Back at my undergraduate institutions and in law school, “course shopping” period was synonymous with “add/drop” period … the set of days at the start of an academic term in which students scurried about to figure out what classes they were taking. When I first arrived at HGSE, it was a bit of an adjustment to learn that they were two distinct periods of time, with course shopping preceding add/drop period. After two semesters of enrolling in courses here at HGSE, the process has become less mystifying and can reduce the stress associated with picking classes.
During a two-day period the week before classes formally start, HGSE students have the opportunity to sit in on a 45-minute session and get the instructor’s synopsis of a particular course. It’s rather like window shopping, just for courses. Each course offers two sessions, so students should be able to make it to most, if not all, course shopping sessions for classes in which they have an interest. During and after course shopping, students can enroll in courses online with the approval of their adviser, and, if the course has “limited enrollment” (i.e. a maximum cap on the number of students who can enroll in the class), the permission of their instructor (which works on an honor system basis).
Most courses aren’t limited enrollment; when necessary, the registrar’s office does an amazing job of finding larger classrooms for classes that exceed their expected enrollment. For the handful of courses that are limited enrollment, instructors can pick from a variety of methods to determine who gets into the course. Some use a lottery system and leave it to chance. Others ask for a statement of interest and review those statements in order to assemble a class. And finally, some courses give preference to students in a particular program … for instance, some higher-education-oriented classes with limited enrollment give priority for seats to students enrolled in the higher education program. Generally, within 48 hours (or less) of the course shopping session, you’ll know whether or not you’ve gotten into a limited enrollment course.
It can be a bit confusing at first, but ultimately gives everyone the opportunity to check out classes before committing to enrolling in a course.