An Eph-ed up system: The fatal flaw of course registration

Jennifer Iospa

As the time for graduating high school seniors rolls around and it is time for Williams to admit new frosh, current students encounter the question, “Why Williams?” 

As Ephs, we are proud to call Williams our home because of the community we foster, the education we receive, and the beautiful campus we have the honor of living in. It seems as though the Purple Bubble is a near-perfect world. But a major flaw remains: inaccessible class registration brought upon us by our small class sizes and limited section availability. 

A campus home to some of the brightest minds in the world is also home to a stressful class registration season in the semester’s cycle due to the lack of course availability. As more students chose to enroll this semester — both remotely and in-person — the demand to enroll in classes grew. With interest from students to enroll in classes rising, available classes became more and more scarce. Competition grew high as students planned out their enrollment tactics and frantically emailed professors in hopes of securing themselves a seat in the courses of their choosing.

As many challenges as this year presented to students and faculty alike, an unexpected one was the crash of the PeopleSoft registration system (colloquially known as Sarah) on the night of Jan. 31, 2021.

Students scrambled to their computers before midnight on the eve of the regular registration period hoping for a chance to register for the courses they spent weeks picking out for themselves. Professors closed off sections of their more popular courses to ensure they did not overenroll students. Students who found themselves on course waitlists kept their phones close by to ensure that they would not miss a notification from professors inviting them to fill a seat in their course.

This process proved itself especially stressful for first-year students who found themselves scrambling to find the classes they would be permitted to take. Some courses this semester became inaccessible due to professors prioritizing students who had taken the required prerequisites and upper-class students who needed credits to graduate.

Finding classes that can satisfy your major requirements is always an obstacle, but it is one that is especially prevalent during the pandemic. Room capacities have dropped by a factor of three to allow for social distancing during lectures and labs, shrinking numerous course enrollment limits from 24 students to eight. Faculty members have found themselves trying to balance their desire to teach classes with concerns for the health and safety of their households. 

With these new challenges, the College has made an effort to ease student course loads by offering the opportunity to take fewer credits these semesters and the option to Pass/Fail as many courses as students want. These offers, while attractive, beg the question of what the consequences will be for students seeking to attend graduate school in the future. How does choosing to prioritize your well-being over a hefty course load impact your road to graduation and beyond? While the College’s proposed solution is an option that attracted the attention of many students, others found themselves wondering how this temporary solution can permanently impact their futures.

In an ideal world, students across other campuses would be presented with the same opportunities — lower course load and pass/failing of courses — which might have helped level out the competition for seats at graduate schools for those who opt for three courses instead of four. 

Even with the lowered course load requirements, students still faced the great challenge of actually registering for a course. As many students were turned away from courses this pre-registration period, waves of hopefuls rushed to their screens on the night of registration only to be stuck on the website waiting to be admitted to adjust their own schedules. If the stakes for a seat in a popular course were not already high, the pressures added on by the pandemic only strengthen the need for a college with such a large endowment to invest more of its funds into better registration systems for its students.  

Despite lighter course load requirements, this spring semester will hold new challenges for students who find themselves living on campus, far from home. As spring break has transformed into scattered ‘health days’ across the month of April, students wonder how they will finish the semester without feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. This is especially true for those who will be spending their first year away from home, unable to celebrate holidays like Easter and Passover with their loved ones. 

A regular semester at Williams can be challenging and rewarding, but with the added stressors brought on by the pandemic, the semester ahead may be one of the most difficult for Ephs to endure. With these challenges, the College must take more steps to solve basic issues students are facing this spring semester — beginning with the course registration experience.

Jennifer Iospa ’24 is from Brooklyn, N.Y.