As students navigated course selection this week in anticipation of the deadline at 5 p.m. yesterday, they were faced with a question: what is the best way to fill out a registration card to get first choice courses? Theories abound, according to Registrar Christine Cote, and students typically attempt a number of techniques they believe will ensure as many first-choices as possible.
To register, students write the names of their first-choice courses at the top of columns numbered one through four. Alternates for each course are listed below them in the second row, marked 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A. Third choices are listed in the next row in squares 1B, 2B, etc.
"There are a few myths that go around campus," Cote said. "One of the things I see is they will put number 1 in 2A, and they repeat the [first-choice] courses sort of in a diagonal pattern."
Cote confirmed this strategy would not work, as the backups are dealt with after all first-choice cources are assigned. Similarly, Cote said she felt that many students were under the impression that placing a course in the first column indicated it was an overall first choice, another myth.
"If there's a class I really want to get, I always put it in the first box," Ross Jacobs '10 said. "I'm not entirely sure how it works."
Most of the students the Orient spoke to were unsure of the exact manner in which the cards were processed.
Cote explained the sequence, and said, "What the computer does is to put all of your top-choices in the computer at once."
She said that students will automatically be placed into top-choice classes that are not oversubscribed.
Assigning students to classes that have more applicants than spots is a more complicated process.
Prior to registering the course, professors submit a Course Offering Worksheet to the Office of the Registrar. On that sheet, professors can indicate enrollment preferences. Professors can rank the order in which first years, sophomores, junior majors/minors, junior non-majors/minors, senior majors/minors, and senior non-majors/minors are selected for the course.
If enrollment preferences are specified, then there is a random selection within one of the groups if a course is oversubscribed.
For example, in a course that gives preference to sophomores with a capacity of 16 students, if 25 sophomores select the course as a top-choice, all other students will automatically not be placed in the course, and a random selection would occur to determine which of the sophomores would be placed into the class.
A computer system handles the entire course registration process. The program was written in 1995 by Senior Database Analyst and Programmer Sue Kellog and Larry O'Toole, who no longer work at Bowdoin.
For oversubscribed courses that have no specified enrollment preferences, the computer program performs a randomized selection for all applicants, said Cote.
Kellog said Senior Database Analyst and Programmer Mark Nelsen created the random pick portion of the program, which is based off of the system date and time.
Cote explained that they run three different "passes" through the computer program, one for each row on the course card.
After the first pass, the Office of the Registrar checks to make sure everything is running smoothly and that there are no errors.
Because the rows are put through the system in order and one at a time, Cote indicated that it is important for students to note that it is impossible to be accepted into a class as a backup if people selecting it as a top-choice oversubscribe it.