person (whether it’s the professor, a TA, or department administrator) can usually pull some strings and let in another student or two. In other words, don’t get discouraged if that waitlist isn’t clearing up. The unsung beauty of the waitlist is its flexibility, so don’t be afraid to …

2. Sell your story

If you really want to get into a course and you’re running up against enrollment obstacles, tell the person in charge your reasons for wanting to be in the course.  Merely saying, “I find the course interesting” isn’t going to get you very far. Give specific reasons that explain why you need this class more than “Kathy Lee needs Regis.” Letting them know that you have to take this course right now to graduate on time is an oldie but a goodie. And it’s never a bad idea to play up the academic dedication card either (“ I want to write my senior thesis on Notorious B.I.G. and postmodern celebrity, and this course will provide me with the proper background”). 

3. Plan ahead

 Let’s say you sign up for a class months in advance and you are still relegated to the waitlist. Don’t just rely on climbing the waitlist or selling your story on the first day of class. Be proactive and try to impress the person in charge from the get-go. Email them or go to their office hours and let them know who you are. Feel free to mix and match any of the tips above – combining tip II and tip III usually provides a surefire path to success.

Before you go out and shop for classes like a pro, it is important to know that in certain situations, you just aren’t going to get into a class, regardless of the tricks you pull out of your sleeve. There may be a moment at which you realize it’s not going to pan out, even though you performed a I/III combo flawlessly. Just step aside, admit defeat, and try to work your magic next time. Lastly, if a professor goes out of her way to let you into the course, make sure you bring your A-game. If you end up slacking off in class, you could leave the prof feeling manipulated and bitter. Remember to keep your professors happy – after all, they’re the ones grading your papers.