Course requests cause continued frustration


How does it feel when you sign up for four credits and get only one? When you talked to a professor before course requests were due and found out that 10 people were already on the waiting list? When you emailed a professor after not getting the class, and discovered that there were 50 people on the waiting list?

It is course request season at DePauw, a fact that is made obvious by Facebook posts. My news feed is flooded with statuses in which people either celebrate or complain about the courses they get next semester. 

Course requests are designed to be a fair and balanced system of assigning students to classes. The process at DePauw does, or at least seems to, strive to meet this goal. The computer system places students into classes based on priority and alphabetized last-name group designation. Additionally, the last name order is changed every semester. It looks quite fair and balanced, so why do we still complain about it?

The reason stems from the nature of course requests at a small liberal arts college. As a small institution, DePauw cannot afford to offer as many courses as a big university, and the small class size of a liberal arts college adds to this dilemma. Also, because there are classes with high popularity and low popularity, it is almost impossible to satisfy everyone. One of the psychology courses, for instance, currently has a waiting list of approximately 50 students.

Thus, course requests are fair and unfair simultaneously. In the long term, however, they are fair because as students have higher standings and their last-name ranks progress in the order, those who were not satisfied will be satisfied later on and vice versa. Of course, anomalies exist for those few individuals who always seem to encounter course request difficulties. This is especially prevalent in the most common majors. But in general, the system still does its job.

Another popular course request system is the first come, first-served real time process. In this system, after a deadline, students log in and add courses, and whoever adds the class first gets it. According to my friend at a small university in New York, this system gets fewer complaints than the one we have at DePauw.

In the book "Freakonomics," Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner analyze the car-airplane case, in which people are more afraid of plane accidents than car accidents and would prefer driving over flying if possible. Statistically, the rate of accidents in cars is much higher than in airplanes. According to the authors, people still prefer cars because they have more control. Driving empowers people to determine their fate by themselves.   

The reasoning for this is the same as why people complain less about the first come, first-served system than the DePauw system. As DePauw students, we have little control over what courses will be assigned by the computer, so the system is the easiest target to blame. In the first come, first-served system, students instead blame themselves for not waking up early in the morning or not fast enough to sign up for the desired course. 

Complaining helps release stress, and DePauw students will probably never stop complaining about the course request system. But keep in mind that the situation will be the same every semester. While I believe that the system could be improved to make it less complicated and more efficient, it will always be full of difficulties.

—Nguyen is a sophomore from Hanoi, Vietnam majoring in computer science.