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‘Picking Classes in the Dark’: Harvard Undergrads Bemoan Fourth Straight Semester Without Shopping Week

A flyer posted on a door in Quincy House last September advocated the preservation of Shopping Week.
A flyer posted on a door in Quincy House last September advocated the preservation of Shopping Week. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard undergraduates participated in a virtual course preview period last week, marking the fourth straight semester without shopping week — a longtime scheduling quirk that allows students to sample classes before enrolling.

Despite returning to in-person classes this fall, the College opted to forgo in-person shopping weeks for the 2021-2022 school year, citing Covid-19 concerns. Over course preview period — which took place from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 — students attended optional introductory Zoom sessions, perused course syllabi, and watched class “trailers.”

Some students said they felt the virtual course preview period made course selection more complicated than in-person shopping week.

Victoria M. Zhang ’24, who has never experienced a traditional shopping week, said she found it “very difficult” and “frustrating” to decide on her classes with the virtual course preview format.

“I would like to see a shopping week because I have talked to students who are older than me, and they said they would try out like 10 classes,” Zhang said. “They had the luxury of going to a class for 15 minutes.”

Carolina Ranfagni ’22, who participated in shopping week as a freshman, said she has “no doubt” shopping week is superior to the virtual course previews.

“It definitely adds a layer of pressure having to think about courses a lot more, rather than just bumping into courses and then choosing,” Ranfagni said. “It takes out a lot of the randomness that shopping week had.”

Some students skipped course preview period altogether. Naomi Bashkansky ’25 said she did not utilize the course previews, in part because she believed they would not be as useful as attending the class itself.

“I’d rather sit down in the actual lectures and then just switch classes if need be,” Bashkansky said.

Chloe R. Loughridge ’23-’24 said she did not attend any previews because of a six-hour time zone difference.

Some students said they simulated shopping week by enrolling in extra courses, then dropping some before the deadline to finalize classes.

“For both this semester and last semester, I’ve had to enroll in six classes with permission from my resident dean, and then be forced to drop one of them,” Brian J. Zhou ​’25 said.

Harvard spokesperson Alixandra A. Nozzolillo declined to comment on student criticisms, but wrote in an emailed statement that the College and the FAS Registrar shared resources with undergraduates through many channels before the start of the spring semester.

Other undergraduates said they already had sufficient information for picking classes, utilizing course evaluations — stored on a database known as the Q Guide — and class syllabi.

“I feel I already know what classes I’m taking and then just go through the Q Guide,” Melanie T. Munoz ’24 said.

Over 96 percent of voters supported an Undergraduate Council referendum last semester to “save shopping week.” But just three months later, an FAS committee reviewing Harvard's course regristation system reccomended scrapping shopping week in favor of previous-term registration.

UC President Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who has advocated publicly for restoring shopping week, equated the online replacement to “picking classes in the dark.”

“I know most other colleges don’t do shopping week — Harvard’s unique in that,” Cheng said. “But I don’t think Harvard needs to become like every other college in this way.”

Still, some faculty and teaching staff have criticized shopping week for creating administrative woes and job uncertainty for teaching fellows.

Nozzolillo wrote that the committee utilized student input throughout its decision-making process.

“[Previous-term registration] sounds even worse than what we have right now,” Anthony Y. Tao ’22 said. “Ideally, they would just go back to shopping week.”

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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CollegeFASAcademicsVirtual Educationshopping week