Back to School: Let’s go to the mall!

Color-coded excel spreadsheets are fun and highly recommended.

Having only been through the whole frenzied process a whopping two times, I can hardly call myself an expert on shopping classes at Yale. Nonetheless, here are a few particularly important (imo) ~pearls of wisdom~ I’ve accumulated in my first year, which I hope can be of some help as you make your way through shopping period, be it for the first time or the seventh.

“Get out of your comfort zone.”

This isn’t high school anymore. Classes no longer have to fit into the neat categories of “English, Math, Science, History, Language, etc. etc.” (but by all means, if you’re interested in all of these subjects, go forth and shop to your heart’s content!) It goes against Yale’s mantra of a well-rounded liberal arts education, but if you come in knowing that you only want to take classes in the classics department, no one is going to stop you.* However, this is shopping period. To the indecisive, the commitment-phobes, or the absurbedly focused (or science majors with too many pre-reqs): this is your chance to try something wild, something you probably won’t be able to take/fit into your schedule (but providing the 5% chance that you’ll fall in love with the subject and having your life changed forever – well, that’s the romantic version of it anyway). Don’t think; JUST DO IT.

“Take advantage of course evaluations.”

While browsing on OCI, click the convenient link on each course description that takes you to the course evaluations. The ratings will give a general idea of the type and number of students enrolling in the class in previous years, as well as how difficult or well-taught it was. More importantly though, look at what past students say about the class; you just may find that the really cool-sounding fifth class you were looking at mostly involves boring readings or grueling psets. In my experience, these reviews have been more helpful than anything else (short of personally talking to the professor and past students), including reading the syllabi or going to a lecture or two. A word of warning though – professors read these reviews too, and usually make adjustments based on feedback from previous semesters, so take away from the recs what you will. (Don’t believe what people say about “gut” classes! They can often be hit-or-miss.)

“If you’re interested in a class with limited enrollment, email the professor ahead of time, and get to classes early (if you can).”

Popular seminars (and even lectures) fill up quickly. Professors won’t ordinarily put a cap on the number of students in the first few classes, but if a classroom is so full that you can’t find a seat or even get through the door, chances are you won’t get too much out of the lesson (I like to think of it as akin to shopping on Black Friday). Come time for professors to finalize their enrollment lists, they’ll often go to those who have expressed prior interest first, although a few might utilize a simple first-come-first-serve system. By contacting the professor, you may get useful information on the course that may not be clear on the online syllabus, such as whether there is preference for majors in the subject or certain class years, helping you trim down your shopping list as well.

One thought on “Back to School: Let’s go to the mall!

  1. What do the numbers in column I mean? Is that a rating of how difficult overall you think the course is?

    Also…I notice there are no math classes on the schedule. I guess I know who wrote this post. (Well, even without that clue, I already knew anyways.)

    You put a lot of effort into your Excel spreadsheet – I mainly just use the worksheet on OCI and a bajillion classes. I just use Excel to briefly outline the classes I’ve taken or might take – see

    Yes, I would like to second that the course evaluations are very accurate in general.

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