Pre-registration demystified: genomics, falconry involved

Apart from the admissions process that we all went through to be accepted here, there is no system less understood than Pre-registration. Though many argue that ResLife’s decision to implement imaginary numbers into Room Draw is more complex (for all 12 of you math majors out there: that use of complex was entirely intentional), nothing makes less sense then how we all end up with a full course load before every semester. Today I will recount the detective work I did to truly understand the way that Pre-Reg works.

It started with an email, a single buzz in my pocket, that announced the arrival of unimportant campus-wide news. Praying that it was not another black ice alert, I tentatively opened my phone to see a name I know well. A crisp name, a hard hitting name, like a hit on the head with a croquet mallet: Colleen Mallet. A warm rush of familiarity surged over me. Colleen and I are tight. Even though we have never met, I know that Colleen, Luis, Roman and I could drive across the country together, eating soft pretzels and debating which is the best Radiohead album.

I reluctantly returned to reality. These people are not my friends, they are emissaries that deliver news to campus, about the gyms, the dorms, the fucking black ice and, of course, Pre-Registration. Colleen’s campus-wide email instructed us to go to our advisors, receive our PINs to access the Pre-Reg system and then to choose which classes we wanted to get put on the waitlist for. This time, however, I decided that I didn’t just want to subscribe to the system, I wanted to understand it. I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went.

I visited my pre-major advisor, eager to learn about how this system actually worked. My advisor had my PIN, which supposedly leads to a draw number which then determines whether you won’t get two, three or any of your classes. This number seemed to be written down hastily on a small scrap of paper. I was about to ask my advisor where the number had come from when a pure white dove swooped into her office, bearing another similar paper. Just as the dove was leaving, and another student was entering my advisor’s office, I dove out the window and followed the pure bird.

The snow-white dove led me to a humble treehouse on the Vassar farm, where an ancient man lives with hundreds of falcons. I ascended the rope ladder to his abode and began to chat with this wise, Yoda-like being. He explained to me that since there is no way for a computer program to generate truly random numbers for PINs, Vassar had to turn to another more natural method. When I told him that Pre-registration makes no sense and is often unfair, he seemed unphased. “Life is unfair, and Pre-registration stems from life and the natural world.” Soon I would understand what he meant.

This man told me that before every semester, all of the academic advisors meet up with him and participate in a “Fantasy Falcon” draft where they each pick one of his falcons to release into campus. The falcon then captures a mouse for every student that the advisor oversees, and returns the dead rodent to the advisor. The entire genome of each mouse (which now corresponds to an individual student) is then sequenced and compared to Vassar’s very own genetically optimal mouse, which is on display in the Loeb Arts Center.

It is harder for the falcons to catch harder, better, faster and stronger mice. Therefore,  if your mouse is genetically closer to the optimal mouse, the better draw number you receive.  This, he said, is the most efficient way to generate legitimately random numbers.

Understandably, I had a lot of questions, most of them about the identity of this man who delivers messages by dove and owns the falcons that got me a terrible draw number. He told me to call him Matt, and offered no further explanation, making it clear my time with him was up.

As I left I looked back towards the treehouse and saw no house, no Matt and no falcons. Was it all just a dream?

I am thoroughly convinced that Matthew Vassar lives on the outskirts of campus, and uses a combination of falconry and genomics to help the students pre-register. Now I finally understand why they say to develop a relationship with your major advisor: after all, they pick the falcon that determines your draw number.

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