Friday, August 5, 2011

Let's Chat About... Six Tips for Getting into a Full Class (and One on What to Do if You Don't)

(Hello, wonderful readers! With fall term fast approaching, I'm going to start a new segment that I'll bring on intermittently called "Let's Chat About..." This will be quick lists/tips for timely issues that students may be dealing with. Little commentary, but some back-story, and always with my communication twist! 

Side note: Before fall term ramps up, I'm going to enjoy a bit more time with my family. We're doing a little vacationing and staycationing, so my regular blog will return on August 22nd. In the meantime, enjoy these guest posts from other sites: The 12 Most Effective Phrases a Parent can Borrow from a Professor, The 12 Most Unexpected Ways I Relate to My Students as a Back-of-the-Pack Runner, and What to Say About That Retake)

You need a class that you can’t get into. Here are seven behind-the-scenes talking tips to help:

1.     Resist making excuses.

It’s an early, important lesson for you in college:  Profs care about you, but don’t care for excuses. Profs move to solve problems, so your excuses will just take time away necessary problem solving. Don't say, "I didn't register because..." The reasons don't matter. Bottom line: You need/want the class, so focus on what to do to get in (and read on…).

2.     Ask about the purge.

Get in touch with someone in the Registrar’s office and ask, “When do you purge students for nonpayment?” Different colleges manage this in different ways, but often, students on waitlist are then moved into the class when existing students don't pay. Here's the thing: I can’t tell you how many students on waitlist decide they no longer want to be there. This means on the date of the nonpayment purge, you may find openings where there were none previously.

3.     E-mail the professor before going to his/her office.

Certainly, you can show up in the prof’s office and beg to be added, but there is likely nothing that the prof can do until the actual first day of class. It’s fine to e-mail the prof instead and say, “I am interested in getting into your CMST 101 class. Should I come to your office to discuss this? Do you have any advice on how students typically get into your class if it is full?”

3.     Actually go to the class.

When students come to my office and ask me to sign an add/drop form, I often tell them come to the first class. I have no idea who is actually going to fill the seats and I’m far more likely to sign a student in, even on overload, if I can see the actual number of students seated in front of me. At my college, the waitlist shuts down on the first day of class. Therefore, if a student shows up in person, their chances of getting in are far better. So, introduce yourself to the prof after the class ends and say, “I am not enrolled in this class right now but thought I’d come to see if there is room. Is it possible for me to stay in this class?”

4.     Stay in touch with the prof.

For my online or hybrid classes (that start on a Wednesday night, usually), I will ask students asking to get in to e-mail me on the first, second, and third day of class so I can watch the roster numbers for changes. With distance ed classes, I can’t physically see if a student is going to participate, so I have to wait until day three (or when the introductory post is due) to find out. For the want-to-be enrolled students e-mailing every day and checking in, they have first dibs on space if one comes available. Ask the prof, “Is it all right if I stay in touch with you for a few days to see if the numbers change?” But then…

5.     …Ask the prof about the last possible date to add.

I have points-bearing assignments due the first week of class. Therefore, my comfort threshold to add late-coming students is usually not past the first week. Ask the prof, “What is the last date that you are comfortable adding new students to the class?” Also, say, “May I have a syllabus so if I do make it in I can make sure I’m up to speed?”

6.     Ask the prof to make a call.

I recently had an advisee who was trying to get into a closed class in a department with which I’m unfamiliar. I called a prof from that department and said, “Hi, Joe. Have a student here wanting to get into CLASS 101. I know that class is full. What’s the usual movement for students who want to late add? Do they typically get in? Do you have any advice for this student who is trying to get in?” "Joe" told me that if the student is seventh on waitlist, the chances are usually not good. I’m not saying that every prof will call other profs, but if you can catch one during an office hour, they may at least be able to find out the enrollment/waitlist/add and drop patterns of another department. Likewise, if the prof can’t take you in his/her own class, they may be able to call a  prof who teaches the same subject and find out how their enrollment is going.

7.     Don’t take it personally or blame the prof.

Let’s say you strike out and don’t get into the class you want in a particular term. Don’t take it personally and don’t say a snarky, “Well, thanks… for nothing!” There are many reasons why a prof says no to adding additional students: First, class size can be a union issue at some schools and some faculty are cautious about how far they can or will overload a class due to those rules.

Second, I am proud to be a prof with generally high retention. My class also requires three major speeches. Therefore, if I have 32 people seated in front of me on the first night of class (our class size is 28 for speech classes), I have been known to keep, say, 30 of those students.  Those 30 students all have to deliver three speeches. I literally couldn’t take any more students without compromising the quality of the class. 

So, there are behind-the-scenes reasons why a prof may simply say “No.” But let’s hope the other six tips will get you the class you need!

Colleagues and students, I’d love to hear recommendations or how you navigate the closed class situation! How does add/drop work at other schools?

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