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November 13, 2007

Waitlisted ...

The current class registration system for seminars (“PRS Round One”) randomizes seminar registration by failing to provide incentives for thoughtful selection. Since seminar registration takes place before regular registration, students have every reason to apply for any seminar in which they have the slightest interest, even before they have determined whether there are regular classes that they would rather take at the same time slot. If students later decide to enroll in the regular class, they simply drop the seminar.

Also, the PRS system solicits up to seven seminar selections from each student (though students will be enrolled in at most one seminar), encouraging students to apply for a multitude of seminars, even those that they have no real interest in taking.

While Round One may seem student-friendly, it actually works to randomize the process by allowing students to bid on classes that they aren’t committed to taking. The system on the whole encourages a wait-and-see attitude, allowing students halfheartedly to take precious spots in 15-student classes that their fellow students may be eagerly waiting to fill. Banished to the waitlist, a student that really wants to take a seminar may prefer to fill that time with another class rather than face the uncertainty of gaining entry off the waitlist.

A simple solution would be to impose some sort of penalty on students who drop seminars once they are enrolled. Facing a penalty if they don’t enroll carefully, students would likely apply only for seminars that they really want to take. Simply reducing the number of seminars that students are allowed to request may also help by limiting the total number of requested seats, thus ensuring that students will only bid on their top two or three seminar choices, rather than applying for their top seven.

Waitlists of 50 and 60 students demonstrate great interest in certain seminars, but they also show that too many students are allowed to select too many seminars. Forcing students to think before they apply will reduce the total number of bids and make the process less random.