Illustration by Shamma Almansoori.

The Chaos of Course Registration

Should prospective opportunities in a competitive academic setting be based on the arbitrary metric of who clicks the mouse the quickest?

Nov 28, 2021

18 Nov., 2021, 6 a.m. EST. Albert said this was my enrollment appointment for Spring 2021. I didn’t quite know how to feel about this. While some of my friends exclaimed with joy at 5:40 a..m., others held their heads in despair at 6:40 a.m. In a cut-throat setting like that of NYU Abu Dhabi where the door to opportunities is narrow and seldom opens twice, inequity surrounding the course registration process has concerned our community for a while. With the enrollment period on the horizon, the Room of Requirement Facebook group is once again flooded with posts requesting feedback on professors, course reviews, schedule clashes and syllabi. As I peruse through them, there is a range of emotions: from excitement about returning professors to despair about the limited course selection. On the whole, there is a recurring sense of inadequacy, a pervasive feeling of anxiety of being able to graduate and at times, fleeting rage owing to the unfairness surrounding the course registration process. What is the rationale behind different enrollment timings for those who are taking the same number of credits and belong to the same class?
The reinforcing desire to take classes with the best professors while juggling a milieu of extra-curricular opportunities, assistantships and internships has become a mammoth task to accomplish due to logistical constraints in a small, tight-knit community like NYUAD. For example, limited recitation sections lead to conflicts with other extracurricular commitments. Post-pandemic realities such as constraints on the use of physical classrooms and faculty mobility have exacerbated these issues further. We are in close proximity to the tipping point where there just aren’t enough sections to accommodate students. There is then a rippling effect on one’s academic trajectory, as advanced courses seem like a distant dream when prerequisites are repeatedly delayed.
Small classes are a hallmark of liberal arts institutions like NYUAD. Personalized attention from professors and an identifiable sense of community are the drivers of our intellectual climate. But as every coin has two sides, having small classes comes with its own disadvantages. A slip of the mouse at your enrollment time leads to classes being filled up and waitlists of over 20 students for some classes.
Going beyond graduation requirements, there is intellectual desire to consider as well. Classes being offered by visiting faculty from the New York campus as well as eminent personalities have never failed to pique the interest of students at NYUAD. Most of these classes tackle niche aspects and are taught only once during a student’s academic life. For seniors approaching the end of their bittersweet four year journey, being waitlisted for a class they strongly desire with a professor they cherish can be heart wrenching.
On a comparative note, other liberal arts institutions in the U.S. follow a substantially fairer and logical process for course registration. For example, Amherst College follows a unique system called the “roster” management system. Using this system, in the case of over-enrollment, faculty are given the freedom to look at their enrolled class roster and determine whether they want to go above the approved cap in the interest of the students. Secondly, Amherst College has a two-week period known as “pre-registration” where a student has to consult their academic advisor and reserve seats for their courses. After this process is complete, students are “guaranteed” a seat in the course as soon as they reserve it through ACDATA, Amherst’s Albert. Unlike a one shot one go approach through Albert, students approach course registration more holistically, through a method that is not comparable to a lucky draw. In the context of NYUAD, a mechanism has to be devised to implement enrollment based on a better metric where students of the same class are on an equal footing and can take into account concerns beyond waitlists and schedule clashes when selecting their courses.
“The problem with the enrollment system is that it works on a credit completed system which normalises overloading. There is an issue in saying that you should have access to benefits if you do more work. It is a very productivity-based system and everybody does not have the capacity to overwork themselves. This system is, moreover, incompatible with the university’s goals and objectives in the area of mental health awareness. This institutional promotion of a failed incentivisation tool is almost punishing students who are working at their pace. A measurement like this inhibits people from underloading, even when you know underloading is what you need,” said Emilia Vieira Branco, Class of 2023.
With the Class of 2025 being the largest class ever and a majority of seniors and juniors transitioning back to campus after studying abroad, enrollment in Spring 2022 posed unique challenges. While the number of students will increase exponentially, the number of physical classrooms and technology for hybrid systems of learning will not show a comparable increase. Students ask for the bare minimum: more sections for graduation requirements, more recitation sections and a fairer system for course registration on Albert. In an environment that thrives on merit and appreciates talent, the arbitrariness of the enrollment process, which includes an inequitable first-come first-serve mechanism riddled by other concerns like limited course offerings, should not be the determining factor of one’s academic destiny.
Aarushi Prasad is a Staff Writer. Email her at
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