Add/drop distress marks the beginning of every semester. This past fall, students endured 18 dreadful days of waitlist purgatory, and endured 13 days until this semester’s Jan. 17 add/drop deadline. Apps such as //Get A Seat//, which give email notifications when a spot has opened up, only alleviate stress to a certain extent. How do we pragmatically address these add/drop woes? It’s simple: Shorten the add/drop period.
Every new semester is an opportunity to start fresh, and be on top of your courses from the get-go. Having a long add/drop period can get in the way of this. For potentially two weeks, students are unsure of what courses they will be taking, and by the time their schedule is finalized, plenty of material has already been covered. While students cannot be penalized for missed assignments or attendance during the add/drop period, they are still expected to catch up on the work that they miss—so much for a fresh start. A shorter add/drop period means a shorter period of uncertainty and a better chance of being on top coursework from the beginning of the semester.
It may seem that shortening the add/drop period would force students to make decisions in a hurry. It’s worth noting, however, that too much time can lead to analysis paralysis—over-analyzing a situation so that a decision is never made—and mentally exhaust the undecided student and further frustrate the ones on the waitlist. A shortened add/drop period forces the student to think critically and more efficiently about the qualities they are looking for in their lecturer and course, thus narrowing the difficult decision down to a few concrete questions. For example, does the professor teach math on the blackboard or (blasphemously) read directly from lecture slides? In such a way, shortening the time to decide could lead to more effective decisionmaking.
Per Parkinson’s law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The habit of expanding a task to the provided time boundaries cannot easily be changed. When given the time, students use the full two weeks or more for course selection. While this time does provide space to try out courses before solidifying a schedule, two weeks is excessive to this end and prolongs stress and anxiety. The obvious solution is to shorten the add/drop period to reduce the time spent in limbo.
Granted, for a shortened add/drop period to work in this way, professors will have to make some administrative and scheduling changes, such as ensuring that course syllabi and grading schemes are accessible well before the start of classes. Such material should not be discussed in the first lecture, as it is an enormous waste of time. Students want to know how a professor lectures course material, not repetitive administrivia. The first lecture should be an honest sample of the professor’s teaching style so that students can make an informed decision more quickly.
The long add/drop period provides important time and flexibility when choosing courses, but this isn’t essential if students prepare ahead of time. Many students have an eloquent (if abstract) answer for what their 5-year goals are in a job interview—they should be able to plan what courses to take for the coming year. Students must be encouraged to plan their academic schedule a year in advance. A shortened add/drop period will work best if students are prepared with a tentative list of desired classes and their backups, and use the add/drop week to test the classes they are unsure of.
To correctly address add/drop frustration, truncate the add/drop period. The currently extended period of uncertainty hinders the chance to start the semester on the right track. Furthermore, a shorter add/drop time frame could encourage better decisions regarding course selection. Less time frantically checking Minerva, more time paying attention in class.