Pre-reg changes aim to spur thoughtful academic choices

Pre-registration to some might best be described as something of an art form: a delicate balance between having a good draw number, ordering your class choices with the right finesse and paying close attention to how many other students sign up for them over that tenuous two-week period. For many students, pre-registering for a fifth course is a way of ensuring they have a backup should things not go as planned.

However, recently the registrar has made changes to the pre-registration system which may threaten some students’ sense of security—though students can still register for five credits, the system will only process up to 4.5 credits.

Should students want to add a fifth course, they can do so during the second round of pre-registration.

“The 4.5 [cap] came out of discussions where we were hearing from students and advisers that some students weren’t getting a full course load, which was about 40% of the student body,” said Registrar Colleen Mallet.

The committee that makes these decisions is the Committee on Curricular Policies (CCP), which is composed of both students and faculty.

In order to address the problem of the large population of students who weren’t obtaining 3.5 credits, the committee first began positing a different way of doing pre-registration all together.

Of these was real-time pre-registration: Students get a specific time during which they can go online and select their courses. Though the advantage is that students would find out immediately whether or not they were successfully registered, this system has its limitations.

“When you’re doing a real time pre-registration, the first people in are going to get everything, the last people aren’t going to get anything,” said Mallet. “We think what we’re doing here is the fairest way we can do it.”

Though most agreed that a change so dramatic to the pre-registration wasn’t the right decision for anyone, the committee felt that there had to be a way to benefit a larger percentage of the student body.

“As you would think, it’s freshmen who are getting the least amount of units. Because of how the program runs, they’re coming last and if you’re that last freshman with the last draw number, it doesn’t look good,” she said.

For Kiran Kawolics ’15, a lot of pre-registration stresses were alleviated after she entered her sophomore year and declared her English major.

“I remember being a freshman and feeling like I was at the bottom of the heap when it came to classes, especially since I was undeclared at that point. Though it makes sense that upperclassmen and majors get first priority, I remember it being difficult having to fight for a spot in even an intro level class which are supposed to be the most accessible to freshmen,” said Kawolics.

Students not being able to get into classes, Mallet suggested, is a product of the previous five-credit allowance for pre-registration.

“Students who register for five full units, knowing very well they don’t intend to take that fifth unit though they have taken up that space. You could be taking up that space for six weeks when there’s someone else who’s dying to get in,” said Mallet.

Kawolics said she has definitely been a part of that frustration during the beginning weeks of the semester.

“Coming to the first day of class there are always those few students who don’t show up for the first two or three classes when other students are waiting for their spots. Speaking from experience, it can be very stressful if you’re the student on the waitlist hoping to add the course, especially as other classes begin to fill up during that time and options dwindle,” she said.

The main intention behind the decision, Mallet said, was to encourage students to be more selective about their course schedule and to ensure they aren’t taking away opportunities for other students.

“When you’re thinking about those courses you’re going to enter in your selection, we felt that students might think a little differently about their selections [with the 4.5 credit cap]—they might say, ‘Okay, these are the four core courses I want to take’ and have a little more thoughtfulness behind the course selection. There will be more equitable access for everyone,” she said.

Though Sarah Mincer ’15 isn’t necessarily opposed to equitability, she said the new pre-registration modification might only create more hassle.

“I don’t think that a 0.5 credit difference will make students think about their choices more, they will just have to take the extra step to take a class. Especially for the fall semester, students have the entire summer to think about their courses and decide what they are actually going to take, adding a final class during the second [pre-registration] period probably won’t make as much of a difference as administration hopes it will,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

However, she does see value in another change made to the process which requires double majors to get PINs from both of their advisers.

“I think it will definitely force me to talk to both of my advisors and make sure that I’m taking the right classes and making the right choices,” said Mincer, who is an anthropology and biology double major. “Last semester I never talked to one of my advisors about what classes I was taking and what classes I should be taking in the next two years, so now that I have to get two [registration] PINs I can’t get away with not talking to one of them,”

She added that she is usually fairly independent when selecting her own courses, but she could always use a little guidance.

“They can give insight into whether or not you’ll get into a class and what is going on behind the scenes when you’re freaking out about classes (which is common when trying to get into bio classes),” Mincer wrote.

Mallet said part of the decision to require students to get a PIN from both advisers was due to the fact that some students don’t meet all of their major requirements in one of their majors since they didn’t see that major adviser as often.

In extreme circumstances, these students may even have to drop their second major last minute.

Nonetheless, the true driving force behind the change was to encourage the fostering of student-faculty relationships, something Mallet views as central to a student’s experience at Vassar.

“The whole process of being here is developing relationships with faculty and relationships that will carry forward with you after you leave here. They can help you when you’re job hunting or looking for recommendations for grad school, so it’s really important to foster those relationships,” said Mallet.

Though she admits this new change might not be as effective as she hopes, there is always a chance that it will.

“A five-minute meeting for a PIN might not do that, but it starts a conversation. I know some are sent via email but at least there’s still correspondence and communication there,” she said.

Mallet concluded, “I think these changes were not meant to be put in place to add more rigidity. We don’t want to make it harder for students, we’re just hoping it would make for a more equitable system and more thoughtful academic choices.”

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