On Surviving Shopping Period

Harvard offers its students a stressful luxury known as Shopping Period. This is the time where students bounce from lecture to lecture, grabbing syllabi and wondering if they can stay awake for a given professor.

It’s a prime opportunity to pick core classes, figure out which math class you want to survive, and decide on whether you can survive on Flyby lunches for a semester.

There are a number of ways to keep on top of shopping period in order to optimize your new courses without getting too bogged down.

1) Do your research

Pretty basic course research:

  • What courses do you need to take? When are they offered? How often are they offered? Who will be teaching it this semester?
  • Is it a new course? Is there a syllabus?
  • What does the CUE/Q say? (More on this later.)
  • Are you choosing between classes? Looking for a core? an elective?

Pretty basic personal reflection:

  • Do you work better in the mornings? after lunch?
  • Do you prefer back-to-back classes?
  • Do you care more about the professor? the material? the textbook?
  • How well do you deal with course (dis)organization?
  • How much work (reading, psets, tests etc) are you willing to do for a core/elective/requirement?
  • What else are you doing that semester? E-recruiting? Work?

2) Print out your battle plan

It’s always funny looking at your classmates’ shopping period schedules. Some people are in classes all day, everyday, attending concurrent classes without the help of Hermione’s time thingie. Others know exactly what they’re taking and are just shopping for a core.

Figure out your battle plan. And THEN, prioritize.

Sometimes, you’ll have to pick which course you want to shop first if two of them are offered at the same time. I recommend, picking the one that is: a) more important to you b) more likely to cause a change your academic goals, e.g. picking up a secondary c) a lotteried class d) a small class.

In other words, pick the one to shop first that you care about the most, whether it’s because it has fewer papers or might turn you into an Anthropology minor.

If the class has a “limited enrollment” according to that big course book, you need to go the very first day to learn how to enter the lottery.

And FINALLY, if the class is likely to be smaller than 25 people (language classes, seminars, obscure cores etc.), then go. If you do end up taking the class, you’ll shake off that feeling of did I offend the professor by coming in super late and asking her to repeat the syllabus after class while I’m rushing to get to another class?

But realize, that it is much harder to leave a smaller class in the middle than it is to enter a smaller class in the middle. (Of course, you could just arrive early and apologize if you need to leave in the middle.)

3) Planning to leave a course early?

Be nice. Don’t sit in the front. If it’s a class that got rave reviews in the CUE or is historically a large class, watch where you plop yourself. You don’t want to be that kid wading through the students sitting in the aisle.

Similarly, if it’s the type of course where you’re shopping for a good professor, sit in the back. You’ll know pretty much in the first 10 minutes if you can stay awake for the rest of the semester.

For the timid will-be freshmen, professors accept the fact that people will be flowing in and out during shopping period, generally.

4) Take care of yourself

If you have a super busy shopping period schedule, make sure you eat breakfast and bring a lunch with you if you need it. No one really cares if you’re eating a ham sandwich during the big Ec 10 lecture in Sanders. In fact, they’ll be jealous. :)

Similarly, get sleep, which will be super hard because your new/old friends are all super cool! and you’ll want to catch up before classes and extracurriculars take over your life.

Also — this was hard for me — realize, once you settle on your four (or five) classes, you’ll be bopping around in a haze of uncertainty much less often. On the other hand, you’ll have to bemoan sectioning, which is never really much fun.

5) Buy books ahead of time

If there are a few classes you know you will be taking, go buy them before you’re on campus. If it’s a class like Econometrics where the people shopping it will most definitely be taking it, then you’ll want to be able to get cranking on the class work they actually expect you to sort of do that first week.

Check out amazon.com or abebooks.com for good deals. I’ve used both very comfortably, but realize that super fast shipping will kill your budget, sometimes. Just try not to buy books at The Coop.

6) The stress of the Random Unknown

Unfortunately, a number of your classes will be of “limited enrollment.” Most notably, freshmen seminars, Justice, Silent Films something something, and so on.

You really can’t do much about it. Just shop for a few back ups that you will be happy taking. In a few cases, you can sometimes bug the professor to have them let you in. Always worth a shot. But remember that nothing is guaranteed.

Also remember, that there may also be a “waiting list” for courses like Justice, since some students might end up not taking the class.

I tend to deal with this stress by ignoring that it as much as possible. If I’m not thinking about it, I’m not stressing about it.

7) Do fun stuff!

Seriously. Harvard students seem to be the most relaxed (while quietly stressing) during Shopping Period.

Go take some time, eat out. Explore Boston. The Science Museum is fun. Movies are always good. Pho, ice cream, Thai, Indian, Chinese, coffee, bubble tea and Berryline! (YUM) are all close by.

Bug your upperclassmen friends for recommendations. Everybody always loves to feel like an expert at something.

8) Read Most Commonly Overlooked Things When Choosing Classes

For a few more considerations concerning scheduling, the first day of class, new courses and unexpectedly large courses.

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1 Response to “On Surviving Shopping Period”

  1. 1 Jo

    hey, thanks for this. Other than reminding me that I really should get a list of shoppable classes going, it gave me some great tips. Your blog is fantastic, keep it up! :D

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