A Williams College Student Publication

A Few Words About Preregistration

Posted on

Dear Ephs,

I have just a few things to say about preregistration. When Williams College adminstrators (or professors or whoever sits on the committees which decide these things) realized that first-come, first-serve registration was an unfair and illogical mess, they presumably wanted to implement the very best fix they could think of. Which was... let people sign up for their first choice classes, let professors decide who to drop from overenrolled classes, and then let the first-come, first-serve squabbling begin in a seperate round over second-choice classes.

Hang on second. While this may be a significant improvement, it doesn't fully remove the problem. If first-come first-serve (FCS)1 is unfair, why not remove it from our registration system altogether? While we're at it, is FCS unfair? Should faculty really get to make decisions about who to drop on an individual-by-individual basis?

FCS is uncontroversially problematic. It tries to priorize those who care the most, which is kind and nice, but with sarah/peoplesoft crashing and just about everyone caring a whole awful lot about how they spend their entire next semester, that is a difficult group to prioritize. Instead, it makes class registration a game of network speed and chance, rewarding those who through luck or skill are able to beat peoplesoft. This is not a fair group to prioritize.

So while it's good that our registration system is not simply FCS, I do wonder why our second registration period still uses this unfair system. The likely answer is that it's easy to understand and execute. But do we really want a system that sacrifices fairness for ease?

Of course, there must be a replacement, and what we currently have is faculty choice. Most classes are listed with enrollment preferences by class and major, but some professors send surveys to students preregistered for overenrolled classes, and others have no explicitly stated preferences but simply choose students individually with the intention of creating a "balanced" class. There is no required transparency about what goes into determining which students are dropped; it is entirely at the professor's discretion.

This results in a campus culture of emailing our professors in order to supposedly have a better shot at getting in to the classes we want to take. If my professor knows my name, the thinking goes, and if they understand how badly I want to take this class, perhaps I won't be dropped. They'll feel bad. So we write to them asking for special treatment since we know how to write nicely worded emails. It's not exactly a fair system.

Alright, I'm done writing. Those are my thoughts.


I could have used FCFS, but I prefer TLAs. Sorry.