Updated September 20, 2018 at 12:45 p.m.
As General Studies students attempt to complete their degrees—often juggling full-time commitments outside of their courses—they must navigate a different class registration process from that of other undergraduates, which gives them later registration times and pushes them down in instructor-managed waitlists.
General Studies students—who pay per credit, unlike other undergraduates—are given registration times based on the number of credits they have completed, giving registration priority to students who have the most credits. This is different from the system for Columbia College, Barnard, and School of Engineering and Applied Science undergraduates, whose registration standing is based on semesters completed.
Interviews with over two dozen GS students have shown that a lack of clarity disadvantages them on instructor-managed waitlists, wherein professors who are unclear on GS students’ class standing prioritize CC and SEAS underclassmen over GS upperclassmen. In other cases, some students said seeming errors prevented them from registering in their allotted earlier time slot.
As a result, many GS students who already have full-time responsibilities including jobs, families, and multiple-hour commutes must rearrange their lives around their class schedules. Some students are even forced to take extra semesters of classes, take additional days off work, or drop classes in which they originally expected to enroll.
At the General Studies Student Council meeting on Sept. 19, attended by Acting Dean of Students Ivonne Rojas, candidates brought up many of these grievances with the registration process and emphasized the need for the administration to address the dysfunctional system.
Students have reported that registration problems become particularly prevalent when professors, especially those who teach small seminars with long waitlists, manually give preference to students based on the amount of credits that they have earned. As a result, professors may see GS students as a year behind their true class standing and fail to prioritize them in waitlists.
Sandra Chung, GS ’18, had to take an extra summer session in order to graduate after a political science professor believed that she was a junior when, in fact, her credits counted her as a senior under the GS point system. As such, she failed to get into a seminar that she needed to graduate.
“I was planning on taking summer classes, but [was] not planning on taking an additional class,” Chung said. “I ended up having to take both summer sessions, and I work. … At the end of the day, I felt that I was at a disadvantage.”
Political science professor Justin Phillips said he is unable to distinguish the actual years of students due to the differing credit systems and must make decisions based on incomplete information.
“It makes it hard when faculty has to make a judgment call about who to prioritize,” Phillips said. “I often have to estimate who those people are. It’s not clear from the University.”
The waitlist game imposes an additional burden for GS students who are forced to plan their lives around anticipated registration complications. When Erynn Lowery, GS ’18, was in the final semester of her senior year, she was unable to register for classes until two weeks into the registration period, which typically lets seniors choose their classes on the first day that registration opens. At the same time, she was also a full-time worker at Teachers College, but uncertainty with her class schedule meant she couldn’t tell her boss when she would be able to come in.
“I had some trouble balancing my work schedule and my class schedule,” Lowery said. “I tried to take early morning or late afternoon classes to make sure I was at work fulfilling my hours, but lack of options after I was able to register made for some stressful situations with my boss. I [felt] like my job was in jeopardy.”
Michelle Amor, GS ’19, who reported having a later registration time than those with less credits, said that she was forced to take extra days off work because of the uncertainty.
“Usually, I have to request off of work for the first few days of the semester, since I know my schedule isn’t finalized and I have to shop around multiple sections,” she said. “This is kind of inconvenient but my employers have always been understanding.”
Matthew Linsky, GS ’19, also said that a professor mistakenly failed to understand that he was a junior while registering for a Spanish class, a Core requirement. The professor allowed underclassmen to register before him and ultimately did not let Linsky in.
Linsky emphasized the need for the administration to specifically address registration issues for GS students, who face time constraints that don’t exist for students at the other three undergraduate colleges.
“I don't plan on dropping classes, because it is what I have to do to graduate on time,” Linsky said. “But if I'm put in a situation where I cannot get in that class, then I'm forced to be here for longer. I am old. I am 30. I love this place, but I can't be here forever.”