This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
We’ve all been there: syllabus week went by smoothly, you’re feeling good and the year looks bright. But when the second or third week of school sets in, your workload dramatically increases. You start to realize that one of your courses might be too much to handle after all — and then it dawns on you that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Sure, you can withdraw from a class until just after midterm, but you’ll get a nasty W on your transcript (I should know, I have four) and disrupt your credits attempted to credits earned ratio. While you may free yourself from a killer course or buy yourself more time for your other obligations, that W follows you to graduation and grad school, and you can even lose that semester’s financial aid or scholarships if you withdraw enough hours. Not to mention, you’ve wasted half a semester of your and your professor’s time.
The specified period for dropping or adding a course at the start of the school year spans just four days, or two class meetings. How are we supposed to know whether we can manage our course load or handle a particularly challenging class when all we’ve done is read the syllabus?
During the first week of school this year, one of my professors didn’t even have a completed syllabus to distribute at the first meeting, and we didn’t have access to Canvas until the morning of the second day. Another teacher specifically told my class that the workload over the first weeks was nowhere near as heavy as we can expect it to get, and that’s not at all unusual. It’s just not enough time for us to know how much we will have to dedicate to each course.
The short add/drop period makes sense from a professor’s perspective. Anyone who’s missed a few days of school before knows how easy it is to fall behind in college if you’re not in class. Joining almost any class two or three weeks into the semester disadvantages a student for sure, and professors don’t have the time to individually catch you up on everything. Within the first three weeks, I already had papers, projects and an exam. If someone were to add one of those classes now, they’d also be behind in hundreds of pages of reading and tens of hours of lecture.
Additionally, The Chronicle reported that professors see a student who joins late as unprepared, disinterested in the course or just trying to meet a last-minute graduation requirement. I get that it’s probably annoying to have to teach your passion to someone who’s clearly bored out of their mind or who didn’t jump at the chance to sign up for your class the moment registration opened, but in the case of some courses like gen-eds, I think it’s fair to assume that about half the class doesn’t want to be there. Students shouldn’t be penalized for doing what’s required.
I did some digging, and I found that Mercer isn’t unique in offering such a short add/drop period. This year, our window fell between Aug. 19-23. Georgia Southern University in Statesboro has the shortest drop/add period of the eight schools I researched, from Aug. 19-22. In Atlanta, Oglethorpe University offers a full seven days to decide (Aug. 19-26). Most colleges had a similar timeframe to Mercer’s — within the first week of the semester.
Allowing students to add a course weeks late would set us up for a difficult semester and require a ton of catch-up that professors would have to oversee. However, limiting us from dropping a course before we know what we’re getting into does us a huge disservice.
So I propose something different: the first week of class to add new courses, but the first three to drop without penalty. It’s not an original idea, because at Georgia College and State University here in Middle Georgia, students have three days to add a course and five to drop. Why not try that on a larger scale?
Students could get a feel for their classes before being locked into them, but professors wouldn’t have to deal with students showing up late and scrambling to make up for weeks of instruction. We just need a little more time to make informed decisions about our schedules without irreparable academic or financial consequences.