Course Selection Questions Answered
Understand how the system works so you can make it work for you
Published: Monday, November 7, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 13:11
By Beth Rubin, Tom Pugel, Adam Brandenburger and George David Smith
Guess how many electives we offer? The answer for this year is 184 different elective courses and 411 total sections of those courses! That's more than any other business school in the country. And we introduce an average of 15 new courses per year. With so many electives and all of our continuing students, we have instituted a sophisticated lottery and waitlist system to provide equitable access to registering for courses. As most of you know, some of you will get the exact courses you request, but some will not.
In this article, we will explain why that is, so that we can work together to give you the best program possible. If you understand how the system works, you will be able to make it work better for you. Your feedback may also help us improve the system – indeed, we have your predecessors to thank for many past improvements.
How does the lottery work?
More than a decade ago, with the help of MBA students, we created the lottery system to make the process of registering for courses as fair as possible without introducing undue complexity. We update it continually to make it as user-friendly as possible.
During the "lottery submission" phase, you submit the list of course sections you want to take in rank order, with an alternate for each selection. During this period, which lasts three weeks, you can make as many changes as you wish.
After the deadline, we run a batch process that registers students by cohort, based on your program and when we expect you to graduate (e.g., those closest to graduating are run first; full-time students get priority for day electives; "Weekend" coded students get priority for weekend classes, etc.). The computer application works through each cohort and gives students their first choices whenever possible. Students who are closed out of their first choices in the first round get priority in the second round, and so on. Then, we make manual adjustments to ensure that no students are penalized due to anomalous combinations of their particular selections and the application's rule structure. One feature of the system ensures that, in their final semester at Stern, almost all graduating students get their highest-ranked choices in the lottery and the large majority gets most of their other choices.
Next, we announce the results and open the add/drop period by cohort so that you can adjust your schedules. At that point, if you were closed out of a course and still want to try to get in, you can join the waitlist online. If you were closed out in the lottery phase, you get first priority if we are able to go to the waitlist.
Should I always rank the course I want to take most #1 in the lottery?
Generally, yes. Occasionally, we can offer a popular course in a room so large that all interested students are virtually guaranteed a seat even if they rank it further down (e.g., Professor Yermack's "Restructuring Firms and Industries"), but you shouldn't count on it. See the "Lottery Hints" posted on the Records and Registration website, which lists maximum enrollments that are lower or higher than the standard 70. It may help you decide how to prioritize your selections.
Does including alternates reduce my chances of getting what I really want?
No. We try to give you your primary choices before we go to your alternates. If we can't because your primary is closed, it's important to include an alternate, so we can give you that.
What should I do if I don't get a course I still want to take?
Put your name on the waitlist right away and be sure to include any special considerations surrounding your request. Do not ask the instructor for permission to enroll in a course or section. An instructor cannot enroll you, so asking just puts all of us in an awkward position.
If am the first student to wait list for a class, will I get the first open seat?
Not necessarily. The waitlist takes many factors into consideration, one of which may be the time of the request. We look at your program, expected date of graduation, lottery history (i.e., whether or not you requested the class in the lottery and how highly you ranked it), and special circumstances surrounding your request.
Why isn't the course I want offered next semester?
1. Often, it's because student demand is too low to warrant offering the course more than one or two semesters a year. When this is the case, we try to choose the time of year, day of the week, and time of day (considering what else is being offered) when demand will be greatest.
2. We may not have the faculty to teach it in a particular semester. If the professor who usually teaches the course is on sabbatical or is required to teach something else, or the professor is an adjunct and too busy this term, we look for someone else. Depending on the course, we may look outside for someone who has taught it elsewhere, or we may look inside for a professor who is interested in teaching something new. However, it's hard to find new faculty for specific courses or to expect a professor to prepare to teach a course for the first time when we may want him or her to teach it only once or twice. It's a big investment.
Why is the course I want offered only in the evening?
1. The professor teaching the course may be an adjunct who can teach only in the evening. Adjuncts are part-time faculty who usually have day jobs doing the things they teach.