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Long wait-times to see an advisor make degree planning difficult. (L.A. Benoit / The McGill Tribune)

Getting a seat: The struggle of course registration at McGill

Commentary/Opinion by

For McGill students, getting into a crowded course often takes more ambition and artistry than the class itself. Securing a spot might require skipping one class to head to another professor’s office hours, refreshing Minerva every two minutes, or carving hours out of a busy schedule to sit in line for a meeting with an advisor. As a result of these intricacies, only students with hours of extra time or consistent access to technology get a shot at crafting their ideal schedule. McGill fails to recognize this reality and should create procedures to make courses more accessible for students.

Even once students master Minerva’s far-from-user-friendly interface, there’s no way to get around the all-consuming, round-the-clock task of web-page refreshing that comes with getting into an in-demand course. Get a Seat, an app that notifies students when there is an opening in a class at the price of $1 per course, can help ease this burden. However, the app only helps those who have continuous access to the internet. Students with jobs or classes that uphold strict no-technology policies may miss out on opportunities to enroll in the classes they want.

The McGill course-selection assistance web page specifies that if a student needs a class to meet a degree requirement, they must email the instructor to explain their situation and request a code for Minerva. Because certain classes are reserved exclusively for students from specific faculties, students in multi-faculty programs like Urban Systems—which includes courses in management and architecture, among others—often face difficulties getting into courses. Moreover, issues arise when multiple students pursue reserved seats in the same class, burdening already-busy professors with floods of emails and lowering students’ chances of getting a reply, much less a spot in the class.   

On top of diligently refreshing Minerva and emailing professors, getting into classes may require attending office hours and meeting with advisors. Students often try to bolster their chances of registering for a popular course by building a relationship with a professor during their office hours and being overly keen in class. Sometimes meeting with professors outside of class can mean other classes get neglected, setting students back at the end of add/drop, regardless of whether or not they got into their intended class. Meeting with an advisor may also be necessary, but lengthy waits for advising waste time in students’ busy schedules. These time-consuming meetings may give students competing for registration in a course a serious advantage, but for individuals with commitments such as part-time jobs, these surplus steps to secure a seat may not be realistic and can cause them to miss out on a class. This system ends up putting students who support themselves, as compared to students with financial assistance, at a disadvantage

McGill promotes course registration as a simple, step-by-step process, when, in reality, it requires more emotional labour, time, and knowledge than the school accounts for. Other universities also fall short in offering students an accessible registration process. At Concordia, for example, the excessive traffic on the school’s registration website makes getting a seat so difficult during regular hours of the day that students stay up late, refreshing the website in hopes of landing a seat in their prospective class. At the University of Toronto, students turn a profit by selling spots in crowded courses to their desperate classmates.

Being upfront about the process of getting into classes would be a helpful first step for McGill in making student registration less overwhelming. Additionally, McGill administration should be more considerate of students in programs like Urban Systems, for whom a significant proportion of classes come from other faculties. Minerva could improve by accommodating higher levels of student traffic. Creating more and larger classes to meet the trend in student demand would also be a helpful long-term goal for the university. In the meantime, students can help themselves by being realistic about how much time they’re willing to commit to getting into their dream classes and having a couple of backup courses lined up in case their attempts fall short.

  • snapdragon8

    this piece looks like the feature on advising only it’s not as good at all

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